updated 9/28/2006 11:56:44 AM ET 2006-09-28T15:56:44

Guests: John Boehner, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Katherine Harris, Michael Feldman

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Think of something Congress did this year.  What did it do to strengthen Social Security, to successfully end the war in Iraq, to deal with illegal immigration?  Keep thinking.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.

Just 41 days before the election now that will decide who controls Congress.  Polls show voters are angry, outraged, unimpressed.  Only 25 percent approve of the job Congress is doing.  On immigration nothing, on healthcare nothing, on the minimum wage nothing, on Social Security nothing, on devising a plan to end the war in Iraq nothing. 

So what can incumbents expect to get from voters on Election Day?  Maybe nothing.  They could be out of the job if the mood shifts to throw the bums out.  What do Democrats have to loose?  Nothing.  Republicans?  Everything, because they have all the power.  Tonight, we take you to their leader, Congressman John Boehner. 

Plus one of the fascinating women in American politics.  She dominated the headlines back in 2000 and is now making a run for the U.S. Senate from Florida.  U.S. Congresswoman Katherine Harris on her amazing race.  And NBC News analyst Charlie Cook is coming here to break down the hot races. 

We begin tonight with our exclusive interview with House Majority Leader John Boehner. 

Well, if there is something wrong with that introduction, I‘d like you to correct it.  What have you accomplished? 

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MAJORITY LEADER:  Well, you sound like Nancy Pelosi sitting over there. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, that‘s fair enough.  How am I wrong?  Which facts are wrong? 

BOEHNER:  Four big things that we‘ve worked on all year. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, OK.

BOEHNER:  One, let‘s keep the economy prosperous, and that means extending the tax cuts for capital gains at 15 percent through 2011, keeping the tax on dividends at 15 percent through 2011, an additional year or two worth of relief for the alternative minimum tax.  All those things will help keep the economy prosperous. 

And how about the Retirement Security Bill that we passed and the president signed into law back into August that will protect America‘s pensions today and tomorrow and will open the doors for tens of millions of more Americans to have access to high quality pensions? 

Second big issue, holding the line on spending.  There‘s been a lot of criticism in the past about how much spending went on.  We passed a budget on the House side, got the Senate to agree to it that held the line at the president‘s numbers.  We passed an emergency ...

MATTHEWS:  What is the deficit going to be this year? 

BOEHNER:  Half of what it was last year. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why is that something to brag about?

BOEHNER:  Well, because the tax cuts that we put in place have brought more revenue to the federal government and our job over the next several years is to continue to hold the line on spending while revenues to the federal government continue to grow in closing that gap that we‘ve seen since 9/11. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Congress has ...

BOEHNER:  Third big issue.  Third big issue.  Third big issue.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m listening go ahead.  You‘ve given me three so for, so what is four?

BOEHNER:  I‘ve given you two. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you basically said the economy because they‘re keeping the tax ... 

(CROSSTALK)

BOEHNER:  Keeping the economy prosperous.  Secondly, holding the line on spending, and we just had earmark reform enacted into law a couple of weeks ago on the House side. 

MATTHEWS:  But how is that ...

BOEHNER:  Here‘s the third big ...

MATTHEWS:  It is rhetoric.  I mean, you‘ve had big deficits.  And you‘ve still got big deficits.

BOEHNER:  Hold on.  You want to know what we‘ve done, I‘m going to tell you.  The third big issue is making sure that we secure our borders.  We want to have an immigration reform bill, but you can‘t have real immigration reform without first securing the borders and we‘ve done a lot over the last few years.  There is a lot more that we can do. 

And in this Homeland Security Appropriations Confidence Report, we put in another $1.2 billion for additional fencing, vehicle barriers.  We‘ve got another 1,5000 new Border Patrol agents in this bill.  There is a lot that we‘re doing there. 

But the last point, the last big point, and that is supporting the president in the fight against the terrorists. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, that‘s all general language, but what have you done on immigration actually passed?  What laws have you passed?  What have you done to stop illegal immigration, actually done?

BOEHNER:  In the Homeland Security Appropriations Conference Report that is finished, will be finished, voted on both the House and Senate this week, we will add $1.2 billion over and above what was already agreed to for additional borders.  Another ...

MATTHEWS:  What will that do?  What will that accomplish? 

BOEHNER:  It‘s going to build more fences, more vehicle barriers and more test programs to look at virtual security on the border. 

MATTHEWS:  So you believe that you‘re going to cut substantially significant—describe it how much—illegal immigration.  What are you actually going to do this year?  Will the president sign your bill? 

BOEHNER:  He‘ll sign this bill.  You look at what‘s happened this year.  The number of incursions of our border has dropped precipitously, and it‘s happened because we‘ve got the National Guard down there.  We‘ve done a lot over the last five years.  It‘s showing real progress. 

And the Immigration Service has done a better job of cracking down on employers who hire illegal aliens.  All of that together has driven down the number of people coming across our borders. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re saying that we seriously penalize businesses for hiring illegal immigrants right now.  You‘re saying that‘s going on now?  Nobody watching believes you right now.

BOEHNER:  It‘s going on.

MATTHEWS:  Because there is illegal immigrants everywhere and they‘re getting hired everybody, and they‘re coming across the border and everybody watching right now who lives in a district along the border knows they‘re coming across every night, and you‘re telling me this story that you‘ve stopped them.

BOEHNER:  No, Chris, I‘m telling you we‘ve made a lot of progress.  Remember, for 200 years, nobody paid any attention to the border.  It‘s only been over the last 10 years there has been some attention paid to it.  But in the last five years, we‘ve made a lot of progress. 

