msnbc.com
updated 6/6/2006 7:19:25 PM ET 2006-06-06T23:19:25

Guests: Trent Lott, Ron Reagan, Vin Weber, Chuck Todd and Chris Cillizza.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Primary night. Will the stench of Duke Cunningham create a Democratic victory tonight in California? Will the goo path of the slug become the Democrats’ freeway to victory? And will the Democrats pick the best man to terminate Arnold? Let’s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I’m Chris Matthews. And welcome to HARDBALL: Decision 2006.

June 6, 2006, D-Day. Could it be devilish day for politicians in the eight states holding primaries today? The big questions on this D-Day: Will voters make this election a referendum on President Bush? Will voters cast away incumbents? Will one issue — Iraq — drive voters to the polls today? Or will that issue be a gut issue, like gay marriage, as the Republicans hope? Or will Democrats be successful in branding Republicans as the culture of corruption? Or do all issues pale in the face of the war in Iraq, which polls consistently show to be the number-one issue concerning Americans today?

The hottest contest today is the special election for Congressman Duke Cunningham’s seat out in San Diego, where the horse race is said to be a dead heat. This is an election that could foreshadow a doomsday scenario for Republicans come November if the Democratic candidate pulls out a surprise victory in that Republican stronghold.

So this is it. This is where it starts, as HARDBALL kicks off our Decision 2006 coverage. The stage is set. And finally the voters get to hold their leaders accountable for the war in Iraq, for the war on terrorism, for the economy, and the tragic response to Katrina. From corruption to immigration, to gay marriage, the people of the country are ready to bring it to the ballot box.

And HARDBALL stands ready to report on every development in this historic midterm election. We do politics here. In a moment, we’ll hear from one of the savviest senators on the scene, Mississippi’s Trent Lott, but first HARDBALL’s David Shuster with the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After watching voters head to the polls today, leaders in both political parties are now bracing for the results. The top race is a special election in California, to fill the congressional seat formally held by Republican Duke Cunningham. Last fall, the congressman pled guilty to taking $2 million in bribes; then, he resigned.

RANDY “DUKE” CUNNINGHAM (R), FORMER CONGRESSMAN: I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, most importantly the trust of my friends and family.

SHUSTER: Democrat Francine Busby has been attacking what she calls the Republican culture of corruption. The GOP candidate is Brian Bilbray, who has been helped by $4.5 million from the Republican National Congressional Committee.

The White House has also put its prestige on the line, with phone messages for district voters recorded by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and First Lady Laura Bush. A Bilbray loss in this district would be a huge sign of midterm election trouble for the White House and for GOP lawmakers worried that the president’s unpopularity, combined with scandals in Congress, could remove the GOP from power on Capitol Hill.

In Montana, the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal has been front and center in the Republican Senate primary. Incumbent Senator Conrad Burns, politically wounded by the Abramoff investigation, is facing a challenge from Republican State Senator Bob Keenan. The latest polling shows Burns would lose the general election to either of the Democratic candidates.

The Democratic primary features establishment candidate John Morrison against Jon Tester, a darling of liberal Internet blogs and Web sites.

In Alabama, it was three years ago when State Judge Roy Moore was removed from office after refusing to remove the Ten Commandments from his courthouse.

ROY MOORE (R), CANDIDATE FOR ALABAMA GOVERNOR: The federal judge can intrude his powers into state sovereignty and say we cannot acknowledge God undermines the entire justice system of this state and is wrong, illegal, and unconstitutional under the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

SHUSTER: Today, Moore is waging a challenge in the Republican primary against incumbent Governor Bob Riley; however, religious expression has not been a big issue for voters, and the final pre-election polls had Riley up by more than 40 points.

In California today, Democrats are battling over which candidate gets to take on Republican incumbent Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Democrats will nominate either State Treasurer Phil Angelides or the State Controller Steve Westly.

The candidates have spent millions of dollars slamming each other, delighting Republicans who fear that Governor Schwarzenegger is far weaker than when he took office and could face a tough re-election.

And in Iowa, Governor Tom Vilsack is not on the ballot, but his potential presidential campaign might be. Vilsack’s handpicked successor Mike Blouin is running in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. And a Blouin loss could cause trouble for Vilsack, as he considers whether Iowans love his legacy enough to kick start a presidential campaign in 2008.

Other possible presidential candidates are also watching this election closely and keeping track of the issues that resonate. But the most scrutiny is coming from members of Congress. Republicans fear a midterm election bloodbath, and both parties are monitoring the mood of voters who are going to the polls today.

I’m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, David.

Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi is running for re-election and has no major primary challenger today. He’s the former Senate majority leader, and he might be looking to get back into the leadership one of these days.

Senator Lott, late today President Bush said that Iran situation is moving in the right direction. Let’s listen to what the president had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And so we will see — we will see if the Iranians take our offer seriously. The choice is theirs to make. I have said the United States will come and sit down at the table with them, so long as they are willing to suspend their enrichment in a verifiable way. So it sounds like a positive response to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Are we going back to war with another country in the Middle East, do you think?

