updated 10/16/2006 1:55:41 PM ET 2006-10-16T17:55:41

Guests: John Harwood, Howard Fineman, Tony Perkins, Chris Cillizza, Mary Ann Akers, Joe Trippi, Ed Rogers

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Guilty.  The first U.S. congressman to plead guilty in the Abramoff influence-buying scandal.  Ohio‘s Bob Ney, who long ago joined Duke Cunningham, Bill Jefferson, Tom DeLay and Mark Foley on the 2006 rogues gallery.  All these falls from power and grace, and we haven‘t even had the election yet.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews, welcome to HARDBALL.  Friday the 13th, less than four weeks out from the elections, and the Republican nightmare just got scarier.  Ohio Congressman Bob Ney pleaded guilty today to conspiracy and making false answers.  The first congressman to fall in the Abramoff scandal. 

But when Ney resigns, he‘ll join the likes of Duke Cunningham, as I said, Tom DeLay, and the Republicans latest political disaster Mark Foley.  Speaking of Foley, the House Ethics Committee pressed on with its probe and NBC News reports the FBI has now opened an investigation into Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona, who took several young male pages on a camping trip back in 1996.  We do politics here and we‘ve got all these stories covered.  We begin tonight with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Just over three weeks until the congressional elections and Republicans found themselves facing a barrage of scandal news again today.  In the Foley page affair, Congressman John Shimkus, co-chair of the board that oversees the page program, testified this afternoon to the House Ethics Committee.  Shimkus said he confronted Foley a year ago about a sexually suggestive e-mail Foley sent to a former page.  Shimkus testified he did not ask Foley if there were other e-mails or contacts with pages.

REP. JOHN SHIMKUS ®, ILLINOIS:  I think there is stuff that everybody would have done differently had -- 20/20 hindsight is always perfect, so having 20/20 hindsight, a lot of things would have been done different.

SHUSTER:  Today‘s testimony followed an appearance yesterday by Foley‘s former chief of staff Kirk Fordham.  He told the committee he warned Dennis Hastert‘s office about Foley in 2003 after Foley allegedly showed up drunk at the page dormitory.  Two members of Congress have said publicly they spoke directly to the speaker about Foley last spring, but Hastert has maintained he didn‘t know anything until two weeks ago.  Polls show most Americans believe Hastert engaged in a coverup.  Still, there was President Bush last night at a fundraiser in Chicago.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I want to say this to you.  I am proud to be standing with the current speaker of the House, who is going to be the future speaker of the House.

SHUSTER:  But according to top Republican pollsters, the realities that Democrats are poised to gain more than enough seats to take control of the House.  It‘s mostly due to the Iraq war.

But sleaze is also an issue, and on that front, Republicans were also battered today by the Jack Abramoff influence peddling and corruption scandal.  Republican Congressman Bob Ney pleaded guilty this morning to conspiracy and making false statements.  He acknowledged taking money and gifts in return for congressional actions on behalf of Abramoff and his clients. 

Ney faces up to 10 years in prison.  In a written statement, he said, quote, “I never intended my career in public service to end this way, and I am ashamed it did.”

Ney is the first member of Congress to lose his job thanks to the Abramoff scandal, but he‘s just the latest in a string of powerful Republican insiders to get convicted in the probe.  Abramoff pled guilty in January.  Michael Scanlon and Tony Rudy, two former aides of Tom DeLay have pled guilty.  So has Neil Volz, Congressman Ney‘s former chief of staff.

And this summer, David Safavian, formerly the Bush administration‘s top procurement official was convicted of covering up his actions for Abramoff.

Meanwhile today in another big development related to the Abramoff scandal, a Senate Finance Committee report authorized by Republican Chairman Charles Grassley says Abramoff‘s dealings with five conservative nonprofit organizations shows the group‘s, quote, “appear to have perpetrated a fraud on the taxpayers.” 

One of the nonprofit organizations, Americans for Tax Reform is run by conservative activist Grover Norquist.  The report says his group and others violated their tax exempt status by quote, “laundering payments and then disbursing funds at Mr. Abramoff‘s direction and taking payments in exchange for writing newspaper columns or press releases.”

Over the last decade, the “Washington Times” has published approximately 50 Norquist op/eds.  And e-mail evidence from the Senate report indicates Norquist did get money from Abramoff in exchange for placing columns friendly to Abramoff‘s clients. 

A spokesman for Norquist calls the pay to public allegations “political nonsense pushed by Democratic staff on the Senate committee.”  But the FBI has now been asked to investigate Norquist and his organization.  FBI agents are also following a new lead related to a potential congressional witness in the Mark Foley page scandal.  Retiring Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe, who says he knew of Foley‘s sexually charged contacts with pages at least five years ago is himself now under investigation for a camping trip with pages 10 years ago in the Grand Canyon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  There maybe nothing to the 1996 camping trip and the preliminary review of Arizona prosecutors may show that Kolbe is completely innocent.  Still Republicans just can‘t seem to get away from the Foley page scandal or the Jack Abramoff corruption probe and it‘s now just 24 days until the congressional elections.  I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you David Shuster.

“Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst and the “Wall Street Journal‘s” John Harwood is CNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent.

I‘m going to start with Howard in front of me here.  Now Howard, this does seem to have many leaks.  This story just keeps goes.  I said a long time ago it‘s got more legs than a centipede.  And it does.  Jim Kolbe taking kids on a camping trip is now the stuff of an FBI investigation?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  It‘s remarkable, Chris, and what happens is here in Washington, storylines get developed and then anything that bears any relation to it gets dragged in. 