And I‘m telling you, the number of incursions—and this is reported by the Secretary of Homeland Security Chertoff that the number of incursions at the border has, in fact, been dropping.  The number of enforcement actions by the Immigration Service is probably higher than any year we‘ve ever seen. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean, people are actually being punished for hiring illegal immigrants? 

(CROSSTALK)

BOEHNER:  Absolutely.  I mean, I‘m from the Cincinnati area.  Every week there is another story about them cracking down on this employer or that employer and putting people in jail.  They‘re doing the right thing, enforcing the law. 

MATTHEWS:  You believe we‘re winning the battle against illegal immigration right now?  Because if you say that, people are going to be starting to laugh out there. 

BOEHNER:  I think we‘re starting to make progress. 

MATTHEWS:  Starting to make progress.

BOEHNER:  But our point is, if you don‘t first enforce the border, all the rest of this is just nonsense. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s your president—our president who is your party, has opposed serious action on this.  He keeps saying all this about a route to citizenship and all these nice things he wants to do.  When it comes to being tough on breaking the law, he‘s the weak link in your chain, isn‘t he? 

BOEHNER:  Listen, we‘ve had a big disagreement over this. 

MATTHEWS:  With the president?

BOEHNER:  And I respect the president‘s opinion.  He‘s from Texas. 

He‘s dealt with this issue for a long time.  But House Republicans passed a strong bill to actually secure the border and begin to enforce the laws before we begin to deal with those who are already here. 

MATTHEWS:  And that bill is sitting there dead because the president will never sign it. 

BOEHNER:  We have worked closely with the Senate, the hearings that we‘ve had over the last several months have worked.  The Senate wants a bill and trust me, when this bill is finished at the end of the day, it will look a lot more like the House bill than the Senate bill . 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go the three things that I raised and then we‘ll go to the three things you raised.  Social Security reform, there is talk of personal accounts.  Should there be personal accounts? 

BOEHNER:  The president raised this issue last year.  It obviously got nowhere. 

MATTHEWS:  This year, this year. 

BOEHNER:  Social Security is going broke.  You know it and I know it.

MATTHEWS:  This year he‘s been campaigning for months on it.

BOEHNER:  Our generation has made promises to ourselves that our kids and grandkids can‘t afford. 

MATTHEWS:  Right, so you‘re for the president‘s bill? 

BOEHNER:  No, I‘m for tackling the problem.  I‘m not going to put issues on the table or take any issues off the table.  I think that we, as a nation, have to get serious about the problem that we face. 

MATTHEWS:  Should people vote for the Republican Party if they want personal accounts? 

BOEHNER:  If they want to have real Social Security reform, they ought to vote for Republicans. 

MATTHEWS:  If they want personal accounts, should they vote Republican? 

BOEHNER:  Well, they‘re certainly never going to get them with Democrats. 

MATTHEWS:  But they might get them with Republicans? 

BOEHNER:  They might. 

MATTHEWS:  And is that a good thing?

BOEHNER:  I think it is.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re the leader.

BOEHNER:  I think it is.

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re for personal accounts?

BOEHNER:  I am, because ...

MATTHEWS:  So a Democrat out there right now who wants to run against a Republican incumbent says this guy wants personal accounts.  I can beat him on that issue. 

BOEHNER:  Listen, this is my personal position.  I think allowing people to keep ... 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not a leadership position.  Why aren‘t you taking this as a leadership position if you say it‘s a good idea? 

BOEHNER:  Well, listen, we‘re not going to raise a new issue in the middle of an election cycle.  That‘s what you‘re trying to do.

BOEHNER:  The president raised the issue of personal accounts and then he retreated from it ...

BOEHNER:  Two years ago and everybody in the whole town dumped on him

MATTHEWS:  Six months this campaign went on. 

BOEHNER:  It hasn‘t gone on this year.  But the fact is, that if you look at Social Security ...

MATTHEWS:  So we should all say as a country nevermind, he didn‘t really mean it? 

BOEHNER:  Chris, look at Social Security, look at Medicare, look at Medicaid, three large programs. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, two years of trying, you got no Social Security reform. 

Immigration, you‘ve got no bill, you‘ve got a little more fencing going up. 

On war in Iraq, what‘s the job of the Congress when the president has basically gotten your approval to begin the war, the authorization of 2002?  What—should Congress basically, once it authorizes a war, step back and let the president run it the way he wants to or should you be overseeing what he does and judging the success of our military campaign over there? 

BOEHNER:  The president is the commander in chief and he and his people on the ground ought to be running the war.  Now, does Congress ...

MATTHEWS:  What role does Congress have? 

BOEHNER:  Now, does Congress has an oversight role?  Yes, it does.

MATTHEWS:  To do?

BOEHNER:  Have we been there to look at it?  Virtually every member of Congress has been to Iraq to see for themselves.  We‘ve had briefing after briefing.  We‘ve looked at how they‘re spending the money.  We have an oversight role, but we‘re not there to run the war.

MATTHEWS:  Well, are you there to decide if we have enough troops? 

BOEHNER:  No, that‘s the generals on the ground. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you happy we have enough troops? 

BOEHNER:  The generals on the ground say we have enough troops.  We ought to take their word for it.  Are you the expert? 

MATTHEWS:  No, not at all. 

BOEHNER:  Are you the expert?  I‘m not the expert.  Why should I ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But I read day after day—and day after day we see that we‘re having a hard keeping control of events over there.  It‘s becoming a civil war ...

BOEHNER:  But let‘s let the generals on the ground make that decision. 

MATTHEWS:  Are they free to speak?  How come every time a general retires he starts trashing the president‘s war policy, but doesn‘t say a word until he retires?  In other words, do we have to wait for retirement to hear what these guys think? 

