updated 8/10/2006 10:11:46 AM ET 2006-08-10T14:11:46

Guests: Howard Fineman, Chuck Todd, Ned Lamont, Ken Mehlman, John Fund, Jenny Backus

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  The word is out, Democrats don‘t back Bush‘s war.  Whatever else Connecticut means, it means this.  If you want to lead the Democrats, get out there against the war.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews, back from covering the Senate race up in Connecticut. 

Senator Joe Lieberman is still running for reelection, even after the Democrats dumped him from their ticket.  Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi all today voiced their support for Ned Lamont as the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate from Connecticut. 

What does Lamont‘s big upset mean for the Democratic Party?  Can the Bush White House get away with charging that anyone who opposes the Bush stay the course policy is in Iraq is risking a second 9/11?  Here‘s Tony Snow with the White House line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Now when the United States walked away in the opinion of Osama bin Laden in 1991, bin Laden drew from that the conclusion that the Americans were weak and wouldn‘t stay the course and that led to September 11th

It is important to realize that terrorists are not simply inspired by American engagement in the world, but they have their own agenda, and it is an agenda that if we turn around and look the other way, they‘re not going to ignore.  They will continue to build strength and they will continue to build adherence, and it is a vitally important debate to have. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  In a moment, we‘ll talk with the winner in Connecticut, Democrat Ned Lamont.  Later in the show tonight, we‘ll talk with Republican Party chairman Ken Mehlman about Lieberman‘s loss and what it says—and what it means, actually, for decision 2006. 

So we begin with the fallout tonight of Ned Lamont‘s big victory yesterday in Connecticut.  HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has the report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NED LAMONT (D), CT SENATE NOMINEE:  It‘s time we fix George Bush‘s failed foreign policy. 

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Just 12 hours after anti-war candidate Ned Lamont scored a historic upset in the Connecticut Senate Democratic primary, this morning, Joe Lieberman filed the necessary paperwork to launch an independent bid in the general election. 

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT:  Yes, I‘m a proud Democrat, but I‘m more devoted to my state and my country than I am to my party and the parties today are getting in the way of our government. 

SHUSTER:  At a news conference urging unity, Lamont responded. 

LAMONT:  The senator will do what he‘s going to do.  I wish he would reconsider, but that‘s not my call to make. 

SHUSTER:  Lamont beat Lieberman by four points, but it was not the double digit blowout that one Democrat, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, said would be necessary to prompt personal calls telling Lieberman to get out of the way. 

In Connecticut, independents are the largest voting block, not Democrats and not Republicans.  And while every top Democrat in the Senate today pledged money and general election support for Lamont, not a single one said they would ask Lieberman to drop out. 

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT:  I would not ask Joe to do that.  That‘s his decision to make and if he wants my opinion, I would share it with him.  He hasn‘t solicited it in this case.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  As I‘ve said since the 4th of July, I will be supporting the winner of the Democratic primary, and that is Ned Lamont. 

SHUSTER:  Senator Clinton was then asked directly if Lieberman, for the good of the party, should abandon his continuing campaign. 

CLINTON:  He has to search his conscience and decide what is best for Connecticut, and for the Democratic Party and then do what‘s right.  But as I‘ve said, I will be supporting the person chosen by the Democrats in Connecticut. 

SHUSTER:  Another prominent New York Democrat was tougher. 

REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK:  When a person calls themselves an independent, they throw away the party. 

SHUSTER:  Lieberman‘s loss made him only the fourth incumbent senator to lose a primary in the last 26 years.  Critics targeted his close ties to President Bush, and they replayed over and over this kiss from the 2005 State of the Union Address. 

But it was Lieberman‘s strong support for the Iraq war that seemed to agitate party activists in Connecticut and on Web sites and blogs across the country.  Today Republicans seized on Lieberman‘s loss and Lamont‘s victory to argue the Democratic Party‘s anti-war drift could harm America.

KEN MEHLMAN, RNC CHAIRMAN:  It reflects an unfortunate embrace of isolationism, defeatism and too often a blame America first attitude by national Democratic leaders, at a when retreating from the world will be particularly dangerous. 

SHUSTER:  But Democrats believe the election results underscore vulnerabilities over the Iraq war for supporters of the Bush administration.  Joe Lieberman says the campaign against him was unfair. 

LIEBERMAN:  I‘m disappointed not just because I lost, but because the old politics of partisan polarization won today.  For the sake of our state, our country, and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand unchallenged. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  The election does signal that the Democratic Party has turned against the war in a big way.  The question now is where does the rest of the electorate stand and what does it mean for politicians in both parties who supported the war and only take issue now with how it‘s been conducted. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Howard Fineman is “Newsweek‘s” chief political correspondent, and I can‘t wait to hear from him tonight.  I missed him last night.  He‘s also, of course, an MSNBC political analyst.  Chuck Todd, another expert, editor-in-chief of “The Hotline.”  That‘s where we get all of our political stuff from.  He‘s also a political analyst.  We have got the two heavyweights here. 

Let‘s start with the local situation up there in Connecticut.  Who is really the front-runner now?  Is it the guy who won the Democratic nomination, Ned Lamont?  Who is going to win this thing?  Or is it going to be Joe Lieberman running as this sort of hawk party guy.  Who is going to win this thing? 

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  I think that Lamont, if not this minute, will eventually be the front-runner, because this is a blue state.  Yes, there are a lot of independent voters there, but in the last days of the primary, the Democratic primary, Joe Lieberman was arguing that he was a good Democrat.  He was a staunch Democrat. 

MATTHEWS:  Now what is he? 

