updated 8/22/2006 10:58:30 AM ET 2006-08-22T14:58:30

Guests: John McCaslin, Ryan Lizza, Rahm Emanuel, Rick Santorum, Harold Ford Jr.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  The president has shot the warning pistols, the 2006 congressional elections are about Iraq.  We‘re not leaving so long as I‘m president, he says.  The Democrats say the policy is not working, the president says the policy is working.  That‘s the issue.  Those are the stakes.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews, welcome to HARDBALL, tonight from New York.  President Bush held his first press conference since July in Washington today and made his position on Iraq perfectly clear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve their objectives and their dreams, which is a democratic society.  That‘s the strategy.  The tactics, now, either you say yes, it‘s important and we stay there and we get it done or we leave.  We‘re not leaving so long as I‘m the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  This puts Iraq the No. 1 concern for the American people in the spotlight for the upcoming election and directly on the front burner for the 2008 presidential contenders.  The president also conceded that the war in Iraq was, quote, “straining the psyche of the country and has become a major issue in the upcoming elections.” 

Tonight two of the hottest Senate races, Pennsylvania‘s Senator Rick Santorum is running the race of his political life and the latest polls show he is closing in on his Democratic challenger, Bob Casey Jr.  And in Tennessee, Congressman Harold Ford could make history if he wins the Senate seat.  But he‘s fighting an uphill political battle against Republican Bob Corker.  And some analysts predict Republicans could lose the House, tonight.  Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and his Republican counterpart, Representative Tom Reynolds both of them weigh in on both sides on who will control Congress. 

But first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report on the president‘s press conference today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH:  A beautiful day for a stroll.

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Eleven weeks until the congressional elections, and today on the dominant issue of Iraq, the president tried to reframe the problems there by saying things could be worse.

BUSH:  If you think it‘s bad now, imagine what Iraq would look like if the United States leaves before this government can defend itself and sustain itself.

SHUSTER:  The president attacked Democrats and those who want to begin a withdrawal stating one key phrase half a dozen times.

BUSH:  It would be wrong in my judgment for us to leave before the mission is complete in Iraq.  And we‘re not going to leave before the mission is complete.  We‘re not going to leave Iraq before the job is done and we‘ll complete the mission in Iraq.  And you don‘t succeed by leaving before the mission is complete.

SHUSTER:  For months, the president has suggested the mission would start to end once Iraqi security forces were in place.  But with those forces having huge problems, today the president signaled that U.S. troops are not pulling out anytime soon.

BUSH:  We‘re not leaving so long as I‘m the president.  That would be a huge mistake.  It would send an unbelievably terrible signal to reformers across the region.  It would say we have abandoned our desire to change the conditions that create terror.

SHUSTER:  On Lebanon, the president called for quick deployment of international peacekeepers to uphold the fragile cease-fire.

BUSH:  The need is urgent.

SHUSTER:  And on Iran, the president pointed at U.N. efforts aimed at convincing Iran to abandon its quest for uranium.

BUSH:  I certainly want to solve this problem diplomatically.

SHUSTER:  But this was a news conference dominated by Iraq.  And with polls showing the public increasingly frustrated, the president was the psychologist in chief, offering sympathy and understanding.

BUSH:  These aren‘t joyous times.  These are challenging times and are difficult times.  And they are straining the psyche of our country.  I understand that.

SHUSTER:  And the president offered this advice for Republican congressional candidates.

BUSH:  I would be telling people that the Democrats will raise your taxes.  That‘s what they said.  I would be reminding people that tax cuts have worked.

SHUSTER:  The president displayed his usual towel snapping, needling a reporter over his jacket, and then calling on him a few minutes later.

BUSH:  Yes, Herman. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you.  Go ahead.

BUSH:  I don‘t need to now that you have stood up and everybody can clearly see for themselves.

SHUSTER:  But when the president got serious again and linked 9/11 to Iraq...

SHUSTER:  ... The terrorist attack doesn‘t kill 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What did Iraq have to do with that?

BUSH:  What did Iraq have to do with what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The attack upon the World Trade Center.

BUSH:  Nothing, except for it‘s part of—and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack.

SHUSTER:  It was that very reporter who cut the president off.

BUSH:  They were—what did Iraq have to do with what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The attack on the World Trade Center.

BUSH:  Nothing, except for it‘s part of—and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack.

SHUSTER:  The operative word, though, is ordered, because administration officials repeatedly suggested Iraq was involved.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We learn more and more there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the ‘90s.  That it involved training, for example, the Czechs alleged that Mohammed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack.

SHUSTER:  In any case, President Bush today was as animated and passionate as he has been in months about keeping U.S. troops in Iraq.

BUSH:  If we ever give up the desire to help people who live in freedom, we will have lost our soul as a nation as far as I‘m concerned.

SHUSTER (on camera):  That is difficult terrain for war critics, the idea that they don‘t back critics and therefore must support tyranny.  The problem for the Bush administration is the majority of Americans don‘t buy the president‘s logic.  Instead, most voters see the Iraq war as a colossal mistake that now has no end in sight.  I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Senator Rick Santorum is in a re-election fight against Democrat Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania, where the Quinnipiac‘s latest poll finds 58 percent say it was wrong to go to war with Iraq.  Senator Santorum, that‘s a rough way to start this discussion, but how do you contend with the fact that most Pennsylvanians believe it was a mistake to go into Iraq?

