updated 9/7/2006 11:45:23 AM ET 2006-09-07T15:45:23

Guests: Claire McCaskill, Kate O‘Beirne, Pat Buchanan, Ron Reagan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  So, who‘s going to win?  Who‘s going to make their issues the topics we talk about the next two months?

Will we be talking about terrorism and taxes, which is what the president and his Republicans want us to?  Or will be talking about Iraq and Bush personally, what the Democrats want us thinking as we head into those voting booths?

Let‘s see who‘s winning.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews, and welcome to HARDBALL -  “Decision 2006, Battleground America.”

All day long on MSNBC, we‘ve been looking at the hottest races across the country.  We‘ll talk to challengers and incumbents who are fighting for the power to control Congress.

Election night 2006 will be a night that spin and propaganda lose out to the crackle of victory - and the sorrow of defeat.

The acid test is the number 218.  If the Democrats win that number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, the news flashing around the globe will be that President Bush has suffered a massive defeat at home, for himself and his war policy in Iraq.

Two eighteen.  That will be the worldwide scorecard come election night.

For Republicans, the battle cry will be T and T - taxes and terrorism. 

You can‘t trust the Democrats on either.

For Democrats, the fight song will be I and B - Iraq and Bush.

Both parties will be running against the horrors of the other.

In addition to this grand decision on Iraq and Bush, terrorism and taxes, this election night will feature some wild, kaleidoscopic results.  Hillary Clinton could roll it up in New York.  Arnold Schwarzenegger could win big in California.  Jennifer Granholm could lose big in Michigan.

Republicans could be blown out of the Northeast with Chafee, Shays and Santorum all losing.  There could be an upset in New Jersey.  Kean could beat Menendez.

I smell an anti-incumbent streak out there, and no one is immune to it.

In the House, Democrats need to pick up 15 seats to take control.  If Senate Democrats pick up six seats, they‘ll win back the Senate.

But let‘s begin with the hot Senate race in Missouri, where the state auditor, Claire McCaskill, is trying to unseat the Republican Senate incumbent, Jim Talent.  Illegal immigration and Iraq are the big issues in that state, and Claire McCaskill is with us this evening to share with us her strategy for winning this Senate seat.

Ms. McCaskill, thank you very much for joining us.  What did you think of the president today saying that he‘s going to try such anti-American terrorists as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, if he gets the chance to do so?

He intends to do it.  Do you think he has the right to do it?

CLAIRE MCCASKILL, U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE, D-MISSOURI:  I think he does.

I think what I would like to see is Congress come together and do what it needs to do - quit playing politics, get to work, give law enforcement the tools they need to fight terror in the law, and make a decision how we‘re going to proceed at Guantanamo in terms of these military trials.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that the president should be allowed to set up these war crimes tribunals to try the terrorists?

MCCASKILL:  I do not believe that he can do what the Supreme Court has already told him he can‘t do.  We do need to look at the Geneva Convention and try to go by those rules.

Frankly, this is a place that I think the senators should defer to Senator McCain.  He understands this isn‘t just about how we treat these terrorists, but how our men and women will be treated in prisons across the world if they‘re captured.

We need to provide an example to the rest of the world.

Obviously, we have to go after these guys.  But as a prosecutor, I understand.  We do our best work under a framework of rules.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we should treat terrorists that we try the same way we treat someone like Scooter Libby, in the United States - give them all the evidence they need, including all the intel he‘s asked for in his trial on intelligence around the world that may be sensitive?  Should they be allowed to get access, as part of their defense, to sensitive intel?

MCCASKILL:  I do not think they should get access to sensitive intel.

However, there is middle ground here.  And that is whether or not we should let them use coerced testimony in trials.  And I think that‘s where Senator McCain has got it right.

In fact, I think Senator McCain has it right a lot.  And I think that both he and Senator Warner, the leader of the Armed Services Committee for the Republicans, are doing the right thing here.  And I hope the rest of the Republicans take their lead.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of the president in terms of terrorism?  Do you think he‘s done a good job?  Terrorism, not Iraq, but terrorism generally - homeland defense, especially.  How do you think he‘s done?

MCCASKILL:  Well, we‘ve - you know, I think it‘s a shame that five years later we still don‘t have interoperability.  And for people who aren‘t familiar with that term, that just means that our first responders can talk to one another.  I don‘t think we have the sophisticated law enforcement tools we need.

Frankly, a lot of our guys don‘t even have the language training they need for human surveillance .

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s normal in the military, though, isn‘t it, really?

MCCASKILL:  Well, it really .

MATTHEWS:  I mean, how many Army - how many soldiers in the United States military have been trained in a second language?  Maybe the special forces, but .

MCCASKILL:  But if we‘re going to fight terrorism, Chris, we have to have our CIA operatives, our intelligence operatives - we have to be able to embed them.  We have to have human surveillance.

That‘s why the U.K. had the success they did.  It was human surveillance.

We have to have all kinds.  We have to have Internet.  We have to have telephone.  We have to have wire.  And we have to have human surveillance.

Let‘s give law enforcement and the intelligence community the tools they need to fight this struggle worldwide.

This war will not be won on the battlefield.  It‘ll be won through sophisticated criminal investigations.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you the same question that the pollsters, including NBC and “Wall Street Journal” pollsters ask every American.  Should we have invaded Iraq?

MCCASKILL:  Knowing what we know now, no.  I‘m not going to Monday morning quarterback it.  I wasn‘t given the information that Congress was at the time.

But clearly, knowing what we know now, no.

What we‘ve got is a problem in the Middle East where the bad guys are resurfacing because of our tunnel vision in Iraq.  We‘ve got the Taliban back in Afghanistan.  We have Hezbollah attacking our number one ally in the region.