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: I don’t see that in the foreseeable future; obviously, you can’t take that off the table.

But I think the administration and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others are playing it properly. We’ve had others trying to talk to Iran. Now they made a little switch and said, no, we’ll be engaged, too; I thought that was a smart move.

They have put an offer on the table. Now, it appears that Iran is at least looking at it seriously. I don’t know quite what to make of their leadership, and they’re very troublesome, but I do think that the diplomatic string in an effort to get them to work with the world community and come up with some solution is worth pursuing to, you know, the final effort.

MATTHEWS: Do you think we should go to war if Iran insists on building a nuclear weapon? Should we go to war over that?

LOTT: I don’t ever advocate going to war. But, again, you cannot ever say what you will not do when you don’t know what the circumstances may be in months or, you know, years from now.

They are troublesome, and we have to be worried about what they might be planning to do or what their threat to the region, to the greater region. And so, you know, we need to try to bring them to their senses. Look, Libya finally got the word.

MATTHEWS: Right. Well, they wanted back into the oil market, too. Let’s look at the dollars and cents here.

LOTT: Well, Iran has got a little interest in the oil market, too. They can threaten to cut it off, but who would it hurt the most? Them, 80 percent of their economy...

MATTHEWS: Can I ask you a tough question?

LOTT: Yes.

MATTHEWS: I have a tough one for you.

LOTT: All right. Good.

MATTHEWS: Does the president have the authority right now to bomb Iran if he wants to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... without going to Congress and get a formal authorization for an act of war?

LOTT: The answer I have learned over the years is he probably does, but should not, without consultation and approval by the Congress.

MATTHEWS: But constitutionally can the president commit an act of war against another country? This is the problem I’ve had with this situation for years now. Why doesn’t the Congress insist on its constitutional duty...

LOTT: I think it should.

MATTHEWS: ... to declare war, if we should, and impeach the president if he starts a war without approval?

LOTT: Well, you know, Chris, there are a lot of questions that come into play there. You’ve been around this town a long time.

MATTHEWS: No, but it’s a serious question. Why don’t you just say, Senator, that the president has to get authority from Congress to take an act of war against a country like Iran?

LOTT: I think he should. But, obviously, constitutional scholars might argue the other side, but those days are over. The president — this president, any president, before they took an act of that nature, except, you know, in an emergency, having to defend ourselves against an attack, would come to the Congress, and this president would, too.

And, by the way, if he doesn’t, it would be a huge problem, because there are worries about erosion of the separation of powers between the branches of the government. It’s a legitimate concern.

MATTHEWS: Haven’t you heard this story that the president has decided that had will have to act against Iran, because the president who comes after him won’t have the stomach for it, so he’s going to do it before he leaves? You haven’t heard that?

LOTT: I haven’t heard that. You know, I presume that that’s a theory that somebody could come up with. But, you know, I don’t — this president is not going to act precipitously. He didn’t with Afghanistan, and he didn’t with Iraq.

Now, you can disagree with what was done, but I was involved in the middle of that, getting that Iraq resolution through. I was very much a part of it. We worked very hard to make sure that Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman and others were in on it. I worked with Colin Powell.

MATTHEWS: They were willing partners at that point.

LOTT: Well, they were. Actually, they were very articulate.

MATTHEWS: They were at a sprint to get to the White House, those two guys, to join you.

LOTT: Well, they were very convincing and very articulate the day we stood in the Rose Garden and spoke together in support of the resolution.

MATTHEWS: I remember that. I will never forget it. Let me ask you this, Senator, just to clear that up, so that people watching will have a clear statement. Under your beliefs in the balance of power, the checks and balances, this president cannot bomb targets in Iran without the approval of Congress?

LOTT: It would depend on the circumstances. If it was an emergency situation, he probably could. But if it was a deliberate act, not provoked by emergency circumstances, he should come to the Congress.

MATTHEWS: Let’s talk about something that’s not quite as important to most people, and that’s this issue of gay marriage. The last time this was voted on — you’re smiling, because it isn’t as important.

Two years ago, you had a vote in the Senate and you were able to come up with 48 votes for cloture. I think it was 47 Republicans. And Ben Nelson, I think, joined you, 48 votes. Do you think you’ll do better?

LOTT: I suspect we might do a little better, but I don’t think it will be nearly enough.

MATTHEWS: It’s 67 you need.

LOTT: You couldn’t get anywhere near that.

MATTHEWS: So why the exercise?

LOTT: I mean, if you get — you know, I’d be surprised if we get much more than 51, 52.

MATTHEWS: Why the vote then?

LOTT: There are a lot of people, obviously, that are concerned about this situation, about the erosion that has been or will be taking place through the court actions. There are people all over this country that feel very strongly about it, Republicans and Democrats.

Look, I can’t be too critical of the leadership for scheduling a vote on something like this. I mean, I’ve scheduled votes on constitutional amendment myself when I had that role to play. I did it on the balanced budget issue, and I did it on the flag-burning constitutional amendment. I don’t think I ever did it on this...

