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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 10/02/12

Guests: Ryan Grim, Joan Fitz-Gerald

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Excellent. Thanks, man. I`ll see you tomorrow. Thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour. There is breaking political news this hour. As previously uncirculated or at least not widely circulated tape of President Obama on the one side and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan on the other side have both been posted online tonight in typical, late in the campaign, October surprise, boy, do we have a scoop bomb shell fashion. First on the right at the Tucker Carlson Web site and the "Drudge Report", and the FOX News, the right wing sirens blaring excitement tonight is for the same kind of tape they have tried to make bomb shells out of the last three times we have gone through this in the election cycle. Over and over and over again, the right has tried to make huge news this election cycle not out of something that President Obama has done as president, but out after a big unveiling, a big, giant, coordinated rightwing round of attention for something from President Obama`s supposedly secret past. So, this spring it was the Andrew Breitbart Web site and the Glenn Beck Web site dousing themselves in gasoline and pulling the fire alarm over video of President Obama speaking as a law student at Harvard. A video of him speaking at a press conference in which Obama says nothing newsworthy. That was hype as being very racially explosive tape. It was not at all. Then, last month, it was the "Drudge Report", which in this case means the Romney campaign, it was them again dousing themselves in gasoline and pulling the fire alarm over what was hyped as outrageous video of President Obama saying he believes in redistribution. Specifically, once you heard it, it was that he believes essentially in the progressive tax code that we have had in this country for a time period that`s more easily measured in centuries than in individual years. Again, not exactly a bombshell. But now, they are dousing themselves in gasoline and hitting the fire alarm all over again over a video of President Obama speaking as a candidate in 2007. In this video, which the right is very excited about tonight but which has been available online since 2007, Mr. Obama, then a candidate, acknowledges the presence in the room of his former pastor from Chicago, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. We`ll be talking with Steve Schmidt in just a moment, who was part of the strategic team for the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008 when they decided that they would not attack Barack Obama based on his pastor. But this is a different year and it is telling that the right thinks what will unravel the presidency of Barack Obama, what will make him a one- term president, the thing that will make people vote for Mitt Romney instead of President Obama is not something from the Obama presidency, but rather something secret from Barack Obama`s past -- something secret that people didn`t know about him before. And if they only knew this about him, his reelection would just be impossible. That`s the one side of this bombshell tape that`s coming up tonight, right? From the other side, this year`s bombshell tapes of Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney have not been about some secret past for these men -- unless you count Paul Ryan pledging his allegiance to the Ayn Rand Society back in 2005 or something. But nobody really called that a bombshell tape. The tape that has made a big impact against the Republican side this year has been tape of things that Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney have been saying within the past year, specifically when they are talking to conservative audiences. So two weeks ago, David Corn and "Mother Jones" magazine, and also Ryan Grim at "the Huffington Post" posted video of Mitt Romney speaking to a group of wealthy donors in Florida. Mr. Romney deriding the 47 percent of the country that he said did not pay federal income taxes and who were dependent on the government and who were victims and who he would never be able to reach because he would not be able to pursued them to take responsibility for their lives. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right? There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn`t connect. And he`ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that`s what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I`d never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I`ll never convince 47 percent of the country to take personal responsibility and care for their lives. Those comments in which Mr. Romney describes his apparent disdain for nearly half the country, those comments have had a measurable impact on the campaign. In the new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll that has just been released in the last couple hours, people say those remarks from Mr. Romney made them feel more negative than positive toward Mr. Romney by a 22-point margin. Those results match other recent polling which shows those comments alienated undecided voters. Regardless of what you think of the substance of that it statement from Mr. Romney, it did turn the whole Republican pundit class against him. It costs just about every Republican Senate candidate in a contested race this year to distance themselves from the presidential nominee of their party to, in effect, start campaigning against Mitt Romney, telling voters, listen, I don`t like that guy on that issue either, but vote for me any way even though I`m also a Republican. And whether or not you think those remarks were scandalous, the polling impact of them is now