SANTORUM:  Well, I think the way I contend with it is I try to paint a little broader picture than just Iraq.  I mean, if this is a debate going on in the country about whether we should be in Iraq or not and that‘s the only issue, I think it‘s a tough case to make. 

But if you put Iraq in the context that we‘re in a war against Islamic fascism and Iraq is simply one front of that war, as well as Afghanistan, as well as southern Lebanon now, as well as really all across the world where they are trying to attempt to conduct asymmetrical threats to us, the answer is, yes, we should be there, and we need to confront these people and defeat them. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, if everyone believed right now that Iraq attacked us on 9/11, I think you‘d be correct. 

Let‘s go now to a troubling question here.  Here‘s President Bush today in his press conference on the topic of who actually ordered the 9/11 attack. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Nobody‘s ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look right now at what the vice president said on the same subject. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  (inaudible) more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaida that stretched back through most of the decade of the ‘90s. 

With respect to 9/11, of course you‘ve had the story that‘s been public out there, the Czechs alleged that Mohammed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there you have it, a complete difference there, the president saying we never suggested a connection; then you have the vice president saying quite furtively there was a meeting five months before the attack where the intelligence officer from Iraq met with Mohammed Atta, the lead suicide bomber of 9/11.  It seems to me they have different messages.  One says there‘s a connection, one says there wasn‘t. 

SANTORUM:  Well, I don‘t think Vice President Cheney is saying there‘s a connection.  He‘s saying there was a meeting.  We don‘t know whether there‘s a connection or not.  But the meeting...

MATTHEWS:  Well, why would he bring up this meeting if he didn‘t think it was significant?

SANTORUM:  Well, because we‘re asked the question all the time, as I‘m asked the question all the time, was there any relationship?  And I think the vice president is right that we‘re finding.  And as you know, there‘s these Iraqi document dump that‘s going on that we have 48,000 cases of boxes full of documents from the Iraq regime, the former regime, and a lot of the documents are indicating there certainly was relationships between Iraqi intelligence and military officials and terrorist groups like Al Qaida. 

I don‘t think the administration has come forward and said or anyone has come forward and said there is a direct link.  But to suggest there was no relationship is inaccurate. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s play it again.  Let‘s hear the president again on whether there was a connection between 9/11 and Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Nobody‘s ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that?

SANTORUM:  Order the attack.  That‘s the operative word:  Ordered the attack.  What Vice President Cheney‘s just suggested was they were meeting.  I don‘t think he suggested in his comment that Saddam ordered the attack. 

What I think we‘ve seen from the documents that have been released and the evidence that‘s been uncovered is that Saddam supported with training camps and training terrorists, including Al Qaida terrorists, that there was a relationship. 

MATTHEWS:  No one ever—no one on the Democratic side or in the media has ever said that Saddam Hussein ordered an attack.  No one‘s ever said the administration said that.  What the problem is from the beginning of this discussion of Iraq, a lot of the American people, most of them, I think, have been led to believe that somehow going into Iraq was payback for 9/11. 

That was supported in every aspect of our lives by all the administration officials constantly talking about this connection, this meeting that was held in Prague so that they could support their argument that it was payback. 

It‘s dishonest to say that the vice president didn‘t say that over and over again, that there was a connection. 

SANTORUM:  Well, a connection is different than payback for 9/11.  A connection means that there is, in fact, as I just talked about at the beginning of the segment, that Iraq was a supporter of terrorist organizations who are part of this Islamic fascist conglomeration that is, in fact, at war with the United States, and that having a major military power like Iraq did, which had chemical weapons, which we have now found, and having that available to terrorists is a threat to this country. 

MATTHEWS:  The reason this is a debate point, an issue of concern in fact checking is that 58 percent of Pennsylvanians say we should not have gone to Iraq.  Of course if they were informed that there was some coordination between Iraq and the attack on us on 9/11, with that anniversary coming up right now, it would have real firepower. 

Was there a connection between Iraq and 9/11?  Any connection?

SANTORUM:  I don‘t think we know that.  I mean, I think the answer is that what we do know from the evidence is that there was a connection between Al Qaida operatives and Saddam‘s government.  I don‘t think we have any further information as to any complicity in this particular attack. 

But let‘s just step back.  I mean, we were not attacked only at 9/11. 

We‘ve been attacked for 20 years from Beirut to...

MATTHEWS:  That was Hezbollah.

SANTORUM:  Well, from a variety of different organizations, all integrated into this mosaic of what this battle is all about.  And we cannot consider this war as isolated incidents, that Afghanistan is one war and Iraq is a different war and what‘s going on in Israel is a separate war.  They are not.  They are very much connected.  There is a common theme across all of them and that is the war going on in Iraq today is a war against Islamic fascists who want to oppose their ideology on the rest of the Middle East and the rest of the world.  The same is going on in Afghanistan.  And there are other elements throughout the world trying to accomplish the same thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Why are we losing 3,500 Iraqis a month if they‘re all working together.  They‘re shooting at each other, Shi‘a against the Sunni, the Sunni against the Shi‘a.  If they‘re shooting against each other, how can they be part of what you call a common theme?  They hate each other, the Shi‘a and the Sunni. 