So there are two or three story lines that the Republicans are dealing with now.  One has to do with potentially inappropriate contact or advances to these pages.  One has to do with the story of money and lobbyists, the Jack Abramoff line.  A third has to do with a sense of obliviousness perhaps on the part of the leadership, the Republican leadership and whether that‘s emblematic of a larger lack of attention to business here in Washington.  I mean, the way they‘re defending Speaker Hastert right now, and there‘s a strong defense of Speaker Hastert going on, is that he didn‘t know.  It‘s like the guy in the old “Hogan‘s Heroes” thing.

MATTHEWS:  Schultz?

FINEMAN:  Yes, I knew nothing.  I know nothing.  If that‘s the best that Speaker Hastert can do, that may save him legally, but it doesn‘t help the Republicans politically.

MATTHEWS:  He has the look, a kind of nice cuddly look, but the look of a person who doesn‘t know anything.

FINEMAN:  He looks lost.  He looks absolutely lost.  has a press conference in front a graveyard one day.  You know, he‘s got this thing with George Bush the next night.  He looks kind of dizzy and out it and that is not helpful to a party that‘s been in power for six years that‘s trying to say we know how to run the government.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s try to be objective here.  What oomph, what impetus, impulse would drive a person to go out and vote Republican this fall?  I mean, lower taxes, you still believe in the war in Iraq, you want to keep—it‘s hard.  The Democrats have all these impulses.

FINEMAN:  I think there is several of them.  There are the fact that the stock market is at an all-time high.  Sixty million people are invested in the stock market now.  There‘s a whole sort of investor/voter class of people.  That‘s No. 1.  No. 2, the economy five years after being hit in the gut in 9/11 is back and it‘s back strongly, OK?

MATTHEWS:  You can argue with that with people.

FINEMAN:  Unevenly distributed, but still, it‘s back.  The war—

George Bush‘s theory of the war which is fight them there rather than fight them here is controversial but I haven‘t heard the Democrats enunciate their own stirring answer to that.  You know, they want to have a phased withdrawal that can mean anything to anybody. 

And George Bush‘s approach on interrogating terror suspects is still popular in the country.  He can push the Patriot Act, all that kind of thing.  But all of it is drowned out in the noise of out of touch leadership, money scandals and sex scandals.  And the Republican message, whatever it is, and there are some, is just not getting through.  The only thing they‘ve got going for them now is they still have 24 days.

JOHN HARWOOD, WALL STREET JOURNAL:  Chris, I want to throw in one other factor.

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, John.

HARWOOD:  And that is that the Republican Congress has not seemed to accomplish very much.  I was out in Arizona a couple of weeks ago and talking to Republicans there, they‘re concerned that their conservatives don‘t think this fence is ever going to get built on the border and there has been a lot of talk about soccer moms, security moms, that sort of thing.

They‘re worried about white men not feeling motivated to go vote for Republicans.  They think they have an advantage in the Senate race with Jon Kyl.  He‘s likely to win, he‘s leading, but they‘re not quite sure exactly what the Republican turnout is going to be in this Foley scandal, especially now that Jim Kolbe is tied up in it, makes it much, much more difficult to do that.

MATTHEWS:  Why is it that I keep getting over the last couple of months, the tremors that if the Democrats are going to pick up six or seven seats in the Senate, that the last one in the list is going to be that Arizona seat?

HARWOOD:  Well, because you‘ve got a very well-funded, rich Democratic candidate, a moderate who is putting a lot of his own money in and he‘s not all that far off.  He‘s been down in the high single digits.  The question is whether he can go over the hump.  But if you have a collapse in Republican turnout, that‘s his chance.  Even if that doesn‘t happen, there are two House seats in play, the one left behind by Kolbe, who is retiring.  Also JD Hayworth in the Phoenix area, both of those are at high risk of going to the other party.

MATTHEWS:  Yeah, I‘ve heard that J.D. Hayworth, although he‘s on Imus a lot in the morning, is apparently fighting for his life out there.

Let me ask you both about this thing of accumulation.  You first, John.  Accumulation—if you read about the Abramoff scandal—and that sort of fades in your memory—now it‘s brought back by the pleading guilty of Robert Ney of Ohio.  You‘ve got the Foley thing keeps giving off more whiffs of crap, more and more, it keeps going on as a story, that goes together.  And you‘ve got the war.  It seems like these stories don‘t die.  They all have continuations every day in the news.

HARWOOD:  I think compounding is a big issue, especially with Foley on top of the Abramoff stuff.  When I talk to senior Republican strategists, they say one of the things that has happened here, aside from what has gone on with the social conservatives and the potential deflating of their enthusiasm to vote, is reminding everybody of the Duke Cunningham, of the Abramoff scandal, of Bob Ney and now all of that rises to the top and there‘s the risk, combining that with the legislative failures and people saying, What difference does it make if Democrats take over, they‘re not doing anything good in Washington?

MATTHEWS:  Maybe it‘s stopping doing things bad—that may be the issue of this campaign; not becoming better, but not being as bad.  Ohio‘s Bob Ney pleads guilty today in the Abramoff scandal, Duke Cunningham is already paying his price.  Bill Jefferson‘s the guy  -- he‘s the Democrat in this cavalcade—they found 90,000 bucks in his Capitol refrigerator.  Tom DeLay‘s gone, Mark Foley is gone but not forgotten—the beat goes on.

Howard Fineman and John Harwood will be staying with us. 

Coming up next, John Harwood‘s report on embattled U.S. Congressman Tom Reynolds of upstate New York.  Maybe the snow is going to help this guy up there in Buffalo.

And late, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins will be here.