And the irony of this is, the prime minister of Iraq - after we‘ve lost all of these precious lives and spent billions of dollars - the prime minister of Iraq supports Hezbollah.  You know, what does that say about what we‘ve accomplished in Iraq?

MATTHEWS:  Well, should we have .

MCCASKILL:  What progress have we made?

MATTHEWS:  Should we have been surprised that a Shia Muslim would support a Shia organization?  And they‘re both loyal to Iran.  Why should that have surprised you or anyone that they‘d do that?

MCCASKILL:  I‘m not so sure that we should be surprised.  But I think it was a wakeup call to Americans.

MATTHEWS:  It was?  What‘s the wakeup call.

MCCASKILL:  The wakeup call is, there was no plan here for peace. 

There was no plan for the region.  There was .

MATTHEWS:  There was a plan for an election, and the Shia won because they‘re the majority.  Shouldn‘t we have understood that from day one?

MCCASKILL:  I don‘t .

MATTHEWS:  If you‘re going to hold an election, most - the majority tribe‘s going to win.  They won.  They‘re Shia.  They‘re on the other side.  What‘s so surprising?

MCCASKILL:  I think what‘s surprising is, I think Americans assume, because we were told the premise of this fight was to get an ally on the war on terror, that we would help a democracy flourish and we would no longer have a country that was going to foster terrorism.

Clearly, that has not been the bargain that we have gotten.

MATTHEWS:  Half the Democrats in the Senate voted against that proposition.  They smelled B.S. or whatever it was behind it.

Why would you have voted for it if you had been there?  Would you have voted for it, if you had sat there and voted?  You sound like you would have.

MCCASKILL:  I don‘t know.  I‘ve never gotten the information, all the intelligence information that members of Congress got.

MATTHEWS:  But half the Democrats didn‘t need any more information. 

They said this is a bad idea, and we‘re not going to do it.

They voted against the president.

Why do you need more information than half the Democrats in the Senate needed to say no?

MCCASKILL:  I think what I would say to you on that is, if I had been there, I don‘t know what I would have done.  I‘m just being honest with you.

I know now - knowing what I know, it was a mistake and we need to change course.  We need to re-establish allies in the moderate Arab world.  We need to get back to Afghanistan and get busy.  It‘s a problem.

MATTHEWS:  Would Al Gore have been a better president than this one?

MCCASKILL:  Oh, gosh.  I can‘t imagine.

You know, this president - if you look at every measure .

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you the question.  Would Al Gore have been a better president than George W. Bush?

MCCASKILL:  Absolutely.  No question about it.

MATTHEWS:  How about John Kerry?

MCCASKILL:  Yes.  I do believe he would be a better president than this president.  We, you know .

MATTHEWS:  How about the chairman of your party, Howard Dean?  Would he have been a better president than the one we have now?

MCCASKILL:  Oh, now you‘re going too far.  No .

MATTHEWS:  You just said we‘ve gone too far.  So you don‘t think he would have been a good president?

MCCASKILL:  I think that we need to focus on who the next president‘s going to be.

Frankly, Monday morning quarterbacking - you know, the people of this country have spoken.

MATTHEWS:  Can Hillary carry Missouri?

MCCASKILL:  I don‘t have any idea.  I know this.  I can carry .

MATTHEWS:  You know you‘re running for the Senate.  You know your state politically.  I‘m asking you, can Hillary carry Missouri in a general election?

MCCASKILL:  I think the Democratic nominee in ‘08 can carry Missouri, especially in light of what this administration has done in terms of fiscal responsibility, foreign policy, economic policy, homeland security, Social Security, health care .

MATTHEWS:  You‘re great.  Look, I really like you as a candidate.  You‘re gung-ho and you‘ve been honest.  I‘ve been tough with your questions.

But let me ask you this.  Explain something about your state.  Is it “Missou-REE” or “Missou-RUH”?

MCCASKILL:  Well, that‘s the tricky part.  It‘s both.  It depends on where you were raised.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Where are you on that one?  Don‘t you take a position? 

Are you waffling on this one?

MCCASKILL:  I knew it was one of those.  I was raised in Columbia, and we said “Missou-RUH” Tigers.  I live in St. Louis where a lot of people say “Missou-REE.”

I actually say both and people think I‘m doing it on purpose for some kind of grand political plan.  They just both come out.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Claire McCaskill.

MCCASKILL:  You bet.

MATTHEWS:  Democratic Senate candidate from “Missou-REE” or “Missou-

RUH.”

Coming up, we‘ll go to Illinois, where Iraq veteran, Tammy Duckworth, is running for Congress.  She‘s running for Henry Hyde‘s seat.

Will anger over the war there help the Democrats win a seat Republicans have held - most of it Henry Hyde, I‘d say, in fact, always with Henry Hyde - for 30 years.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Will the Iraq war come home in November?  One of the districts dealing with that question is the 6th District of Illinois, where a local campaign is focusing on a national issue.

It‘s a battle to replace retiring Republican, that great old fighter, Henry Hyde.  He‘s giving up his seat, and the battle‘s going on right now between Tammy Duckworth and Peter Roskam.

And Tammy Duckworth, a major in the Illinois National Guard, who lost both of her legs in Iraq.  She‘s with us now.

Actually, she‘s going to be talked about by Kevin Tibbles of NBC, who is live in Chicago.

Kevin, tell us about the race.

KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT, CHICAGO:  Hey, Chris.  Well, you know, there once was a time in the 6th District of Illinois that the congressman from the Republican Party would have been a shoe-in.  But not this time around.

The Republican candidate is in a neck-in-neck race with a Democrat with a very compelling history.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

TIBBLES (voice-over):  The 6th District of Illinois may be in middle America.  But the battle to replace retiring Republican Henry Hyde is drawing attention from coast to coast.