SANTORUM:  Yes.  Well, they do hate each other, but what I think we know is that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  And you see Shi‘a and Sunni working together in a lot of different areas of the world to attack the West, to attack Israel, to attack whatever the case may be. 

And so, no, I would disagree with you.  Yes, there certainly are internal problems.  This is not a very simple and clean approach.  But there is clearly—if you see not only Sunni and Shi‘a working together against the West, but when you see them engaged with...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

SANTORUM:  ... North Korea, Venezuela and a whole bunch of others, you know you‘ve got a serious problem. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator Rick Santorum, you just said the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  You and the Green Party of Pennsylvania.  It would be helpful to you to have a large Green Party turnout to reduce the support for the Casey campaign. 

Have you had any dealings or has your campaign had any dealings to get them on the ballot, to do anything to support anything for the Green Party of Pennsylvania, any role at all?

SANTORUM:  Yes, absolutely.  We have been absolutely up front about the fact that we want the Green Party on the ballot.  We asked folks to circulate petitions for them.  In fact, we even had folks who work for me and volunteer for me to go out and volunteer and work for them.  We ask folks who would like to help them financially to go ahead and do it.  I know members of my campaign did. 

So, no, we‘ve been very up-front about the fact that I have an opponent in Bob Casey, Jr., who does not want to engage in a Senate race.  He wants to engage in personal attacks and hide behind his father‘s name and not engage in any kind of substantive debate in this campaign. 

And we have someone in Carl Romanelli, who‘s the Green Party candidate, who‘s at least willing to debate me.  My opponent has not agreed to debate me in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet.  And we want someone who will.

MATTHEWS:  So which are you in this, are you the Sunni or the Shi‘a in this coalition? 

SANTORUM:  I‘m the American.  I‘m the American.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this.  Would you accept us hosting a debate for you on “Hardball”?

SANTORUM:  I think it would be a very favorable forum for Mr. Casey to go on a show like “Hardball.”  I mean, you know, we know your background.  Not to say you‘re not fair, Chris, but we know your background. 

MATTHEWS:  And how would that help Casey, my background?

SANTORUM:  It would help Casey that you come from a Democratic background. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sure you‘re helping your cause here.  But I‘m very independent, as you noticed the last 20 or so years. 

If you want to talk to Bill Clinton about my independence or anybody else in either party, I think you‘d discover that I‘m extremely independent these days. 

SANTORUM:  I‘m just saying—the same thing with Tim Russert, who comes from a Democrat background—and I‘m willing to go on those shows that can be tough on me.  I‘m willing to do that. 

MATTHEWS:  No one‘s tougher than he on everybody.  And I‘m almost as good. 

Thank you very much.  You got me flustered, Senator Rick Santorum... 

SANTORUM:  Good.

MATTHEWS:  ... a guy I actually like despite his, whatever you call it, your background.  You make it sound like your rap sheet.  Any way coming up, can Democrats take control of the House?  We‘ll ask the man trying to make it happen, democratic campaign chairman Rahm Emanuel.  And later Emanuel‘s adversary, Republican campaign chairman Tom Reynolds.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There are a lot of people in the Democrat party who believe that the best course of action is to leave Iraq before the job is done, period, and they are wrong.  And the American people have got to understand the consequence of leaving Iraq before the job is done.  We‘re not going to leave Iraq before the job is done and we‘ll complete the mission in Iraq. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was President Bush today hammering home the distinction between his party, the Republicans, and the Democratic party when it comes to the war in Iraq.  Is the Iraq war the make or break issue for the midterm elections, and can the war, or opposition to the war, help Democrats take back control of Congress?  U.S.  Congressman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois is the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  He is also the author of a new book, “The Plan.”  Congressman, thank you for joining us.  I just want you, obviously, you are on the same day as the president, to respond to him. 

The president said you Democrats are out there raising money on the issue of get the boys home, or the women home from Iraq.  And the bad guys are listening to the message of the Democrats and it‘s hurting us. 

RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS:  Well a couple things, Chris, real quickly.  First of all, it‘s the president‘s political advisers who‘s always said that he wanted to use the Iraq war and the War on Terror for political purposes, not us.  And that‘s the biggest mistake because the one casualty the American people would accept in the War on Terror is partisanship.  That‘s the one casualty the president won‘t give up. 

Number two, the president of the United States basically said that his policy was to stay the course.  Yesterday you had Senator McCain and Senator Hagel, two respected Republicans, one said Iraq is in the middle of a civil war, the other one said it‘s mostly bad news, very little good news.  And all the president is offering is stay the course and that is not acceptable when you go from a position that every milestone is mission accomplished, the insurrection is in its last throws.  Every milestone this administration has predicted about how Iraq was going was wrong and their present course has gotten us to a position we‘re in an endless occupation by this president.  And he is not altering course or dealing with the different terrain that Iraq is.  It is not the Iraq we entered that he claimed mission accomplished three short years ago.  It‘s $308 billion of U.S. dollars sunk into it, 2,600 American lives, 19,000 wounded and barely the green zone is secured.  That tells you the course he‘s on isn‘t working. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the course the Democrats are on.  The president made a direct charge today.  He said Democrats are raising money, campaign funds, by promising to bring the troops home.  Is that true? 

