updated 10/25/2006 12:25:37 PM ET 2006-10-25T16:25:37

Guests: Harold Ford, Howard Fineman, Chris Cillizza, Tony Snow, Ed Rogers, Hillary Rosen, Jim Talent

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight let‘s hear from the big noises.  In a few minutes I‘ll ask Tony Snow whether President Bush is promising to stay the course in Iraq or not stay the course. 

And later in our 7:00 edition, I hear from Senator Rick Santorum, who‘s taking the full brunt of the Democratic challenge. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington, and welcome to MSNBC‘s nonstop, wall-to-wall coverage of “Decision 2006: Battleground America”.  All the hot races, all the latest polls, all the toughest ads. 

The election is two weeks off right.  At stake, control of the Congress.  At issue, an unpopular war in Iraq, a festering page scandal and a struggling president. 

Republicans currently hold 55 seats in the U.S. Senate.  Democrats control 45.  If they can pick up six new seats, they‘ll win back control.  If they pick up 15 seats in the House of Representatives, they take control there. 

And what a show we have for you tonight.  Tennessee Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr., White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, and Missouri Senator Jim Talent. 

We begin tonight down in Tennessee with MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent Norah O‘Donnell, who‘s right now with Harold Ford, Jr., who has high hopes to win a Senate seat in two weeks—Norah. 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  And good day to you, Chris. 

That‘s right, it is a barn-burner here in Tennessee, a very tight race, and certainly if Democrats want to retake the Senate majority, they are going to have to win this seat here in Tennessee.  And so, of course, we are joined by the Democratic candidate, Congressman Harold Ford. 

REP. HOWARD FORD, JR. (D-TN):  Thank you. 

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman, thank you so much for joining us.  And a big crowd here at the University of Tennessee.              

(APPLAUSE)       

Let me begin by asking you about this very new, controversial ad that is out.  It was on the air on Friday by the Republican National Committee about you.  I‘m going to play part of that and get you to respond. 

FORD:  Sure. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Harold Ford looks nice.  Isn‘t that enough? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Parents need their privacy. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When I die, Harold Ford will let me pay taxes again. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ford‘s right, I do have too many guns. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I met Harold at the Playboy party. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘d love to pay higher marriage taxes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Canada can take care of North Korea.  They‘re not busy. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So he took money from porn movie producers.  I mean, who hasn‘t? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  the Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Harold, call me. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Clearly, it‘s a very tough ad.  I know you‘ve denounced it.  Your reaction to the Republicans running this ad?

FORD:  We‘ve got to run our race.  I know that they are a little desperate and they are doing things you do when you get desperate in a campaign.  We‘ve stayed focused on Iraq and North Korea.  We‘ve tried to lay out how we can make college more affordable for these kids here, not only at U.T., but at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the University of Memphis.  Kids all across the state deserve a better chance and a more affordable option. 

And again, we‘re just working hard and pushing and pounding away.  The numbers say good things.  But more than that, everybody here is excited about this race for one reason.  They know we can be better as a country than what we are right now. 

O‘DONNELL:  But Congressman, I have to ask you about that ad because it‘s getting a lot of national attention because you would be the first black senator from the south since Reconstruction. 

(APPLAUSE)

O‘DONNELL:  Some people believe that there are racial overtones in that ad and that the southern strategy is once again alive and well from the Republican side.  Your reaction to that?

FORD:  I don‘t know.  I can‘t answer for chairman of the Republican party, Ken Mehlman.  I can‘t answer even for my opponent.  I do know that if my opponent wanted this ad pulled down, he could get it pulled down.  But they have chosen not to, and that‘s his choice. 

O‘DONNELL:  But publically, he has said it‘s a nasty ad and he says it should be pulled. 

FORD:  Well, if the Democrats were running an ad like that, I‘d have it pulled.  And I think he knows—more important, we‘re going to keep running our race.  The reason people are here today and excited, they‘re not looking toward the past, they‘re looking towards the future.  They realize that we need a change in Washington. 

And these ads are, again, typical and characteristic of the kind of campaigning that Washington Republicans have done over the years when they get desperate and are curious and are wondering how they win a race.  So I‘m going to keep on feeding off their energy. 

Can you imagine this crowd?  You‘d think there was a U.T. football game going on here with all the excitement. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I have to ask you, I mean, you are very sort of calm and measured right now, but that was not how you were on Friday.  In fact, there is some video that has been circulating, many people have seen it on the Internet, we can show it to our viewers, where essentially your opponent, the Republican Bob Corker, was having an event.  You confronted him at that event because of this particular ad.  And I spoke with your oponent, Mr. Corker, yesterday, and here is what he said about the way you acted on Friday.  Take a look at that. 

FORD:  Sure.  Yes, ma‘am. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  There was a confrontation between you and Congressman Ford on Friday.  Describe to me what happened. 

BOB CORKER, ® TENN. SENATE CANDIDATE:  I had a press conference.  You know, we have one every day where we announce the issue of the day, if you will.  And this big bus pulls up and Congressman Ford bounds off. 

And, really, it was a great day for us.  I think we‘ve seen this all along, but I think it called into question whether he has the temperament, the comportment, if you will, the ability to really have those statesman-like qualities that people are looking for in a United States Senator.  It was certainly most unusual, if you will, and yet I think it was one of those moments—everybody in the state is calling it the Memphis meltdown. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  There you heard it.  He says it was your Memphis meltdown. 