And this weekend, catch the HARDBALL College Tour with Robin Williams

a repeat on Saturday at 4:00 pm Eastern and Sunday at 7:00 -- 4:00 on Saturday, 7:00 on Sunday—one of the best shows we‘ve ever done here.  Certainly the most exciting.

And then on Wednesday, the College Tour goes live to Iowa State with U.S. Senator John McCain, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination and perhaps for the presidency next time.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  As chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee, New York‘s Tom Reynolds is in charge of making sure Republicans stay in power.  Now in the wake of the Foley mess, he might be in danger of losing both the majority and his own seat. 

CNBC Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood reports right now. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HARWOOD (voice-over):  Local farmer Don Spothe (ph) has worked in Tom Reynolds‘ campaigns for years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  By the time we‘re through we‘ll have 1, 500 signs up. 

HARWOOD:  But the Congressman has never needed help like he needs it now.  He‘s been winning elections in western New York since the 1970s.

REP. TOM REYNOLDS ® NEW YORK:  George W. Bush.

HARWOOD:  And Republicans in Washington made him head of the GOP‘s House campaign. 

REYNOLDS:  House elections are built from the ground up. 

HARWOOD:  But that was before the Mark Foley scandal raised questions about what he knew and what he did about it.

REYNOLDS:  The first set was this overly friendly chitchat.

HARWOOD:  Suddenly his opponent, Jack Davis, is one of the hottest Democratic candidates in the country.  The rich factory owner, who blames free trade for killing New York jobs, lost to Reynolds two years ago. 

JACK DAVIS, DEMOCRAT CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS:  The harder I work, the luckier I get, and this scandal is a luck for me right now.  It‘s bad for Reynolds. 

HARWOOD:  Reynolds has tried to survive with a press conference—

REYNOLDS:  I heard something, I took it to my supervisor.

HARWOOD:  -- and an apology. 

REYNOLDS:  I am sorry. 

HARWOOD:  But polls show most voters aren‘t convinced.  At Duff‘s Diner, famous for Buffalo wings, he has a long way to go.  Some remember his accomplishments—

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He had a lot to do with saving the airbase.

HARWOOD:  -- and still have faith. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  At this point, I believe him. 

HARWOOD:  But others have heard enough. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Reynolds has done nothing to impress me with his remorse.  Just the opposite, actually; he‘s a little nauseating.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If a football coach loses, he gets fired.  If the Yankees‘ manager loses, he gets fired.

HARWOOD:  Loyal Republican Danielle Pekora (ph) has lost her appetite to vote. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m probably going to stay home, myself, and not vote in any election this year.  I‘m kind of fed up with politics.

HARWOOD:  Now Reynolds has to rely on hometown friends. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m calling you tonight to be see if you‘d be willing to show your support for the congressman by letting us place a lawn sign in your yard.

HARWOOD:  Don Spothe (ph) can‘t believe what has happened. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m disgusted with the things that these people are trying to do and say about Tom Reynolds.  It just isn‘t true.  It‘s not the Tom Reynolds I know.

HARWOOD:  So he‘s kicked his efforts into higher gear, trying to stop a political meltdown one yard sign at a team. 

John Harwood for MSNBC, Amherst, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back now with John Harwood and Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman.

John, is this race really a close one right now, three weeks out?

HARWOOD:  I think Jack Davis, more than one poll has shown, has actually taken the lead over Reynolds, which is shocking, considering that Tom Reynolds won by double digits two years ago.  I think Tom Reynolds does have a chance.  He‘s got deep roots in the district.  He‘s got an organization.  And you were right, at the top of this segment, that snowstorm is great news for him.  He‘s been in seclusion all week trying to figure out, How can I come out, how can I change the subject in this campaign?  The snowstorm, the press conference today with Governor Pataki, gives him a chance to try to do that. 

MATTHEWS:  I watched Pataki present him to the voters today as the man who is going to save them from snow disaster up there.

HARWOOD:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  This stuff works, huh?

HARWOOD:  It can work; it didn‘t work for Jane Byrne a few years ago in Chicago. 

MATTHEWS:  No, I think she was out of town, or John Lindsey.  A lot of people have lost their jobs because they‘re out of town, but does he get a break for showing up with a snow blower? 

FINEMAN:  My advice—

HARWOOD:  He at least can try to talk about things he can do to help people.  They‘ve got 400,000 people without power in his district, and he‘s trying to work on that.  We‘ll see if it can work.

But look, this scandal is big and it‘s going to be big, even if he does change the subject right now.

MATTHEWS:  Howard, you can see right now—the editorial cartoonist with him riding on the top of a snowplow, pushing the Foley scandal aside. 

FINEMAN:  Into Lake Erie.

MATTHEWS:  This will happen in the next two days, I‘m sure.

FINEMAN:  My advice to him would be to start digging.

The problem that the Republicans have is that each of these stories feeds into the other one.  And you can‘t tamp down one and have the others disappear at the same time, you just can‘t.  You just can‘t do it. 

HARWOOD:  Chris, Howard is exactly right on that, and the way I think it feeds into one another is this basic idea, they went there behind certain principles, but are they just trying to hold on to power now?  And that‘s what comes up in this whole Reynolds thing:  were they simply trying to tamp it down, to keep Democrats from finding out, to hold the seat, despite the concern for these young House pages?

MATTHEWS:  I‘m going to ask a rhetorical question, can they buy themselves out of the mess they‘ve gotten into, with the Allen race here in Virginia—can they just simply pour so many TV ads on the screen that people just give up and say, Okay, I‘ll reelect you? 