EMANUEL:  What the Democrats are clearly saying is that the course the president is on is wrong and that we have to have an altered policy.  Take a look at what Senator Biden said just three months ago in the “New York Times.”  He said a good idea would be to have a Kurdish area, a Sunni area and a Shia area.  He wrote that piece in the “New York Times” and had discussion.  Has anybody said in the Republican party what their present different course is, outside of Senator Warner, who basically said well if it is a civil war, we better figure this out. 

I‘m saying to you is we have offered a different direction.  If the president of the United States is going to politicize the war on terror and constantly try to hammer Democrats, because it‘s not a case of weak-strong.  It‘s a case of right or wrong.  They have gotten Iraq wrong each time.  I‘ll say this.  The Democrats have provided the president everything he has ever wanted in Iraq and the Republicans have denied the president the one thing he needs, oversight. 

MATTHEWS:  Well let‘s talk about oversight.  If the Democrats get control of Congress, will you insist on a strategy which leads to the partition of Iraq along the lines that Peter Galbraith is arguing in his new book, as you said Senator Biden has advocated?  Is that what your plan is? 

EMANUEL:  No, but look, Senator Biden and let‘s just take Senator Levin have both offered, I think, two comprehensive approaches outside of just rubber stamping the president‘s policy.  He has gotten a Congress that has been complacent and complicit in this policy.  What Democrats will demand is the questions, our constituents, independents, Democrats, Republicans, everywhere, Chris, are asking, which is what are we doing there and what is the course for success? 

At least Senator Biden and Senator Levin have offered an alternate course, a change to get to a success.  No Republican in House or Senate leadership positions, or in committees of jurisdiction, have offered a challenge to say here‘s my ideas, and I‘m proud that the Democratic party, from Senator Levin to Senator Biden to Jack Murtha in the House have offered constructive ideas where the Republicans are silent, rubber stamp members. 

MATTHEWS:  Who would you put on national television the night before the elections this year to speak for the Democratic party?  Who would be the person? 

EMANUEL:  On national TV? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, to speak to the country.  To speak for the Democrats of this country.  You want to take over Congress.  Who is your spokesperson? 

EMANUEL:  Well I think Barack Obama is a great ...

MATTHEWS:  You would put him up against the president? 

EMANUEL:  Sure, I think he offers a future, a sense of change, a sense of hope of where we‘re going.  And I have a very good relationship with him.  That‘s just my choice.  I‘m not speaking for anybody. 

MATTHEWS:  No, that‘s all I wanted.  Thank you very much Congressman Rahm Emanuel, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  The new book by Rahm and I‘m sure it‘s good, “The Plan.”   it‘s probably all about what the Democrats are going to do. 

Up next, Republican Tom Reynolds of New York is in charge of stopping Democrats from taking over the House.  How does he plan to do it?  What‘s his plan? 

And later Harold Ford Jr., the Congressman from Tennessee wants to be the next Senator from Tennessee.  Could he become the first African-American from the south since reconstruction to get elected to the Senate?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  What did Iraq have to do with what? 

QUESTION:  The attack on the World Trade Center. 

BUSH:  Nothing. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That was President Bush today acknowledging that there is no connection between Iraq and 9/11.  We just heard from Congressman Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic chairman of the campaign committee.  Now here is the Republican chair, his counter-part, U.S. Congressman Tom Reynolds of New York State.  He is, as I said, chairman of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.  Mr. Reynolds, Congressman, thank you for coming on.  I don‘t think you have been on before, have you? 

REP. TOM REYNOLDS ®, NEW YORK:  I have been on a couple of times in years past.  I haven‘t been on this year. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, welcome to this year.  Let me ask you about the president‘s comment.  He was blunt.  It was a hell of a press conference.  I think it laid down the issue here.  He‘s for staying with Iraq as long as he‘s president.  He is daring the Democrats to push their case, we should get out.  Is that a fair assessment? 

REYNOLDS:  Well I didn‘t hear the press conference but that‘s the general tenor of what I understand.  You know the president.  He says what he means, means what he says.  He doesn‘t believe in the cut and run policy in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, he never said that today, Congressman.  The interesting thing is I was listening and taking elaborate notes here at this desk in New York and he never used the phrase cut and run.  What he focused on is a little different.  He focused on the failed state we would leave behind.  It‘s like he is saying if you think this is bad, and you might say it sucks, it‘s so terrible this war, he is saying this is bad but it would be a lot worse if we get out of there.  Is that a nuance or a new angle to this argument? 

REYNOLDS:  Well, I‘ll leave that up to him, but I still boil that down to you can‘t cut and run.  Maybe he talks about it being a stable second democracy in the Middle East, which is a very dangerous neighborhood. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this issue.  Do you think it‘s fair for some nobody to get elected Congress simply because they say no to the war in Iraq? 

REYNOLDS:  I don‘t think that will happen.  I‘m an old school guy that believes all politics is local, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I have heard that phrase before. 