FORD:  Bless his heart.  We‘re running for the Senate.  He won‘t show up for any debates in the state.  He was in Memphis.  I dropped my to say hello.  I said I would love to talk about Iraq with him, to talk about how Republican senators are coming around to our position, that what we‘re doing in Iraq is not working.  I happen to think that you need serious thinking at this time and have to be willing to depart from this state the course strategy.  I support the Biden-Gale (ph) plan, which calls for decentralization into three different regions, semi-autonomous regions, Sunni, Shia and Kurd. 

O‘DONNELL:  In Iraq. 

FORD:  Yes, ma‘am. 

And I was interested in getting his thoughts on it. 

But I have too much joy in my heart to be mad.  We‘re getting ready to go to the United States Senate here in Tennessee.  And Bob Corker knows that.  And the Republicans know it, the Republicans in Washington.  So they‘re resorting to this kind of awful, despicable and offensive campaigning, running these kinds of ads during family programming time. 

All I know is if he really wanted them pulled down, he could get them pulled down.  And the fact that he can‘t, I think it raises a serious question for voters here in Tennessee.  If Bob Corker can‘t convince the national Republicans to pull off an ad that despicable, how on earth can he stand up for us in the United States Senate? 

CROWD:  Debate in Knoxville!

DEbate in Knoxville!

FORD:  He won‘t debate me in Knoxville.  That‘s what this is about. 

O‘DONNELL:  You know, there is a very big crowd here, of course.  See, here‘s the crowd. 

CROWD:  Debate in Knoxville!

O‘DONNELL:  I want to give Chris Matthews of HARDBALL—I need to see the Hardball hats—an opportunity to ask you a question. 

Chris, do you want to get in here and here ask him?

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

Congressman, let‘s get out of the Ken Mehlman cesspool here for a minute.  And I really do—I think this is a nonpartisan assessment.  I think the ad, I‘ve seen it ten times today, it has ethnic overtones, sexual overtones.  I don‘t think Ken Mehlman was healthy accepting this kind of environment.  I don‘t think it‘s a very good thing.

Let me ask you about an important issue.  Just today, Tony Snow—we‘re going to have him on in a moment.  Tony Snow is talking about not being comfortable with the phrase “stay the course” any more on the part of the president in Iraq. 

How do you read that change of language from the White House? 

FORD:  You know, I think it‘s an admission that, two things.  One, that the rhetoric doesn‘t work and the policy isn‘t working.  The thing that concerns me the most is that they seem only to be interested in changing their rhetoric. 

We need a new policy.  I think several editorials all across our state have laid out the need for different tactics.  As you know, we support the decentralization plan.  I think James Baker, former Secretary Baker, has a set of options that he‘s going to unveil to President Bush after the elections. 

We should probably do it before the elections.  The American people, military families, and men and women serving overseas, they deserve to know -- not only know, but have the plan implemented if it‘s strong and sound.  So I‘m curious to know if this is just a change in rhetoric or are we really going to talk about some new strategic objectives to help us achieve the goal, some stability and the process of our troops beginning to come home at some point. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about bipartisanship on the war in Iraq.  Is it possible, and can you define a midpoint between your somewhat moderate position—you‘re no dove on this war, you‘re more hawkish than a lot of Democrats.  What‘s the midpoint here where we can agree and unite the country around on Iraq? 

FORD:  Well, I think most reasonable Americans know we can‘t leave prematurely.  If we do, we give the Iranians something they can only dream of, and you create more instability in that region of the world.  I also their neighbors there in the region, that are ready to come to our side and come to work with us—what we need is an honest debate, to answer your question quickly, an honest debate in the United States Senate. 

I think the only way that will happen is if we have a change in management in the Senate.  Don‘t get me wrong.  There are many Republicans that want a change, but unfortunately the Republican leadership there in Washington today won‘t offer, won‘t advance, and won‘t push that.  So if the country is serious about, not a pullout, but a different strategy that will reduce the chaos, reduce the violence, and to give the Iraqis more authority, then you got to vote for change on November 7. 

And as much as some may be concerned about it, Republicans who are going to get very desperate out of Washington, I dare say to those guys in Washington and Republicans, calm down.  The country‘s ready for a change.  You should embrace it, but don‘t try to undermine it with the despicable, offensive, and just disgusting campaigning you guys have engaged in here in Tennessee.  Voters in Tennessee are above that.  I thought you guys were above that, too.  But don‘t give us this trash and sleaze here in Tennessee.  We‘re above that also. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you Norah.

O‘DONNELL:  All right, Chris.  Well, there you have it.  Thank you, Congressman Ford, for joining us.  And thank you to the University of Tennessee who has hosted us.

FORD:  And we‘re going to beat South Carolina this weekend, too.

O‘DONNELL:  Back to you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow is coming here.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  You‘re watching MSNBC‘s Decision 2006.  We‘re calling it Battleground America, and it is.  Voters across the country say that the war in Iraq is the No. 1 issue in this election. 

Will voters punish the president when they go to the ballot box?  We go now to White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.  Tony, thank you very much for joining us.  Let‘s take a look at a montage we have here of the president using a phrase that you have been talking about today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We‘ll stay the course in Iraq.  Yet we must stay the course because the end result is in our nation‘s interest.  That‘s why we‘re going to stay the course in Iraq.  We‘re there to stay the course and we will help a free society emerge.  If we don‘t lose our nerve, if we stay the course, someday down the road an American president will be working with democratically-elected leaders in the broader Middle East.  Would have the nerve to stay the course and help them succeed.  As a matter of fact, we will win in Iraq so long as we stay the course.  We will stay the course.  We will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Is that phrase still operative, to use an old Watergate term? 