FINEMAN:  And now within a New York minute—and I use the term advisedly—within a New York minute, Hillary Clinton and everybody else is saying Lamont is the guy, and the whole Democratic Party structure is going to be behind him.  For Joe Lieberman to be crying about partisanship and politics doesn‘t quite make sense.  That was a Democratic primary he was in, what does he expect? 

MATTHEWS:  Chuck?

CHUCK TODD, EDITOR IN CHIEF, “THE HOTLINE”:  Look, I think you‘re going to see Lieberman is going to find out in the next couple of weeks whether he can raise money and I think the next couple of weeks are very important here.  It‘s possible Lieberman still doesn‘t make this race. 

Right now he‘s feeling good because, you know what?  He didn‘t lose by as much as they thought.  You know, a week ago they thought they were going to be blown out of the water. 

MATTHEWS:  Back when Hillary reacted to this whole thing. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  They thought this thing was just going to be in the tank and now they feel good, so nobody is going to ask Lieberman this week to get out.  When that first poll comes out, first public poll that comes out probably shows Lamont ahead and then he finds out he can‘t raise the money beings because all these Democratic donors are like, hey, we‘ve been told to give to Lamont.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I still have the feeling in my head of Connecticut.  I thought a lot of people voted for Joe because he‘s a longtime Democrat, they‘re longtime Democrats, their ethics, they‘re working people, they‘re used to voting for the party leader, they‘re used to following the leader.  He‘s been the leader.  They‘re in the habit. 

How do they break that habit of voting for a guy who is so familiar?  I have used the phrase he‘s our Uncle Tanoos (ph).  He‘s the regular uncle that shows up on Thanksgiving.  How do they change that habit, Chuck? 

TODD:  See, that‘s the thing.  What‘s the habit, voting Democrat or voting Lieberman?  And I think the habit is voting Democrat, and I think the habit ...

MATTHEWS:  Who was hooting and hollering last night in front of him in those pictures we just showed? 

TODD:  Well, I think he has got his core support, but I would be willing to bet that you‘re going to see a third of his supporters end up as Lamont voters.  After Americans ...

MATTHEWS:  How many staffers, Howard—will the people who got him as far as they got him, back to almost winning, will they walk back to the Democratic Party? 

FINEMAN:  No, I don‘t think they‘ll walk.  I don‘t think they‘ll walk, but Lamont—yes, what Lamont has to do is sell himself in the blue collar constituencies.  If you look at the returns from Connecticut, which I was looking at this morning, Lamont did great in the upper income, upscale areas, you know, the fancy areas of Connecticut, but Connecticut has got a lot of blue collar workers in it still. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure, who doesn‘t.  Did he talk turkey with them? 

FINEMAN:  And that‘s still—he‘s going to have to figure out how to. 

But the dice are loaded against Lieberman right now, because he‘s putting the Democratic label.  He‘s putting it away.  He said the party has rejected me, I‘m rejecting the party. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the power of Chris Dodd up there, the senior senator, a Democrat with long Democratic roots, way back to his dad who was the senator up there.  He clearly, watching him today, wants Joe to quit and stop all this civil war up there.  Does he have the clout to cut off the money? 

TODD:  I don‘t know if he does, and I‘m not sure he‘s the Howard Baker figure in this.  You know, the Democrats are desperately looking for a Howard Baker-like person he to get Lieberman out of this thing.  I don‘t think Dodd can shut off the money.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the Howard Baker ...

FINEMAN:  I disagree.

TODD:  I‘m sorry, the Howard Baker is somebody going to Lieberman and saying it‘s up, the gig is up. 

FINEMAN:  The established, Tennessee Republican.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  I do think the Clintons are the ones that shut down the money, not Dodd. 

MATTHEWS:  You think Bill Clinton has the strength and the risk-prone behavior to say, I don‘t care if Joe and the people behind him are angry at me, I‘m going to tell him to get out of this race? 

TODD:  I don‘t know if they will tell him to do that but I think they will freeze the money to see if in three weeks Lieberman is feeling the heat. 

MATTHEWS:  Joe has a donor list going back 30 years probably of people he‘s close to intimately with, who share his interest, who are a bit hawkish in the Middle East, to say the least, who don‘t want to hear some third party coming along and saying stop banking Joe, right? 

TODD:  Look, I‘m not saying he‘s not going to raise some money.  I think he‘s going to find he‘s going to have a hard time raising everything he needs. 

FINEMAN:  First of all, I disagree with Chuck a little bit.  I think, Chuck, that Chris Dodd is key here, because I know that months ago, Chris Dodd was calling around town, saying you‘ve got to help Joe, we‘ve got to help Joe, calling outside the core Lieberman constituency.  That constituency is going to be cut off and Dodd is not going to make a single phone call, and a lot of the ones who are left are Republicans today.  A lot of those hawkish Democrats, a lot of Jewish Americans and others who are with Lieberman, they are Republicans now and if their name starts showing up on the list of contributors, those are Republicans, not Democrats.

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got into the interesting area, the problem area for Joe Lieberman, which is the White House.  Everybody has seen this, it‘s a button that shows the president doing one of those old world kisses, male to male kisses, of Joe Lieberman.  Everyone knows that the president is rooting for Joe Lieberman to win this general election and stick it to the Democrats.  Will he show his hand, Howard?  Will he show his hand by letting, as we got a report here, a blog site from George Stephanopoulos now with ABC saying there was in fact an overture from Karl Rove to the Lieberman camp?

FINEMAN:  To the Lieberman camp—well sure.  It‘s in Karl Rove‘s interest.

MATTHEWS:  Does that hurt Lieberman to have a Republican president backing him?

FINEMAN:  Yes, in the long run, but in the short run, I think the White House‘s objective is to keep Lieberman in the race as long as possible. 