The GOP‘s candidate, Peter Roskam, is a local boy, a state senator with deep roots in the community.

PETER ROSKAM, U.S. HOUSE CANDIDATE, R-ILLINOIS:  A guy said, hey, I was in class with your younger sister.  And how is Mary Beth doing?  You know, that type of thing.

I think that that‘s effective.  And I think you can‘t replace that.

TIBBLES:  But make no mistake.  Behind the next-door charm is the full weight of the Republican Party.

The vice president has come to help Roskam raise money.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES:  Your great representative .

TIBBLES:  Even First Lady Laura Bush spoke on his behalf at a recent fundraiser.

PROF. PETER GREEN, ROOSEVELT UNIVERSITY:  The Republican Party is in disarray in this state.  And I think the vice president and the First Lady try and give some old-fashioned respectability back to the political party and hopefully unite them.

TIBBLES:  But in the Democrats‘ corner, financial support from the likes of Barbra Streisand and Jimmy Buffett.  Their big money is behind Tammy Duckworth, a major in the Illinois National Guard, who lost both legs while fighting in Iraq.

TAMMY DUCKWORTH, U.S. HOUSE CANDIDATE, D-ILLINOIS:  I just don‘t think that our politicians have lived up to the sacrifices that our troops make in Iraq every single day.

TIBBLES:  What is clear is that the 6th District is not a local campaign, but a national one, where Iraq, taxes and health care are front and center.

ROSKAM:  Folks have come out to see the First Lady, for example.  That‘s very, very different than what my opponent has been doing, getting on a plane and flying to San Francisco where San Francisco donors write checks to her.

DUCKWORTH:  You ask him for his stand on Iraq, for example.  He‘ll give you the slogans right back.  He won‘t tell you what the policy is.  He has to check with his party first.

TIBBLES:  And as the candidates duke it out, observers call it close.

GREEN:  It‘s a competitive race.  This is going to go down to the wire, and it‘s going to cost a fortune.

TIBBLES:  From a Midwest district, a campaign on the national stage.

(END VIDEO)

TIBBLES:  And Chris, you know, in this election, if some people want it to be focused on reducing taxes and, perhaps, homeland security, as one person said to me earlier today, it‘s going to be focused on Iraq each time Tammy Duckworth walks in the room - Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Has Barbra Streisand given a lot of money, or just sort of the maxed out at two and four, or something like that?

TIBBLES:  Yes.  Absolutely.  That‘s the case with Barbra Streisand. 

Jimmy Buffett, as well.

And as Peter Roskam is pointing out .

MATTHEWS:  You mean, they just maxed out (UNINTELLIGIBLE) - all they did was max out.

TIBBLES:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, OK.  Because they make it sound like she‘s the child of Hollywood, when she‘s gotten the usual contribution from the usual suspects.

TIBBLES:  I think the point that Peter Roskam is trying to make in his own defense is that the First Lady, of course, came here and met with the people in the district.  And the people in the district are the ones that gave the $100 and $200 each to his campaign.

The point he‘s trying to make, of course, is that Duckworth is reaching far beyond Illinois to get her money from the glitterati on either coast.

MATTHEWS:  Can you delineate between their positions on Iraq?

TIBBLES:  The positions on Iraq - I think when it comes down to the stone-throwing, for example, Duckworth accuses Roskam of essentially toeing the line, and that there is not going to be a firm timetable, that he is going to be following his leaders in Washington when it comes to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

She actually accuses him, as you heard in the spot there, that he isn‘t going to be saying anything about that until he checks with his bosses at the White House.

Now, of course, her position is very vocal and very upfront that she believes that this government has taken the country into Iraq under the pretense - or of not knowing how to get out.

And I think that that is her point, that there is no exit strategy, and that the men and women who are there - like herself, who was there - are essentially on an extended mission that no one seems to have an end in sight.

MATTHEWS:  Boy, is it an emblematic race.  Thank you much for that report.  I think that‘s one to watch .

TIBBLES:  It‘s a national race.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s one to watch election night to tell us which way the wind is blowing.

Thank you very much, Kevin Tibbles, from NBC in Chicago.

TIBBLES:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, MSNBC‘s Norah O‘Donnell will report on why some Republicans are running away from President Bush during this election season.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Republican Mike McGavick in Washington state earlier today said flat out that he didn‘t want President Bush to come campaign for him.

Our chief Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell, is here to talk about that pattern, looking at Republicans who think President Bush could cost them votes - Norah.

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, that‘s right.  As one Democratic strategist said, Republicans are treating the president like a leper.  But that‘s not exactly true.  They‘re still using the president to help raise them money.

But it is increasingly true that Republicans are trying to run more independent, if you will.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  When President Bush visited Maryland this Labor Day to talk up the economy, Republican candidates in this state chose to stay away.

Political analyst Stu Rothenberg says it‘s part of a growing trend.

STU ROTHENBERG, THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT:  The Republicans‘

problem is primarily - overwhelmingly - a function of the president‘s

performance and the president‘s weakness

O‘DONNELL:  And that has an increasing number of Republicans in competitive elections distancing themselves from the president and their party.

In Maryland‘s Senate race, Michael Steele hardly ever mentions he‘s a Republican.

MICHAEL STEELE, U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE, R-MARYLAND:  I‘m Michael Steele.  Instead of the spin, I‘ll talk straight about what‘s wrong in both parties.

O‘DONNELL:  In Missouri, Senator Jim Talent is stressing his independence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Most people don‘t care if you‘re red or blue, Republican or Democrat.