REYNOLDS:  I know you have.  I have said it many, many times over in our strategy this year.  If you look at the Pugh Report, their poll last week, it still says a predominant number of Americans in their districts, for members of the House, they want to talk about economy and those type of issues versus the war.  I have advised our colleagues to talk about the issues that matter most in those districts and Buffalo, New York, where I‘m from, it‘s jobs and taxes. 

MATTHEWS:  How are you doing? 

REYNOLDS:  I‘m doing all right. 

MATTHEWS:  I mean in buffalo, how are the people doing there?  I mean I look at the stock market every day, like most guys who have any investment at all, or women and, you know, it‘s OK now.  It‘s inching up there past 11,000.  But we also know the business cycle.  At some point, you know, it goes down again.  What do you think of the economy generally right now? 

REYNOLDS:  The economy in Buffalo is sluggish to what it is in other parts of the country, but upstate, part of that is just to the competitive environment in New York.  It‘s been a clear message in the governor‘s race this year by both Democrats and Republicans. 

MATTHEWS:  How can you talk about the economy?  Maybe it‘s a comparative disadvantage.  Some things are worse than others.  But I know people have figured this out, and you probably agree.  People that have the working jobs.  They don‘t have the fancy law firm jobs or public relations or whatever, accounting, the people that have to work and actually do physical work when they get to the job site.  They tend to have to travel longer.  They don‘t live in the nice suburbs close in to the city.  They live further out, maybe in rural areas, maybe in the not-so expensive suburbs, although all the suburbs are expensive.  They have got to buy a lot of gas every week.  They may have to fill a tank twice.  Are they complaining?

REYNOLDS:  Well the first thing is they want to make sure they have a job and second thins like energy, with the cost of gas, is always on some of their minds, if that‘s the number one issue.  But it‘s a challenge to the overall budget.  I think that people are thinking a little bit about gas prices. 

MATTHEWS:  Well who are they blaming?  Are they blaming you or the president or who? 

REYNOLDS:  They just want them down.  I can‘t blame them. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about what you think.  Let‘s say, the president raised the tax issue today.  I have always believed that the reason Republicans control Congress is one issue.  If you have to ask, the party that‘s probably most likely to lower taxes and not raise them is the Republican party.  That‘s your ace in the hole.  Is it still? 

REYNOLDS:  Well, I think that the aspect that tax cuts have worked and that‘s been part of where we have seen the economy, the strength that it is around the country has been due to the tax cuts, and if you don‘t support tax cuts, do you support raising taxes.  I think Democrats, or if there was a Republican that had that mindset, they would be in trouble. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much U.S. Congressman Tom Reynolds of New York state, up in Buffalo. 

Up next, Tennessee has a hot Senate race to replace the retiring Bill Frist.  If he wins, Harold Ford Jr. would make history as the first black southern Senator since reconstruction.  He would also pick up a seat for the Dems.  Can he do it?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.  He‘s coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  It seems that everywhere you look this year, there is a hot Senate race that could make the difference in swinging the balance of power nationally.  Can Democrats take control of the Senate?  Well one way we can find out is how well this fellow is going to do.  U.S. Congressman Harold Ford Jr. is running for the Senate in Tennessee and tonight we have him on the air from Los Angeles.  Tell me are you raising money?  What are you doing out there, Congressman? 

REP. HAROLD FORD (D), TENNESSEE:   We‘re trying to ensure, my opponent is a multimillionaire.  He is worth about a quarter of a billion dollars.  Regrettably I don‘t have that kind of standing so we are out raising money.  And I have got to tell you the race is starting to settle and come together in the state, and you can sense, much like what Rahm was saying and others have said on the show, even Tom Reynolds, my friend, there is an uneasiness in the electorate, and people are hungry for, not change as much, as they are hungry for improved leadership and better leadership in Washington which is why we‘re doing well in Tennessee.  We have got 78 days to go and we feel good about our chances of winning. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve parted my head.  I‘m divided on this, because I love to pick winners and losers.  This may be a tsunami year, a year where like 1964 and like 1994, 1966, one of those years where a lot of new people come into power, a lot of people you think can‘t lose do.  Do you have that, does it smell like that to you yet or is it too early? 

FORD:  You know, all I can smell is a lot of hard work going forward.  I‘ve followed some of the things nationally through the newspapers but my focus is on rural west Tennessee, middle Tennessee, all across east Tennessee and my home base there in Memphis, in trying to win voters and win supporters with a very positive message. 

I will say this, I think those campaigns that base and predicate their whole approach on being negative and nasty and ugly, be it a Democrat towards a Republican and certainly a Republican towards a Democrat, those campaigns will face a harder time because voters, I think, are more attuned and are listening more closely to, not only what politicians are saying, but they are watching more closely what we do.  And as a result, I think that has made it harder for some of the predictable, negative campaigning that has come to dominate the political scene over the last few years. 

So, that has worked to our benefit because we have not stooped to that level.  We have kept this campaign on issue and on substance.  I think we have been rewarded up to this point.  I think the polling data, the most recent polling data confirms that the approach we‘re taking is working.  We have got a lot of work to do to win. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, have you heard the phrase in politics, it‘s used in England as well as here, it‘s called the dog whistle messages.  Where you send a message through a signal that only certain people can hear and they act on it.  Your opponents, I mean this is a strange thing, they are talking about you staying at good hotels and wearing nice clothes.  What has that message meant to send to voters? 