showing up directly at a time when Mr. Romney`s egregiously bad polling numbers in the swing states seem to be calcifying and when most voters are now starting to vote. It`s just had an incredibly negative impact for Mr. Romney and his campaign at a difficult time for them. And now, on the eve of the first presidential debate, if they were hoping to put that behind them, any hope of getting away from the issue has now been expunged because "The Huffington Post" tonight set off its own flashing red lights bells and whistles, flashing siren bombshell by posting previously uncirculated video, if not unreleased video of Paul Ryan speaking a little less than a year ago. And what is notable about this and what will affect the debate tomorrow is that Mr. Ryan in these comments makes the same case Romney was making when he made the devastating those 47 percent remarks. In Mr. Ryan`s case, he doesn`t use the 47 percent. He picks a slightly different figure. For him, the figure is 30 percent. You may remember Ryan himself his response to that disastrous tape of Mr. Romney at the fundraiser was that Romney was, quote, "obviously inarticulate" in making his point about the proportion of Americans who are dependent on the government, victims and not worth his time. Here`s how Paul Ryan makes that same point. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The point is we are reaching a fiscal tipping point. The moral tipping point is even worse. And the moral tipping point is before too long, we could become a society we were never ever intended to be. We could become a society where the net majority of Americans are takers, not makers. Another great think tank, the Tax Foundation, runs lots of good numbers. Those of you who know me, I`m kind of a numbers guy. Twenty percent of Americans, according to the Tax Foundation, gets 75 percent of their income from the federal government. They are dependent. Another 20 percent of Americans get 40 percent of their income from the federal government, so they are reliant. Today, 70 percent of Americans get more benefits from the federal government in dollar value than they pay back in taxes. So you could argue we`re already past that tipping point. The good news is survey after survey, poll after poll still shows we`re a center right 70/30 country. Seventy percent of Americans want the American dream. They believe in the American idea. Only 30 percent want the welfare state. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Thirty percent of Americans do not want the American dream, 30 percent of Americans do not believe in the American idea, 30 percent of Americans just want the welfare state. So for Mitt Romney, it`s 47 percent and for Paul Ryan it`s 30 percent. But this idea that a large portion of Americans are just dependent, mooching victims to whom the American dream is inapplicable, who are beyond the reach of the kind of politics the Republican ticket is offering, it turns out it`s both guys on the ticket who believe that. It`s not just Mitt Romney. Joining us is Ryan Grim. He`s Washington bureau chief of "The Huffington Post." He broke the news on this video tonight. Mr. Grim, thank you for being here. It`s nice to have you here. RYAN GRIM, HUFFINGTON POST: Thanks for having me. MADDOW: This is not new tape tonight. These are not new remarks. They are from November. I have to ask how they came to your attention and whether there`s any suggestion from the Ryan camp or Romney folks that there`s any question to its authenticity. GRIM: There`s no question as to its authenticity. We know where it happened. It was at "American Spectator" event last November. It`s been online since then, though, almost nobody has viewed it, according to their YouTube account. It was sent to me and a few other reporters at "Huffington Post" over the weekend along with about 15 or 20 other clips of Paul Ryan saying things over the past 10 years. And I had kind of put it off Sunday and Monday. And today, I just decided I`d listen to a bunch of these clips and here you go. Here`s Paul Ryan. MADDOW: In terms of the list of stuff that you were being sent, I know enough about Paul Ryan`s history as a public figure to know that he makes comments that are sort of like this, sort of along these lines about makers and takers, the sort of Ayn Randian vision of an America that is zero sum game between people who are giving and those who are taking. I know he makes comments like that, generally. Do you feel like these are the most newsworthy because he`s specifically identifying 30 percent, and you see that as a parallel to what Romney was saying about 47 percent of the country? GRIM: Yes, it`s certainly dovetailed with what Romney said. Romney set the stage for him. Even though on the timeline, Romney made his comments about six months after Paul Ryan did. He also in some of the clips we were sent talks about Medicare and how he`s arguing, look, what we`re doing is privatizing Medicare. He`s arguing to right wing audiences saying, look, get behind me. This is what we`re trying to do. We either have that up now or will have that up soon. But I thought this one was the most newsworthy immediately because of the two weeks of discussion that we had about moochers and, you know, this whole conversation about makers and takers, which is borderline ridiculous. MADDOW: Around the time -- or at the time of the 47 percent remarks for Mr. Romney being publicized, you actually got that story up online first before "Mother Jones" did. "Mother Jones" posted the full video and then you both had the story up that same night. I should give you credit for that, especially given the fact you`d just posted this now. I wonder if you feel like, overall, looking at both of these scoops now, the issue here is that Romney and Ryan are pitching something to conservative