O‘DONNELL:  And in Minnesota, Republican Mark Kennedy insists he won‘t be a rubber stamp for the president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He doesn‘t do whatever the party says to do.

O‘DONNELL:  One major reason for Republicans‘ split with the president is the Iraq war.

In Connecticut, Republican Chris Shays was once a hawk on Iraq.  But he now calls for a timetable for troop withdrawals.

And along with Congressman Shays, Republican Congressman Pat Tiberi of Ohio and New Jersey GOP Senate candidate Tom Kean wants Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to resign.

TERRY MADONNA, PENNSYLVANIA POLLSTER:  This year it is dismal for Republicans.  Everything we see in the polling tells us that Democrats are going to have a good year.

(END VIDEO)

O‘DONNELL:  And Chris, Republicans point out that the president has done some 58 events for Republicans this year.  They say that he‘s raised close to $157 million for the party.  So this Republican Party strategist says, listen.  He‘s still a hit out on the campaign trail.

But as we showed in that particular piece, there are a number of Republican Senate candidates in all the big hot races who don‘t want to appear in public with the president.

MATTHEWS:  Have you noticed all the speeches he‘s given this week?  They‘re very substantive, they‘re very important about security and the dangers of terrorism, and they need to try these terrible people.

But they‘re all before these sort of organized groups in Washington. 

They‘re like almost his staff - the American Enterprise Institute.

Does the president have a problem getting out there and meeting with large numbers of people these days?

O‘DONNELL:  Well it‘s an interesting point.  I mean, they would not choose to deliver a policy speech in front of a political audience.  But it is important to point out that this is a well-crafted week, the president delivering his fourth speech tomorrow.

And what he‘s done this week - this is the White House effort to focus everything on national security.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  The president two days ago focused on bin Laden.  He said Osama bin Laden 17 times in his speech.  Today he talked about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and all the other terrorists that are being transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

MATTHEWS:  You mean KSM?

O‘DONNELL:  KSM, as he calls him.

MATTHEWS:  That was funny.  He called him by his initials.

O‘DONNELL:  He did.  He did.

And what I think the president and the White House is trying to do is put the faces of terror on trial days before 9/11.

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re right.

So, the pattern of the president helping a candidate he‘d like to help, like Mister - what‘s the hell, the guy running against Duckworth a minute ago .

O‘DONNELL:  Oh, Roskam.

MATTHEWS:  . Roskam - is to send in his wife, the First Lady, send in maybe the vice president, and maybe show up for a fundraiser, but not to come in for a rally.

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s right.  Raise money for them, which he is always effective at doing, being the campaigner-in-chief, if you will.  But in terms of running with the president, these candidates see that many people are upset with the Republican Party.

We‘ve been talking about the approval ratings of the Republican Congress.  They‘re in the toilet.

And so, what they‘re trying to do then is to show that they are not going to be beholden to some party interest, be a rubber stamp for the president.

They don‘t want this election nationalized, the Republicans.  They want this to be an election of choice.  Democrats want it to be an election of change.

MATTHEWS:  You know, we had two reports from our regular correspondents here, Chris Jansing, and, of course, David Schuster, who is out in Columbus.

Both came back today - live, spontaneous reports - of people talking Iraq.  They‘re not talking even terrorism.  They‘re talking they‘re angry about Iraq.

So, it sounds to me, right now, early week of September, the Democrats have the upper hand.  Still, we‘ll see where they are in two weeks.

Thank you, Norah O‘Donnell, for that great report.

Up next, the Hardballers dig in to what‘s driving the voter anger.  We just talked about it in some key battleground states.

Do voters just want to throw the bums out?  Well, that could be bums in both parties.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC NEWS ANCHOR:  I‘m Milissa Rehberger.

Here‘s what‘s happening. President Bush announced 14 top terror suspects have been transferred from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It is the first time the president acknowledged the existence of the CIA prisons and he said those transferred included alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

He also pressured Congress to authorize military tribunals to try terror suspects. The Supreme Court struck down the use of such tribunals in June because Congress hadn‘t approved them. The Pentagon has issued a new manual with rules for holding and questioning prisoners, it bans torture and degrading treatment, including forced nudity, hooding, and threatening prisoners with dogs. 

Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan is sentenced to six and a half years in prison.  He was convicted in April of taking payoffs in exchange for state business.

And NASA now hopes to launch the Space Shuttle Atlantis on Friday at 11:40 a.m. Eastern Time. Today‘s launch was canceled because of the problem with the shuttle‘s electrical power system.

Now back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Ohio has been the favorite state of Republicans in 2004, when they won out there, beating—the president beating John Kerry in a very interesting race.  And now we have the question coming up in this second term, the mood is different out there, apparently. HARDBALL‘s David Shuster gives us the update from Columbus tonight—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, this is a state that is dominated by the Republican Party. They chose the gubernatorial office; 12 of the 18 house offices, most senate offices. But the mood, of course, is very different and there is an anti-incumbency mood.

But what makes this Ohio so significant is both parties, of course, see the math and both believe they need Ohio; Republican to keep control of the U.S. Senate; Democrats to take control. And the state seems to be a perfect reflection of the national debate over the Iraq war, whether Iraq is part of the war on terror, and even domestic issue like gas prices.

The incumbent is Senator Mike DeWine; a two-term incumbent. He voted for the Iraq war. He believes the Iraq war is part of the war on terror. He is accused, his Democratic opponent, Sherrod Brown, of being weak on national security and a Republican ad even suggests that Brown, if elected, would raise taxes.

Brown, for his part, in the House of Representatives voted against authorizing war in Iraq. He has alleged that Republicans have harmed America through misplaced priorities and national security. And he is accused at every opportunity, he has said that Mike DeWine is in the back pocket of energy companies, which, of course, gets into the issue of high gas prices here in Ohio.