BOEHNER:  Chris, the issue here—the bigger issue here is that we have to win in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Agreed. 

BOEHNER:  There‘s no question of that. 

MATTHEWS:  We have to win, whatever that means. 

BOEHNER:  Because if you look at what was leaked out of the National Intelligence Estimate over the weekend by the “New York Times,” and you read the rest of what was declassified yesterday, you also see in there that they make it clear that winning in Iraq will undercut their ability to recruit new terrorists.  Republicans are serious about giving the president the tools to take on the terrorists and to defeat them, while our colleagues across the aisle say all the right words, but when it comes to standing up and voting to give the president the tools, they are never there. 

Just like I just left the House floor to come over here.  We got these terrorist tribunals, a way to get information from these terrorists and to try them.  Virtually every Democrat voted no.  It‘s the same old story, talk a good line, but when it comes to giving the president tools, they won‘t do it.  They want him to fight the terrorists with one arm tied behind their back. 

MATTHEWS:  Should Congress have authorized this war in Iraq?

BOEHNER:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Why?  What good has it done us? 

BOEHNER:  Based on everything that we knew...

MATTHEWS:  No, what good has it done us since then?  What good has this war done America, in Iraq?  Why is it good for America?  I don‘t get it.

BOEHNER:  Beyond liberating the Iraqi people, we have taken the war to the terrorists.  There is no question...

MATTHEWS:  The terrorists were in Iraq when we got there? 

BOEHNER:  Whether they were there or not, it is now the central front in our war with al Qaeda. 

MATTHEWS:  That may well true because we went there...

BOEHNER:  We went to there because we and the rest of the world thought that he had weapons of mass destruction.  There was no—everybody some the same intelligence. 

MATTHEWS:  I just don‘t understand, based upon your experience—you‘re an experienced political leader, you‘ve been chosen by your party to lead you.  You‘ve got a vice president who has said there weapons of mass destruction, there were nuclear weapons, the mushroom cloud, Condi Rice said that. 

He said we would be greeted as liberators.  He said there was a connection to 9/11.  He‘s always wrong.  And yet you say we owe him the support, he and the president, of commander in chief.  We should always believe what they say.

Do you believe that? 

BOEHNER:  He‘s the commander in chief.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe he‘s right all the time? 

BOEHNER:  Listen, none of us are right all the time.  The last guy that was right all the time, they hung on a cross. 

MATTHEWS:  First of all, Congress‘s job is to—the role of Congress is to check the power of the executive.

BOEHNER:  And we do.  And we do it each and either day.  We have oversight hearings in the various committees. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he did a good job in 2002, when you said yes to the president, when he said, let‘s go to Iraq?  Do you think you did good oversight?

BOEHNER:  We did the right thing by going to Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE)

BOEHNER:  No, because we believed the intelligence reports that we were looking at...

MATTHEWS:  Was he right?

BOEHNER:  ... the same ones that he was looking at...

MATTHEWS:  But were you right?

BOEHNER:  Who knows whether we were right. 

MATTHEWS:  There is no weapons of mass destruction, there‘s no connection to the 9/11, the president and the vice president admitted, and there was a war that the vice president never predicted.

BOEHNER:  Chris, while we have not found weapons of mass destruction, the whole world believed that he had them.  I believed that he had them.  What he did with them, we don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he have them?

BOEHNER:  I do believe that he had them.  And I do believe that we did the right thing by taking out a dictator who was causing insurrection in the entire region. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe he had a role in 9/11? 

BOEHNER:  Not a direct role, a supportive role. 

MATTHEWS:  What was the support? 

BOEHNER:  Training terrorists, training camps in Iraq...

MATTHEWS:  For 9/11? 

BOEHNER:  For terrorists.  There is no question that he supported their activities.  He supported the training camps up in northeastern Iraq.  There is no question about it.

MATTHEWS:  So Saddam Hussein was in league with the al Qaeda group? 

BOEHNER:  He was providing cover for them, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I keep trying to find that evidence, Congressman, and I can‘t find it.  Nobody has come up with that.  The vice president was asked about it, the president was about that, they both admitted recently that he had no role in 9/11. 

BOEHNER:  I didn‘t say a direct role.  In terms of training and allowing terrorists to be trained up in northeastern Iraq, his aiding...

MATTHEWS:  Was he an accomplice for the 9/11 attack? 

BOEHNER:  Listen...

MATTHEWS:  You say not direct, that means indirect.  What was his indirect role?  Did he help 9/11? 

BOEHNER:  Not directly. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, OK.  You keep going back to that. 

I mean you‘re a leader, I‘m not a leader. 

BOEHNER:  Chris, the fact is Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction against his own people.  He used weapons of mass destruction in his war against Iran.  To think that he didn‘t have weapons of mass destruction is pure lunacy.  He had them.  What did he do with them, we don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the conjecture.  You have to admit that, what you just said.

BOEHNER:  He used them.

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t know he had them in 2002, you don‘t know that. 

You don‘t know that.  There is no evidence he did. 

BOEHNER:  All the intelligence estimates that we had and every country in the world had, was that he had weapons of mass destruction...

MATTHEWS:  They were wrong. 

BOEHNER:  ... and was on the verge of using them.  Our decision was based on what we knew at the time. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. We‘re going in circles. 

I respect you, sir.  Thank you for coming this show.

I just think this war has not added up to the cause that was made for it in the beginning.  The facts aren‘t there. 

BOEHNER:  You want to take on the terrorists and defeat them, or do you want to just come home...

MATTHEWS:  You know, with the argument we‘ve heard here and elsewhere, after Pearl Harbor we would have attacked China.  You got to attack the people that attacked you and wasting time...