audiences or to conservative donors that`s different than what they are pitching the country as a whole, or is it just -- they are pitching the same thing substantively, they just use blunter language? GRIM: I think it`s just blunter language, because I think that Romney, Ryan, and a lot of the donors don`t think that behind closed doors, a lot of this stuff is that offensive. I have talked to several of my right wing friends who when Romney`s tape came out said, I wish Romney talked like this more often. I think they are able to countenance this kind of thing because they never lived on government assistance. They have lived on corporate welfare, no doubt, but they don`t see that as the same thing. For people who have lived on government assistance, it`s kind of -- it can be a soul-crushing thing. I`m not talking about Medicare or Social Security, which are element of social insurance. You pay onto them and then you take out when you`re older. But, for instance, unemployment. I`ve been on unemployment. Other people on unemployment know that it`s just kind of a debilitating feeling to know that you`re not contributing at that moment. And the idea that that`s your preferred state of being just shows the lack of understanding that people like Romney and Ryan have for people who are in that situation. Anybody would rather have a meaningful and well- paying job that enables them to provide for their family rather than feeling like they are some type of leech. It`s doubly insulting when they are then told on this national stage, hey, you`re in a rough time in your life. Not only are you in a rough time, but you`re a leech on society. MADDOW: Yes, the phrasing, they are not exact parallel phrasing, but Romney saying these people cannot be persuaded to take responsibility for their lives. And Mr. Ryan saying they do not believe in the American dream. It`s similar parallel harsh language. Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief of "The Huffington Post" -- congratulations on a second scoop. Thanks for joining us tonight. GRIM: Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: All right. And then there`s the conservative media`s huge explosive video that will change the results of the election. That`s been online since 2007. The "Drudge Report" and FOX News and the rest of the conservative media sphere tonight lost their minds over tape in which the main offense by President Obama appears to be that he`s an African-American man addressing an African-American audience. We`ll be back on that in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: The conservative Web site that`s called the "Drudge Report" pulled out all the stops to promote a big, new bombshell video, initially putting news of that video under the big flashing siren thing. And even though the "Drudge Report" has been down this road a bunch of times this campaign season, whenever the Romney campaign wants to launch something new that wants to be seen as big news. Today, the mainstream media fell for it all over again, and got all excited for about a minute over what turned out to be a 5-year-old video of President Obama that has been circulated before -- a tape showing Mr. Obama in 2007 acknowledging his former pastor. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) THEN-SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: I have to give a special shout out to my pastor, the guy who puts up with me, counsels me, listens to my wife complain about me. He`s a friend and a great leader, not just in Chicago but all across the country. So, please, everybody, give an extraordinary welcome to my pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., Trinity United Church of Christ. (APPLAUSE) Where`s he at? There he is. That`s him. That`s him right there. (APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Are you letting this scandal just wash over you? The way the right wing teased to the scandalous nature of the video tells you pretty much what you need to know about what they think is important about this. Here`s how this was being teased on the "Drudge Report" about 7:00 tonight East Coast Time -- in all caps, "The accent, the anger, the shout-out to Reverend Wright, who is in the audience." And the snippet from the front page, we should be investing in minority-owned businesses in our neighborhoods. You`re supposed to think that`s a scandal because you`re supposed to think that our neighborhoods thing is not our American neighborhoods, but in neighborhoods that that guy Barack Obama would only call our neighborhoods in front of a black audience. See? This is supposed to make you believe that in this tape from before he was president, Barack Obama is revealing his secret plan to be way more black than he seems to you now. This is how he snuck into the White House, right? People didn`t actually know he was this black and if they had known he was this black, they never would have elected him. That`s the idea here, right? The efforts to make President Obama`s race sound like new news and to make it sound shocking are right now ramping up aggressively. Now, last week, for example, here was Newt Gingrich going all out with it. If you want to make a racial reference bingo card here like from the `70s, the terms you`re waiting for are basketball, performer, the word rhythm, and you`ll want a special bingo box for references to the president as sleepy or lazy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m assuming that some rhythm to Barack Obama that the rest of us don`t understand, whether he needs large amounts of rest, whether he needs to go play basketball for awhile. I don`t, you know, watch ESPN. I don`t quite know what his rhythms are. But this is a guy who is a brilliant performer as an orator, who may well get reelected at the present date, and who frankly happens to be a partial sub-part-time president. He really is like the substitute referees in the sense that he`s not a real president I mean, he doesn`t do things presidents do. He doesn`t worry about things presidents do. But he has the White House. He has enormous power. He`ll go down in history as president. And I suspect he`s pretty contemptuous of the rest of us. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Former presidential candidate and speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, last week on FOX News saying Barack Obama is not a real president. He doesn`t do any of the things presidents do. For example, there`s basketball. He`s not like the rest of us. And also he`s lazy and he has rhythm. Mr. Gingrich is also the one who called President Obama the food stamps president during the primaries. And it was Mr. Gingrich who reportedly suggested a line of attack to the Romney campaign portraying President Obama as the welfare president, specifically as the president of lazy welfare recipients. This was before Mitt Romney`s remarks about 47 percent of the country being self-styled victims who are dependent on the government. At least it was before those remarks were made public. So, still a bit of a surprise that the Romney campaign bit on Mr. Gingrich`s idea, right, that they took that advice. But they did take that advice. And the Romney campaign has been since then running ads falsely accusing President Obama of gutting welfare reform specifically by removing its work requirements. President Obama did not do that, but the Romney ads, a lot of them now, say that he did. They show white Americans working hard and they say this president wants to take your hard-earned money and give it away to lazy welfare recipients who are not working. He doesn`t want him to work. He just wants to give him checks. It is not true as a matter of policy, but that is how the Romney campaign has been running against Obama. Mr. Romney himself repeated the lazy welfare recipients lie to CNN when he was asked about it face to face, point blank, just last week. You know, there was a moment a few months, back in May, when it became a scandal that a pro-Mitt Romney super PAC had even been pitched the idea of bringing Jeremiah Wright back as an attack on President Obama. That ad campaign was never picked up by the pro-Romney super PAC, it was pitched to, or by the Romney campaign itself. Five months ago, frankly, it was a scandal they had even been asked to pick up something that racially charged. But then a few months later, the Romney campaign did pick up the welfare nonsense, campaigning against President Obama on welfare in a way that is completely divorced from the facts but is loaded with enough racial subtext to knock you over in a still wind. And they did pick up Newt Gingrich as a surrogate in his Obama is a food stamps president attack. And now, FOX News and the aggressively pro-Mitt Romney "Drudge Report" just are going full bore on the old Jeremiah Wright stuff, as of right now. You know, back in 2008, the John McCain had a choice about whether or not they should campaign on really over overtly racial appeals, things like the Jeremiah Wright attack. And they chose not to in 2008. If the Romney campaign is going to keep going there, along with the conservative media, which is going their whole hog right now, can it work this year? Would it have worked in 2008? What is the right think are the lessons from John McCain having not gone there in 2008 when he had the chance? The McCain-Palin campaign senior strategist from 2008 joins us next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: You`re about to see it for the first time. It contains some of the most divisive, class warfare, and racially charged rhetoric ever used by Barack Obama. That`s what so-called bias journalists have been trying to hide for years. It is a glimpse into the mind of the real Barack Obama and it`s one that all Americans need to pay close attention to. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: That was FOX News tonight. "The Huffington Post" released tape of echoing the remarks about 47 percent of the country not taking responsible for their lives and being victims. Paul Ryan`s remarks for that is that it`s 30 percent of the country, not 47 percent of the country. He said they do not believe in the American dream and they just believe in the welfare states. On the right, on FOX News and online tonight, they are very excited about tape of President Obama speaking in 2007 which Tucker Carlson played on this network in 2007 at the time it came out, but which they have now decided they are newly excited about in part, as best I can tell, because President Obama gives a shout out to his Chicago pastor at the time, Jeremiah Wright. Do either of this qualify as a first debate eve giant up-end the campaign October surprise? Joining us now for the interview is Steve Schmidt, Republican campaign senior strategist for the McCain-Palin campaign in `08. He`s now an MSNBC contributor. Steve, thank you for being here on first debate eve. STEVE SCHMIDT, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: You bet. Thank you, Rachel. MADDOW: Big deal, either of this? SCHMIDT: Probably not. It`s old news. This is well-covered ground. And there`s nothing in the speech that seems to me on the surface that`s going to reset anything in the race. What it will do is create a conversation in conservative media about this event, the old tape here, as opposed to the expectations game that Mitt Romney is trying to control ahead of a really high-stakes debate. MADDOW: That`s interesting. I don`t mean to cast dispersions on the journalist integrity of the "Drudge Report", but I have noticed that there have been a number of things that the Romney campaign has clearly wanted to