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Well, I‘ll tell you what‘s happened, is it‘s been caricatured so much that I think it‘s probably more proper to put in context of what‘s been going on. 

What the president was trying to do was compare and contrast, for instance what the Jack Murtha and others were saying.  We need to have our goal getting out of Iraq, as opposed to winning in Iraq.  The president said no, we‘re going to stay and we‘re going to win. 

But one of the things that is important for people to realize is that it‘s a dynamic process.  You‘re not only focused when you‘re trying to win the war in Iraq on the military element.  You‘ve got an economic element and you‘ve got to build a prosperous economy and you‘ve got to build a political system that‘s going to guarantee rights for people of all backgrounds and also all portions of the country. 

That has been going on.  And since Nuri al-Maliki has become prime minister, we have had a partner who is a man of action.  And so the administration has been able to sit down and talk very specifically about what we want to do, how we are going to work together to achieve the goals.

MATTHEWS:  But in terms of the main questions, we‘re supporting the Iraq government we helped stand up, we‘re keeping a substantial number of troops in the country to do that job.  We‘re not going to pull out before he leaves office.  Those main points remain true.  Isn‘t that right?

SNOW:  Well, it‘s interesting.  I can‘t speak about troops, but what we are determined to do is to help the prime minister.  And let‘s talk about some of the stuff that has been in the news in the last couple of days.  The prime minister has embarked on a series of efforts that are absolutely crucial for the future of Iraq. 

For instance, if you‘re going to have peace in that country, you have to share the oil.  They are going to pass a hydrocarbon law next month.  I know Joe Biden has been talking about that.  Guess what?  We have been doing it and working on it, similarly bringing in international investors as part of an Iraq compact that we put together with the Iraqis back in June. 

Meanwhile, on the securities side, there is a lot of practical work going on.  General George Casey today in briefing the press made a very important point.  He said, you know what, in three years we haven‘t lost a single engagement.  There seems to be a fear that‘s justifiable given the images that often appear on TV that our guys are sitting ducks. 

As a matter of fact, we have been taking the fight to the enemy, we have been winning.  In addition—but rMD+IN_rMDNM_what you now have is a clustering around Baghdad, about a 30-mile radius that is responsible for 90 percent of the violence.  You‘ve got to go after that.  You‘ve got to win it.  We‘ve been working with the prime minister saying OK, what do you need?  What do you think you need to get the job done and how long do you think it‘s going to take?

And that‘s the kind of practical work we have been doing on the military side in terms of building the economy and in terms of putting together a political system that everybody can buy into.

MATTHEWS:  Are we winning the war in Iraq?

SNOW:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Will we eventually declare victory?

SNOW:  I think what‘s going to happen is the Iraqi people are going to be able to declare victory, because you‘re going to have a democratic society that in that part of the world is going to be able to set an example.  Chris, you and I both know everybody in the Middle East is watching.

If you have a failed Iraq, you‘re going to provide a launching pad for a terror network that is going to have access, is going to control the world‘s second largest supply of oil.  They are also going to be able to launch attacks on Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, everybody is watching that.

But on the other hand, if you get a democratic society that is going to be prosperous because of oil revenue—by the way, they are pumping more oil now than ever before, they are going to have the ability to say to everybody if you‘re free, you can do anything.  And already, the Iraqis have been able to experience it in other parts of the country.  We have got a free press, we have got open markets where people are engaging the kinds of things that you and I take for granted.

And that also has the most important benefit of all, which is to say to terrorists sorry, you tried your best, but guess what?  Hope crushes despair and that is the object, that is why we‘re going to stay in so that the Iraqis can set an example for that part of the world and frankly for the rest of the world.

MATTHEWS:  If this is victory, if this is winning what we‘re doing now, what would losing look like?  I mean that seriously.  What would have to happen for the president to decide that he did make a mistake, we can‘t set up a democracy in Iraq given those factional rivalries in that country, it can‘t be done?

SNOW:  Wait a minute.  You‘re making an assumption that I can‘t buy into for the simple reason that you have 12 million Iraqis who voted.  Furthermore, you‘ve got a unity government that includes Shia, Sunni, and Kurds.  There was a summit over the weekend in Saudi Arabia that brought together Shia and Sunni leaders. 

In other words, people in the neighborhood are now buying in and trying to help out the Iraqis.  The Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who is himself a Shia met with 100 Sunni tribal leaders recently.  You have got a lot of activity going on there.  So my sense is that the Iraqis have already committed themselves or put their lives on the line for a notion of national unity. 

And the guys who are trying to blow it apart are a relatively small faction.  We‘ve got to work with the Iraqis to make sure not only to suppress them, but for many of them to say you know what, there is a better way.  Why don‘t you get in the political process of making money?

MATTHEWS:  But over 3,000 people are getting killed in what is basically sectarian fighting here.  How can you call that a winning success story here?

SNOW:  Well, wait.  You asked me if we‘re winning.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SNOW:  We haven‘t won, there‘s a big difference.

MATTHEWS:  But the violence is getting worse.