FORD:  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  It sounds like a dog whistle to me. 

FORD:  Yes, I don‘t know what the approach is.  I do know this.  Voters in our state are concerned that the effort in Iraq, we want to win it, but they don‘t believe our modes and methods on the ground are helping us do that.  They don‘t believe the gas prices should remain as high as they are if we pursued a different course.  They certainly are concerned about our policy in the Middle East. 

All I can do is pray for those who sell these awful, negative, untrue things about me.  And you‘ve got to think, one would have thought that in a race in Tennessee with a Democrat running, particularly a Democrat like me, that the Republicans would be out harping and trumpeting their support for balancing the budget and making government smaller, lowering gas prices.  The problem is they don‘t have that message.  So instead they choose to criticize and attack.  My grandmother always taught me when somebody has nothing good to say about you, they talk bad about you.  All you can do is pray for them. 

So I say to Mr. Frist and my other (INAUDIBLE) Mr. Alexander and even my opponent, Mr. Corker, bless your heart.  Voters in our state are ready for change and they are ready for better leadership.  No amount of attacking and lying on me is going to change the fact that you guys have mismanaged the country.  I think the voters in Tennessee are as smart as any voters anywhere in the country and they have picked up on that, which is why again, I think we are resonating, connecting with voters everywhere. 

MATTHEWS:  How old are you congressman?

FORD:  Thirty six.

MATTHEWS: You know, I wonder, I know this is a tough question, do you think younger people your age, and you‘re definitely younger than me, do you think that people your age and my kids age, in their mid early 20s, do you think younger people have a different outlook? 

I mean, everybody watching this has kids or is a kid.  Do you think people from your generation who are starting to vote, young families, start to go think about this country and what it stands for, do you think they are different than their parents?

FORD:  I think they realize, god willing, we‘re going to live a longer than—young people are, longer than our parent and grandparents.

MATTHEWS:  No, you won‘t live longer, you‘ll just live past us, there‘s a difference.  You‘ll live about as long as we do, but go ahead.

FORD:  Forgive me, my country ways, I didn‘t say it right.  Y‘all may be gone before a lot of the consequences and answers, some of the choices we have made, how it will impact the country. 

I think younger voters realize this war is real.  And the fact that we are addicted to oil is real.  The fact that the environment is eroding, and global warming is real as Al Gore has said is something we will have to deal with.  The fact that Social Security and Medicare costs are exploding.  We will have to pay the bill. 

And the fact that America‘s standing in the world, our moral authority has taken such a tremendous blow over the last few years.  I think many young Americans understand more and more that we are inheriting this and as a result are going to have to be more engaged in the process. 

We have been engaged as young voters.  We just don‘t vote as much as we should.  And I think this election, I think you will see a larger turnout in states all across the country and certainly in Tennessee amongst 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds who realize that this election is as much about their future and our future as it is at any point in our lives.

MATTHEWS:  You know, a lot of people say that they voted for the war in Iraq or the authority of the president to make the call because they wanted to be bipartisan. 

Do you think looking back on it, we would be better off with some partisanship where people disagree with the policy, they have the wrong sense of it, it may not turn out the way the president said it would, that they should have voted against it?  Do you feel you should have voted against the authority, that Hillary Clinton should have done it, John Kerry should have done it, and you‘d be in a clear position now to say he‘s wrong, we‘re right?

FORD:  Well I don‘t want to speak for my colleagues and friends in Congress and the Senate.  But I do know this.  I didn‘t vote with the president to be a patriot.  I voted with him because I actually believed what they were saying.  It turned out that they were not altogether right.  They weren‘t alone.  There were other administrations and other people around the world that thought the same thing about Saddam Hussein. 

Naturally, if I knew then what I know now I would not have voted for it.  And I think in fairness to President Bush, it‘s doubtful that he would have even brought the resolution asking for the authorization to use force.  I think where most people fought this president is that he has done very little to alter his position.  He can‘t even get his own administration to sing from the same hymnal with regard to what‘s happening in Iraq and what forces brought it on. 

As you have shown repeatedly on this show, when asked what role Iraq had with 9/11, he said nothing.  It‘s a clear, clear representation from what his own secretary of defense has said and even his own vice president and I think at times his own secretary of state.

So they have a challenge in that they have been unwilling to convince people that they have a handle on the situation in Iraq.  I think Rahm‘s point is well taken.  Bayh, Biden and even Les Gelb of the council on foreign relations, the three-state solution in Iraq.  We should combine it with a mini marshal plan to help rebuild Lebanon after the awful situation that the Lebanese people have gone through. 

And finally, new interview sources is the long-term answer.  We are almost five years to the day to 9/11.  We pay more for gas, we buy more of it.  And we‘re the only group of people in the history of the world to fight a war and pay for both sides of it as Tom Friedman says so well and pay for both sides of it at the same time.  That must stop.  Tennesseans realize that, which is one of the reasons we‘re doing well in this race and I believe we will win this race.