MATTHEWS:  To screw things up.

FINEMAN:  They want a Democratic civil war.  They want to tell Joe, say Joe we‘re with you all the way.

MATTHEWS:  They want the bloody shirt too.  They want to be able to say look what they do.  When we return, more on the new White House line that‘s pulling out of Iraq.  We‘ll risk a second 9-11?  That‘s what Tony Snow is saying.  He‘s reaching into the mind of Osama bin Laden and saying if we pull out of Iraq, we get hit again in New York.  We‘ll be right back with Howard Fineman and Chuck Todd and later the winner in Connecticut himself, Ned Lamont, the Senate candidate, plus Republican Party Chair Ken Mehlman, an old friend of ours, will be here to put out that line.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re waiting now for the Democratic nominee to the U.S. Senate in Connecticut to be on the air.  Ned Lamont is getting hooked up, he‘ll be here in a minute or two.  We‘re back with Howard Fineman and Chuck Todd.  Let‘s take a look at something the vice president did a month ago.  This may be the shot that we‘re going to hear throughout the fall in this campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If we follow Congressman Murtha‘s advice and withdraw from Iraq the same way we withdrew from Beirut in 1983 and Somalia in 1993, we will simply validate the al Qaeda strategy and invite more terrorist attacks in the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well those are the talking points we heard Tony Snow—I don‘t want to be too sarcastic here, but I do read into politics the game is being played here.

Howard, the game is if you oppose this war as do almost 60 percent of the American people now, you are somehow a McGovernite, you‘re weakening us abroad and you are bringing on another 9/11.  That‘s how hard they‘re making this.

FINEMAN:  Yes, and that‘s going to be the theme for the fall campaign.  They‘re going to nationalize the campaign, the Republicans are on this theme.  It‘s a replay in new form of us versus them thing.  As you say the McGovern thing from the Vietnam era.  They‘re going to do it all over again.  In one way or another, George Bush in the first couple go-arounds, did this in a positive way.  He did it, “I‘m the president, I‘m strong, I‘ve got the right idea, I‘m on the phone.”  That‘s the positive side of it.  This is the negative side of the same strategy.  It‘s not just that I‘m strong, but they‘re weak.

MATTHEWS:  You know who used those talking points about the time the vice president did?  Joe Lieberman.  He said to attack the president is to undercut his powers as commander-in-chief.

TODD:  And that‘s why he lost.  I think what‘s interesting nationally is the Republicans are trying to make Ned Lamont seem sort of out of the mainstream.

MATTHEWS:  But how can he be out of the mainstream if most people oppose the war now?

TODD:  That‘s exactly right.  Whose position on the war in Iraq is closer to American public, Ned Lamont or George Bush?

MATTHEWS:  Answer?

TODD:  And It‘s Ned Lamont.  I mean, that‘s where the public is ready to get out of this war.

MATTHEWS:  Are people so tired that they‘re thinking—that people‘s own thinking can‘t catch up to their current thinking?  In other words, are people so used to saying if you‘re against the war you‘re some sort of Bolshevik?  That they can‘t bring up their own minds to the state of the art in this country, which is most people have decided after looking at all the casualties that 50,000 Iraqis dead, the world hating our guts and more terrorists every day popping up through hatred of the United States and what it‘s done, that just maybe we made a mistake in going into Iraq and they haven‘t caught up to that, have they?

FINEMAN:  I don‘t think the Republican strategists have caught up to it, they don‘t want to catch up to it because this is what they believe in, which is get out the base strategy.  They‘re not talking to the middle, they‘re talking to their own people.

MATTHEWS:  So this is stem cell abroad?

FINEMAN:  This is global stem cell.

TODD:  I think it‘s a little different.  I actually think they‘re trying to make the Democrats seem so discombobulated on Iraq and so not ready to lead, that they‘re trying to discourage turnout.  What they‘re afraid of is the angry independents.

MATTHEWS:  Howard and Chuck, please stay with me.  We have our candidate right now.  We‘re joined by Ned Lamont, the Democratic nominee for the United States Senate in Connecticut.  Mr. Lamont, thank you for joining us, it was nice you for the first time yesterday afternoon.  Are you getting the kind of support you want, need, expect from the national Democratic Party, the big shots?

NED LAMONT (D), CONNECTICUT SENATE NOMINEE:  I‘m feeling really good about that, Chris.  We had a unity meeting today organized by Senator Chris Dodd.  We had all the elected Democrats here in the state lined up, they came out behind John DeStefano, our gubernatorial candidate and myself. 

We‘re unified.  We‘re all on the same page on the issues this time and I think that‘s important.  I think we all want to have change in Washington, D.C., we want to start bringing our troops home from Iraq and we want to start investing in our own country again.

MATTHEWS:  Do you have any knowledge of any kind of communication between the White House and your now opponent, Joe Lieberman?

LAMONT:  I‘ve heard some rumors to that effect, but I don‘t have any direct knowledge, no.

MATTHEWS:  If he does have open contact with the White House, with the president extending some form of new political kiss to him, will you use that against him?

LAMONT:  Look, it‘s no question that I think that Senator Lieberman did not challenge the president where the president is wrong.  I thought he was wrong on the war, I thought he was wrong on Dick Cheney‘s energy bill.  I thought he was wrong on having the federal government intrude on the Terri Schiavo case, so I‘ll be there to say look I‘m somebody who‘s not afraid to challenge the Bush agenda where I think it‘s wrong for America.

MATTHEWS:  Are you satisfied that the members of your party, again at the highest levels in the U.S. Senate, are ready to really say to people, “Don‘t give money to Joe Lieberman, he‘s not a Democrat, he was defeated in our party primary, don‘t give him a buck.”  Are you willing to—are you confident that your fellow Democratic candidates and fellow party members will take that final tough step?