FINEMAN:  Not unless they‘re able to change the subject back to something that they have a fighting chance on.  If you read the latest Gallup poll that was out today, they‘re behind also on terrorism management and moral values, but at least they‘re in the ballpark on those and they need to come back on the strength in fighting terrorism, on whatever success in terms of the economy they have. 

It‘s not just pouring in the money with negative ads on the Democrats.  I don‘t think that‘s going to be enough.  I don‘t think it‘s going to be enough, because at some point, voters turn off.  It‘s like they put on the spam detector.  They put on the spam detector. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, terror and taxes are the Republican strong points.  On the other side, somebody put it rather well.  They said casualties—it‘s a hard way to put it, make it political—casualties and corruption are the best arguments for the Democrats, C and C against T and T.

HARWOOD:  Exactly.  But the question is they got a lot of money in the bank.  The question is, can they push those people out to get them to vote like they did in 2004?  It‘s much more difficult to do this year. 

MATTHEWS:  Somebody wrote the other day—John, wasn‘t it David Broder who wrote can the voter pull the trigger?  They see all the problems, they see what they have to do, but habit is strong. 

And familiarity is strong, and to vote against the unfamiliar name who you‘ve been voting for and investing in for years and say no, I‘m going to try this new woman or this new guy, something prevents people from making that move, but I think they‘re going to make them in a lot of cases.

HARWOOD:  And given how polarized our politics are right now, vote preferences are kind of sticky, as you‘re suggesting, Chris.  It‘s not easy to get people to switch but we have seen in our “Journal”/NBC polling a rising appetite for giving a new person a chance and throwing the old guy out. 

FINEMAN:  That‘s going to be the other part of the Republican strategy.  It‘s going to be Pelosi and it‘s going to be George Soros.  You‘re going to be hearing a lot about George Soros ...

HARWOOD:  Charlie Rangel too.

FINEMAN:  ...yes, over the next couple weeks. 

MATTHEWS:  Talking about George Soros is like talking about precious bodily fluids and I just don‘t think people are going to get that excited about George Soros.  Anyway, thank you.  I‘m not going to tell you who he is if you don‘t know.  It couldn‘t be more boring. 

Anyway, John Harwood, great report on the Reynolds race up there in upstate Snowville.  And Howard Fineman, thank you for being here. 

Up next, does the Bush White House taken Christian conservatives for granted?  Are they using these people?  We‘re going to ask Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. 

And this weekend, catch Robin Williams on the HARDBALL College Tour.  He‘s back.  It‘s a great show, and you can watch it again Saturday at 4:00 Eastern and Sunday at 7:00 Eastern. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Christian conservatives are largely credited with securing President Bush‘s reelection in 2004, but now a former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives charges in a new book called “Tempting Faith” that President Bush‘s top political strategist dismissed and ridiculed evangelical supporters in private while embracing them in public.  By the way, the author of that book, David Kuo will be on HARDBALL this Tuesday. 

Did the Bush administration use religious conservatives to win votes and then make fun of them in private?  Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council.

Tony, it‘s great to have you on.  You‘re usually sitting in the room with me.  Where are you right now? 

TONY PERKINS, PRES., FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  I‘m in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you, out in the heartland out there, do people now sense because of this new book that the cultural conservatives of this country, who really gave the Republicans their margin of victory, were misused, were taken advantage of? 

PERKINS:  Well, the book isn‘t out yet.  Those that are in the city and in the Beltway that are aware of the book, look, they understand this is politics.  We know what goes on.  There is give and take, but also you have to question the timing of this.  It‘s not another one of those kiss and tell books that comes out right before the election, which makes the message suspect. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PERKINS:  But I will say, I think there is a thread of truth in it, but it‘s not without gain.  I mean, the evangelicals understand that they‘re not—they‘re not always welcomed in the administration, or in the Republican Party, for that matter.  But we‘ve gotten quite a bit, I would say, in the last six years, under this president that are priorities for us. 

MATTHEWS:  Like what?  List some of your gains with this coalition. 

PERKINS:  OK, I will.  Absolutely.  I mean, in the last—since 1973 and Row v. Wade, the two biggest pieces of pro-life legislation have been signed into law by this president.  The ban on partial birth abortions, we‘ve also had the Unborn Victims of Violence Act signed by this president, and two Supreme Court justices which we were supportive off on the bench. 

Remember, there was a nomination in between Roberts and Alito, which we did not like and it was pulled back.  And now we have two strict constructionists on the court, and those are not minor issues.  So I think the evangelical community is maturing in its political involvement.  They understand it‘s give and take and, I guess, some could describe this as a marriage of convenience but it‘s not without gain. 

MATTHEWS:  What is your feeling about suburban Republicans from the Northeast, people in the Philadelphia suburbs, the New York suburbs, who tend to be economic Republicans.  They like lower taxes to be blunt about it, and they don‘t really have strong feelings about abortion rights being outlawed or opposition to gay marriage or whatever.  They‘re for stem cell research funded by the federal government. 

It seems like the world I grew up in, sort of the city, suburban, right on the edge where most of the people tend to be secular in their politics.  Doesn‘t it bug to you to be in bed with them politically? 

PERKINS:  Well, I think there is, I guess, a give and take.  There‘s -

it‘s advantageous for them and it‘s advantageous for us.  But I think, Chris, where we stand right now, I do think the party is at a critical moment because of what‘s been happening in the last couple of weeks, the revelations of Foley.  I think people are wondering has this big tent strategy led to a three-ring circus.  Is this really what we want to be a part of? 

And I think as this maturity takes place, social conservatives are wed to the issues and you and I have talked about this before.  Their loyalty is to the issues, and when the party deviates from that, they will deviate from the party. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you feel that your values are so strong that—on sexual matters, that you would be very uncomfortable hiring gay people to work with you? 