MATTHEWS:  And they use the gasoline we bought from them to blow up our buildings.  Isn‘t that something?

FORD:  The Iranians are nothing more, in a lot of ways, that government there than a venture capital firm, as Tom Friedman says well.  They invest in terror organizations and you and I drive up the costs. 

Something is wrong with that picture. 

The fact this administration has done little to correct that.  That‘s why they are in the challenge there.  They are not—the Republican challenge of Republicans during the day has not brought on by anything other than they have mismanaged the country in many ways.  This is not an indictment of Republicans.  It‘s an indictment of the Republicans in Washington. 

And people across my state including Republicans are siding up with us and voting for me because they realize that we need a different kind of leadership and a more effective kind of leadership in Washington, more interested in solving stuff than creating problems and fighting old political battles.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, thank you very much for joining us on HARDBALL.  U.S. Congressman Harold Ford of Tennessee.  Up next, Iraq is the No. 1 concern for voters for the midterm.  It‘s in all the polls.  Will it still be the top problem in 2008?  The HARDBALLers will break down the never-ending politics of this war in Iraq.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Either you say yes, it‘s important and we stay there and get it done, or we leave.  We‘re not leaving so long as I‘m the president.  That would be a huge mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  To digest today‘s news from the president‘s press conference and to look ahead to the upcoming congressional elections in November, we‘re joined now by John McCaslin of the “Washington Times” and Ryan Lizza, a senior editor of the “New Republic.”

I want to start with John here.  I was taken so much by the way the president laid out this campaign today.  It seemed like he did a very good job, no matter what your politics or your journalistic instincts are of saying hey, this is what the campaign is going to be about.  As long as I‘m president, we‘re in Iraq.  I‘m fighting for the reformers over there.  I‘m fighting against leaving a failed state behind.  I believe they are all in cahoots together.  You can say what you want, I think they are all working together and we‘ve got to beat them.  Pretty strong statement.

JOHN MCCASLIN, THE WASHINGTON TIMES:  Pretty strong statement.  He knows that the national security is still one of the foremost issues, especially in the midterm elections.  It will be an issue no doubt in 2008.

And when he talks about finishing the mission, it‘s not so much the U.S. military or the United States finishing the mission because I don‘t know if there ever can be an end to it, but I think what he said today is that until January of 2009, we will be fighting this war.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I was thinking, Ryan, it‘s almost like you know when you‘re a kid and you‘re betting each other, OK, I‘ll take your bet.  The president says OK, you want to make this about Iraq, it‘s about Iraq. 

RYAN LIZZA, THE NEW REPUBLIC:  No.  I agree with what you first said, is he definitely laid out the debate here.  He wants to make the election about Iraq.  I mean, definitely debatable whether that‘s a good thing for Bush or the Republicans.

I don‘t get the sense that most Republican candidates who are separating themselves from Bush, who don‘t really want to campaign with him are very anxious or very excited about campaigning on a stay the course policy in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you just see Tom Reynolds, the chairman of the Republican Campaign Committee, do exactly what you just said?  He said let‘s talk about local issues. 

LIZZA:  Exactly.  They want to localize the election, they want to talk about the kind of pork-barrel spending they have brought to the home districts.  They don‘t want a national election at all.

So I think yes, he laid it out, but it‘s not a sure winner for them. 

The polls—from what I can see of the polls, it looks like a loser. 

MATTHEWS:  You never call it pork barrel, of course, when you‘re bringing it home. 

LIZZA:  I‘m sorry.  Right.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s needed federal funding—it‘s our fair share of federal funding.

Let me ask you about the president‘s attack on the Democrats.  He said that our enemies out there—and of course, you don‘t have to be a Republican or a Democrat or anybody to know we have enemies out there, they are watching, he said, the Democrats in this country running for office on the promise to bring our troops home, and that‘s encouraging them.  That was a pretty strong partisan shot.  It may be true.

John, is it a fair shot? 

MCCASLIN:  It‘s fair as far as President Bush is concerned, but at the same time national security is also very important, too.  Democrats, if you look at Hillary Rodham Clinton‘s statements in the wake of the foiled plot in Britain, she has come out very strongly to say let‘s just not fall asleep at this point.  Let‘s take what‘s happened, let‘s expand on it, let‘s shore up our borders.  She obviously sees the need to attract these soccer mothers that have been worried about national security over the years.

Harold Ford said the same thing, your previous guest, when he was down in Tennessee last week in the northeastern part speaking to the Republicans.  And he wanted Congress to actually reconvene before the summer recess is over.  He wanted everybody back in Washington.  I think Ryan and I are the only two here right now.  And he wanted to shore up the borders.  He wanted immigration to be at the forefront right now. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll be back tonight from New York, by the way.

But John—hang in there, John and Ryan. 

By the way, Hillary now calls herself Hillary Clinton.  I think she is tucking herself in a little closer to Bill, this Rodham thing I think is yesterday.  Anyway, you‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I‘m staying out of Connecticut because, you know, that‘s what the party suggested, the Republican Party of Connecticut.  And plus, there‘s a better place to spend our money, time and resources.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  We‘re talking to John McCaslin of “The Washington Times: and Ryan Lizza of The New Republic.