MATTHEWS: Just to what, accomplish what?

LOTT: Well, first of all, on the balanced budget and on the flag burning, we actually had a chance to win them both. I think one of the criticisms that is understandable is, “OK, why now, the timing of it?” Well...

MATTHEWS: Do you think it’s Karl Rove pushing for an election issue?

LOTT: You know...

MATTHEWS: He’s been pretty busy lately.

LOTT: ... I wouldn’t put it past him.

MATTHEWS: Right.

LOTT: But in the defense of the leader, Bill Frist, scheduling it now, sometime, even as the leader of the Senate, you don’t control totally what the schedule may be. Events cause you to have to take something off. Then you’ve got to put it back on and with good reason.

MATTHEWS: Back home, you’re a beloved senator from Mississippi. I think this election will prove it. Do the people back home, when they come up to you in restaurants or at airports, whenever you bump into them, do they bring that issue up? Do they bring it up, or is it something that they don’t bring up?

LOTT: It’s not brought up in a category like Iraq, or immigration, or energy costs, or even tax policy. But when you go to meetings where you have a number of religious activists or if — you go to church, people do come up and comment on it. It’s not something that you don’t hear about, but it’s not one of those big issues that people do just come up on the street and bring it to you.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think kids — I mean, kids in their 20s, as old as their 20s — seem to be OK with this and people our age don’t seem to be so OK with it?

LOTT: Frankly, I’m not sure that’s a positive commentary...

MATTHEWS: About our times?

LOTT: ... about our times and our kids. You know, I don’t want to be too judgmental. But it is, you know, an evolving or a different standard from what we’ve had in the past. I’m troubled by it, quite frankly.

MATTHEWS: Everybody has a right to argue this issue. I don’t see what’s wrong with arguing it.

LOTT: No, no, and...

MATTHEWS: I’m just amazed by the — younger kids are much more turned off to abortion than people my age, but, for some reason, they are shifting on this. Maybe because it’s been legal.

LOTT: You know, Chris, we’ve been through this. You’ve been through this. With I was in college, I was a little more liberal myself. I remembered arguing this very point, this question of abortion with my own kids, particularly my daughter, who couldn’t understand why I would be opposed to that. And then one day she became a young professional woman, and then she became a mother, and now she’s much more pro-life than even I am.

MATTHEWS: Yes, yes.

LOTT: Life has changed her. You know the old argument: When you’re young, if you’re not liberal, there’s something wrong with your heart. And when you’re older, if you’re 60 and you’re still liberal, there’s something wrong with your mind.

And I do think life teaches you lessons, and sometimes they take you the other way. Sometimes you learn by the difficulties of life that maybe you were too high and mighty, and maybe you were too profound and...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I’m getting to like you too much. Anyway, Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, who is going to be re-nominated tonight by his party, I’m sure.

Coming up, San Diego voters are deciding who will replace the disgraced former Congressman Duke Cunningham today. Why are the Republicans and the Democrats pouring so much money into this race? What’s the national importance of one little congressional race in San Diego? We’re going to find out.

You’re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Ron Reagan is an MSNBC analyst and former U.S. congressman from Minnesota is Vin Weber. Both are smart about their party politics. Let me start with the congressman. Oh, we got here — here’s what President Bush said late today about illegal immigration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fundamental question is: How do you treat them with respect and at the same time have a system that’s fair and orderly and respects our laws?

And so my attitude on that is, if a person wants to apply for citizenship, they got to pay a fine first. They have broken the laws of the United States, and they need to pay a fine. Then they’ve got to prove they’ve got a clean criminal record, paid their taxes, and worked, and then can apply for citizenship, but they’re at the back of the line.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Is the president dying out there in the middle of this issue? Is he stuck right in the middle of an issue that has no middle?

FORMER REP. VIN WEBER (R), MINNESOTA: The president is trying to do the right thing, but the president is the president of a country that is increasingly concerned about immigration, broadly defined, and you got to reassure them at least that the government has control of the situation.

Then maybe you can make the case that we should have a relatively liberal and welcoming policy, but until you convince people that we have some ability to control immigration, they’re just going to...

MATTHEWS: Then have another bill.

WEBER: ... they’re just going to take a build a wall attitude.

MATTHEWS: Do you think the president is so far ahead of the parade he can’t hear the music?

WEBER: No, I don’t think the president...

MATTHEWS: Do you think he knows the feeling of the country and you regular conservatives out there?

WEBER: I think the president gets this issue far better than the average grassroots conservative does.

MATTHEWS: But he doesn’t agree with the majority of your party.

WEBER: But he understands what’s good for the country. He understands what’s good for the party. But, yes, we face an off-term election this year, and the country — or at least the Republican base is in a much more restrictive mode.

MATTHEWS: Ron, is there a middle in this one?

RON REAGAN, MSNBC ANALYST: There doesn’t seem to be, or you could argue that the president has actually struck the middle path here in this. He seems to be trying to do some version of the right thing. Unfortunately, his conservative base doesn’t seem to agree with him on this; they want to build walls; they want to put, you know, vigilantes on the border and all that sort of thing. And he’s trying to court his conservative base.