SNOW:  Well the violence got worse last month and the trends otherwise have been down.  And you‘re absolutely right.  The last month was something where a couple of things happened.  Number one, there is always a surge of violence during Ramadan.  And number two, we were going into the toughest neighborhoods in Baghdad and there were pitched battles. 

You have got to assume that when you‘re going after the worst of the bad guys that it is going to be hard.  But, again, ask the men and women who are fighting, ask people who come back, ask people who are in Iraq right now to send you e-mails about whether they think they are winning. 

If you take a look at reenlistment rates and you take a look at the e-mails, they seem to think that they are on a pretty special mission and they are determined to win. 

MATTHEWS:  When do you think we will stop having this national argument over Iraq, that it will be clear that your argument will prevail, when people will say, you know, damn it, I didn‘t like it, but Bush was right.  We could establish a stable democracy in Iraq. 

When are people going to say?  Next year, the year after, three years from now, five years from now?  When will people generally say, damn it, he was right?  We have a stable democracy.  When is that going to come? 

SNOW:  I don‘t know, but if somebody had asked that question in 1776, the answer would have been 13 years. 

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s a long haul to fight a foreign war, isn‘t it? 

SNOW:  I‘m not saying we‘re going to fight a foreign war for 13 years. 

I was engaging in a debating point. 

MATTHEWS:  I know that, but ...

SNOW:  I don‘t have perfect foresight. 

MATTHEWS:  ...I asked you two or three years, do you think—let me just try this on you.  Two or three years from now, will we see the end of the tunnel? 

SNOW:  You know, I don‘t know, Chris.  I hope so, absolutely hope so.  Think again what George Casey was saying today, 12 to 18 months.  He thinks the Iraqis are going to be able to take over control for the military operations.  We will still be there in support.  If you have got that, that‘s a big light at the end of the tunnel. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s come back and talk to Tony about this election coming up in two weeks.  Tony Snow, presidential spokesman, coming back in just a moment. 

And later we‘ll talk with Missouri Senator Jim Talent.  He‘s in a tough race down there to keep his job.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.  That music is very stirring, Tony, and I love it on MSNBC.  But, you know, this ad that‘s running down in Tennessee on behalf of the Corker campaign by an independent group within the RNC in which the ad ends with “the Republican National Committee approves the content of the ad.”  Do you approve it? 

SNOW:  I haven‘t actually seen the ad.  I have heard a lot about it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take a look.

SNOW:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Tony, here it is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Harold Ford looks nice.  Isn‘t that enough? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Terrorists need their privacy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When I die, Harold Ford will let me pay taxes again. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ford‘s right.  I do have too many guns. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I met Harold at the Playboy party. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I would love to pay higher marriage taxes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Canada can take care of North Korea.  They are not busy. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So he took money from porn movie producers.  I mean, who hasn‘t? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Harold, call me. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Harold, call me.  There‘s a cute—I would say sexy, most people would say that—white woman, naked—naked—on the screen setting up a date with Harold Ford who is an African-American.  In American society—you went to school in North Carolina.  So did I for a year.  Do you think in any part of the country that is not playing on racial sensitivities? 

SNOW:  I don‘t think so.  I mean, maybe I‘m just quaint in this day and age.  But no, I think there is always an attempt when you have got an African-American candidate to try to attribute something to the race card.  But no, I don‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think having a naked woman cutie pieing the guy, saying let‘s get together. 

SNOW:  No, I mean, I think ...

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think that‘s—OK, I‘m not going to ask you three times.  I‘m asking you a second time.  You really do believe, Tony Snow, that they are not playing on the white guy vote down there, to try to turn them off, a working guy who would normally vote Democrat, turn them off to the Democratic candidate because we have got this black guy going after white women—or white women going after him which is what they have got the ad showing, twice in the ad. 

SNOW:  I think they are probably trying to be a little bit cute about a reported visit to the Playboy mansion.  I wouldn‘t make too much of it.  You know, look, there are plenty of ads right now to get people steaming.  I think probably the more important thing to do as you get ready for elections is to get people focused on issues, which is something we like to do because we think we have got a big advantage there. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, do you think that‘s the issue then, that he has this playgirl as a girlfriend of a girlfriend that wants him.  Do you think that‘s an issue?   

SNOW:  No, but I‘ll tell you what.  We will start pulling together every ad where somebody has got a tough fist, balled up kind of point that they are making at everybody.  It‘s a political season.  The thing is, Harold Ford is a seasoned politician.  So is Corker.  They are used to having people taking swings at them.  They are also used to going out and making the arguments to the public. 

MATTHEWS:  So you think Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, is comfortable, as he seems to be.  I‘m stunned that he wants to get involved with people‘s private lives, talking about this innuendo.  Why would any party want to go down this road or any person want to go down this road? 

SNOW:  Well, like I said, you‘re asking me to defend an ad by an independent group.  I know it says it‘s approved by the RNC.

MATTHEWS:  Whoa.  Whoa.  Whoa.  I‘m just asking you to comment from the White House.  We‘ve asked the—and the RNC is saying—they were on our network today.  They said Ken Mehlman said he is fine with the ad.  Corker, the Republican candidate in that state—I don‘t know whether it‘s a good cop, bad cop thing going here—he‘s condemning the ad.  He wants it pulled. 

SNOW:  Well, then he can get it pulled.  That ought to take care of it. 

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s not taking care of it.  It‘s still running. 

SNOW:  Well, like, I have no control over whether these things run.  The point I‘m making is duke it out over the issues.  We think we‘re going to win. 