LAMONT:  Look, I‘ve talked to a fair number of senators today, starting with Senator Dodd, and the message I hear is clear, that they‘re standing strongly behind our nomination, and they are going out and they‘re going to tell fundraisers to support Ned Lamont, he‘s our candidate, he represents real change and he‘s the guy we want to win in Connecticut and carry our banner forward.

MATTHEWS:  But contributors list public information, are they willing to get on the list of Joe Lieberman fund contributors and tell them Joe‘s not a Democrat anymore, we don‘t want you contributing to him.  Give the money you‘re thinking of giving to him to Ned Lamont.  Will they get that tough, again the same question?

LAMONT:  I don‘t know, I haven‘t gotten into that much detail.  What I can tell you is they‘re supporting our campaign, they‘re supporting it strong. We‘re getting together.  We‘re talking about the issues, and we‘re going to go forward united. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me get to a point here, I don‘t know the answer, I‘m asking you.  I‘ll ask other people.  Joe Lieberman last night was very strong, I thought, in his speech.  He came on like gang busters, he‘s going to run in the general, it‘s only halftime he said in his battle against you and you‘re ahead of him on points, but he‘s going to beat you in November.  Is he right in assuming that most independents in Connecticut, the people who aren‘t registered with either party, are with him on the war?  Why does he assume that he gets those votes? 

LAMONT:  I think he‘s wrong on that.  I‘ve gone flat out around this state, talking to Republicans, independents, Democrats.  I think almost everybody here thinks that the invasion was ill-conceived.  George Bush rushed us into this war.  Joe Lieberman cheered him on every step of the way, and now we‘re stuck in the middle of a bloody civil war and it‘s time for us to change course.  It‘s time for us to start bringing our troops home and have the Iraqis take control of their own destiny.  I hear that across the political spectrum, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Is the White House going to support Alan Schlessinger, the party nominee or support, through the good works of that angel of political opportunity Karl Rove, are they going to support Joe Lieberman, just to humiliate the Democrats and say that, oh, the poor guy was knocked off because he cares about our country, are they going to get away with that?  Do you think that‘s what they‘re going to do in fact?  Will they support their nominee or secretly out of the White House and its tentacles pass the word, we want Lieberman? 

LAMONT:  Look, you‘ve got to ask Karl Rove and George Bush that.  But my sense is that Senator Lieberman has gotten an awful lot of Republican support, official Republican support over the years and I think they know that they have a relatively weak candidate on the Republican side of the aisle right now, so maybe some of that support may be steered toward the senator‘s way. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me show you something, he‘s on the front page of the Republicans web site.  I just got this, GOP.com.  Under the title, “Weak and Wrong, the New Democratic party.”  You‘re pictured alongside Michael Moore, Howard Dean and John Murtha.  Do you think that they can villainize you as a leftie? 

LAMONT:  Look, I don‘t.  Let‘s face it.  George Herbert Walker Bush never would have invaded Iraq the way his son did.  We know that Bill Clinton wouldn‘t have done that.  This invasion is way outside of historical mainstream of this country.  Going from Sandra Day O‘Connor, to Sam Alito, it gives you an idea of how we‘re tilting the Supreme Court in a dramatic new direction.  You know I think this administration has taken the country way off the historical mainstream and that‘s why I‘m in this race.

MATTHEWS:  You know, the country, the facts will back you up on this point, Mr. Lamont, that most people do believe going into Iraq now was a mistake, it‘s a profound clear majority of people, they‘re not the fringe.  If you take that position, nobody can call you a fringe, but that‘s not the White House line.  Today‘s White House line from Tony Snow is that if you don‘t keep our troops in Iraq, according to the president‘s current plan, you are bringing about another 9-11.  You, sir, by taking that position, are bringing back another 9-11.  That‘s what the president‘s spokesman said today.  What‘s your reaction? 

LAMONT:  My reaction is that George Bush‘s foreign policy has weakened this country.  He‘s done nothing when it comes to Homeland Security.  He invaded Iraq, which had nothing to do with the war on terror.  He‘s taken our eye off the ball when it comes to Afghanistan.  He‘s taken our eye off the ball when it comes to Osama bin Laden.  We‘re a stronger country when we work in concert with our allies.  We share intelligence and we stay true to our values.  I think he‘s weakened our country and made us more vulnerable.  He‘s done nothing for Israel‘s security and I think that‘s why we have to change course. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that going into Iraq was helpful or hurtful?  You raised the issue of the security of Israel, because that has come up in conversation across this country.  Some people think it‘s helped, other people think it‘s created a cauldron of hatred of the west, including Israel, and more terrorism because of more recruitment, more anger, more hatred of us and Israel. 

LAMONT:  Look, I think it‘s been very hurtful.  It‘s destabilized the Middle East.  We took out Iran‘s historical enemy.  Hezbollah has been emboldened.  They‘re attacking Israel.  I think you can just look around the Middle East right now and you can see just the many factors of how this invasion of Iraq was a disaster. 

MATTHEWS:  Ok, your opponent now, Joe Lieberman, accuses you of being part of a partisan attitude.  A ridiculously partisan point of view.  He says he‘s running as a guy against partisanship.  I‘m going to give you a chance now.  Name your heroes in the current Republican party, people you‘d like to work with, people you think are really doing the job of public service. 

LAMONT:  Well, one of my historical heroes of course is Teddy Roosevelt.  I think Teddy Roosevelt stood up, he took on the trusts, he took on the status quo and I think he shook things up.  When it come to the current political galaxy, I think Colin Powell was a great man.  I think as secretary of state he wasn‘t allowed to exercise what he really wanted to do there, but he had respect around the world and people knew that they could count on Colin Powell when he stood up.  He‘s my type of Republican. 