The way the anti-incumbency mood, though, Chris, this campaign has been reflected has been intriguing. Mike DeWine has a new ad out that essentially targets Brown by the fact that Brown has been in Congress for so long. Even though Brown has been in the House for two years longer than Mike DeWine has been in the Senate.

The latest poll show Brown is ahead of DeWine by about six points; this is a big problem for a two-term Republican incumbent. The other problem, though, when you talk to the voters, that Mike DeWine seems to have, is that most voters in Ohio, like the rest of the country, oppose the Iraq war. Believe it is a mistake.

And a larger number than ever believe that Iraq is not part of the war on terror. What that does is even some voters we talked to today, Chris, who said they are undecided about Mark DeWine and Sherrod Brown, they said it makes it increasingly difficult for them to believe what somebody like a Mike DeWine says when they don‘t agree with this position about Iraq and when they don‘t believe, as DeWine says, that Iraq is part of the war on terror—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  David, we had Senator Joe Biden on last night. He said the voters in this country, and he‘s been around, obviously running for president, believe it or not, I  want you to assess the truth of what he said. He said voters aren‘t talking about abortion right now, they‘re not talking about gay marriage.  They‘re talking about security and the war in Iraq. Is that your sounding out there in Ohio, today?

SHUSTER:  Yes. In talking with the voters, they‘re talking about the Iraq war, national security. When you listen to the campaign commercials on the radio and television, it is all about national security.

What is so interesting, Chris, is the incumbent DeWine is following the advice of President Bush and Karl Rove to a tee. He is standing by the Iraq war. He is accusing the Democrat of being soft on national security and DeWine is linking the war on terror with the war in Iraq.

The Democrat is trying to make the point, and trying to take advantage perhaps of these poll numbers, that say no. An increasing number of voter in the state do not see the Iraq war as part of the war on terror.  And so the Democrat is making the charge that America is less safe. It is a clear choice for Ohio voters. If they support the war, they‘ll support the incumbent Mike DeWine. If they believe the war has been a mistake, and that the war has been a distraction, they‘re going to support the challenger, the Democrats Sherrod Brown.  It is that simple here in the Buckeye State.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Once again, it‘s a bellwether for the country.  Ohio, I‘ve always loved the politics out there, and in California and New York, for some reason, Ohio always seems to have great politics.

Thank you David Shuster, out there in Columbus right now.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s bring in our HARDBALLERS, right now, Kate O‘Beirne is the Washington editor of “The National Review” and a HARDBALL political analyst; Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst and the author of “State of Emergency”; and Ron Reagan is a MSNBC political analyst.

Ron, I haven‘t talked to you lately. 

RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I know.

MATTHEWS:  I need to know what you think, sir. Ohio is the great bellwether, more important perhaps now than even Florida, in dictating which way we are heading, which way are we heading?  For a Democratic take over of the Congress, or for a stay the course decision?

REAGAN:  Well, I think we‘re heading for a Democratic takeover in the House, maybe not in the Senate.  Sherrod Brown of course, would help with that Senate take over if he were to beat Mike DeWine.

But I think, David, was quite correct, and you‘re correct.  Ohio is a bellwether for the rest of the country.  And it does seem to be mirroring the mood in the rest of the country, which is that Iraq is not really a vital part of the war in terror and Iraq has been mismanaged. And if you‘re trying to link the two together, well, then you‘re mismanaging the war on terror as well.

MATTEWS:  One thing, Pat and Kate, I love that part of the country.  I‘m from Philadelphia, which isn‘t exactly part of Pennsylvania, but it‘s nearby. It is more a part of southern Jersey.

Even Ron is laughing.  He knows how it works there. It‘s funny, it‘s my media markets, more than states. 

But it‘s interesting, I looked at the statistics, Pennsylvania is the most pro-Bush of the blue states. Ohio is the most anti-Bush of the red states. So, it is right at the cusp of where politics is joined in America.  I know you like words like cusp, since such an astrology buff, Pat. 

What do you make of Ohio? What has shifted out there since the days just a year or two ago, when it was solid for Bush, according to the count.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  They‘ve had a big scandal out there for one thing. Secondly, they‘re losing industrial jobs, just like Michigan is, and Devoss (ph) in Michigan is saying the president is making a mistake, Ford, GM are in trouble. So, those are two aspects of it.

I will say this, if this were a referendum on Bush and a referendum on the war, Republicans would lose. Republican, therefore, are going after Sherrod Brown, and others, to say these guys are not just anti-war, they‘re cut and run.

And they—as an alternative, they are unacceptable. It is the best days the Republicans can make, is to turn it around and say if you think we‘ve made some mistake, we have. But you do not want these people.  The American people may be ready to vote against the Republican Party, but they do not—there is no sentiment out there, we have to get the Democrats in power.

MATTHEWS:  What about the old political axiom, if you‘re in a hole, stop digging.

BUCHANAN:  Well, no, I think they have got to answer the Iraq argument.  And you have to have some answer for it.  I don‘t care, Chris, whether you wave the bloody shirt or whatever you do. You have to have an answer for it.  And the best answer the Republicans can make is, look, it‘s in bad shape, but if they pull out, it will be a calamity, the throats of all of our friends will be cut.  These guys never knew what they were doing and they don‘t know now.

KATE O‘BEIRNE, EDITOR, “THE NATIONAL REVIEW”:  The line the president used this week in one of his multiple speeches, I thought was effective. We might decide to stop fighting terrorists in Iraq but the terrorists won‘t decide to stop fighting us. I agree.  It is not a matter of stop digging the hole. They have to climb out of this.

MATTHEWS:  Who do you think is our enemy in Iraq right now?