MATTHEWS:  And, OK, so you‘re going to—we‘ll talk about this later.  I think, Tony, you‘re doing your job now, but I don‘t think it‘s what you really believe. 

Anyway, let me ask you this: Are the Republicans going to hold the House two weeks from now?  Are they going to hold the 218 they need to control the House? 

SNOW:  Yes, they are. 

MATTHEWS:  How are they going to turn it around in two weeks?  The polls don‘t look good right now.

SNOW:  Well, you know the difference, Chris, between a generic poll and an individual poll.  There are 435 House races.  I think you‘re going to see a couple of things.  I think, for instance, the fact that for a long time when it comes to Iraq, people have been focusing like another network did on a sniper taking down an American, rather than the achievements of the Americans.  People are going to start thinking what‘s actually going on there? 

They are also going to ask about the economy.  Who is going to be better off?  The president cut taxes.  We have been through an amazing run of difficulty in the American economy.  When the president—on September 11, 2001, we were in a recession.  We took a trillion economic hit. 

That was followed by Enron, a corporate scandal, followed by two wars and the worst natural disaster in American history.  The president cut taxes at the beginning of that saying Americans can work their way out of this, and he was right. 

MATTHEWS:  Right, I‘ve got to go.  Tony, that‘s another way of saying if the Democrats can‘t win this one, they can‘t win ever, anybody.  But thank you.  You know that‘s another way of saying it.

SNOW:  Well, we‘re going to win.  I‘ll see you on the 8th.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Tony Snow, presidential press secretary. 

Up next, we‘ll check out what‘s happening online for the midterm.  Is this the first YouTube election?  Who will be its first victims? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

It‘s called the YouTube politics.  Political ads that are making their way to the Internet and play a major role in the upcoming election.  We think so. 

Let‘s hear more about it from NBC‘s Jennifer London, who is joining us from Los Angeles. 

Jennifer, haven‘t seen you in a while.  Tell us about the new technology and how it‘s going to change everything. 

JENNIFER LONDON, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, hi, Chris, it‘s nice to see you. 

First, think back to earlier election years.  In 2004 blogs and online fundraising, well that was all the rage.  Well, this year, call ‘06 the year of online video.  Video sharing sites are becoming so popular and so populated with politics. 

And if you go to a site like YouTube, you can do a quick search of politics and you‘ll find nearly 15,000 postings under politics alone.  So clearly video sharing sites are having an impact, and perhaps even changing the political landscape. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Wow.

LONDON (voice-over):  It‘s the first political attack ad on television.  Using emotionally charged imagery, presidential candidate Lyndon Johnson implied a vote for Barry Goldwater would be a vote for dropping the bomb. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  These are the stakes. 

LONDON:  But that‘s so 1964.  Negative ads are now an art form, and the “It” destination for all things politics isn‘t this tube, it‘s YouTube.  Video sharing sites like YouTube, MySpace, and a site dedicated to politics are emerging as a pervasive and powerful tool in political campaigns. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  2006 is certainly the year of video. 

LONDON:  Candidates can reach millions of voters in a new, exciting, and entertaining way. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  For the record, I love puppies. 

LONDON:  But on the flip side, every blunder, blooper, flub, and faux pas finds a place online.  Consider Senator Joe Lieberman, who lost the primary to newcomer Ned Lamont.  Political pundits say it was because of Lieberman‘s support for the Iraq war.  And this video, circulated on YouTube, didn‘t help. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There is goes!

LONDON:  And hundreds of thousands have watched this clip of Senator George Allen. 

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN, (R-VA):  Let‘s give a welcome to macaca here. 

JULIE GERMANY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY:  These video sharing sites are giving people an opportunity to see their candidate a little more close up. 

LONDON (on camera):  It‘s also helping to nationalize local elections.  At this campaign stop in Los Angeles for gubernatorial hopeful Phil Angelides, so-called trackers are looking, hoping for that one moment, a chance to reveal a misstep, however small, to a worldwide audience. 

JEREMY THOMPSON, FORMER POLITICAL TRACKER:  Tracking is about expanding the public discourse.  It gives people access.  It also offers accountability. 

LONDON (voice-over):  And video sharing sites are now giving trackers access to the perfect distribution channel.  But it raises the question, is this democratizing or destroying politics? 

That depends on who you ask. 

STEVE SCHMIDT, SCHWARZENEGGER CAMPAIGN MANAGER:  It is a big change in politics.  And it means that there are no more unscripted moments. 

PHIL ANGELIDES, L.A. GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE:  I want what I‘m saying to be on YouTube and on the Internet. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The good and the bad?

ANGELIDES:  Yes.  Hey, it‘s Phil Angelides. 

LONDON:  The Internet era of politics, a blessing and a curse. 

ALLEN:  As I said, I didn‘t know what his name was.  I don‘t know what macaca means. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LONDON (on camera):  And to put this into a little perspective, one political pundit said, look, politician haves always said and done stupid things.  Chris, the only thing that‘s changed is now anyone anywhere has a chance to see it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘ve really encouraged recruitment of candidates with that one, Jennifer London.  Thank you very much for that report from L.A. 

Now let‘s go to the strategists, both Republican and Democrat to get a sense of what‘s going on deep inside party lines two weeks, now, exactly before the elections. 

Here with me is our old friend Hillary Rosen, the Democrat, and Ed Rogers, the Republican. 