PERKINS:  Well, I‘ve worked in the past ...

MATTHEWS:  No, hire them yourself and say you‘ll stake your reputation on somebody and say it‘s a good person.  I know their orientation, but I want them to work for me.  Have you ever made a decision like that? 

PERKINS:  No.  I‘ve not made—I mean, I‘ve worked with them in the past.

MATTHEWS:  Well, now we know that the House leadership does make those decisions on occasion, maybe frequently.  Maybe they don‘t make any discrimination at all about sexual orientation.  Does that brother you? 

PERKINS:  Well, no.  I mean, there is a difference.  When we talk about someone who has a homosexual orientation but not homosexual behavior.  There is a distinction between the two.  When those are acting out in the homosexual behavior and pushing an agenda that follows with that, then that obviously is a problem.  It‘s incompatible with the family values issues.  Those issues are brought up and I think people are sitting back and they‘re saying, wait a minute, this can‘t be the party of Foley and friends and of family values.  Now I know there‘s all this talk about how this is going to impact the election.  I think it really boils down and I think you‘re familiar with the statement all politics is local.  I think it was one of your bosses that said that.

MATTHEWS:  Sure, that was Tip O‘Neill‘s slogan.  But in a national election like this, I think everyone is paying attention to the Foley mess.  Everyone‘s paying attention to the Iraq war.  Everybody talks about that stuff.

PERKINS:  They do, Chris.  I‘ve been in six states in the last 10 days.  And when we talk to social conservatives, I think they are very concerned about this issue in the macro of what it means for the party and the direction of the party. 

But when they look at their individual races, when they‘ve got either an incumbent who has a strong record and is talking about these issues, they‘re with them.  And I believe not, we‘re not going to see the enthusiastic turnout we saw two years ago.  That‘s not going to happen.

MATTHEWS:  Are you still—I‘m sorry to rush you, we‘re running out of time.  Are you still standing behind Denny Hastert as speaker—do you still like him as speaker, or you want him out of there?

PERKINS:  No, I want to get the facts.  I want to know who knew what and when and what they did or didn‘t do.  And I think it‘s premature to take out anybody because then I do not think we get to the bottom of it because people say its been resolved.  We need to know.

MATTHEWS:  Simple question, Tony.  If the speaker knew about this mess with Mark Foley before he said he knew about it Friday a week ago, would you think he should have to leave?

PERKINS:  Yes, if he knew about it, he didn‘t take actions for whatever reason, whether it‘s political, out of fear of backlash and he didn‘t move to protect both the integrity of the party and more importantly to protect these children, then yes, I do think he needs to go.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he was overly protective of a member he knew to be gay and felt that he had to handle him with kid gloves?  That was Mark Foley.

PERKINS:  That‘s one issue that‘s been raised.  Another issue that‘s been raised by another news agency is that there‘s this network of homosexual staffers that protected Foley and did a disservice to the speaker.  I think we should know and I hope that through the investigation process, we will know which is the truth.

MATTHEWS:  Is that what Denny Hastert was talking about when he said at that press conference the other day that I believe what they told me but I want to know under oath what they didn‘t tell me?

PERKINS:  I think so.  I think he is beginning to question maybe some of his staff, what they didn‘t tell him.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Tony Perkins.  David Kuo, by the way, the former White House official I mentioned who worked on the faith-based initiatives office and wrote this new book, says that the presidency by the way, political advisers mocked Christian conservatives like Tony.  He‘s going to be on here next week on Tuesday.

Up next, more on the fight for power in 2006 with the “Washington Post.com‘s” Chris Cillizza and “Roll Call” newspaper‘s Mary Ann Akers.  And this Sunday on “Meet the Press,” U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.  Plus, the Minnesota Senate debate between U.S. Congressman Mark Kennedy and Amy Klobuchar.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Just 25 days until the election, it‘s getting hotter and nastier and tougher by the day.  Will Iraq determine the balance of power in Washington?  Will the Foley fear factor ruin Republicans? 

Here to answer all those questions is “Washington Post.com‘s” Chris Cillizza and “Roll Call‘s” Mary Ann Akers.  Let‘s take a look at this campaign advertisement for TV from Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, he‘s a Republican.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Would you vote, yay, to go to war or ney, not to? 

PATRICK MURPHY (D), PENNSYLVANIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:  That‘s a hard call, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I know, that‘s why you run for Congress.  You shouldn‘t run for Congress if you don‘t want to make that call.  Would you vote yay or ney, Patrick Murphy?  No, it‘s not a hard decision.  You‘ve got three years of looking back.  No, it‘s not hard to say.  You got three years of looking back.  So you‘re running for Congress and you‘re running on the war issue, but you‘re not saying whether you would have voted for authorizing the war or not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Tough times demand honest leaders, not Pat Murphy.

REP. MIKE FITZPATRICK ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  I‘m Mike Fitzpatrick and I approved this ad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re welcome, Mr. Fitzpatrick.  He didn‘t ask me for that ad, I guess it‘s all public domain.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  Well I‘m not saying this just because we‘re on the show with you, but a Democrat called me today and said have you seen that ad that Fitzpatrick just put up?  That‘s a doozie.

You know, I mean, it gets at the fundamental core of Patrick Murphy‘s candidacy, which is that my experience as a veteran of the Iraq war allows me to speak authoritatively about the war in a way that Mike Fitzpatrick doesn‘t.  Well, the problem with that ad is it doesn‘t look like he‘s speaking all that authoritatively.

You take that away from his candidacy, and he becomes a youngish guy running in a Republican-leaning seat.  So it‘s a lot less—if he can‘t have the war in Iraq as a main issue, it becomes a lot more difficult for him to win regardless of the national political environment.