O‘BEIRNE:  And some people are—

MATTHEWS:  I need you to answer that, because you just used a word that I think covers a lot of bases.  The terrorists are the enemy. Are we fighting in there, a battle between Sunni and Shia over who runs that country?  Are we fighting with the outside people who have come in?

O‘BEIRNE:  We‘re defending—

MATTHEWS:  Who are we fighting?

O‘BEIRNE:  We are defending the democratically elected government.

MATTHEWS:  Against whom?

O‘BEIRNE:  Against those who want to see it fail for whatever—

MATTHEWS:  And are those people—

(CROSS TALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Our enemies by definition? Are they?

O‘BEIRNE:  Yeah, yeah.

MATTHEWS:  If they left their country, would they still be our enemies?

O‘BEIRNE:  Well, yeah.

(CROSS TALK) 

MATTHEWS:  If the Sunnis want to grab control of their country,

(CROSS TALK) 

O‘BEIRNE:  We would leave—

MATTHEWS:  Follow us here?

O‘BEIRNE:  If we were to leave and the government collapsed, it would create best, a huge vacuum. It wouldn‘t take long for real enemies of our country to fill that vacuum. I don‘t think—Pat mentioned this—I think in Ohio, in addition to a general unhappiness with the way things are going with incumbents, there is an anti-Republican mood in that state.

MATTHEWS:  Because of economics.

O‘BEIRNE:  The governor, Taft, envies George Bush‘s job approval rating. He is at 17.

MATTHEWS:  Is that the old Taft family?

BUCHANAN:  Yes, it is.  He‘s the third or fourth one down the line.

MATTHEWS:  I think that is the ol‘ good government people.

BUCHANAN:  William Howard Taft, Robert Taft, Bob Taft, Junior.

MATTHEWS:  What happened to this fine family?

BUCHANAN:  There was—he got in a lot of trouble.  A minor scandal, but it‘s really been a mess.

But I‘ll tell you, there is a good point, the president‘s one most effective argument he makes is, look, if we walk out of there, you‘re going to have a terrorist base camp in Anbar Province.

MATTHEWS:  What, in Ohio?

BUCHANAN:  No, in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I‘m sorry.

BUCHANAN:  Yes, we will there and in Pennsylvania, Chris.

But that is the most effective argument Republicans make, because I think its credible.

MATTHEWS:  That the people that have come in there since we went in there will stay.

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.  But it is not a good argument for going in.

(CROSS TALK) 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.  Let me get back to a state that I‘m more familiar with.  I want to go to Ron on this.

This is a national question, too. Let‘s face it. Rick Santorum has been mocked for his statements he‘s made about the Lawrence decision, about gay marriage and gay rights and privacy. He‘s been mocked, even on “The Sopranos”, where Tony Soprano says that Senator Sanitorium, because he says if we have gay marriage, next, quote, “we‘ll be doing it with dogs.”

I mean, that is, Ron, you‘ve got to go after this one. Is he a national point of contention? Senator Santorum?

REAGAN:  Yes. He has become a national laughing stock, for many of the reasons you‘ve just mentioned here.  And let‘s just face, he‘s toast.

BUCHANAN:  He‘s not toast. I‘ll tell you that.

REAGAN:  No, he‘s toast. 

BUCHANAN:  He‘s five or six points.

REAGAN:  Yeah, but only five or six points.

BUCHANAN:  Let me tell you, Ron—

REAGAN:  Because the Green Party is starting to siphon votes away.

BUCHANAN:  I may be special pleading, but the immigration issue, 79 percent of Pennsylvanians are against amnesty; 82 percent want a wall.

(CROSS TALK) 

REAGAN:  Even the Republicans have abandoned immigration as an issue.

BUCHANAN:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are running ads on it in Pennsylvania, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at what he said yesterday—earlier today he was interviewed by David Gregory, Senator Santorum.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICK SANTORUM, (R-PA):  Of course there are mistakes in the war.  The president would agree that there have been mistakes. Everyone understands that when you fight a war, the enemy has an opportunity to counter. And as you know, I‘ve been very clear about the differences I have with the way the president is presenting this war and framing this war, which I happen to believe is very important for us winning this war.  Because we‘re not going to win or loose this war—

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s funny. I‘m not saying funny-funny. I mean, funny, ironic, because on Sunday he was very strong for the president. One of the impressive things about Rick Santorum.  He‘s a stand-up guy. You may not like anything he stands for, but he stands.

Here he is doing what they say in Massachusetts politics, among the Irish is, trimming.  He‘s trimming on Bush right there. Four times in a row, he had something to separate himself from Bush on.  That‘s a trimmer!

O‘BEIRNE:  I think on the Sunday debate he had the same things about the framing of—

MATTHEWS:  But he was pro-Bush on Sunday.  Now these guys got to him.

Look at him there.

O‘BEIRNE:  No, I would find that hard to believe.

MATTHEWS:  Can we play that?  I want to play some

O‘BEIREN:  I think Rick Santorum gets Pat Buchanan kind of credit for

he‘s the kind of candidate where people say to each other, you know, I don‘t agree with everything he says, but you know where he stands. You know he really believes in something. You know he‘s not poll driven.

               

MATTHEWS:  Patrick, nobody has ever said you were poll driven—except on immigration.

BUCHANAN:  You give me 2 to1 and I‘ll bet on Santorum right now.

O‘BEIRNE:  Well, we know he‘s a closer and we know—

(CROSS TALK) 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a three.

O‘BEIRNE:  We know that Bob Casey, Jr. is a sinker.

MATTHEWS:  Were are you on that, Ron?  Do you think it‘s a lock?

REAGAN:  He‘s toast.