Ed, do you really want to run for office when you know that every time you make a comment to a buddy next to you, it‘s going right to the net? 

ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Yes, every single thing is fair game.  Every single thing is on camera now.  And that‘s a good question about what political life is becoming in America.  But...

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s no more retail, it‘s person to person because you‘re being broadcast if someone‘s around. 

ROGERS:  And it‘s inefficient to be person-to-person.  Now everything is about posturing, everything is about posing.  And so we‘re going to see more of that, not less.  And it‘s no options, no problems.  That‘s the way the political world is becoming. 

MATTHEWS:  So Hillary, the next trick will be to confect phony moments that people pick up with cameras. 

HILLARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, in essence, you get the moments that occurred, only more exaggerated because the big thing on YouTube is what‘s called user generated videos, so they take those moments, like you saw George Allen with the macaca moment, and then they write, do a jungle video around it. 

So it involves people in politics.  It engages them more than they ever have before.  I think it‘s a great thing. 

ROGERS:  It exaggerates the good and the bad.  And we‘re going to see more of it.  And it‘s great that it‘s teeing up just before ‘08, where we have the big kahuna in play, the presidential contest. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you guys make of how things are shaping up two weeks out?  Is there any movement? 

I looked at all the numbers today.  I couldn‘t find any movement in any of the big races—Ed Rogers.

ROGERS:  I could find movement. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘d you find?

ROGERS:  Of all the polls I saw today, I saw a slight tick in the Republican direction across the board.  We have a lot of incumbents that are still below 50.  We have a lot of people struggling...

MATTHEWS:  Excuse me, Ed.  Where do you see that in the Senate races? 

I couldn‘t find it.

ROGERS:  Burns in Montana.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, OK, I‘ll give you that.

ROGERS:  That‘s one.

Well...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a state where the president is relatively popular, by the way.

ROGERS:  Tennessee, Tennessee.  Corker in Tennessee, I saw a move in his direction.

So whenever we have the—we Republicans—whenever we have a couple of days of the absence of terrible news, we see a little tick in our direction.  The trick is, are we going to have many days of the absence of terrible?

MATTHEWS:  You mean, no news from Iraq. 

ROGERS:  No news from anywhere just about. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

ROSEN:  I don‘t know if that‘s really right.  I think that what we‘re seeing now is a correction back to where we were, perhaps, before the Foley piece broke.  The Senate really hadn‘t been in play, people didn‘t think so for a long time.  The fact that it‘s tightening up, the fact that we‘re even talking about it being in play is really significant.  I don‘t think those races are over.  I think we still have a chance at taking the Senate. 

ROGERS:  That‘s right.

ROSEN:  But what has happened is, we‘re back now in the House to probably those 30 to 35 seats that have been in play for the last year, instead of the ...

ROGERS:  Thirty to 20.

ROSEN:  ...60 that Rahm Emanuel was looking at right after this Foley thing broke. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you the question.  If you‘re against the war in Iraq, how do you express it in the voting booth?  If you‘re against the war in Iraq ...

ROGERS:  If you‘re against the war ...

MATTHEWS:  ...if you think it was a major blunder to go in there, how do you vote? 

ROGERS:  You have options.  You have options.  You have options to cut and run, or to manage a bad situation. 

MATTHEWS:  No, how do you vote?  No, suppose you think it was a bad decision to go in.  How do you vote?

ROGERS:  If you think it was a bad decision to go in, in the first place, and you thought it back then, you should vote for the Democrats.  But the fact of the matter is, including a lot of Democrats in the Senate and the House, that based on the information they had at the time, it was the right thing to do.  They voted for it. 

MATTHEWS:  They were wrong. 

ROGERS:  Well, perhaps, perhaps not. 

ROSEN:  No, but this week the Republicans ...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, you could argue they were wrong.  I mean, it depends.

ROGERS:  I don‘t think people are making that evaluation.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m looking at the polling now.  No, I‘m looking at the polling now.  People do have a—people, unlike politicians, are allowed to change their minds.  People are allowed to look back and say, you know what, all things considered, I don‘t think that was the smart move.  Voters do that.

ROGERS:  No, no, that‘s in Washington where we indulge ourselves in the wisdom of hindsight. 

MATTHEWS:  No, the national polls ...

ROSEN:  No, no, no.  This is where people are now, and that‘s the point.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just talking about the national polls.

ROGERS:  Yes, you hope so.  You hope so.

ROSEN:  The Republicans this week are engaging in a very ...

ROGERS:  But the Democrats don‘t offer an alternative.  They really don‘t.  They just say we hate Bush.  We hate what‘s happening in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  I agree with you on that.

ROGERS:  Vote for us.  They don‘t have an alternative.  And when they do, it‘s capitulate, it‘s cut and run. 

ROSEN:  The president has met with his generals this week because the election is happening as it is.  They haven‘t changed their strategy.  They have even announced that they are hesitant to do things big before the election. 

MATTHEWS:  You think the meeting with the generals is for politics? 

ROSEN:  The White House has politicized this issue. 

ROGERS:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe the president is meeting with his generals as a photo opportunity? 

ROSEN:  No, but I believe what Casey has said, which is that they are not make any strategic changes until after the election, that they‘re feeling ... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m amazed at the silence of the Democratic Party.  It is still highly silent compared to 1994 when Newt had a plan. 

ROSEN:  Well, you might be right.

ROGERS:  Exactly.  Exactly.