inject into the campaign discussion that have been launched, in effect, on the "Drudge Report". So again, not casting dispersions, but why do this the night before the debate? I mean, it does seem like sort of a -- SCHMIDT: Look, all of the discussion, all of the speculation in the political media is about how high the stakes are for Mitt Romney tomorrow night. So, it changes the subject a little bit. It`s a bright, shiny object. It just diverts attention away from the huge expectations that he has, because Mitt Romney`s lost control from an expectations perspective, you know, to reality. He`s behind in the race. He has to have a good debate performance to begin to close the gap to get back in the race and to get ahead of President Obama if he`s to be elected president. MADDOW: So this is sort of a safe -- I mean, obviously, I think the Romney campaign, not to play the expectations, but obviously, they`re hoping they do very well. If they do well, they can pretend this story at the "Drudge Report" didn`t happen and try to get a bounce out of the debate with whatever he scored on there. But if they don`t do well, they can fall back on this and hope this crowds out discussion of a bad debate performance? SCHMIDT: I watched the tape earlier online from the speech that the president gave five years ago. I think there`s almost zero chance we`re going to be talking about this tape on Thursday morning. MADDOW: Unless the right makes it a cause celebre against the media, right? I mean, there`s sort of rich ground to plow there in terms of whether or not the mainstream media is so biased against Mitt Romney that he can`t get a fair shot and that`s why it seems like he lost the debate? Couldn`t it be part of that? SCHMIDT: Maybe, but I think the reality is that you`re going to have the debate and whatever occurs during that debate is going to be the basis of what we`re talking about on Thursday morning. I mean, I`ll be shocked if this is what we`re talking about on Thursday morning. MADDOW: On the other side, I had Ryan Grim here who posted the Paul Ryan tape tonight, which is not new tape. It was some remarks made in November. Ryan said he was essentially fed that tape along with a lot of other clips of Paul Ryan over the weekend that he essentially just got around to it now and posted it today. It does not seem to have been timed quite so acutely for debate eve in the way that the "Drudge Report" release was. At the same time, substantively the Ryan tape seems to reinforce this 47 percent tape that Romney has had real trouble with. Do you see that as -- do you see it as reinforcing that problem? SCHMIDT: I think politically it may reinforce the problem. The 47 percent comments were a huge deal. They have a major impact in the race. And have been rightfully criticized by a lot of Republicans. I do think that the points that Paul Ryan is making substantively are different. Politically they merge together. But it is a meritorious debate to have when you look at the level of dependency in the country. Do we want to live in a country where 60 percent, 70 percent of the population is receiving some type of net transfer with tax dollars? Do we want to live in a country, is it societally healthy where a minority of people are the tax providers? Do you want everybody to be a stakeholder? Do you want everybody to have skin in the game? I think these are arguments worthy of a presidential campaign. So, I think what Paul Ryan is talking about, I think it will be blended together in the context of Romney`s comments, which were politically damaging, but I don`t think it`s necessarily fair to do it. MADDOW: I think you`re right about the political blending of it and about the necessity of that discussion and that could be a sober and serious discussion. I think the part that makes it political, unavoidably political, is when you get the sort of moral opprobrium for anybody who is on the receiving side of a net transfer from the government. That`s sort of, you know, you`re not taking responsibility for your life. You don`t believe in the American dream stuff. That`s when politics -- SCHMIDT: It`s the castigation of, you know, 47 percent comments. You`re really talking about almost the entire enlisted core of the United States military, for example, you know? I believe that veterans, for example, have earned the benefits that they are being given. So he described a big portion of the country that are Republican voters, a lot of them. That`s why it was so politically damaging. MADDOW: Yes. SCHMIDT: But I think what Paul Ryan is talking about is a different category. MADDOW: We shall see if this survives past tomorrow`s big day. It`s going to be fun to cover that with you tomorrow, Steve. Looking forward to it. SCHMIDT: Good to see you, Rachel. MADDOW: Steve Schmidt, Republican campaign senior strategist from McCain-Palin campaign in `08, current MSNBC contributor and a big part of our debate coverage tomorrow night. Woo-hoo! There`s news about the 2012 election that`s not five years old tonight. Although, it does have to do with an overall strategy on the vote that involves who gets to vote. Big new news that`s been occluded by all this junk in the media. That story is coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: So far tonight, video that had previously been collecting dust somewhere has taught us this much. For one thing, Mitt Romney surreptitiously taped remarks at a fundraiser where he expressed his moral disdain for 47 percent of the country that he described as not taking responsibility for their lives. Those remarks are going to end up being inescapable since tape from last fall shows that his running mate feels the same about not 47 percent but rather 30 percent of the country. So, there`s that. From another previously moldering piece of tape, we know not only that Barack Obama is black, but that he sometimes speaks to black audiences. And according to the "Drudge Report", sometimes he sounds black when he talks. So there`s that new news. But there`s also substantial news about who will be allowed to vote this fall. Big news from the Justice Department that has not been widely reported. Big news from the Justice Department and the courts. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: Last year, this billboard went up in a small town in Massachusetts. It was a special election for a state legislative seat there in the town of South Bridge, Mass. This billboard went up on the side of the road. It says, "Show ID," in all caps, which made it looked like you have to show a Massachusetts driver`s license in order to vote in that election. You do not have to show a Massachusetts driver`s license in order to vote in Massachusetts. But this billboard sure makes it look like it, doesn`t it? A few months later, in New Bedford, Mass, there was another special election. Voters inside the polling place in New Bedford were treated to the sight of these guys, former Massachusetts Republican candidate and a friend from the Tea Party, sitting in suits and ties at an official-looking table, with an official-looking sign. The sign says "show ID to vote." And then underneath that, it`s got some rules listed. Rules. Have valid government-issued ID, then it says some more stuff. The last rule, oh, voluntary compliance. Oh, right, I see, this isn`t actually a rule at all. It`s just a couple guys trying to make you think it`s a rule by sitting there looking all official with that sign, while you`re trying to vote. After that election, the Massachusetts secretary of state ruled that it was illegal for those guys to be inside that polling place with their big sign that says "show ID to vote". But by that time, the election was over, so maybe the damage was done, right? We don`t know how many people roll past that billboard in South Bridge and decided they wouldn`t turn out to vote because they didn`t have a driver`s license. We don`t know how many people walked into that poling place in New Bedford thinking they would vote saw that big sign that said they were going to show a valid government-issued ID in order to vote, knew they didn`t have that in their pocket and then they turned around and walked out. We don`t know. I mean, yes, it was a factually inaccurate claim on the billboard and on that sign. It was even illegal for those guys to be there inside that polling place making that claim. But you know what? Hey, the damage was done. If the point of requiring documentation to vote is that not everybody has it, and so, therefore, you winnow out of the electorate folks who aren`t likely to have the documentation. Well, people who are interested in protecting the vote may be able to stop you from changing the law in order to do that, right? But think about it? What`s the next best thing? Maybe you can`t win legally, but maybe you can get the word out. If you can be confusing enough about it, then maybe you can forget the law. Your strategy might work anyway, you might winnow people out of the electorate anyway by virtue of intimidation or at least confusion. Here`s how it works in the great state of Mississippi. In the great state of Mississippi this past November, a referendum passed that said people wouldn`t be able to vote in that state anymore unless they showed documentation that many thousands of Mississippi residents do not have. Yesterday, the Department of Justice told Mississippi that given the special scrutiny that state earned under the Voting Rights Act for many years of suppressing the black vote, given that special scrutiny, the Justice Department said no to this new proposed law in Mississippi. Or at least they said not yet. This law is at least not going to be in effect for the November election in Mississippi. You`re not going to have to show ID in order to vote in Mississippi. The worry here was that because thousands of Mississippi legal voters don`t have the ID that would have been necessary under the new law, this new law would have kept disproportionate numbers of those voters who happen to be poor people and minorities and elderly people and students from voting on Election Day. Well, that law is now technically been blocked by this Justice Department letter. But what if you could get that impact on the electorate any way? What would you want to do that, right? Well, this is what the Mississippi secretary of state, who is a Republican, has been doing all summer long in that state. He`s been printing up and posting a thousand signs all across the state that say voter ID in big letters with a number to call if you need ID, which by the way you don`t need to vote in Mississippi. Bless his heart. Mississippi`s Republican secretary of state spent the summer talking up the state`s new law and sending out postcards all over the state about the new ID you`re going to need to vote, even though that`s not the law in Mississippi. To be clear, if you do not have ID, it`s still OK for you to vote in Mississippi this year, but you`d never know that from the way the state`s top election officials have been spending your tax dollars to advertise to you that if you don`t have an ID, stay away from the polls. It`s not the law, but if, hey, you keep saying it over and over again, it might work any way, right? In Pennsylvania today, we got a court ruling on the Republican change to voting laws there that would make voting very much harder in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania`s law was the strictest in the nation. It has thought to have potentially the largest impact on the presidential election this year, to the extent that Pennsylvania is a swing state. The proportion of voters who would have been affected by this voter ID law there is sort of staggering. There are roughly 8 million registered voters in Pennsylvania. Estimates of the number of Pennsylvania residents who wouldn`t be allowed to vote under this new Republican law in that state ranged as high as 1.3 million. So of Pennsylvania`s 8 million, more than 1 million of them were just not going to be allowed to vote under the rule change? No wonder Pennsylvania Republicans thought this was going to be such a big deal. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) STATE REP. MIKE TURZAI (R-PA), MAJORITY LEADER: Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Yes, make voting harder -- done. That`s going to allow Mitt Romney to win our state. Well, today, the judge who originally upheld Pennsylvania`s new law sort of squashed it. Technically, he did squash it and this ought to be the most important thing, right? The bottom line here in Pennsylvania is that as of this judge`s ruling today, you don`t have to have a driver`s license or another form of government-issued photo ID, you can still vote in the election this November if you`re a legal voter even if you don`t have that ID. That part of the law has been struck at. So hundreds of thousands of old people and poor people and students and people who just live in Philly and take public transportation and don`t have a driver`s license, hundreds of thousands, maybe more than a million legal voters who were going to be blocked from voting from this new Republican law are now going to be allowed to vote. But, conveniently for the people trying to stop them from voting, this judge left a couple things still intact. First, the judge made clear that poll workers can still ask people if they`ve got ID any way. Even though if it`s not legally required for you to have an ID in order to vote, he says the poll worker can still ask you. So if you don`t have an ID, the poll worker asks you, they are supposed to let you go ahead and vote and say, I don`t have an ID. Think there`s any chance there`s going to be confusing around that? Think that`s going to be confusing for any poll worker, any poll worker might not understand how the conversation is supposed to go? Think there might be any hang ups? Think that might be confusing for voters who get asked that question. Think that might turn voters around so they end up not voting that day? Here`s the best part -- Pennsylvania`s Republican governor back in the day when they got this law passed hired a Republican fundraiser to create an ad campaign that was supposed to teach voters about the state`s new restrictions on voting. Multimillion dollar ad campaign to the people of Pennsylvania, broadcasting literally that if you do not have an ID, if you don`t have one of these, don`t bother showing up to vote. That is not the law in Pennsylvania. The law is you can show up even if you don`t have this ID, you`re allowed to vote. They tried to change the law. They could not get away with it. What about that ad campaign? Depending on how those conversations go, and how long those ads stay up, hey, they may not have got wan with changing the law, but it might just work anyway to keep all of those people without IDs away from the polling place. The people who are fighting the new law in the first place are asking the judge to quash the ad campaign too. The secretary of state office says that they are looking into the matter. You know, the mechanics of the election are upon us now. This was Ohio today. Yes, those are tents. People were sleeping in them because early in-person voting started in Ohio today and people slept out to be first in line. First Lady Michelle Obama was in Ohio today not just to persuade people and try to inspire people to vote for her husband but to persuade them to do so right this second which people in Ohio could do starting today. In most of the swing states, early voting is happening already. And yes, the campaigns are still trying to sway people and there`s the debate tomorrow. But we are now into it. We are into the mechanics of how the election is run. And in some ways, how the election is being run and how the campaign prepares for it looks a little desperate for the Republican Party right now. We learned that as of yesterday, the Republican Party has ended all of the new voter registration efforts in Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada and Colorado, all critically important swing states. The Republican Party had hired a single scandal-ridden company to register voters in all those key states and now they have fired that company after it appeared to be turning in fraudulent forms for registering voters. The same company had been planning get out the vote campaigns for the Republican Party in Ohio and Wisconsin before the Republican Party cut all ties to the firm. So if you`re a Republican partisan who wants Mitt Romney to win, you have to be concerned about this political reality that voter registration has been stopped by your party in those swing states well before the voter registration deadline. But if you are a person who`s actually worried about voter fraud, not just for partisan reasons, right, but if you`re worried about the possibility of voter fraud, you don`t have to worry about this group`s history that was hired by the RNC, about whether they have done something that is going to prevent votes from being counted. Not fake votes, real votes. In previous elections, this is group that is alleged to have gotten progressives, liberals, would-be Democrats to sign up to vote and then thrown away the registration forms of the voters who signed up as Democrats. Did that happen? This group has been fired now. And they are very ashamed and they say they`re sorry. But given what they were accused of in past, how much damage has been done? Might it work