MATTHEWS: Who wants to put vigilantes on the border?

REAGAN: Well, you know, those guys that go down there, not the National Guard, of course...

MATTHEWS: The Minutemen.

REAGAN: The Minutemen, exactly, the Minutemen people.

WEBER: Ron, excuse me, could I just — those are not the Republican base. I mean, they may be vigilantes; they’re not the Republican base.

REAGAN: I’m not so sure about that, Vin.

MATTHEWS: OK, the irregular Republicans want to send Minutemen. Let me go to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: You’re out there, Ron. You know the West Coast pretty well. You grew up out there in Southern California, in Sacramento, et cetera, et cetera. Why is one little race down in San Diego, the old Jim Bates seat, become the hottest race in the country?

REAGAN: Yes, Busby-Bilbray, it sounds like it ought to be a big production number, and I guess it is. They spent a ton of money down there in San Diego. I think two words: immigration — which we were just discussing — and corruption. Of course, this is the Randy “Duke” Cunningham seat, he of the

MATTHEWS: ... hottest race in the country.

REAGAN: Yes, Busby/Bilbray, it sounds like it ought to be a big production number. And I guess it is, they spent a ton of money down there in San Diego. I think two words: immigration, which we were just discussing, and corruption.

Of course this is the Randy “Duke” Cunningham seat, he of the Rolls Royce for defense contracts, et cetera. And so you’ve got a Democrat, Francine Busby, who shouldn’t even be in this race, frankly. This is a very Republican area and yet she is running neck and neck with Mr. Bilbray.

PHILLIPS: Do you think the goo trail, as the slugs leave out there in California, that little goo path, do you think that goo path created by Duke Cunningham is a freeway of opportunities for the Democrats?

REAGAN: It could be, it could be. One disadvantage Mr. Bilbray has is that he’s a former lobbyist and that doesn’t sit well with people now, as we know about the Abramoff stuff and the K Street project and all of that. The advantage may go to him though on immigration. This is the San Diego area of course, they feel very strongly about immigration. The border is very close there. And he takes a more hard-lined position on immigration than Ms. Busby does. Ms. Busby, ironically enough, takes more or less the president’s position.

MATTHEWS: OK, she got 38 percent in the race last time. She thinks she can win 51 percent this time. Do you think that’s possible, Congressman?

WEBER: Is it possible? Sure. It’s a very close race, for all the reasons Ron just cited. The corruption issue is an even bigger than he cited. We also have a couple of Republican city councilmen in trouble down there on corruption. Kind of the ultimate test of the corruption issue, in a way that’s probably not going to be at least to this extent in the rest of the country. I would only say, yes, this is a Republican district, but George Bush got 55 percent of the vote there. That’s not rock ribbed unassailable.

MATTHEWS: And it was 54 the first time.

WEBER: This is a district a Republican could lose. We shouldn’t, we hope we’re going to win tonight, but I don’t draw any huge implications either way from it.

MATTHEWS: Is this one of the clean parts of the country politically or one of the parts that isn’t so clean, like in Minnesota where you come from, all elections are pretty clean. There are other parts of the country I will not mention where people put up with a lot of stench in local big city politics and keep reelecting some real bums, because they like them or they’re the same ethnic group.

WEBER: I don’t think of California as a having dirty politics. I think California has had, in recent years, some screwed up elections in terms of the way they conduct them. It took them two weeks to figure out who the comptroller of the state was four years ago and they got Alameda County this time counting their ballots in the gubernatorial primary by paper ballot because they don’t trust machines. So they’ve had some screw ups in California, but I think of it as a relatively clean screw up.

MATTHEWS: Fairly clean screw up. We’ll be right back with Ron — I want to talk about this Arnold race, because on the East Coast if we don’t talk enough about the biggest state and the question is who is going to be the next governor of California and I think there’s a real choice tonight for Californians and maybe watching this show might even affect how people vote. And I can say what I think of these two guys, Angelides and this guy Westly.

And later, MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson is coming on with the Reverend Al Sharpton. They’re going to talk about whether Decision 2006 will be a referendum on Mr. Bush. A lot of people think it’s the only issue on the ballot, his name is Bush. We’ll be right back in a moment with more HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back. We’re talking with MSNBC political analyst Ron Reagan and former U.S. congressman from Minnesota and current Republican strategist — I love that term — Vin Weber.

Let me ask you, Ron, you’re out there. What is your — you tend to be a liberal on most issues, in fact all that can I think of. What do you think of these two candidates to go against Arnold Schwarzenegger, Westly, the eBay billionaire and Phil Angelides, the long-time democratic activist?

REAGAN: Well the advantage that they have against Schwarzenegger of course is they’re both Democrats and California remains a Democratic state. The Republicans would seem to want to run against Phil Angelides instead of Westly. They think that they’ll have more luck portraying him as a conventional liberal Democrat. He has come out — one of the big issues in the race is taxes and he’s come out for increasing taxes on wealthy people in California, whereas Westly says only as a last resort will he raise taxes.