ROSEN:  But what is happening now is Republicans are running away from the war faster than the Democrats did. 

ROGERS:  But the Democrats only message is ...

ROSEN:  They are not going to succeed with that. 

ROGERS:  ...we hate Bush.  Is that enough?  Is that enough?

ROSEN:  Mike DeWine today wasn‘t going to say he was for the war anymore.

MATTHEWS:  Do you know what the difference is between a grownup and a kid?  You have got to sit in the front seat and drive that car. 

ROGERS:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you Ed Rogers and thank you Hilary Rosen. 

Up next, Republicans are banking on Missouri as one of the states to keep them in control of the U.S. Senate.  Can they win there?  That is so close.  We‘ll talk to incumbent Senator Jim Talent, Republican, about his fight to hold on. 

This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Democrats need to pick up six seats, as we have been saying, to take control of the U.S. Senate.  It‘s not an easy thing to do, obviously.  But with leads in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Montana, and Rhode Island, they only need to get two more to get to the magic six they need.  And that would include getting two of the three states, Tennessee, Virginia, or Missouri.  Some are calling that the Republican firewall, holding onto at least two of those and keeping them from the Democrats. 

The new MSNBC/McClatchy poll shows the Missouri Senate race a dead heat, and perhaps the best bet of the three. 

With me now is Missouri Senator Jim Talent. 

Senator, thank you.  What is your game plan for the next two weeks to close and pass your challenger, McCaskill? 

SEN. JIM TALENT ®, MISSOURI:  Well, continue getting out a message about what I have accomplished on behalf of Missouri, you know, and making the system in Washington work for our interests and values, and then do the job on the ground.  You know, get out the vote, just basically the fundamentals of politics.  That‘s what I always campaign on. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you proud and happy to be campaigning as a member of the Republican Party led by George Bush?  Does he help your campaign? 

TALENT:  Well, it depends on what issues that you‘re talking about.  I mean, you talk about economic growth, for example.  I mean, look what the economy is doing.  He‘s a strong supporter of renewables. 

There are other areas where, you know, I disagree with him and I think Missouri does.  I think a classic example of that is immigration.  I mean, I‘m not in favor of an amnesty.  I support a border fence, and he‘s on the other side of those issues.  But, sure, there is a whole lot of issues where Missouri is strongly in support of the president. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you with him on Iraq? 

TALENT:  Well, I have supported the effort in Iraq, and I support completing the mission.  I mean, look, what we‘re doing there is very difficult, but the one worse thing than what we‘re going through now would be if we went through it for nothing, and that‘s what will happen if we pull out.

The government will collapse and the terrorists will take over.  I‘m certainly not in favor of that.  I want us to complete the mission.  And I think we can do that by continuing to size and season the Iraqi troops properly. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it was a smart, necessary decision to go into Iraq? 

TALENT:  Well, I certainly think it was necessary.  Chris, I was there in the ‘90s.  I mean, you were, too.  Saddam Hussein was an organic threat.  And look at the benefits we have just because he is not there—I mean, just because we completed that part of the mission where we removed him. 

I mean, Iraq is not threatening their neighbors, they are not sponsoring terrorism, they are not competing with Iran to dominate the region.  They are not trying to restart a nuclear program which Saddam clearly would have done had he stayed in power. 

The difficult thing that we have to complete is giving the democracy the ability to defend itself alone, and that means training up and sizing the Iraqi army properly. 

MATTHEWS:  So all things considered, even looking backward with the mistakes that were made with intel, you think it was the right decision to go in? 

TALENT:  Certainly, the prospect of him being close to a nuclear weapon, which we all thought that he had—I was there in the ‘90s when President Clinton and Secretary Albright were talking about that.  That certainly made it more urgent. 

But we had been containing this guy for 10 years.  I mean, he was an

organic threat.  We knew he sponsored terrorism.  Just getting rid of him

has brought a lot of benefits to us.  Now if we can complete this mission -

and it‘s certainly difficult—then we‘ll get a whole ‘nother set of benefits.

MATTHEWS:  All right.  I‘m just trying to get an answer.  Knowing everything you know now, do you think it was right to go into Iraq, yes or no?

TALENT:  Yes, I think it was the only strategic ...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TALENT:  I think it was the only strategic choice that we had.  Yes, I said yes.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you.

Let me ask you about looking down the road, because this is such a big issue nationally.  If you look down into the future as much as you can see through the blur of what‘s to come, do you think that we should be sort of moving toward a two or three-year plan? 

I know nobody likes timetables, but a two or three-year plan through this presidency, somehow force those people over there to cut a political deal so they don‘t need the outside force of the coalition?  Or, do you think the other argument, which is the Condi Rice thing you hear once in a while, this is a generation-long struggle, we‘re going to have to be there forever, we need a permanent base there, we‘re never getting out of that hell hole.  Where‘s your view of those two?  Which one do you like?

TALENT:  The first one, but I don‘t entirely agree with that either.  I think we need to be more precise than that.  We need to focus on what the mission was.  It was to remove Saddam, replace him with a democracy that would be an ally on the war on terror and would be capable of defending itself. 

Now, that latter point, what we have to do is continue sizing and seasoning the Iraqi force properly.  That part of the mission is actually achieving some progress because we know how to fight and we know how to train people to fight. 