BOEHNER:  Christ, if we weren‘t fighting the terrorists in Baghdad, we‘d be fighting them in Boston, New York, Washington...

MATTHEWS:  Well, we invited them into Iraq, that‘s the problem.  They weren‘t there when we got there.  But I want to know where we‘re going next.  And you‘re right.  It‘s up to this country and the Democrats to find a solution to where we‘re going in Iraq. 

And thank you very much, Congressman John Boehner of Ohio. 

Coming up, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. says Republicans could steal the 2008 presidential election.  He‘ll be here to tell us what he thinks.   

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

With the midterm election just 41 days away now, chances are when you go to vote, you‘ll find electronic voting machines.  they‘re sort of the automatic teller machines, what do they call them, AMT machines.    The question is—ATM machines, I use them all the time, forget the name—anyway, are those machines accurate?

We use ATM-style election machines, or can they be hacked into?  Or could someone rig an election using these machines?

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. writing in this month‘s “Rolling Stone” magazine, says many of these electronic machines, these ATM-style machines, are not secure and could be vulnerable to tampering. 

Let me ask you right now, Robert, could this election be stolen, coming up for president? 

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR., ROLLING STONE:  Well, there‘s no doubt it could be stolen, and this is --  recent reports by the federal government‘s GAO, by the Congressional Research Service that say that this is a national security issue for us.  There‘s four—and also the Brennan Center at NYU that says that there‘s 120 vulnerabilities in the machines that 80 percent of Americans are now using. 

A Princeton University study that was released last week shows on video how a computer virus can be injected.  If somebody has access for 60 seconds to one of these machines, that they can insert a malicious code that can steal the entire election. 

So there is no doubt, that all of—there is four companies that make these machines on which 80 percent of Americans are now voting.  The machines are not secure, they are prone to breakdown, they have a lot of other problems and right now, Chris, Congress is considering a law to, an emergency provision to deal with these machines that everybody now recognizes is a huge problem for our democracy.  And the upcoming election is too soon for these problems to be fixed.  So what Congress is doing in the next two days is considering an emergency paper ballot provision that will allow people to vote on paper ballots when they get to the polls.  During the primary season this August and September over the last couple of weeks, in every state where these machines was used which is now every state that voted, every state that had primaries, there were thousands of people turned away from the polls because of breakdowns in these machines. 

This has turned out to be an extraordinary disaster.  My article in “Rolling Stone” this week, and if you go to “Brad Blog,” which I encourage people to do—but my article in “Rolling Stone” this week shows how these private companies have come to own America‘s electoral process.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the track record of corruption?  Any here that you can prove right now?  Has any company used its power through this electronic voting, ATM style voting, to fix an election?  Has anybody done that?

KENNEDY:  Well, there is no proof that an election has been fixed.  There is a lot of evidence that many, many elections have been fixed since we started using these machines.  There is no proof because the machines, the machinery itself is proprietary. 

We‘re not allowed to look—election officials are not allowed to look inside of these machines.  There are no records.  And in fact, it‘s really, it‘s a kind of corruption that Help America Vote act that was authored by Bob Ney, who is a cohort of Jack Abramoff‘s that provided $3.9 billion to every injured jurisdiction in America and mandated that they buy these machines, that there is a provision in there, Chris, that says these machines are not to have paper records.  Why would that be done?

MATTHEWS:  I‘d like to know.  What‘s your suspicion here?  Here‘s one concern I might have in growing up in a big city, you don‘t want the local ward leader or poll watcher checking to see how you voted.  Can you have a paper trail without letting them know how you voted?

KENNEDY:  Here‘s what you do.  You have the—you vote on the touch screen machine.  Then the touch screen machine spits out a piece of paper with your vote on it.  Can you check it to make sure that the machine counted your vote correctly, registered your vote correctly.  Then you take that ballot and you put it into a locked box.  And that ballot is not counted unless there is a recount of the election but at least we have a way to audit it the same way that you audit an ATM machine or any other machine—we ought to have a paper trail.  It‘s insane.

MATTHEWS:  How do you keep the poll watchers from the two parties from seeing that?  So you don‘t certify to them that you‘ve done your duty.  How do you keep that away from the hands of the local polls?

KENNEDY:  Chris, that‘s not a problem.  That is not a problem.  That‘s easy.  All you do is the voter takes the piece of paper out of the machine and puts it in a box and nobody sees it but him.  The real problem is without paper ballots, you have no idea what is happening in those machines and we now know that those machines—that anybody who has 60 seconds with one of those machines alone, that is takes 10 seconds to pick the lock to get into the machine—that in 60 seconds you cannot only fix that machine but you can fix the entire state election.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s bottom line this, Robert, do you believe now knowing all that you‘ve studied on and reported on, do you believe now that someone could actually steal a presidential election through hacking?

KENNEDY:  I think it would be a very easy thing and this is not just me saying this, this is Princeton saying it, it‘s the NYU, it‘s the Congressional Research Service and GAO, that if you fix an election for example in a state like Ohio or Florida, which are keys to the presidential election, all have you to do in Ohio this time, if you had flipped, one—six votes in every precinct across the state, the results of the presidential election would have been changed.

There is strong indication that over 350,000 votes were fixed by these machines just in Florida.  That alone could have flipped this election.