MATTHEWS: You mean only the second day that he’s in office.

REAGAN: That’s right.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you Ron, Barbara Boxer out in California gets elected on the left, she’s very successful. So maybe because she’s always lucky with her opponents. But she never goes to the center, never pretends to be a centrist, a classic liberal on every issue and yet she’s won three Senate races out there. How does that work?

REAGAN: Well listen, California is a liberal state. I mean, you can run as a liberal in California. Maybe in other states, you’ve got to kind of hue to the center if you’re a Democrat, but that’s not necessarily true in California. So we’ll have to see how this plays out with Angelides and Westly. We may not know for a week, by the way. There are a lot of absentee ballots. This could go on for a long time.

MATTHEWS: Ron, I have a Republican strategist with me here.

WEBER: And I’m not a vigilante.

MATTHEWS: Who wins this primary fight?

WEBER: I think Angelides wins and I think he’s probably our best candidate to run — for us to beat, because he is more of a conventional liberal. The tax argument that Ron referred is interesting from a Republican standpoint. They are arguing about whether or not they should raise taxes $5 billion or $10 billion. Westly said $10 billion and Phil said, “No, no, no, only $5 billion.” That’s bigger than the budgets in some states. So we’ve got the setup that we want for that campaign, but it is a liberal state, there’s no question about it.

MATTHEWS: How come Republicans don’t want to pay the bills? Thank you very much. I think Angelides is a better candidate. I think he’s more genuine, I think Westly is a little bit hard to read. Let me be honest. I can’t quite get him. Anyway, thank you, Ron Reagan, thank you Vin Weber. Up next, Reverend Al Sharpton, a man we all get, and MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson, sans bow tie. Will fights over the gay marriage issue and taxes mean anything on Election Day or is it all about Iraq? We’ll talk about that. Is it all Iraq from now until November? You’re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET WRAP)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. In San Diego’s 50th Congressional District, a former Republican Congressman turned lobbyist, and a Democrat local school board member look to replace disgraced former congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who took those $2 million in bribes and got eight years in prison for conspiracy and tax evasion. In an unexpectedly close race, in a heavily Republican district, let’s look at it, Jennifer London reports from San Diego.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JENNIFER LONDON, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the eve of the runoff election, Democratic Candidate Francine Busby gland-handed commuters, while Republican Brian Bilbray worked the phones.

BRIAN BILBRAY, REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE: I would appreciate your consideration.

LONDON: The race to replace disgraced congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham has come down to a fight for every last vote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One vote at a time.

LONDON: A local runoff election that has grabbed nationally attention, because no one thought it would come down to this.

CARL LUNA, SAN DIEGO MESA COLLEGE: This is a Republican district by a 3-2 registration. It should be a Republican walk in the park, but it’s a hotly contested election.

LONDON: Historically, San Diego and the 50th District have been Republican strongholds, fondly referred to not just as red but as ruby red, so how is it possible that a Democratic candidate is igniting fears of a party takeover?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I changed to Democrat.

LONDON: Brenda Bowman (ph) and other voters like her may be the reason.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Since 2005, there are several people that I know who have not only said they’re going to vote for a Democrat, but have changed their affiliation to either Democrat or an independent, because they are so saddened by what they’ve seen happen to the Republican party.

FRANCINE BUSBY, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE: If you want real change, then send me to congress.

LONDON: Busby and her party have not only benefited from the president’s missteps and sinking poll numbers, but also from disillusioned voters, fed up with political scandals.

BUSBY: People are rising above partisanship. They’re looking at the person.

LONDON: For his part, Bilbray’s campaign has centered on a tough, anti-illegal immigration platform.

ANNOUNCER: Today he’s leading the fight for stop amnesty for illegal immigrants.

LONDON: An issue he says which is No. 1 with voters.

BILBRAY: The great debate in the nation right now an one that will be decided within the next six months or two years in Congress is going to be the issue of do we give 11 to 30 million illegal aliens amnesty.

LONDON: And Bilbray is hoping a regrettable blunder by Busby, recorded during a speech last week before a large Latino crowd, will give him the edge he needs.

BUSBY: You can all help. You don’t need papers for voting.

LONDON: Busby says she misspoke.

BUSBY: I said it, I immediately changed my words and restated my intended statement, which I’ve explained is you don’t need to be a registered voter to help in a campaign.

LONDON (on camera): Whatever the outcome of this election, it will be a short-lived victory for the winner and odds are voters will have another Bilbray-Busby faceoff later this year. Because this is a special election to replace Cunningham, the winner only holds the seat until November. For HARDBALL, Jennifer London, NBC News, San Diego.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Jennifer London. With President Bush down for the count, is congress up for grabs. Voters in California and seven other states hit the polls today as we’ve said before. Will they send a clear message about Iraq or gas prices or corruption like in San Diego? Or will they vote on gay marriage or will they win or lose depending on all those issues?