to suppress the vote anyway? Now with today`s ruling, the list of states where Republicans try to change the law to block hundreds of thousands of legal voters from being able to cast ballots, the number of states where Republicans have tried have been blocked by the courts includes Wisconsin, Texas, Florida, Arizona, South Carolina, Ohio, and now Pennsylvania and Mississippi. Back to back the courts have stepped in. And all in of those places Republicans have tried to change law and they`ve not been able to. But how do you quantify how much damage was done anyway? Joining us now is the president of America Votes, Joan Fitz-Gerald. She`s a former state county clerk in Jefferson County in Colorado and a former Colorado state senator. She ran for congress in `07 and lost the Democratic Party to Congressman Jared Polis there. Joan Fitz-Gerald, thank you for being with us tonight. JOAN FITZ-GERALD, AMERICA VOTES PRESIDENT: Thank you for having me, Rachel. MADDOW: In an earlier election, the voter registration firm that the Republican Party just fired in all these states, they are accused of impersonating the group you now lead, this group America Votes, which is obviously Democrat-leaning, left leaning, progressive group. The firm was accused back then of courting new progressive voters which they`re going to sign up as Democrats, and then tearing up those registrations. How did you -- how does your group quantify the damage from something like that? FITZ-GERALD: It`s really hard to quantify. That was back in 2004, and as you`ve said this year all of this talk about voter suppression actually creates an environment that does suppress the vote, even if you don`t pass the legislation or the legislation is not enacted. And we know that from studies that have been done. You`re setting up barriers to people, even real or imagined, that prevent people from going to the polls and exercising importantly a constitutional right. MADDOW: So even in the cases where the efforts to change the voting rules have been turned back by the courts like we saw today in Pennsylvania, even in states where it is been fought over but the voter suppressing side has not won, you`re saying people hear about that and believe they will be blocked from voting? FITZ-GERALD: Yes. There`s confusion. There`s confusion with people who work at the polls. There`s confusion with the voters. What do I need when I go? I`ve seen these signs. The ad campaign is continuing in Pennsylvania. So people are going to be confused even if the law was blocked by the courts saying they didn`t have enough time to get voter ID to all the people that needed it. Apparently a much larger number than the general assembly was willing to admit in Pennsylvania. MADDOW: What`s the cure of that? What`s the way to fight that? Obviously, part of that is winning the legal case. But if that`s not enough, how do you win the rest of the battle? FITZ-GERALD: We had always assumed that the law would be enacted, so we went to the extent of trying to find ways to get people ID because we were going to assume that they needed it. And frankly there were enough groups that could help in a presidential year. This now has been postponed to 2014, a gubernatorial year, and there won`t be that kind of help. So we`re going to continue to try and get people the voter ID that will eventually be required in Pennsylvania. MADDOW: Wow. When you think about the different levels of news awareness of all the people you have to reach, it can`t be through the news media. It`s an incredible education effort under way. FITZ-GERALD: It`s enormous. MADDOW: Joan Fitz-Gerald, president of America Votes, former county clerk and state senator in Colorado, I`d love to talk to you more about this. Would you come back and join us again? FITZ-GERALD: I`d love to. MADDOW: Absolutely. Thank you very much. FITZ-GERALD: Thank you for doing this. MADDOW: Absolutely. All right. More news and an important programming update for you still to come. Stay tuned. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: It`s been a bit of a frenzied night on politics news. And a newly rediscovered piece of video, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan from last November says that only 70 percent of Americans want the American dream. The other 30 percent of Americans just want their welfare state. That posted tonight at "Huffington Post". In more newly rediscovered footage on right wing Web sites and on FOX News, a pre-presidential Barack Obama from the years 2007 can be heard praising his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. The right wing Web site, the "Drudge Report" hyped their scoop on this by saying that President Obama talked in his speech about wanting to him all this sorts of help to poor people. Then-candidate Obama was talking about Iraq war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. But I`m sure it`s better politics for the right if they shorthand Iraq war veterans as poor people while also calling Mr. Obama angry and describing him as having an accent. It`s not subtle but I`m sure they think it`s great politics. So tonight has been an unsettled big night. Tomorrow night, though, is going to make tomorrow look like a traffic camera on a desert highway. The first debate between President Obama and Mr. Romney, you can watch every moment of it here live. I`ll be here in New York. Chris Matthews will be in Denver. Chris Hayes, Ed Schultz, Reverend Al Sharpton, Lawrence O`Donnell, Steve Schmidt and many others will all be helping us bring you the big show starting at 8:00 Eastern, going all the way to midnight. We could not be more excited about it. We will see you here tomorrow for the duration. Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell. Have a great night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END