updated 2/14/2006 4:14:04 PM ET 2006-02-14T21:14:04

As U.S. troops round out their third year in Iraq, several Iraq war veterans are returning from the front lines and running for Congress.  Three of them joined Chris Matthews on 'Hardball'.

Hiram Lewis served as a JAG officer in Iraq in 2003.  He is now a Republican looking to challenge Senator Robert Byrd for his seat in West Virginia.  Patrick Murphy served in the 82nd Airborne in Iraq from 2003-to-2004 and earned a bronze star.  He‘s currently running against Andy Warren in the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania‘s eighth district.  And Van Taylor has served in the Marine Corps fourth reconnaissance battalion in 2003 and participated in the rescue of American POW Jessica Lynch.  He‘s running in the 17th district in Texas as a Republican. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST 'HARDBALL': OK, we‘ve got two R‘s, one D.  Let‘s start with the first R.  Hiram Lewis, why are you proud to have served in the war in Iraq?

HIRAM LEWIS, IRAQ VETERAN:  Well, first of all, we‘re bringing stability and democracy to the Middle East.  If we‘re successful, we‘ll change the world forever.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me to go Patrick Murphy.  Why do you think it was a mistake for U.S. troops to enter and try to liberate or do whatever we‘re doing in Iraq?  Whatever our mission is there, why do you think that was the wrong mission?

PATRICK MURPHY, IRAQ VETERAN:  Because, Chris, we took our eye off the ball in the war on terror.  I saw with it my own eyes and walked in my own combat boots, so we need a change in direction, not just in Iraq but at the home front as well.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go to Van Taylor.  Why are you confident or why are you proud of your service in Iraq?

VAN TAYLOR, IRAQ VETERAN:  I‘m proud of my service in Iraq because we‘re making a tremendous difference to keep our families and our country more secure here at home.  I fought in Iraq for President Bush‘s foreign policy agenda and I‘m going to go fight in the U.S. Congress for President Bush‘s domestic policies.

MATTHEWS:  OK, so just to review that, get everybody square here—

Van Taylor, you‘re a Republican.  You think it was a smart move to go into Iraq in the United States.  Smart for us to do that?

TAYLOR:  It is...

MATTHEWS:  ... Smart, use that word or don‘t use it?  Challenging or accepted?

TAYLOR:  Smart, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Smart.  Let me go to Hiram Lewis.  You as well believe it was a smart geopolitical move for the United States to go into Iraq.

LEWIS:  Challenging but smart, Chris, yes.

MATTHEWS:  But smart.

LEWIS:  Yes, smart.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go to you, Patrick Murphy, was it smart to go into Iraq? 

MURPHY:  Chris, unfortunately my two colleagues here have not read our own CIA reports that said Iraq has now become the No. 1 terrorist breeding ground in the entire world.  That is not smart.  That is not being smart when you fight the war on terror.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe—let me go right back to—I‘m trying to be quick here so everybody gets a chance because everybody is now getting a clear sense of where you guys stand on the war, two Republicans for the war, one Democrat against the war. 

Let me ask you, Hiram Lewis, does the fighting man or woman who sees combat have an advantage over someone who has never seen combat?

LEWIS:  I believe so, Chris.  I believe you need to be willing to serve as a grunt in the trenches to represent our nation effectively and to create a good stable democracy.  And Iraq is a very important, pivotal part of our foreign policy.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Patrick Murphy, do you believe a person who‘s fought and faced action is a better person to serve in the United States political system? 

MURPHY:  I do, Chris, think it does give you a special experience that you can‘t get anywhere else.  And I‘m proud of my service in the military.  But it did change us.  It changed us for the better, it changed us to make the next chapter in public service become a reality.

MATTHEWS:  Van Taylor, do you think a person who fought military action is better than one who didn‘t, all things considered?

TAYLOR:  The war on terrorism is going to be with us for a long time and it can only help to send people to Washington who have a deep understanding of this war on terror.

MATTHEWS:  John Kerry—I‘m going to ask you about consistency.  John Kerry fought in the Vietnam War, George Bush didn‘t.  Who‘d you vote for?

TAYLOR:  I voted for George Bush.

MATTHEWS:  But you just said that a person who has served in military combat is better than one who didn‘t.  Why did you change that rule in that case? 

TAYLOR:  That‘s a great question, Chris.  And speaking for myself, people are excited about my candidacy not just because of my service in Iraq but they are also excited to support Van Taylor and log onto my Web site,

MATTHEWS:  Right, but get to my question here.  Why did you vote for Bush, who didn‘t serve in Vietnam against Kerry who did, if the principle you just espoused is the fighting man is a better politician?

TAYLOR:  It‘s that, but it‘s also my experience as a businessman, as a business leader and it‘s also providing the right policies for our country.  Cut and run is not a way to keep America safe and secure.

MATTHEWS:  Hiram Lewis, same question to you.  You said that fighting is better than a person who didn‘t fight.  Why didn‘t you vote for Kerry or for Gore before him?  They bought fought in Vietnam and Bush didn‘t.  If you have a principle here, why didn‘t you apply it here?

LEWIS:  I believe it needs to be a willingness to serve, Chris.  I was in third ranger battalion and I was willing to serve but I didn‘t get called.  We didn‘t get called around the world.  While I was in the National Guard, six months in the National Guard, I was called up to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  It‘s a willingness to serve that‘s important because you need to be willing to serve if you‘re going to send someone, somebody else‘s son or daughter into harm‘s way.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you, Hiram, while you‘re up here, running against Bobby Byrd, he‘s been around forever.  Why do you think you‘d be a better senator than him?

LEWIS:  Well first of all, Chris, West Virginia‘s lost over 800,000 residents over the last 50 years.  We‘re near first in every good—in every bad category, near last in every good category.  I want to turn that trend around and bring our children back to the states so they can have jobs and opportunity and they can raise their families in West Virginia—pay their taxes in West Virginia and help West Virginia move forward into the next century.

MATTHEWS:  Patrick Murphy, why do you think you‘d be better than that other Irish guy that‘s in that seat now, Fitzpatrick?

MURPHY:  Well, Chris, it‘s simple.  I bring a fresh set and a new approach to Washington D.C.  The people in Bucks County want change.  People across the country want change.  They want a change and make affordable health care.  They want change and energy independent.  But more importantly, they want to change, they want to feel safe.  And by fighting the war in Iraq and taking our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and the real war on terror and Osama bin Laden, does not do that, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I like Bucks County the way it is, but that‘s just my opinion.  Anyway, Van Taylor, why do you think you‘d do a better job than the guy you‘re running against?

TAYLOR:  I can tell you why people are excited about my candidacy.  They‘re excited to send someone to Washington who has experience in the Marine Corps and in business, that addresses the problems of our time:

winning the war on terror, securing our border, growing our economy, bringing fiscal sanity back to Washington.  And I‘m going to fight for traditional family values.

MATTHEWS:  Well I want to thank you all for your service, guys, and any women who are running.  We‘re going to try to get everybody on who‘s running.  You certainly deserve the honor to run for office and maybe you deserve to win.  It‘s great to have you on.

Hiram Lewis, good luck, you‘re going to need it.  Patrick Murphy, good luck, you‘re going to need it.  And Van Taylor, I‘m not sure what your situation is, but thank you and good luck.

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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