Here to dig into it for all of us is former presidential candidate the Reverend Al Sharpton and MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson, host of “THE SITUATION” here on MSNBC.

Reverend Sharpton, I’m just looking at that comment by that woman, the Democrat there, Busby. Why in God’s earth would she tell people with a microphone on that they can vote without being legal. She said without papers, there’s no way in the world that doesn’t mean that you can vote illegally and she’s saying you can. What impulse could make a person say that, except they know you can get away with it?

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: Well I think she said she tried to quickly recover.

MATTHEWS: From what? The truth?

SHARPTON: From saying something that was not factual. I think it is very possible she made a statement that she did not mean the words, but in fact was saying that you can work in campaigns even if you’re not registered voters. Saying voting, she clearly didn’t say that, but if that’s what she meant to say, I could take her at her word. I don’t know. I’ve seen even the great Tucker Carlson say things he didn’t mean.

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC ANCHOR: No you haven’t. I mean —

MATTHEWS: Tucker, I read that as a pretty clear statement that she knew in California you can’t be required to show a government-created I.D. card, therefore you can get away with cheating if you’re illegal. That sounds like what she was saying there.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: What the last package which I thought was good but didn’t explain this district where I grew up by the way, is yes it has a lot Republicans in it but it is changing and has changed really dramatically over the past 20 years because of immigration, so I think Busby has an advantage she wouldn’t have had then, but this is a really interesting issue I think for Bilbray.

Immigration allows him to run against President Bush from his own party, by saying, look, I’m tougher on immigration than the president is. The other factor here, there’s a third party candidate, William Griffith, who is running entirely on immigration. He has been endorsed by The Minutemen.

Busby, the Democrat, is actually essentially endorsing the third party candidate in her ads. So if Bilbray loses, I think it will be because people like the Democrat for corruption reasons, because of Duke Cunningham, but also because this third party candidate siphoned off a lot of anti-immigration voters.

MATTHEWS: Reverend Sharpton, do you think people vote negative or vote positive when they go in the booth?

SHARPTON: I think that people energize sometime more by anger, and negative feelings, if they are anti-who’s the incumbent, who’s in. Sometimes that motivates and moves voters for good or bad, a lot more than if there is a positive proposal in front of them, so I think negative probably, particularly in a year like this, where I think Iraq will reign supreme, I think the negative impulse, the anti-Bush feeling might tell the story of 2006.

SHARPTON: What do you think, Tucker, negative or positive?

CARLSON: It’s always negative. People always vote against things. They vote out of fear. There’s nothing wrong with that. I do. You do. That’s the American way and we ought to be voting out of fear in my view.

Iraq though, I would like to see that debated in this and every election, because it’s the most important issue but it won’t be in the way it would be, because Democrats haven’t taken a united stand on it. Most of them have been too cowardly and say what they think, which is it’s a disaster. For the same reason they voted for it in the first place, they don’t have the political courage required to stand up and tell voters what they really think.

MATTHEWS: Reverend Sharpton the old rule of California politics going back 50 years, Murray Schotner (ph), who was Nixon’s campaign manager, used to say voters can’t think of more than three things when they go to vote, so make sure they’re all about your opponent and they are all negative.

That seems to be a pretty good prescription for a Democrat running this year. You vote against Iraq, you vote against corruption, you vote against high gas prices and you vote Democrat. It’s easy.

SHARPTON: I think that you’re right. I think the problem is, and I hate to agree with Tucker in public, but I think the problem is a lot of Democrats are not honing in on the obvious. Sometimes we become too policy driven and high brow for our own good.

I think you hit two or three themes, stay right there, because that’s where the public is, and I think that in order to do that, you must take unequivocal passionate stands yourself. You got to believe it.

MATTHEWS: Do you agree now — we all agree that the Murray Schotner (ph) rule should be honored, if you have three negatives against your opponent, stop talking?

SHARPTON: They will only remember two or three and by the time they vote, maybe one, and you’ve got to be able to do that.

MATTHEWS: You are more cynical than anybody. Tucker, do you agree with that? Just go negative, you’ve got a couple good ones.

CARLSON: But you also have to have some kind coherent idea and I don’t think — look, if Democrats actually came up with an Iraq policy, here’s what we ought to do, I’m not saying its easy, they’re running for office after all, they ought to, were they able to do that, they would sweep both houses. I don’t think there’s any question.

But they don’t know what they think and those who do know won’t say so and I think they’re hamstringing themselves. This could be the year when they take it all and I don’t think they will because they’re not courageous enough to tell the truth.

SHARPTON: I don’t think you should confuse the national with a lot of the local races. A lot of the local candidates are speaking very clearly and I don’t think you should confuse the Beltway with maybe going on out if a lot of the congressional races that I traveled to.

CARLSON: Those races are controlled to some great extent by the D triple C. Rahm Emanuel says we’ll give you money and let’s talk about what your campaign is going to be about. It is coordinated at a national level.