MATTHEWS:  You know, the joy of doing this job that I do here all the time, is to imagine where the defenses are down and try to figure out what hasn‘t this character thought of and oftentimes it‘s the main question.  I‘m running on the war in Iraq, should we go to war in Iraq?  You never know.

MARY ANN AKERS, ROLL CALL:  Have you ever made an ad before?

MATTHEWS:  I think I‘m public domain.  But that is the kind of politician that I like, where you go directly at your opponent on something that is totally legitimate.  You‘re not making up stuff about him.  You‘re not digging up newspapers articles from 1974.  You‘re showing how he‘s behaving in the campaign.

AKERS:  Currently, right.

CILLIZZA:  You know, just an example of someone else who did the same short of thing was Wesley Clark.  Remember, Wesley Clark entered the 2004 presidential race with all of this hullabaloo that he was going to be the guy who unseated Howard Dean.  In the first day of his candidacy, he gets on a plane with a reporter from the “Washington Post,” a reporter from the “New York Times” and a few other people, and says that he probably would have supported the use of force resolution in 2002, therefore totally undoing the justification for his campaign in less than 24 hours.  So this isn‘t the first time we‘ve seen it, but, you know, sometimes it‘s exactly like you said.  Sometimes these guys don‘t think through the sort of fundamental basic, building blocks of these campaigns. 

MATTHEWS:  I remember having Cindy Sheehan once, and I hope I got this right.  I asked her if her son had been killed in Afghanistan rather than Iraq would she still be against the Iraq war, and she said yes.  So I mean, a lot of these, it‘s something along those lines.  I want to be careful there, but a lot of times people don‘t know.  Let me ask you about this campaign.  Is it all coming down to Iraq like this? 

AKERS:  Well, I think it could be in the end.  I mean, right now it‘s it‘s scandal after scandal and scandal, the Iraq war, the unpopular president, the Abramoff lobbying scandal, the Foley scandal and it‘s all bad news one after another.  And I think the Iraq war is definitely a variable.  It‘s going to stay out there.  Hard to say how it‘s going to impact each race, in particular, but it‘s a biggie, absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, what I would do if I were one of the Democratic candidates, I would say my opponent, if he‘s reelected, will vote for Denny Hastert for speaker.  That‘s the first vote he will cast next year.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  The problem you would run into though, Chris, honestly is that most people would say who is Denny Hastert.  I mean, that is the reality.  That actually works in Denny Hastert‘s favor, at this point, the fact that he has been as low profile as he‘s been.

MATTHEWS:  Well, can‘t you just say he‘s the big fat guy covering up  for Mark Foley, could you do that? 

CILLIZZA:  I guess you could, but ...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, it would be nasty, but couldn‘t you do that?

AKERS:  You would have to explain in every ad who Denny Hastert is, and that was the reason they made him speaker, they wanted somebody low profile after Newt Gingrich. 

MATTHEWS:  As a tackling dummy.

AKERS:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  He is a tackling dummy, and it doesn‘t hurt when he falls, it seems.  He doesn‘t look unhappy.  Haven‘t you noticed?  He doesn‘t seem like he‘s in pain. 

CILLIZZA:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Everybody else is all pained about the attacks on Denny Hastert, and he comes out there looking like he‘s had a couple steaks for lunch and he‘s pretty happy.  He‘s a happy guy. 

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  Well, I don‘t know what he ate for lunch but he‘s a generally genial person, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  If he such a vulnerable person why is the president standing next to him this week? 

CILLIZZA:  I think because the president recognizes that these things tend to—it‘s a tempest in a teapot in Washington, you know, without anything else happening can explode into a much bigger deal. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me give you something.  Suppose you‘re a religious person, culturally conservative, you do have a problem with gay marriage, with gay behavior, certainly, and you have a problem with abortion and you vote Republican and you‘re against stem cell funding, and then you read about this Mark Foley story every day in the paper with different personalities in the Republican Party—you know, Reynolds and Kimchik (ph).

And you‘ve got Foley himself, and you‘ve got Alexander and you‘ve got all these names and all these top staffers all seemingly aware of something they never told you about.  Does that hurt? 

AKERS:  Oh, absolutely, and I think if you‘re that conservative voter, you stay home on Election Day. 

MATTHEWS:  You do or you vote for local issues? 

AKERS:  Well, it depends.  I think if you are a Christian conservative and you really are disgusted by the homosexuality angle of the Foley scandal, I think you stay home.  You‘re not going to go vote for a Democrat. 

CILLIZZA:  And I think what this gets at, honestly, and I think it‘s why it‘s potentially as detrimental as it is, is Mary Ann is right.  I think that it speaks to a core principle of Republicans, of conservatives, which is values.  We are the party that represents American middle class values better than the other side. 

When one of those pillars all of a sudden has a big crack in it, and you can say the Foley thing is a big or a small crack—it‘s certainly a crack.  I think it really gets at the foundation of what is this party fundamentally about, and you don‘t necessarily want your base doing a lot of naval gazing three-and-a-half weeks before the election. 

You want them raring to go, to turn out, to send out a message that the liberalism of Democrats is wrong.  I‘m not sure that that‘s where things are at the moment. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what bothers you more?  Let me give you a list of four items.  Tell me—put them in order, which is the worst thing that bugs you if you are a conservative and you really do care about values: the Abramoff scandal, latest victim Bob Ney today from Ohio, he plead guilty; the war in Iraq which has cost almost 3,000 deaths, many of them from the rural parts of America; the Foley scandal which has exposed not just one person‘s orientation, if you will, and behavior, it‘s exposed an attitude, apparently, of the leadership of the Congress, Republican, toward that kind of behavior; and spending, the party of fiscal austerity has the biggest, most profligate spending Congress in history.  Which bugs you worse?  The immortality of your own team, right? 