MATTHEWS:  Well it‘s going to be interesting to see what you say Robert after this movie comes out, “Man of the Year,” the one with Robin Williams in it, because it‘s all about a company called the Delacroix Corporation, which sounds a lot like the Diebold Corporation, and it‘s about how machinery can go wrong in a presidential election.  Thank you very much for voting us, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Up next NBC political analyst Charlie Cook says if Republicans can keep things going the way they‘ve been doing it the last six weeks, they have a pretty good chance at staying in power.  He‘ll be here to tell us why.  And later, Florida Senate candidate Katherine Harris will be here.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Less than six weeks until Election Day now and still an uphill fight for Democrats to take control of Congress.  Republicans are pushing a message of terror and taxes, T and T.  Democrats are talking about Iraq and Bush.  They‘re of course jumping on this new report from the National Intelligence Estimate that the Iraq war has caused the terrorism threat to grow.  Democrats need to pick up, as I‘ve said before, 15 seats in the House to take control.  In the Senate, they need a six-pack of seats—six seats, a half dozen.  What are their chances?  Are they getting better or worse?

We‘ve got Charlie Cook here, publisher of the “Cook Report.”  We‘ll be doing a lot of this until the election.  He‘s of course an NBC News political expert.  Let me ask you this.  Who is winning right now, Democrats or Republicans?  Which way is the “Dow Jones” of politics going right now?

CHARLIE COOK, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think in the House, it‘s a real close call in the House.  I would give Democrats still a little bit of an edge, less than a month or six weeks ago.  But still a very, very tiny edge, maybe 15, 16, 17 -- 15‘s the magic number, but it was 17, 18, 19.

MATTHEWS:  Is that because you can only count that many seats that you can see or is that some sort of proportional thing you do based on the overall national numbers? 

COOK:  There is the count and then there‘s sort of what do you think with the national numbers.  But with the national numbers—when the margins start coming down for Democrats in terms of the president‘s approval rating coming up a little bit, the Democratic advantage of the generic coming down—then those two numbers start getting closer and that‘s what has happened, is whatever that extra the Democrats had six weeks ago, it‘s less now.

MATTHEWS:  Is that because President Bush has been smart enough or been told to be smart enough to get on the air every day?  I mean there‘s not a day that doesn‘t go by he‘s not in the news out front, fighting his point of view.  Is that it?

COOK:  At 38, you are radioactive.  At 41, 42, you‘re sort of somewhat toxic but it‘s less.

MATTHEWS:  Cheney is the vice president, I don‘t want to harp on this too much because everybody knows what they think of him and think what you will, but the vice president is so unpopular, he‘s in the 20‘s and he‘s being asked to show up for Rick Santorum for an event this week, another one tomorrow apparently.  Why is Santorum bringing in somebody who‘s radio active?

COOK:  Well, it‘s a fundraiser.  I mean, I don‘t think the vice president is coming in for a big rally.  Heck, who has the president coming in for big rallies?  But I think that when you‘ve got gasoline prices dropping, what, 52, 62 cents over two months, , when you have the focus on the terrorist arrests in London, 9/11, I mean, that‘s just a focus on things that are good for President Bush and away from Iraq.  Take that bombing ...

MATTHEWS:  How come Iraq is not on television anymore?  I watch television all day, I don‘t see it. 

COOK:  I think it‘s two things.

MATTHEWS:  Why isn‘t it here, and why isn‘t it on our network?  I don‘t see why it‘s not on television.  We‘re at war, and I don‘t sense people are covering it.

COOK:  Here‘s a quantifying ...

MATTHEWS:  Is that—what is that about?  Can you answer this question, Charlie Cook?  Why aren‘t the networks covering a war? 

COOK:  Give me a second.  Give me a second.  On Saturday, 38 people in Baghdad were killed in one single bombing, mostly women and children.  It was on page 820 of the “Washington Post.”  Where would that have been three, six, nine months ago, 12 months ago?  No, it‘s not that the “Post” is going Republican, it‘s that all this other stuff has pushed these stories down.  You look at that ...

MATTHEWS:  Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton have pushed them down? 

COOK:  No, no, no, no, no.  It‘s the focus on terrorism, the focus on 9/11, the focus on the gas prices, all those things have pushed the stories down.  Take the intelligence report from—the Marine Intelligence Report about the Anbar province. It‘s just gone.  Front page of the “Post,” front page of the “Times” the next day, but out there—I was traveling that week—it was buried. 

So I think there is a certain amount of numbness that, you know, 38 people killed today, 25, 40 -- it just gets pushed back in all these other things.  But the question is, where does the pendulum go now and does that national ...

MATTHEWS:  Did people get bored with World War II and stop covering it?  Did they check the ratings on how the war was doing?

COOK:  No, no, no, no, no.  The thing is, what else was going on but World War II?

MATTHEWS:  You‘re being kind.  I think you‘re being kind.  I think the country is getting focused away from the war for a lot of reasons.  One of them is the media is not covering the war.  Maybe because it‘s too dangerous to cover this war, but you‘ve got 3,000 or 4,000 people dying every month over there, 50,000 dead already, and it‘s being treated like something over there that is not on television.

COOK:  I think if the focus in the next six weeks is where it was the last six weeks, Republicans hold that Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re right.  I think they benefit from this no war on television, by the way. 

COOK:  But if it goes back to Iraq, if it starts moving towards Iraq, it goes back to where things were prior to August 15. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that interesting, that we‘re not talking about reality here, we‘re talking about presentation of reality?  Because the war continues.

COOK:  It‘s public focus, media focus. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Charlie Cook.  You‘re good.  You‘re too nice, though. 

Up next, Congresswoman Katherine Harris plays HARDBALL about her Senate race in Florida.  Can‘t wait to get her back.  Katherine Harris, the woman we got to know down in Florida back in 2000.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I too encourage you to vote for Katherine Harris for the United States Senate.  Welcome, Katherine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there he did it.  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Congresswoman Katherine Harris was hailed by conservatives for presiding over the 2000 presidential recount down in Florida, but since then, she‘s been snubbed by prominent Republicans in her bid to unseat Democratic Senator Bill Nelson. 