MATTHEWS:  Are there any Republicans running for president right now that you respect? 

LAMONT:  Oh, I think all of them have a different characteristic that I think is positive.  John McCain, at least he‘s willing to buck the status quo.  Nobody stands up to the earmarks and the special interests and the lobbyists like John McCain.  I‘ll hand that to him.  I think he‘s wrong on the war.  I think he‘s wrong on choice.  I think he‘s wrong on some other important issues, but everybody has their strengths. 

MATTHEWS:  Does George Bush have any strengths? 

LAMONT:  You know where George Bush stands.  I think people like that in a leader.  They want to know where he stands.  Unfortunately he stands on the wrong side of the most important issues of the day, but at least you know where he stands. 

MATTHEWS:  What would you have done had you been president at the time of 9-11?  Would you have gone into Afghanistan?  Would you have gone into Iraq?  What would you have done to take down the terrorist network that has emerged against us? 

LAMONT:  A few things.  First of all, I supported the invasion of Afghanistan.  We did that with our allies.  We did that in concert with other nations in the region.  There was a direct correlation between the attack on 9-11 and the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, and I strongly supported that. 

Unfortunately, we took our eye off the ball, as I said before, and Afghanistan is now beginning to slip.  We‘d better put our eye back on the ball there or else Afghanistan could go the way of Iraq and no, I thought the invasion of Iraq was ill-conceived from the very beginning and so did an awful lot of other people.  Start with the weapons inspectors who are on the ground.  They were the ones saying at the time, look give us more time.  We can‘t find any evidence of weapons of mass destruction.  I think we rushed in to that war.  We he didn‘t do the necessary preparation and that‘s one of the reasons we have a mess on our hands today. 

MATTHEWS:  Why should a Republican vote for you? 

LAMONT:  Look I‘m a guy that started up a business from scratch.  I haven‘t been on the public payroll my whole life.  I‘ve been meeting the payroll.  I‘m going down to Washington, D.C..  I‘m not taking any Corporate PAC money.  I‘m not taking any lobbyist money.  I‘m going to be able to go down there and take a fresh look at old problems. 

I think, you know, starting with health care.  There‘s a system that‘s broken, 47 million people uninsured and at the same time we‘re spending 50 percent more than any other country on the face of this earth.  I‘m a small business guy, I can tell you what the cost of health care is to entrepreneurship in this country.  I think when I go at health care I talk about as a small businessman, I‘ll be able to talk to business as well as labor, put together a consensus and start dealing with that problem. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘ll probably get in trouble for saying this, but I think it‘s great that people like you are running for office.  There‘s too many people running uncontested in this country.  Too many people own their seats in the Senate, own their seats in Congress because they don‘t face formidable opponents like you.  I‘m so glad you‘re running in this race.  I can‘t support you, but this country is better for having a hot race, like we had last night for the nomination of the Democratic party.  Thank you Mr. Lamont and please come on our show when we can have you in person. 

We‘ll be right back with Chuck Todd and Howard Fineman to chew through what he just said and later, Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican party, will tell us what he says Republicans want to do to hold on to power this November.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Howard Fineman and Chuck Todd.  Go at it.  Siskel and Ebert of the old days.  Chuck Todd, what did you make of that performance? 

TODD:  I thought that was a candidate that was very mature all of a sudden.  That‘s a candidate who seemed like he‘s been on the campaign trail for a year now and he hadn‘t been, but he seemed incredibly more sort of ready to do this, ready for primetime than he did in that debate, the one he had with Lieberman.  And he wasn‘t horrible in the debate but he was clearly a first timer.  This time he actually looked like he belongs. 

MATTHEWS:  Ned Lamont—Howard. 

FINEMAN:  What a name.  What a street level name that is. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of him? 

FINEMAN:  Well I thought—I was trying to watch that through Ken Mehlman‘s eyes, OK, and you‘re saying all right, how do we take this guy down.  We‘re putting him up on the Web side with, you know, Howard Dean and Michael Moore. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard Dean and Michael Moore.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  But he didn‘t look like that or sound like that.  When you asked him why would a Republican vote for you, he gave a very cogent answer about meeting payrolls and health care, and he‘s a successful businessman, who really was basically a Republican most of his life, you know, on the town selectman and so forth in Greenwich. 

MATTHEWS:  Say Greenwich for me again, will you, Howard?

TODD:  A Chris Shays Republican.

FINEMAN:  And it would be hard for him to be—the more people see him, the less easily it will be to caricature him, to demonize him. 

TODD:  To demonize him.

MATTHEWS:  I think Republicans are maybe fighting the old war, but they‘ve won the old war so you can assume why they do it again.  Every time they say McGovern, every time they say lefty, anti-war dove, it works for them.  Will it work for again? 

TODD:  I mean, Howard brought up a powerful point, I thought earlier,k when he said in ‘02 and ‘04, they did it in a positive.  This time, they‘re beating the voters over the head as a negative this time.

MATTHEWS:  They were promising a popular war, the happy Iraqi scenario.  I give you credit for that phrase.  All those things they promised went the other way. 

FINEMAN:  And the American people are very practical.  They want practical results.  They‘re not seeing practical results here. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  And it‘s a long war now.  It‘s actually getting long. 

MATTHEWS:  And we have three more months of this war before we even vote.  Three more months of this war before we vote.  Those are facts.  Howard Fineman, thank you, sir.  Thank you, Chuck Todd. 