CILLIZZA:  I would say Foley simply because it gets—it‘s an easy to explain issue which is what I think makes it more important than the Abramoff issue.  The Abramoff issue is very convoluted.  It‘s hard to explain to people.  People don‘t really follow it.  You need to follow it closely to understand it.

MATTHEWS:  You mean, sleazy lobbying is complicated? 

CILLIZZA:  I think it is.  I think giving the tribes and the ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Mary Ann.

AKERS:  But I have to say we can‘t look at it as one scandal or another scandal because, unfortunately for the Republicans it‘s all lumped together. 

MATTHEWS:  One big pile.

AKERS:  It‘s all one big pile of mess. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re so polite.  Thank you very much, Mary Ann Akers off “Roll Call,” Chris Cillizza of the WashingtonPost.com. 

Up next, what is the winning strategy with just 25 days to go?  We‘re going to ask some real pros, Republican strategist Ed Rogers and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi. 

This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Now to the ever-changing political landscape from midterms 2006 to election 2008.  Ed Rogers is a Republican strategist and a former aide to President Bush, the father.  It‘s almost like the Old Testament.  And Joe Trippi is a Democratic strategist and the former campaign manager for someone who once sought the presidency.  His name is Governor Howard Dean. 

Here—by the way, we‘ve got to look at these ads.  This is a great debate.  It was in Pennsylvania last night, KDK in Pittsburgh, the oldest TV station, and here is Rick Santorum being questioned about his work ethics. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICK SANTORUM ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  This is a legitimate question.  He‘s questioning my work ethic.  I have a 98 percent voting record, 98 percent.  I have a 95 percent voting record this year.  I‘m in the toughest Senate race in this country and this gentleman doesn‘t show up for work. 

They chronicled last year he only spent 50 percent of the time at work.  Now I want you to look in the camera and tell people how many full days of work you spent at the office last month. 

BOB CASEY (D), DEMOCRATIC SENATE CANDIDATE:  Hey Rick, I things are tough.  Don‘t be a desperate campaigner, you‘re getting really desperate. 

SANTORUM:  Please look in the camera—why aren‘t you answering the question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator, by the rules ...

CASEY:  Because you‘re a negative campaigner, that‘s why.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator Santorum, by the rules that you have agreed to ...

SANTORUM:  You have a job.  He gets paid $135,000 a year ...

CASEY:  That‘s right, and I get results you don‘t get.

SANTORUM:  $135,000 ...

(CROSSTALK)

CASEY:  Rick, you vote with the President 98 percent of the time. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know—well, what do you think of that display? 

That‘s American politics in action.  These are two tough guys standing for a prized seat, the U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania, and what did you think of that performance and their debate.

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I think Santorum didn‘t look too good.

MATTHEWS:  And why not?  Be a pro.

TRIPPI:  Because you can‘t be angry and you can‘t be—well, you can‘t be yelling at the camera like that.  You know, I think it‘s a—and...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He was saying the facts are—he said I have a 95 percent attendance record.  Why are you calling me on my work ethics?

TRIPPI:  But Bob Casey was just perfect.  I mean, just his whole, don‘t be a desperate candidate was just perfect tone.  So I just think Santorum...

(CROSSTALK)

ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I think that clip was a little unfair and unrepresentative of the entire debate. 

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute, (inaudible), what‘s missing?

ROGERS:  I think Santorum held his own.  He needed this debate.  He needed Casey to become a person, not just a name that he was running against.  So to stand there face-to-face—and, yes, he was argumentative, he was combative, but hey, he is behind.  He needed to be.  He needed to mix up the dynamics, he needed to reshuffle the deck, get something else going.  Good for Casey—I mean, good for Santorum. 

MATTHEWS:  What you‘re saying here is it‘s the purpose of Santorum to bring this guy on show.   He‘s a lightweight.  But he never looks like a lightweight.  He always looks a bantam weight buy punching away, slugging it out with this guy, getting him angry.  He never looks like a lightweight, does he?  Did he look like a lightweight to you right there?  

ROGERS:  Here again, I don‘t—I think Santorum, the whole debate was a net plus for him. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, fair enough.

ROGERS:  I think the clip that you showed was—wasn‘t fair. 

MATTHEWS:  (inaudible) debate last night in Pittsburgh. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CASEY:  I hope Rick answers the question that you pose, which is why won‘t you be straight with the people? 

SANTORUM:  I just...

CASEY:  Just pay the money back. 

SANTORUM:  (inaudible) $100,000 in taxes.

CASEY:  You ripped the taxpayers off $55,000. 

SANTORUM:  I paid $100,000.  I paid more than $55,000 in state taxes.

CASEY:  Pay it back, Rick.  Pay it back.

SANTORUM:  I‘ve paid over $30,000 in local income taxes.  I‘ve paid over $20,000 in real estate taxes. 

CASEY:  Pay the money back.  It‘s simple.  Pay the money back.

SANTORUM:  Why don‘t you pay?  I‘ll tell you what.

CASEY:  $55,000.

SANTORUM:  Why don‘t we make a deal?  How about you pay the $135,000...

CASEY:  We don‘t make deals here, Rick.  We don‘t make deals here.

SANTORUM:  Pay the $135,000 that you...

CASEY:  Tell the people what you‘re going to do if you‘re reelected...