Once we have accomplished that, then the part of the mission that requires large numbers of American troops will be over and we can pull the troops out.  It is also true that we will still be there with logistical support, political support, and the rest of it for some time to come, but we will want to be in the region anyway because we‘re going to be continuing fighting war on terror in the region. 

MATTHEWS:  You want to have a permanent U.S. military base in the Mideast, a permanent U.S. military base?

TALENT:  Well, we have camp already.  So yes, we have interests in protecting our freedom and security there.  So yes, we have a base there.  But what we can do is we‘ll be able to pull out of Iraq, at least in large numbers.  We‘ll still have embedded advisors, we‘ll still have logistical help and the rest of it.  But the key is getting the Iraqi army to the point where they can do alone what they are now doing with us.  And they are more capable than they were.  I mean, that‘s one part of the solution.

MATTHEWS:  OK, will we be out of there say in 2010, at the end of this decade?  Will we be out of there by then at least?  Our sizable force?  Will we be done the big job?

TALENT:  I would expect so, but the one thing we know is the part of the mission that will allow us to pull out, at least large numbers of troops, is the part of the mission that is achieving progress because we know how to fight and we know how to train people to fight.

MATTHEWS:  The only problem is we don‘t know if five minutes after we leave that country there is a military or political coup and some new government comes in we never heard of, and there is nothing we can do about that.  That‘s the problem, isn‘t it?  That is the problem, isn‘t it? 

TALENT:  Chris, that is a problem.  The mission was to give them—remove Saddam, give them a democracy.  It‘s up to them to keep it.

MATTHEWS:  Fair enough, thank you.

TALENT:  We can at least give them a fighting chance.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, well said.  Thank you very much Jim Talent, the senator from Missouri, fighting for re-election in two weeks.  When we return, we‘ll talk about the battle for power with the “Washington Post‘s” Chris Cillizza and “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back on this big day of political covering on MSNBC.  We‘re doing it all day.  I‘m joined now by “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman, who‘s also an MSNBC political analyst and Chris Cillizza of the “WashingtonPost.com.”

Guys, your review of our latest ad.  We‘ve got to do this.  Howard?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  I think it‘s terrific.  I‘m just wondering who‘s actually inside those suits?

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe there‘s some suits...

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  ... It‘s from New Jersey.

FINEMAN:  If it‘s the Jersey shore, it‘s Menendez and King.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think, Chris?

CILLIZZA:  I‘m all in favor of punches below the belt of politics.

MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘re going to do that back in slow-mo some night, but let‘s try to imagine it‘s slow-mo.

First of all, it‘s the Democrat in the blue with the “D” out here that takes the shot very close to the belt line on the Republican elephant.  You know, that might the Foley thing, a lot of other dirty things that went on.

Now at the last minute, as they are about to cross this imaginary finish line, the Republican slices back at the donkey‘s neck and almost takes him out.  Is that the November surprise coming up, Howard?

FINEMAN:  Well in Tennessee, it‘s not a surprise at all.  I think Harold Ford had to know that this was going to happen in various variations.  He‘s from Memphis, he‘s from that big family, controversial family.  He‘s African-American, running in a southern state, first time since reconstruction if he‘s elected, an African-American southern senator.

MATTHEWS:  OK, is this—you know a lot about that race.  I saw you down there covering it.  Is this out of desperation?  Could he read this one way?  I‘m the first African-American to scare these guys so much they had to go dirty at me at the end?

FINEMAN:  I think that‘s not a bad interpretation of it, although I think they were going to do it all along, and I think he had to know it, he had to be ready for it. 

And I think what he was hoping to do with a lot of early advertising and organizing that he did was to get out ahead to be in a position of strength so he could say they are doing this out of desperation. 

MATTHEWS:  I wonder if that beautiful actress who played the girl with no clothes on, the sexy so-called Playboy model, if she knew what she was doing professionally.  I asked her now, do you know what you were doing?  Do you know you were playing this game? 

FINEMAN:  I know you talked to Harold Ford on the air, I just talked to him myself a few minutes ago.  He didn‘t sound to me like a guy who was really thrown off his stride by this.  I think he is ready for this fight in the last couple weeks.

MATTHEWS:  Is it the Sunday punch?  Is this the last thing they‘ve got?

FINEMAN:  Well, it‘s the Sunday punch on whatever day this is, but it doesn‘t necessarily knock him out.

CILLIZZA:  And this is the other thing.  This is something that we, as Howard pointed out, we always knew this was coming.  Harold Ford Jr. always knew this was coming.  I remember talking to their campaign months ago about—not necessarily about racial issues, but about as casting it against his family.  They knew that this was coming.  They had ads in the hopper. 

MATTHEWS:  This is about him being an African-American guy, and that being a sexy, white woman calling him up like, give me a call anytime.  You know, look at this, give me a break. 

FINEMAN:  Well Chris, the first time she appears, if that was the only time that she appears, it would have been a lot closure to the line.  It‘s using her as the tag line with the personal, give me a call that adds I think they make...

MATTHEWS:  ... Look at this.  It reminds me of Carrie when she thinks he‘s dead, and she comes back at the end.

Anyway, we‘ve agreed.  Have we agreed this is below the line?

CILLIZZA:  Slightly below the line.

MATTHEWS:  Chris Cillizza, thank you.  If you want to keep coming on this show, get this straight.  I‘m just kidding, I‘m just teasing.  Join me again in one hour at 7:00.  We‘ll be back with another edition of HARDBALL.  I‘ll be joined by Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.  Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

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