Up next, Republican Party boss—love that word, party boss.  Ken Mehlman is coming.  Anyway, thanks.  He‘s going to play some HARDBALL with us.  Just 90 days left, as I said, until the big November national elections.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on the eve of the fall on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Winston Churchill once said there are two types of success: initial and ultimate.  Last night, millionaire political rookie Ned Lamont beat Joe Lieberman in a bitter Senate primary up in Connecticut, but can he score the ultimate victory come November?  And what does this race tell us about the mood of the rest of the country. 

Here to defend his party is Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman.  Ken, who are you rooting for in Connecticut this November?  Your guy, Alan Schlesinger we talked to last night on the program, or this sort of disaffected, rejected Democrat Joe Lieberman? 

KEN MEHLMAN, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CMTE.:  Connecticut Republicans and Democrats and independents are going to decide this and I‘m leaving it to folks there to make the decision.  I talked to the state chairman up there and they‘re going forward and it‘s up to folks up there to decide. 

MATTHEWS:  Say something good about Alan Schlesinger. 

MEHLMAN:  I‘ve met him.  He‘s a good man.  I think he has a good vision for the future of the country.  He understands the importance of reducing taxes and staying strong on the war on terror. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he clean? 

MEHLMAN:  He is.  He‘s somebody I‘ve gotten the opportunity to meet and deal with and respect a lot and as I said, it‘s going to be up to the people in Connecticut to make that decision. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s it going to cost your party to win that seat?  It‘s going to be a three-way race.  It takes—according to Alan Schlesinger, your candidate last night, he said about 37 percent could win the thing in a three way.  How are you going to get him up that high so he can win it and take it away from the Democrats? 

MEHLMAN:  I‘m not planning to give away what we‘re going to spend in what state before the election.  After the election we look forward to discussing how we were able to keep our majorities in the House and in the Senate based on smart targeting of resources, but right now, we‘re not going to give that away on television. 

MATTHEWS:  What about you?  Can you give me any information about the ties between Karl Rove, the president‘s top political kick, and Joe Lieberman, the rejected Democrat?  Is there something going on between the two of them?  The call has been accepted.  They took the call, Joe talked to Karl Rove, the president‘s political guy today.  What did they talk about? 

MEHLMAN:  I‘m not aware of that.  I am aware that there‘s a story on the blogs that I think Mr. Stephanopoulos put up that‘s inaccurate.  But I‘m not aware of anything beyond that.

MATTHEWS:  No, no.  We‘re beyond that.  We are well beyond that

question.  George Stephanopoulos did report that there was a call, Gerstein

Dan Gerstein, who is working for Joe Lieberman, said there was a call. 

There was a conversation.  I just want to get beyond that to a higher level of information here.  What were they talking about?

MEHLMAN:  I‘m not aware I know that that—I don‘t know, and I don‘t know that there was a call.  I‘m out here in Cleveland campaigning for Mike DeWine, was yesterday with Ken Blackwell in the western part of the state in Toledo, Ohio.  I do know that that story was inaccurate, but I can‘t comment beyond that because I don‘t know the answer.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s possible that your party will end up backing Joe Lieberman with money and help?

MEHLMAN:  I think that what everyone is going to do is look to Connecticut and let the folks in Connecticut and let the Republicans in Connecticut decide this important question.

MATTHEWS:  Why do you believe a Republican should vote for Joe Lieberman or the candidate of your party?  You have an opportunity to endorse.  Who are you endorsing?

MEHLMAN:  I endorse Chris Matthews.  I think it‘s up to the Republicans individually to make that decision.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not going to endorse?  You‘re not going to ask the people what—we‘ve got a bunch of Republicans in Connecticut watching the show right now.  Do you want them to vote for Joe or for Alan?

MEHLMAN:  I think they‘re going to—look, I think they‘re going to make their decisions, certainly on the issues of the day whether it‘s taxes, whether it‘s the issue of Anwr, I agree with Alan more than I agree with Joe Lieberman.  And so most issues...

MATTHEWS:  Are you endorsing Alan?  You‘re not talking straight here, Ken.  You always talk straight on this show.  Are you now on television endorsing—do you want Republicans in Connecticut to vote for the Republican candidate or do you want them to vote for Joe Lieberman?  Which one?

MEHLMAN:  I‘m letting Republicans in Connecticut make that decision, that‘s the right way I think it should go.  What I‘ve said is, what is so historic about what happened yesterday is not that Joe Lieberman is a conservative.  He‘s not.  He‘s actually somebody that as you know, has a high rating from the ADA, voted against tax cuts, voted against Anwr, voted against the ban on partial birth abortion. 

What‘s so remarkable about what happened was somebody who basically has the profile of a Harry Truman and a JFK was rejected by the party of Harry Truman and JFK.  And so you understand as someone who has written about that era in politics, how historic and significant it is and what it says about a party that unfortunately at a national level now is dominated by isolationists and dominated by people who embrace defeatism.

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you.  But it‘s very hard.  You know, as much as I like Jack Kennedy and trying to figure out what he would be doing in the general election this November.  Let me ask you about the comments made by the spokesman of the president today.  Tony Snow, who we all love, came out and said that anybody who opposes the president‘s policies in Iraq is endangering this country with another 9/11.  Do you subscribe to that belief?

MEHLMAN:  My understanding of what Tony said and they read me the transcript, I didn‘t see the whole thing, which is completely accurate is if you look what what Osama bin Laden said was, the lesson he took out of Beirut when we withdrew and out of Mogadishu when we withdrew was that America was weak and attacking America would produce the political objectives he was trying to achieve. 