MATTHEWS: I’m going to come back and ask you fellas both about the issues that seem to show up here on HARDBALL, on Tucker’s show and around the country. Those are Haditha, Abu Ghraib, the gas price problem and the overall focus it seems to me on Iraq. Later tonight, what’s happening on the ground in today’s primaries, is turnout looking bigger or bad and if it’s bad, who’s in trouble? This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back. We’re back with the Reverend Al Sharpton and MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson. Reverend Sharpton, foreign or domestic issues, what will drive the election this year, Iraq or what’s happening at home, corruption, gas price, etc., gay marriage?

SHARPTON: I think that Iraq will really drive the election. I think that a lot of Americans felt that they were misled, they were deceived, they are right. I think that they feel that some of the domestic turmoil we’re seeing in terms of lack of resources and focus of the White House and of congress for that matter to deal with domestic problems is because of an overindulgence in Iraq.

I think there will be attempts, like the gay marriage attempt by the president, for distractions. I think you can’t keep trying to use the same tricks and get the same results. I do not think people will be diverted. I think people are angry about Iraq and they’re going to vote that way.

MATTHEWS: Tucker, same question?

CARLSON: I think the subtext of everything will be — continue to be Iraq has it has been for the last three years. I don’t think you’re going to hear much about it overtly. You’re going to see Democrats running against the corrupt Republican congress, throw the bums out platform, gas prices but underlying it all is this sense that things aren’t going well, that the United States has lost face internationally, lost prestige and is stuck in this tar pit of Iraq. But I don’t think you’re going to see candidates come out, for instance, and use Haditha in campaign speeches.

MATTHEWS: Why not?

CARLSON: Because it will be perceived as attacking America essentially. I don’t think anybody is going to defend the alleged behavior of the Marines in Iraq. Needless to say. On the other hand, coming out and attacking them, it sounds like you’re attacking, fair or unfair, but it sounds like you’re attacking the armed forces and Democrats are particularly sensitive on that issue. I doubt you’re going to hear them say much about it.

MATTHEWS: It depends, we’ll have to know more about this investigation. If this turns out to be a case of murder over there, do you think the Democrats should use it?

SHARPTON: I think if it becomes a case of murder, the Democrats will have to use it and I think the media will keep it front and center and they don’t have to do much with it other than comment on it and let the facts speak for themselves. If the facts continue to go the way they’re going, they don’t have to bring it up, it drives out the vote anyhow and they have to just kind of ride with the tide.

You’ve got to remember, most people are focused on this war was wrong, this becomes part of the general maze there, and you don’t have to specifically hit it for people to understand this is part of what they’re disgusted with.

CARLSON: What is the argument? At worst, you have three Marines directly involved with this. Three guys, all enlisted men, went on this rampage and killed civilians. True or not, that is the allegation.

Can you take that and spin it into a story about how the Bush administration is somehow responsible for killing Iraqi civilians? It’s a stretch.

SHARPTON: I think you may not be able to do that in a legal court of law or even a military court of law, but I think it feeds into a general feeling that this administration has a real level of abandon for rules and just do of what you want. That’s why that combined with what we hear about Guantanamo Bay and other things, it gives a sense that this administration has no control over its military and no control over what we’re going to do.

CARLSON: I don’t think we’re too mean to the Iraqis. Whether we are or not is a separate question, but as a campaign slogan, not a winner.

SHARPTON: As a general feeling, that hurts. Sometimes you don’t need a slogan.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. It’s a good debate. We’ll see how it turns out. Thank you very much Reverend Al Sharpton and Tucker Carlson. “THE SITUATION” with Tucker Carlson airs tonight, as always, 11:00 eastern, only on MSNBC.

Coming up, what will today’s primary results mean for election day come November. We’re looking for tea leaves here. Will control of Congress depend solely on conservative votes. If this election in California goes Democrat, could that be big trouble for the Republicans? This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. For more on today’s primaries and what they mean for the midterm elections coming up in November, we turn to Chris Cillizza — Cillizza?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: Cillizza.

MATTHEWS: Cillizza, I got it right the first time. The political reporter for the WashingtonPost.com. And Chuck Todd, who’s editor-in-chief of the “Hotline,” also a HARDBALL political analyst.

Let me go to Chris first of all. What’s in the tea leaves tonight? If the Democrats win an upset victory in that San Diego 50th, that tells you what?

CILLIZZA: It tells us that the national environment is very, very bad for Republicans, which I think we sort of have a sense of. But until people go out and vote, you never know for sure. You know, you can look at polling and you can listen to operatives on both sides tell you one way or another, but until we actually see votes counted, that’s how we know. And in this district, you’re looking at a 15 percent registration gap. Forty- four percent register Republican, 29 percent register Democrat. So if the Democrat comes out on top tonight, there is a real lesson to be learned there.

MATTHEWS: I notice there’s a lot of independents there.

CILLIZZA: Absolutely. And that’s the move now.

MATTHEWS: OK, is that an offshore warning of a tsunami, if the Dems win?

CHUCK TODD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE HOTLINE: The Dems? Absolutely. Because if they’re winning districts that Bush carried with 55 percent, this is a 55 percent Bush, so it’s really a 55-45 district. There are a ton of those out there.