MATTHEWS:  You say toast.  Do you want to take this money but after the show tonight?

REAGAN:  I‘ll put down $5 with Pat, 2 to 1, yeah.

(CROSS TALK) 

MATTHEWS:  You have to give 10 to his five, the way he‘s setting it up.  What are you saying? You want to break this bet here?  Who wins that race?  Cold calculation.

O‘BEIRNE:  Having watched Rick Santorum‘s races in the past, they‘ve always been tough.  We know he‘s a closer.  And we know that Bob Casey, Jr., is a sinker.  he‘s blown big leads before.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I didn‘t know there was a word for that.

O‘BEIRNE:  There is now.

MATTHEW:  A sinker.  I just love that word.

BUCHANAN:  Take him out in the seventh inning, Chris.

O‘BEIRNE:  Put it this way. I would not, by any means, bet against Rick Santorum. I think Ohio is more at risk with the DeWine race than Santorum is.

BUCHANAN:  I agree.

MATTHEWS:  I think DeWine is—

BUCHANAN:  If it is a tsunami, they both go.  If it‘s not a tsunami, I would bet Santorum will be stronger than the fellow in Ohio.

MATTHEWS:  You know what‘s great about tsunamis, you never know they‘re coming.

REAGAN:  I would agree with that. It DeWine is in bigger trouble even than Santorum.

MATTHEWS:  But you think they‘re all trouble, Ron. You think Chaffee‘s in trouble.

REAGAN:  I think they‘re all—

MATTHEWS:  Who is that guy out West? Conrad Burns?

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t see how they win Rhode Island.  I really don‘t.  I think the Democrats pick that up.

MATTHEWS:  I think White House wins that in the general.

O‘BEIRNE:  Chris, you could see the Republican losing two, three, four Senate seats, it is awfully hard to see them losing six.

MATTHEWS:  Exactly right. I think the vice president‘s vote will still be telling.  Right?  Vice President Cheenie, as his name is pronounced.

Our HARDBALLERS are staying with us for more on the hot races that could decide who controls Congress.  And you can check out the hot race across the country, online, on our new election map, at MSNBC.com.  Roll your curser over any congressional district, see that on the map, and you‘ll get information about that race.  Now this is state of the art.  Just go to electionmap.msnbc.com. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Kate O‘Beirne, Pat Buchanan, Ron Reagan.  Let‘s continue to do the look around the country. Let‘s go to the state of Tennessee, the Volunteer State. In Harold Ford, Jr., who has been on HARDBALL many times. I think we have a clip of him from today.  Here‘s Harold Ford, Jr., running for the U.S. Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. HAROLD FORD, JR., (D), SENATE CANDIDATE:  I think it‘s a false debate about leaving or staying. We want to win.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:   But that‘s the debate the country is having right now.

FORD:  That‘s the debate the politicians are having.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:   OK, but answer the question.  Do you believe that American forces should begin withdrawing this year?

FORD:  No. Not until—well if we finished the job, sure. But we

haven‘t finished the job. The prospects of being able to divide the country

if you look at the Dayton Accords, what Richard Holbrook was able to achieve there.  It took a little time for it to happen. We still have a military presence helping in Croats and Muslims, and Serb and Bosnians. But they live more peacefully than they did before.

               

We will have a military presence in Iraq for a long time. I‘m one Democrat who has never voted to withdraw and won‘t. But I believe staying the course, listening to the president, just yesterday.  And it was a great speech.

But I have two questions, if he believes that, how then do you disband the only unit at the CIA dedicated to going after bin Laden? The Alex Station (ph) has been disbanded, you should revive it.

And two, if Al Qaeda is as important as we say, how can you stand idle as Pakistan now gives haven to terrorists who won‘t attack Pakistan or Afghanistan.  That would be like us giving haven to Hezbollah and Hamas and saying, well, let‘s just stay here as long as you don‘t attack America.  But you can do what you want in Israel.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

MATTHEWS:  Kate O‘Beirne, for a moment there, I thought we should have changed the label to Republican. He is very strong for the president‘s position. We have to go the course in Iraq.  He is a Democrat, African-American, he is running in Tennessee. How does that all work together?

O‘BEIRNE:  Well, Harold Ford‘s position on Iraq, underscores the complete disarray on the Democratic side.  He has plenty of company.  Democrats running in competitive seats are not endorsing a pullout of Iraq.  The leadership here in—on Capitol Hill is, John Kerry has, John Edwards has, but not Democrats hoping to win in November.

MATTHEWS:  Why not?  Why not?

O‘BEIRNE:  Because it is out of step with public opinion, nationally. 

It is certainly out of step—

(CROSS TALK)  

MATTHEWS:  OK, speak for the people.  What do they want done in Iraq? 

What‘s the middle of the road position? 

O‘BEIRNE:  They are persuadable. They are persuadable that it is still winnable.  And people like Harold Ford are making that case. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do they answer the question, should we have gone to Iraq, and the overwhelming majority—a high 50 percent say we should not even have gone there?

O‘BEIRNE:  OK, now some of though former hawks in Republican districts could be won back. Some of the others recognize to the others, OK, I no longer think it was a good idea to have toppled Saddam Hussein, but we‘re there now, and the question is, what do we do now?

BUCHANAN:  Here‘s the middle position. It is:  We made a mistake going in, we probably shouldn‘t have gone in.  We got all of these guys killed, it cost a lot, but if we walk out now we could have a calamity, a disaster, worse than Vietnam. I don‘t like it, but I have to stick with the president.  That‘s the middle position.

MATTHEWS:  Ron, what do you say, starting today in early September of 2006, we‘ve been there—it‘s approaching the length of our involvement in World War II, in terms of months.  It will be 45 months by the end of this year.  Which is how long we were in the World War II.  What is the argument for staying in Iraq? I know this argument, politically, sounds bad, cut and run. But how do you justify our campaign henceforth?