Congresswoman Harris, thank you.  Do you feel a little alone out there sometimes?  Are you getting—you‘re coming up in the polls.  You tell me before we‘re on you cut the lead in half against Bill Nelson, the incumbent.  You‘re catching up to him.  Are you going to be able to catch up with him by the first week of November?

REP. KATHERINE HARRIS ®, FL SENATE CANDIDATE:  We‘ll time it just right, Chris, and we‘ll win.  But we have it now all of the parties come together and with that kind of momentum, clearly when we‘ve turned out our base and Democrats and independents hear our side, they are more much engaged with our values and issues. 

MATTHEWS:  So election night, I‘m going to see you at the Coconut Grove or someplace like that, one of those convention halls down there, with the Bush brothers standing next to you and the total Republican unity?  Is that what I‘m going to see?

HARRIS:  You‘ll see that at the inaugural in Washington, D.C., but in Sarasota—well, you should come down and join us for our victory party. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, as I said, according to the latest Mason-Dixon Poll -

that‘s a pretty good poll—you trail Senator Nelson 46 to 28.  Are you happy with that number.  Do you think it‘s real?  Oh wait a minute—yes, 52 to 35.

HARRIS:  We‘re moving even farther ahead and we‘ve seen other polls that we are even closer.  So we‘re going to keep working at it, because think about this.  The people in Florida are really focused on some key issues like cutting taxes.  Bill Nelson votes to raise them.  Like immigration issues, he votes for amnesty.

And really the huge issue in Florida is the homeowners insurance which, while he was insurance commissioner, he allowed the national insurance companies to cut and run.  So our insurance rates have gone up 400 percent or more.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s three issues you‘ve got to carry on your back.  Social Security, are you for the president‘s proposal to personalize Social Security? 

HARRIS:  I‘ve made a commitment that we won‘t raise their taxes—raise their taxes nor cut their benefits, but what I have done and I care about doing and I make a promise to do is get rid of that Social Security tax which Bill Nelson voted to keep.

MATTHEWS:  You mean tax Social Security benefits? 

HARRIS:  Yes.   

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not going to do that.

HARRIS:  We won‘t tax Social Security benefits.

MATTHEWS:  And you‘re not going to have personal accounts?

HARRIS:  Well, we‘ll look into what we can do in addition to make sure that Social Security is solvent for those who are paying in now. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not a killer proposals down in Florida, among retirees, the idea of taking out of the flood of money, the flow of money into the benefit program and give it to people for personal accounts?  That doesn‘t ...

HARRIS:  We‘re not even suggesting that proposal.  They‘re all kinds of other proposals on the table, but what we do want to do is make sure that we protect those getting Social Security now.

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re not with President Bush on this? 

HARRIS:  We‘ll see.  We‘ll see.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not with President Bush on this, because that‘s what he wants to do.

HARRIS:  Well, we‘ll see.  We‘ll see.

MATTHEWS:  Are you with President Bush?

HARRIS:  I do want to take the taxes off Social Security, which Bill

Nelson has voted not to remove

MATTHEWS:  Are you taking the liberal position of the president on immigration?

HARRIS:  I‘m taking the House position with one exception.

MATTHEWS:  Against the president.

HARRIS:  With one exception—I do not want to make felons of those who are not in the—who are here illegally.  Let me tell you what my position is.  One, secure the borders.  That‘s the most important thing we can do, 2,000 illegals cross the border ...

MATTHEWS:  How about amnesty? 

HARRIS:  Two—never amnesty.  Two, make sure we have a legal—a legal—temporary identification.  Florida needs the labor.  But we will not ...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, a temporary one.  Well, how do you know who to give it to?

HARRIS:  Well, with those who are already there, we have biometrics.  We‘ve already passed the real ID, so the House has passed that emergency measure to secure the border.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So you‘re not for punishing employers for hiring illegal people?  You‘re not for punishing them?

HARRIS:  Once we have the secure I.d., then we can hold employers accountable.  I don‘t think we can now. 

MATTHEWS:  Bit if they have a secure I.D. that says they‘re here, but they‘re here illegally, people will hire them.  Do they get punished for hiring them?

HARRIS:  No.  When you have a secure I.D., it will mean that it has biometrics, we know they are who they claim to be...

MATTHEWS:  I see.

HARRIS:  ... and the Homeland Security Committee, Middle East, Central Asia, the other subcommittees I sit on, the Western Hemisphere, we hear of those who are crossing the border illegally, assuming Hispanic names.  If they‘re here...

MATTHEWS:  Like I believe, everybody should be who they say they are.  And I think if you check into a hotel under an assumed name or you sign a check with an assumed name, it‘s called fraud.

HARRIS:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  And I don‘t understand why people have a problem with it. 

HARRIS:  So we secured the borders. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re tougher than the president on immigration and you‘re less adventurous then he is on Social Security.  On Iraq, do you have any problems with his policy? 

HARRIS:  There are three alternatives, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  What is your problem with his policy of being in Iraq and staying there until he accomplishes the goal that he set back in 2002? 

HARRIS:  The alternative is either to cut and run, or to set a date so that terrorists will know when we‘re pulling out. 

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re for the president‘s position? 

HARRIS:  So I believe that we have to win the war. 

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re with the president?  A hundred percent?

HARRIS:  I am.  I don‘t believe we should cut and run, and I don‘t believe that we should set a date to pull out.  But what I would say is that...

MATTHEWS:  He wants to remain there in force, until he leaves the presidency, in force, big numbers.  Do you support that?