John, let‘s take look at—Ryan, let‘s look now at what happened here on HARDBALL last week when we had Alan Schlesinger on who is the Republican candidate in Connecticut for the U.S. Senate that the president is not going to help according to what he just said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: So you run up a $10,000 debt at a gambling table, I would call that probably over doing it a bit for most people. 

ALAN SCHLESINGER, ® U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE:  I think to Ned Lamont that‘s lunch money.  It depends on how much you‘re worth, and how much you play. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Did you ever use a false name to get a wampum card at an Indian owned casino. 

SCHLESINGER:  Yep, that‘s the same story that you‘re referring to. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, is it true or not? 

SCHLESINGER:  Oh, absolutely it‘s true.  It‘s a marketing program for a casino.  And I didn‘t think it was anyone‘s business when I play in a casino, just like you can play anonymously.  And I just didn‘t want my name on any of their marketing list. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So, what name did you use? 

SCHLESINGER:  Allen Gold. 

MATTHEWS:  Allen Gold?

SCHLESINGER:  Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, now we have a Senate candidate with an A.K.A. here. 

John McCaslin, is this the president‘s nice way of saying I‘m rooting for Joe Lieberman? 

MCCASLIN:  Yeah.  He is steering clear, no doubt about it, of Mr.  Schlesinger.  And I think for good reason.  I think that interview you had with him is in the category of one of the best of the year as far as your show goes.  You can‘t get tired of watching it.

I think that you‘ll find President Bush from the periphery supporting Joe Lieberman, especially now that all the Democrats are starting to go towards Lamont. 

MATTHEWS:  You think so? 

MCCASLIN:  I do. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not your hope going, that‘s your brain going.

MCCASLIN:  Well, I mean, you had—you had Barbara Boxer there and Bill Clinton there about three weeks ago.  And I‘d be interested to see if they go back any time soon. 

MATTHEWS:  For Lieberman. 

Let me go to Ryan here.  I mean, one thing came clear in my interview with Alan Schlesinger, he‘s not Arthur Schlessinger, he‘s a different cat.  Do you think it‘s clear that he will be in single digits now? 

LIZZA:  Yeah.  He‘s—you know, narrow to a two-man race.  He‘s finished.  You got to give the guy some credit, he could have—he could have just stonewalled you there and not given that hilarious name.  But you give him credit for being honest. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t want you stonewalling me either, my friend. 

And I want to know if Marty Pertz‘s (ph) old magazine, “The New Republic,” is going to endorse, let me bet on this, Lieberman.

LIZZA:  No.  We‘re not going to endorse.  We don‘t endorse.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not going to endorse Lieberman.

LIZZA:  No. “The New Republic” is not going to endorse Joe Lieberman. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not taking a chance to push the Scoop Jackson candidate, self described, you‘re not going to push the hawk... 

LIZZA:  We don‘t endorse in Senate races anyway.  I can‘t remember the last time we endorsed a Senate...

MATTHEWS:  Have you heard from your owners yet?  You sure they‘re not going to push Lieberman at the last minute? 

LIZZA:  I can guarantee you that “The New Republic” is not going to endorse in that race. 

And I‘ll tell you this, “The New Republic” is—we have writers with viewpoints on this across the spectrum.  And if I had to take a poll of the staff, I think most people not necessarily be in favor of Lieberman, to be totally honest. 

MATTHEWS:  How about the owners?  How about if you polled the owners? 

LIZZA:  Maybe different.  But I haven‘t talked to them about it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I‘m just having fun with you.  I just love these interdicey (ph) fights among the Democrats.

Let me go back to John McCaslin.  You know, I think—go ahead. 

MCCASLIN:  Why don‘t you ask Tony Blankley if he‘s going to endorse Scheslinger from our paper. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh.  I don‘t think so. 

MCCASLIN:  That would put him on the spot. 

MATTHEWS:  I thought it was interesting, didn‘t you, that we had on Rick Santorum earlier in the show.  I hope you both saw it.  And I asked him, are you in league with the Green Party candidate?  Are you doing one of these, as he put it, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, by endorsing and helping to get on the ballot the Green Party, they‘re trying to cut down—or rather let‘s put it this way, split the left vote.

MCCASLIN:  There you go. 

LIZZA:  Chris, let me say one more thing about Bush‘s comments today.  The guy that seems out on the limb now is John McCain.  John McCain has unequivocally supported Schlesinger.  It seems like the only high profile Republican to do so.  And it seems like there‘s this weird split between the Bush people and the McCain people on this.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think John McCain will lift a finger for Schlesinger, the gambler? 

LIZZA:  I don‘t think so.  But I would imagine that his people are thinking maybe this was a mistake.  They got out in front and they wanted to support the Republican candidate.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I wouldn‘t count on a lot of time in Connecticut for John McCain anyway.  Thank you.  I think more time in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

Anyway, thank you Ryan Lizza of “The New Republic”—the more liberal New Republic than I‘m used to lately—and John McCaslin of “The Washington Times.”  We‘ll see if you endorse Mr. Schlesinger.

Play HARDBALL with us again Tuesday.  That‘s tomorrow.  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.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

transcript

Watch Hardball each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,