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  It would drive me crazy.  I could never do this, because if I was Santorum, I would go nuts, because all the guy keeps repeating like a robot is “pay the money back, pay the 55,” that‘s the money he got for (inaudible) education for his kids living down in Virginia. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  In this debate, Casey had an easier challenge to almost say nothing, is to stand there and be as benign as possible.  Santorum has the burden to mix up the dynamic to this race.  He got in there, he fought hard, he tried hard.  He‘s got three more weeks to go.  We‘ll see.

MATTHEWS:  What happens every time he gets in a debate, Bobby Casey has one goal: Not to look good, simply to make Santorum look angry. 

ROGERS:  Do nothing.

TRIPPI:  No, he went in there to get under Santorum‘s skin and make him angry, and it worked.  That‘s the strategy.  I worked for Bob Casey Sr., his dad.  His dad would have been really proud of his son last night.  That kid really did an amazing job, I thought. 

ROGERS:  Casey is in a good position, come on. 

MATTHEWS:  I know (inaudible) nonpartisan view.  We‘ll be right back with Joe Trippi and Ed Rogers.  You‘re not supposed to be nonpartisan. 

And this weekend, catch Robin Williams on the HARDBALL college tour Saturday at 4:00 Eastern, tomorrow afternoon, and Sunday evening at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.  It‘s really good. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBIN WILLIAMS, ACTOR:  I‘m just looking for a Democratic candidate you go, oh, yes!  When at the end of the last campaign, when Kerry was dressing up in camouflage and hunting geese, to get that last minute goose vote.  You know, a lot of guys go, oh, I wasn‘t going to vote until I saw him dressed and hunting a goose.  And the whole Vietnam thing had me turned, but now he hunts geese, I like him. 

MATTHEWS:  And I‘m going to vote for him. 

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the HARDBALL college tour tomorrow with Robin Williams.  It will be on tomorrow at 4:00, Sunday at 7:00.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Republican strategist Ed Rogers and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi. 

Someone said to me the other day, it was Elizabeth Wilner here, our top political expert here at NBC, she said that the fact that Mark Warner, the very popular former governor of Virginia, who was going to be a big presence in this campaign for president next time, has already dropped out yesterday, has already left the field, proves how fast politics runs. 

One of the other frontrunners said to me, there‘s not enough money in the Democratic Party for eight candidates.  Has the winnowing process begun in your party, Joe? 

TRIPPI:  No, I don‘t think so.  Look, Mark Warner didn‘t have any trouble raising money.  He raised $9 million, he was getting rave reviews out there in Iowa and New Hampshire.  I don‘t think that‘s why. 

I take him for what he did.  He wanted to get out because he wanted to spend time with his family. 

MATTHEWS:  But he knew he had a family before the race started. 

TRIPPI:  You know, I think that‘s true.  I know him real well, and I think this is a guy everybody else in the race should be happy he got out. 

MATTHEWS:  Because you were picking him here on the show.  We won‘t pull that tape out, but you were saying he could win. 

ROGERS:  We know what a winning Democrat nominee looks like.  He looks like Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. 

MATTHEWS:  Southern Democratic governor.

ROGERS:  And who looks the most like Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter? 

It‘s Mark Warner, it‘s not Hillary. 

TRIPPI:  Mark Warner, if he had announced yesterday he was in, this guy would have gone into battle immediately. 

MATTHEWS:  Who benefits from the departure this early of a serious competitor like Mark Warner?  Does this help Evan Bayh on the right? 

TRIPPI:  It helps Evan Bayh.  I think it helps...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s from the right in this campaign.

TRIPPI:  I think he‘s probably the one that...

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  It helps Hillary Clinton. 

MATTHEWS:  How does it help Hillary? 

ROGERS:  Because there is no clear contrast to her perspective and her position in the party. 

TRIPPI:  Oh, there will be plenty of people.

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  No, they blur.  They blur.  They blur. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  They blur to the left, not to the right.  There‘s no challenger... 

TRIPPI:  Maybe Edwards, to some degree, but Evan Bayh mostly I think at this point. 

I think the whole field benefited, because I think Mark Warner would have been a big problem for them.  And I think...

MATTHEWS:  Do you see Edwards winning again?  I think he‘s No. 2 to Hillary up in New Hampshire?  He‘s No. 1 in Iowa.  He‘s got the unions in Nevada.  I‘m looking at John Edwards all of a sudden.  His wife was just here this week.  I‘m looking at him as a real challenge to Hillary. 

TRIPPI:  Well, look, this is not going to be easy for anybody.  This is going to be a tough fight. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  Why isn‘t it going to be easy for Hillary?  Why isn‘t this going to be easy for Hillary?

MATTHEWS:  (inaudible) is only at 30, and everybody knows who she is.  She‘s going to have a hard time holding on to that 30, because she‘s not going to grow. 

ROGERS:  Thirty where?  I mean, what is she in New Hampshire?  What is she in Iowa?  She‘s off the charts. 

TRIPPI:  It‘s going to be tough to beat Hillary Clinton.  I don‘t care how well you‘re doing out there.  But John Edwards is doing well. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not going to say that.  Anyway, thank you very much, Ed Rogers and Joe Trippi.

Play HARDBALL with us again on Monday.  Our guests include the man we talked about, Jim Baker, the former secretary of state, the best in the business.  And this Wednesday, catch the HARDBALL college tour from—with Robin Williams Wednesday—no, this weekend.  HARDBALL college tour with Robin Williams, 4:00 on Saturday, 7:00 on Sunday.  And on Wednesday, the HARDBALL college tour with Senator John McCain from Iowa State.  That‘s coming up this Wednesday.  There he is, John McCain.

It‘s time now—time now for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

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

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