HARRIS:  I think we have to have the numbers to be able to secure Iraq.  But the reason I think we need to is more for our homeland security.   We are fighting the terrorists there on their soil, not here.  There is a reason we haven‘t been attacked. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the reason we went in? 

HARRIS:  Well, that was based—I wasn‘t there when they voted to do so, but that was based on information for the WMD.  Chris, id they...

MATTHEWS:  You believe we went to the war in Iraq because of the WMD?  you believe that‘s why this president did that?

HARRIS:  I believe that...

MATTHEWS:  How come he couldn‘t have cared less when he found out there was no WMD there?  He never changed his policy, he never said anything, he said, well, that‘s interesting.  But it‘s not really important to him. 

He never said he went to Iraq for the WMD.  He let Cheney go out there, and Condi go out to sell the mushroom clouds.  He went in there to change, to stabilize the Middle East, to rearrange those countries down there, to try to introduce democracy in that region by force.  He had his ideological reasons for doing this.  Do you really believe he went in there out of self-defense, that he thought Iraq was coming at us with nuclear weapons, do you believe that? 

HARRIS:  Well, I can this, I believe if there were no evidence or there was no report that there was WMD, Chris, there never would have been a vote to go to war. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what Hillary says.  And you may be right.  But you‘re with Hillary on that one.

Let me ask you, what‘s it like to be an iconic figure from “Saturday Night Live”?  Because I‘m that.  I‘m not as big as you were, but let me tell you, what is it like to be confected into this persona, with “Saturday Night Live”?

HARRIS:  It‘s unusual.  I‘m not even sure I understand how people think of me because it‘s a caricature.  That‘s not real.  But when folks really do know the truth, and they know in terms of the election, we simply followed the law, we simply did exactly as the law required, hired a Democrat, actually, to navigate us through what the law actually said. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what the memory I have of—and I love that, I‘ve never had a better time in journalism than covering five weeks of the recount.  And I think what was interesting and what is disturbing to a lot of people about the recount is you had that very tall woman, who would look at the same ballot, and she‘d look at it and go, Gore.  This guy that looked like Dennis France or whatever is from, what is it called, NYPD whatever, and he‘s looking at it, and he‘s going, Bush. 

They‘re looking at the exact same ballot, and one says one thing, and one says the other.  How can you trust the system that‘s navigated that way? 

HARRIS:  Well, we followed the law exactly, but I made a proposal and even Larry Sabato said it was the model for the nation.  The liberals mocked me, and said I was just I was just doing it for elections.  But we got it passed.  And today, Florida has been the model for the nation, we came forward, testified before Congress.  One of the issues I really cared about...

MATTHEWS:  So you believe that Larry Sabato tells the truth? 

HARRIS:  Not always but in that case. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s the guy who‘s giving state‘s evidence right now against George Allen. 

HARRIS:  Well, what I do want to point to is the paper ballot. 

Because, you were mentioning other...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Bobby Kennedy came on pushing the paper...

HARRIS:  I like the paper trail.  

MATTHEWS:  ... but you like that too?

HARRIS:  I like the paper trail, you can have a secure paper trail because in Florida‘s case...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m down for that too, as some sort of evidence that you voted a certain.  I grew up in a big city, and I‘m afraid that the ward leader, or the precinct captain or the guy running the division will say, let me look at the piece of paper of yours, because he wants to make sure you voted the right way.

HARRIS:  No.  It‘s a secure trail that‘s... 

MATTHEWS:  First of all, let‘s keep it out of the hands of the locals.  Let‘s not have them see how you vote.  I don‘t think that‘d be useful in our democracy.  I like secret ballots. 

Anyway, thank you, Congresswoman.

HARRIS:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  And I am one of your fans. 

Up next we‘ll talk about the fight for power on “Decision 2006” with a political brains, Matt Dowd and Mike Feldman.  They‘re going to be here. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

It‘s time to talk midterm madness from the macaca mess to the mired mission in Iraq.  Let‘s bring in the Hardballers.  Michael Feldman is a Democratic strategist and co-founder of hotsoup.com.  Matthew Dowd‘s also a co-founder of hotsoup.com and also a co-author of “Appleby‘s America:  How Successful Political Business and Religious Leaders Connect with the New American Community”. 

You‘re so sophisticated, let‘s go right now, you‘re the first, since you‘re with me, Mike.  Is this Virginia race going down the toilet, is this going to end up being a series of people coming forward, one after another after another,  with charges that George Allen said racial slurs? 

MICHAEL FELDMAN, FMR. ADVISER TO V.P. GORE:  Well, it may be, Chris. 

You the thing is, right now it‘s all they‘re talking about, is this issue.  No other issues are being talked about in the race and Senator Allen, as far as I can tell, has completely lost his ability to communicate in the campaign.  I mean, he‘s stuck in this rut right now.

MATTHEWS:  Why doesn‘t he bring out character witnesses like John Warner, the senior Senator, or people, maybe African-Americans who work on his staff, maybe people who have a real long record with him, to say, he does have a good attitude? 

FELDMAN:  That‘s a good question.  I mean, one of the tests of a candidate...

MATTHEWS:  I know what the right answer might be, which is he can‘t find them, or they‘re not willing to step forward in this controversial time. 

FELDMAN:  But he‘s not react willing well to this controversy.  He‘s digging himself a deeper hole.  And one of the tests of a candidate is how a campaign and that candidate react when they‘re in trouble.  And I think while we were all talking about George Allen as a potential ‘08 candidate, we now see a guy who we‘re wondering if he can get re-elected in ‘06. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘re going to come right back and talk more with our Hardballers.  More with HARDBALL coming back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got a hot bulletin on that hostage situation out in Denver right now.  One hostage has been wounded, apparently now in critical condition as the result of a SWAT team situation.  They moved in on the hostage takers.  The other hostage that was being held is safe and in fine condition.  Let‘s go right now to the coverage of KUSA in Denver.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Again, this is at Platte Canyon High School.  We are just outside of Bailey in a hostage situation that had been going on starting at about noon for nearly four hours.  It has just been resolved, unfortunately with the wounding of one of two female high school students who were being held hostage by a lone gunman.