REAGAN:  It is difficult. The Harold Ford position is a little difficult because he‘s talking about, well, we have to win before we move out.  We don‘t really know why we went there in the first place.  So, how will know if we won or not?  I mean, is it about standing up a democratic Iraqi government?  Well, fine, they had an election.  Now they have a government.

MATTHEWS:  What is winning?  Let me ask Kate that question.

(CROSS TALK) 

BUCHANAN:  That is it Chris, if we leave, we lose.

MATTHEWS:  But what—

BUCHANAN:  Winning is standing up the government and enabling that government to survive and pull down these fellows to the extent it can survive—

MATTHEWS:  So the Shia-lead government holds the government together for how long before we leave?

(CROSS TALK) 

BUCHANAN:  You mean a decent interval? To have it standing on its own feet.

MATTHEWS:  How long?  For how long?

(CROSS TALK) 

BUCHANAN:  Chris, the real question is, the argument in the middle, if we leave—

MATTHEWS:  But I‘m asking you, how long should we stay there?

BUCHANAN:  Well, Bush is going to stay there until—

MATTHEWS:  How long do you want us to stay in Iraq?

BUCHANAN:  I‘m going to stay there it looks like—

MATTHEWS:  Three years, four years?

BUCHANAN:  Until it is lost beyond repair.

(CROSS TALK) 

REAGAN:  We stay there until it is lost beyond repair?

(CROSS TALK) 

BUCHANAN:  Look!  Until it is—

O‘BEIRNE:  The nature of insurgents—

BUCHANAN:  Until you look like you cannot win at all, and it‘s completely lost, then we may have to go and take the—

MATTHEWS:  That was General Custer‘s strategy.

REAGAN:  We‘re in the middle of a civil war there.

BUCHANAN:  It‘s not there yet.  Do you think it‘s there yet?

(CROSS TALK) 

MATTHEWS:  I want someone to tell me the plan for staying there. The justification for the further loss of Americans.

Ron Reagan, Pat Buchanan, and Kate O‘Beirne, thank you for joining us.

When we come back, we‘ll take a look at some of the highlights of today‘s big day of politics here, exclusively really, on MSNBC. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MATTHEWS:  Today we tried to give you a picture of what we‘ll give you on election night, November 7.  We gave you the candidates, the parties, the issues, the latest polls.  What we couldn‘t give you is who will be the winners and the losers, for that we‘ll have to wait for election night, when the crackle of victory is clear and joyous, defeat is sharp and sad.  When the smiles are easy to tell from the tears.  Until then, we‘ll tell you everything we can.

I want to thank everyone at NBC News, MSNBC, of course, and MSNBC.com for making this such a success.  Such a successful view of what‘s to come.  And tomorrow HARDBALL is live from “The National Journal” headquarters.  This fall we‘re teamed up with “The National Journal” and Nationaljournal.com.  And we‘ll bring you every single fact, as I said a moment ago, about this election.

Our coverage continues right now, at the top of the hour and we leave you now with some of the highlights, we think, of this big day in politics, here on MSNBC. 

And as I said, a taste of things to come.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS) 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If you like politics, MSNBC is the place to be today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All day we‘re going to take you through the pivotal House and Senate races.

MATTHEWS:  For Republicans the battle cry will be T&T, taxes and terrorism. For Democrats, the fight song will be I&B, Iraq and Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If is a national referendum on the policies of George W. Bush., it is a plus for the Dems, if the Republicans can say hold on a second, all politics is local, they can still hold.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:   All politics is local.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Make it local, make it individual, try and get the negatives up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It has gone beyond what the polls ask, which is, are you satisfied or not?  You‘re right, it‘s anger.  And you just don‘t want to be an incumbent in this situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Incumbents who have been beaten by challengers in their own primaries in both Democratic and Republican primaries, across the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Every day now is just dominated by talk of Iraq, war on terror and Donald Rumsfeld.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What this administration wants is rubber stamp U.S.  senators like Rick Santorum.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You spoke in support, lockstep support, with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. As you know, there are calls for his resignation, you support the policy in Iraq. And don‘t think there have been mistakes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Of course, there are mistakes in the management of the war. The president would agree that there have been mistakes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  One of the true battlegrounds has been Connecticut.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:   I‘m telling you this is a white hot race here and of course a lot of the country was surprised in Joe Lieberman lost the primary to Ned Lamont. The single issue we saw in the exit polls, it is about Joe Lieberman‘s support for the war in Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The Democratic Party can offer something the president has not offered. We believe we need to be tough, but we believe we need to be tough and smart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Basically my opponents are for withdrawing according to some kind of artificial timetable without regard to whether the mission is completed.  And you know, that‘s another word for quitting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Democrats are united about a strong military and Democrats are united about a strong America, it is the way we get to it that counts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:   One issue is dominating the campaign. Is it Iraq?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Iraq, gas prices and illegal immigration. The over

enveloping  all of that, an over-arching theme is people want government to work again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Corruption from inside the Beltway and to the state houses and to local races is a hot button issue this year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Subpoena power, the power to investigate the White House. Democrats need only one house of Congress to do it, will they get what they want on election day and what will that mean?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who wins the house?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The Democrats win the House, and I think comfortably, and I think it is going to come out of the Northeast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m confident that in the Northeast Republicans are going to win, and we‘re going to continue to win.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If things stay as they are now, I think Republicans narrowly hold control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They‘re poised to be somewhere a gain of 15 and 20 seats, that could go up or down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Election night 2006, will be a night that spin and propaganda, however, lose out to the crackle of victory.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

END   

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