I absolutely believe that if we were to withdraw from Iraq, not on a military timetable, but on a political timetable, the effect would be to embolden the terrorists, to encourage more attacks against America, and also to have a failed state sitting right in between Iran and Syria, one with tremendous oil and tremendous water resources.  The stakes in my judgment, of failure in Iraq are very high and we can‘t let it occur.

MATTHEWS:  Are you accusing Ronald Reagan of bringing on 9/11?  He was the one that redeployed our troops out of Beirut back in ‘83.  What are you talking about here?  You‘re saying that he signaled to Osama bin Laden it was a good time to take a shot, a mortal shot against the United States.  Ronald Reagan you‘re accusing right now, not Ned Lamont.

MEHLMAN:  Ronald Reagan is my hero and why I got involved in politics.

MATTHEWS:  But he‘s the one that took the troops out of Beirut.

MEHLMAN:  Well but I‘m saying is what Osama bin Laden said he saw.  This was not something I said, this is what he said was an article written right after 9/11 occurred in the “New Yorker” magazine that explained Osama bin Laden‘s world view and he specifically cited Beirut. 

I think knowing what he knows now, if Ronald Reagan were involved, there‘s no way he would believe we would hand the terrorists a victory by cutting and running in the central front in the war on terror.  What Tony Snow said is entirely accurate, which is that one of the reasons 9/11 occurred was the enemy was emboldened, and we have to make sure that not only don‘t we have a failed state which is one lesson from 9/11, but that also we don‘t send the signals.  The same signal they got in Mogadishu, the same signal they got in Beirut, that according to Mr. Bin Laden ultimately led to September 11th.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of Senator John Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee this week calling for a new resolution so that we can keep our troops in Iraq?  He said because there‘s an emerging civil war there, we have to have new legislation to give the president the authority to keep troops there because the conditions have changed radically since the time that Saddam Hussein was there. 

We‘re not there to get rid of Saddam Hussein.  He‘s gone.  He‘s in jail.  We‘re there now contending with an emerging civil war.  That‘s what your Republican chairman from Virginia on the Armed Services Committee says we‘ve got to do.  Do you believe we need a new resolution to keep our troops committed?

MEHLMAN:  I do not believe a new resolution—I don‘t believe a new resolution is necessary.  I think the existing resolution is sufficient and appropriate.  I think we‘ve got to do everything we can to avoid a civil war.  I thought that the testimony Mr. Abizaid said last week said here‘s how we avoid one and we adapted certain policies to make that happen. 

I think that‘s appropriate, but the fact is, we absolutely cannot hand the enemy a victory by cutting and running before we finish the job and before we make sure the terrorists are defeated.

MATTHEWS:  So you—how do you deal with the fact that these polls keep showing that a majority of the American people now believe that going to Iraq, you can‘t call them a fringe because by definition, a majority is not a fringe.  A majority of the people, somewhere about 55, 56, you study the polls like I do, now believe it was a mistake to go into Iraq in the first place.  Can you call them a fringe?  Can you call them Michael Moores and George McGovern if the majority of the people watching this show think it was a mistake?

MEHLMAN:  I think the fundamental question is not how we got there, but where are we today and the fundamental question is what is the right approach to avoid sending the same message we sent in Beirut and Mogadishu and to leave a failed state sitting right in the middle between Iran and Syria with a lot of oil revenues.

That‘s the question, whether Americans are worried about what‘s happening in Iraq, are concerned about how the war started, that‘s not the issue.  The issue is the choice before them this November, which is do we do what it takes, do we adapt policy to win or alternatively, do we cut and run, which would give the terrorists a major victory and weaken America?

MATTHEWS:  Ken, last question, I want to get back to that thing we talked about before.  If you have bump into a money guy with some big money and he says to you, “Ken, I trust you, who should I give my $10,000 -- I‘m going to bundle some money together, put together 100K in my law firm.  Who should I give that money to?  Should I give to Alan Schlesinger, the Republican candidate, who I hear is pretty weak, or should I give it to guy who really is respected on the Democratic side, Joe Lieberman?”  Who are you going to tell that guy to give his money to?

MEHLMAN:  People never get past the first question because I tell them to give it to Ken Mehlman, I need it.

MATTHEWS:  Pardon me.  Go ahead.  Say that again, will you Ken?

MEHLMAN:  I tell them to give it to me, give it to of the Republican National Committee.

MATTHEWS:  And what will you with it?

MEHLMAN:  I will spend it to win elections, to keep our majority in the House.

MATTHEWS:  I can‘t believe that you‘ve let this opportunity pass out there in Cleveland.  You‘re trying to get Mike DeWine reelected and yet I give you a perfect chance to endorse a Republican for election to the United States Senate and you hesitate to do that.

MEHLMAN:  What I said to you in response was I think it‘s going to be up to individuals in the state to make that decision.  Certainly our party has nominated a good man, I like him, I respect him, I agree with him on most issues.

MATTHEWS:  You say the same thing about—you‘re in Ohio.  Are you going to tell people to vote for Mike DeWine or just leave it up to them?  Where do you stand on that one?

MEHLMAN:  I certainly spent the day telling people to vote for Mike DeWine.

MATTHEWS:  Then why not Alan Schlesinger?

MEHLMAN:  When I go to Connecticut, you can follow me there, too.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s fun, I still think you‘re hesitating to endorse your own candidate.  Ken Mehlman, out there fighting for Mike DeWine, who throws the ball in the air on the other guy, Alan Schlesinger, saying do what you want kids, play the game you want to play.

Anyway, tomorrow on HARDBALL, possible Democratic candidate John Edwards—I think he‘s running—is coming here on HARDBALL.

Up next, the HARDBALLers battle it out over the prospects for the November elections.  Big picture stuff coming up.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The HARDBALLers are here.  John Fund writes for opinionjournal.com and Jenny Backus is a Democratic strategist.  Fundy, you‘re first.  Why did Lamont beat Lieberman? 