The gunman is in custody.  We understand that he did fire a shot out. 

There was an explosion.  He did say that he had an explosive device.  Apparently it was detonated.  SWAT went in.  One of the students was wounded somehow and the other hostage, the other female involved in this is unharmed.  We are told the gunman is in custody.  And now we‘re watching Flight for Life preparing to leave with the critically wounded hostage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  All of the students from both of these schools,  have been now taken to Deer Creek Elementary School.  All the parents who have students in those schools if you haven‘t already, can pick up your student there.  That‘s where they were all taken by bus earlier.  The situation is over.  The gunman is in custody.  We do not know a motive.  We do not know his name at this time.  This will all be made clear I‘m sure a little bit later on.  One of the students who was wounded, shot and wounded, is being taken by helicopter—that helicopter there.  The other female student is safe and sound we‘re told.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There was a problem it seemed in listening to Jacki Kelley, the Jefferson County sheriff spokesperson about a half an hour ago.  There was this ongoing process of trying to establish reliable negotiations, communications with the hostage taker.  And it seemed that—it begs the question that perhaps they were having problems and it might have reached a point of frustration, the not being able to conduct suitable negotiations.  Again we don‘t know that for certain, but if they were still trying to work out communications a half an hour ago, it may have led to something involved with the resolution.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We‘ll find out later.  They had obviously tried to establish communication and negotiations with the gunman all afternoon.  Apparently the gunman himself called 911 shortly after noon. 

The first text message that one of the students sent to his parent came in a little past 11:30.  It was around 11:35 and that was the first word that we had gotten that something was wrong and then shortly after noon, the gunman himself called 911 and reported that he had taken hostages in the school at that time.  There were six hostages.  He had released four earlier in the day and then had kept the two female high school students with him in a second story classroom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Flight for Life leaving the high school football field at right now at Platte Canyon High School, carrying one critically wounded, we‘re told, female hostage on the way to the hospital.  This is a very, very difficult situation near Bailey this afternoon, extraordinarily difficult, certainly for the parents who have had to wait to hear if their kids are OK and in fact, many cases haven‘t heard that their kids are OK and they just simply had to go to Deer Creek Elementary and re-establish contact with their kids.

There are two parents right now, we‘re not entirely certain if they even know that their kids have been held hostage.  So there are at least two parents right now who are obviously extremely upset.  We all are.  At least there may be a large number of happy reunions we are told at Deer Creek Elementary.  You can hope for that anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  As is the case in all these situations, we try to get the information that we do have confirmed as much as possible.  We try to get officials to tell us what they know.  In this case it is still developing and we are told...

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s bring in right now Tom Costello of NBC News who has been covering this event all day.  Tom, give us a recap on what‘s happened today from beginning to end, if you can.

TOM COSTELLO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, this happened at about noon Mountain time, 2:00 Eastern time.  At that point, this gunman apparently called the Park County sheriff‘s department in a rural area of Colorado about 45 minutes west of Denver, saying that he had an explosive device, he had a gun and he had hostages.

Six hostages apparently originally and they eventually managed to release four of them.  We don‘t know how yet.  He then was holding two female hostages, students we are told.  And as you just heard, some speculation about how this all went down.  It is yet to be determined how all of this went down.  There was an original report that the gunman may have been a parent.  So that is still to be determined as well. 

But they had a massive police response from the suburban Denver metro area of Jefferson County, Denver PD, some of the surrounding counties with a SWAT team, as well as the bomb squad.  And that helicopter, Flight for Life is now inbound to Denver.  There are three trauma centers on the west side of town they can go to, including a Swedish medical center as well as Flight for Life‘s home base and then Denver Health Medical Center as well.  But clearly you can imagine the parents are holding their breath right now and praying for that child.

MATTHEWS:  Do you know what condition that first—the wounded hostage—is she critical or serious right now, do we know yet?

COSTELLO:  Last I heard, it was critical, but that is frankly using reporting of KUSA, which you have there in the double box and they have been ahead of this story since the beginning,  And incidentally of course this bringing up all the memories of Columbine in April of 1999 when 13 kids were killed and two others committed suicide of course, the shooters and then 21 injured.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I was watching this in the afternoon, trying to figure out as we went to air with HARDBALL, why were they all lined up?  How do you explain all those students apparently lined up along that road next to those buses?

COSTELLO:  Well at one point the students who were finally separated from the gunman were told to evacuate out of a back door or a side door and that‘s what we kept seeing, the images of all the other kids being evacuated from the high school and middle school. 

It is kind of one unit if you will, one complex with both school,s and then they put them on buses and got them away.  This is on highway 285, a major highway from Denver running west into the mountains, really the only street running through Bailey is 285 and they blocked off a four-mile stretch of 285 as they rushed in law enforcement from the surround areas.

MATTHEWS:  Well it was a good police action in the end, wasn‘t it?  I guess it‘s fair to say even at this point, that you had one person one was critically wounded.  However with all those potential targets, there wasn‘t much damage done by that hostage taker.

COSTELLO:  Yes, you know, as so often the case on these incidents, you wait to see the final verdict and how did this go down, and you just hope that in fact it went down as well as possible.

MATTHEWS:  Sounds right to me.  Anyway, thank you very much NBC‘s Tom Costello.  Our coverage continues right now with “TUCKER.”

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

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