MATTHEWS: They should be able to notch up five points from the last time. Bush was riding high two years ago.

TODD: Well not in California though. I mean, if you really think about it, California didn’t engage in the campaign. So this really was, a weak 55. So in some ways, it might be a 57 or 58.

MATTHEWS: OK, let’s talk about the general election. Is this general election now, I’ve been looking at some numbers around here that suggest there are more and more seats the Democrats could win.

TODD: Absolutely. The field keeps getting bigger, particularly in the northeast. It seems like every day there is a new seat in either New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut or New Hampshire.

MATTHEWS: How many seats do you have in play right now?

TODD: In play? We’re in 50.

CILLIZZA: I think the thing to remember too is that when you see these incumbents in the northeast or elsewhere, there are people like Nancy Johnson, there are people like Curt Weldon, J.D. Hayworth from Arizona. A lot of these people, Weldon jumps to mind, they haven’t had to run real races in quote some time. And the machinery sometimes — a little bit of oil doesn’t necessarily do it. They are very slow oftentimes to get started. They make mistakes, they falter. So putting these people on the record in races, you never know what’s going to happen when you have someone credible against you, and they haven’t had someone like that in quite some time.

MATTHEWS: At least now the polling is so good that you can see it coming now, whereas in 1994 and 1974, where you had these wipeout races, 1980, big wipe out, a lot of these guys didn’t see it coming. They had a victory party already and they weren’t winning.

TODD: 1980, most of them didn’t even hire pollsters.

CILLIZZA: The thing to remember too with California 50, that is important to note, in terms of seeing it coming — the NRCC, the Republican House Campaign Committee is going to spend money $5 million on this election.

MATTHEWS: OK, it’s 3:00 in the afternoon in California. Who’s going to win?

TODD: Bilbray’s going to win by a couple of points.

CILLIZZA: I agree with Chuck in almost everything, this included.

MATTHEWS: Bilbray wins, narrowly. Will it be narrow enough to cause a headline tomorrow? Democrat close call means big victory for D’s in fall?

CILLIZZA: It might, but I think...

TODD: ... I’m not a headline writer, but I’ll be honest, the Democrats are pounding that message into us.

MATTHEWS: Even it’s close.

TODD: Moral victory. The whole Paul Hackett thing, in Ohio, too, when he got close.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, let’s talk about a fun race. Arnold Schwarzenegger has come back from the dead, but is he alive fully yet? Can he lose to either of these guys? Angelides and Westly are up for the ballot today for governor of California, biggest state in the union.

TODD: This is the B team of Democratic candidates. Not a single A candidate got in this case and there’s a reason. The consultants out there are some of the best in the business live in California. If they thought, “Oh, Arnold was beatable,” they would do it. Don’t forget, California — I think it’s been 50 years since they booted out an incumbent governor. Now they recalled one, but even Gray Davis won reelection. I think Arnold’s going to be tough to beat, particularly if it’s Phil Angelides, who’s a Walter Mondale Democrat, sort of a throwback type of guy. He’s actually campaigning on raising taxes. He’s not going to tell you, I will. Steve Westly is more of a eBay Democrat, a new Democrat.

MATTHEWS: I love this Walter Mondale — to me a Walter Mondale Democrat is a guy who’s like Lionel Hampton of the old days, playing the vibraphone. It hit women’s rights, it hit Israel, it hit labor, and every time it would ring a different bell, different tables at the fund raisers would applaud. They never say anything that everybody would applaud, right?

CILLIZZA: That’s the problem.

TODD: He’s that guy, he’s got labor, he’s got all the special interest groups lined up correctly. And Westly is the eBay millionaire.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe in that eBay — do you believe Steve Westly is for real? I watched him in a debate out in California this weekend. He looked like the guy who is in the car in the movie “Nashville,” but never came out of the car, the mysterious candidate. Perfect smile, perfect look, blonde hair perfectly combed, smiling. Like a consultant said, spend lots of money on me and smile a lot.

CILLIZZA: That’s the problem with — I think that’s the problem with California, right?

MATTHEWS: Did you think he was for real, Westly?

TODD: You know, even though he’s not technically a first time candidate, he really is sort of a — controller’s nothing. He’s coming across like a first time candidate who listens to his consultants too much. It was right out of the movie.

MATTHEWS: I thought the liberal was more credible, even though he has a harder race to win. I mean, Angelides looks like the real thing, he’s Angelides. This other guy’s a construct.

CILLIZZA: Although that can work in California, where most people never get any chance to meet ever.

MATTHEWS: You were mocking the state I love. Thank you Chuck Todd, thank you Chris Cillizza. Play HARDBALL again with us Wednesday night at 5 and 7 Eastern, that’s tomorrow night. We’ll have much more on today’s primaries. We’ll have the results with NBC political analyst Charlie Cook. Right now it’s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.

Watch “Hardball with Chris Matthews” each weeknight at 5 and 7 p.m. ET

Copyright 2006 MSNBC and Voxant Inc.

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