JOHN FUND, WWW.OPINIONJOURNAL.COM:  I think it was an amazingly impressive show of Internet organization.  He had the anti-war issue, which was transcendent, and Lieberman made a fatal mistake.  By announcing he was going to collect signatures to run as an independent, he lowered his estimation in his own party of his value of a Democrat.  People thought he wasn‘t a real Democrat. 

MATTHEWS:  He could have won if he hadn‘t, right? 

FUND:  He shouldn‘t have collected those signatures.  If he hadn‘t, he probably would have won. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go to Jenny.  What did you do wrong?  Why did Lieberman lose to his own party? 

JENNY BACKUS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I think the first thing is he underestimated how angry voters are right now at the administration.  I think he could have come out and been more responsible to Connecticut voter.  He sort of went too Washington on them. 

MATTHEWS:  But he said today that he knew months ago that Brand-X, anybody who ran as an anti-war guy, would be a real challenge to him. 

BACKUS:  But again, the bottom line is it‘s not an anti-war, it‘s about being reflective to your constituents.  I think the people of Connecticut would have given him a break if he would have shown up at 15 town hall meetings and listened to them, responsive to his issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think part of this was all politics is local?  It‘s one thing to disagree with your constituency on the big issues, John, but you‘ve got to show them a little respect by showing up at their meetings.  John? 

FUND:  Oh, obviously Lieberman had gone national.  By going national he had ignored his local constituency and as a result, they felt deprived.  Look, any candidate who goes national has to recognize the folks back home view that as a two-edged sword. 

MATTHEWS:  When we come back, I‘m going to ask John Fund, a man of great wealth, intelligence and knowledge, maybe not wealth, but lots of brains, who are you going to vote for if you‘re in Connecticut?  Are you going to vote for this guy, Alan Schlessinger, the Republican nominee?  Or are you going to vote and break up the Democratic party by pushing Joe Lieberman?  We‘ll be right back with Jenny And John.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back HARDBALLers.  John Fund of opinionjournal.com and Democratic strategist Jenny Backus.  I‘m sitting here John, I know you love this kind of politics, the really graphic.  You can‘t see it but I‘m hold a button up which I picked up there in Connecticut.  It‘s a picture, if you can come in on this with a camera, it‘s a picture of Joe Lieberman, Democrat, being really kissed by the president of the United States.  If you look at the movies of it, the tapes of it, they really do have one of these old-world, old-country embraces, ending in, consummated in a real kiss on the cheek.  Is he really the candidate of the president, the White House, as you understand it? 

FUND:  They‘re going to be playing in other races but there will be a hands-off support for Lieberman.  The Republican contributors will be told, we don‘t mind if you send money. 

MATTHEWS:  But what about your guy, Alan, not your guy but the Republican guy?  Would you, he was pretty articulate on this show.  I know we always say articulate, like better than we though.  But what do you think of this guy? 

FUND:  Chris, the reality is he‘s at 9 percent in the polls and he‘s probably peaked there.  He‘s hapless and hopeless. 

MATTHEWS:  He said that he‘s got great coat tails from the very popular governor now and that she can bring him in. 

FUND:  Nine percent.  Have you ever seen someone nine percent win, I‘m sorry? 

MATTHEWS:  Well Jimmy Carter went from zero.  What do you think, Jenny? 

BACKUS:  I think the Republicans are desperate to use this Lieberman race as a symbol, to try to justify their new, you know, if you‘re against the war, you‘re a godless communist. 

MATTHEWS:  Start the Scoop Jackson (INAUDIBLE)  Because tube socks never got anywhere in leading the Democratic party but every time a guy on a conservative hawkish side of thing gets knocked off, oh, Scoop wouldn‘t like this. 

BACKUS:  They‘re going to bemoan and I think it‘s going to hurt them.  Because actually, if you know Connecticut Republicans, I mean the president‘s grandfather, I mean Ned Lamont couldn‘t have like been hanging out at the Greenwich Country Club with the president‘s grandfather.  Connecticut Republicans, New England Republicans don‘t like this war either. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  John, what do we know about the independent voter in Connecticut on the war issue? 

FUND:  Chris, we may be heading towards a crisis in which the midterm election is held for the first time in the middle of a foreign policy mess like the Cuban missile crisis.  The Iranians are about to direct missiles that can hit Tel Aviv across the border from Syria to Lebanon.  If the crisis gets big enough, all bets are off. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re telling me that Iran‘s going to attack Israel with conventional weapons? 

FUND:  No, by proxy.  By proxy with missiles.  And I‘ll tell you, we may be seeing a crisis in which the United States is going to have to decide, are we going to engage or are we not?  And in that situation, the president may get—

MATTHEWS:  Do you recommend, John, that we put troops into Lebanon? 

FUND:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

FUND:  No, I‘m talking about staying engaged in the world which is not the message of the Lamont left. 

BACKUS:  But I disagree with you.  I think that, you know, Lamont is saying we‘ve got our troops in the wrong part of the country.  He was for the war in Afghanistan. 

FUND:  So where does he to want deploy them?  Where?  Murtha says Okinawa.  Where does Lamont want to deploy them? 

MATTHEWS:  The open question gang, has our war in Iraq increased terrorists around the world, increased the terrorist threat, the anger, the resentment, the recruitment, or has it reduced it.  That‘s the question, I think, I‘d like to see answered by November.  Thank you Jenny Backus.  Thank you John Fund.  Play HARDBALL with us again tomorrow night.  Our guests will include, as I said, former senator, possibly future president John Edwards.  Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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