updated 10/25/2006 12:28:53 PM ET 2006-10-25T16:28:53

Guests: Rick Santorum, Ron Reagan, Pat Buchanan, Mike Barnicle, Michael Smerconish, Bob Herbert

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  This time two weeks from now we‘ll be awaiting the 2006 election returns.

Tonight, the crackle of election night can already be heard.  I go head to head with U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, a man facing the full brunt of the Democratic challenge.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Welcome to HARDBALL and MSNBC‘s nonstop wall-to-wall coverage of decision 2006.  We‘re calling it “Battleground America.”

The election is just two weeks away as I said.  So what‘s at stake?  Control of the Congress.  Driving voters to the polls this election, the war in Iraq, anger towards the Bush administration and to a very large extent disgust with the U.S. Congress.  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 of the House.  I‘m sorry, win back control of the Senate.  In the House Republicans have 230 seats, the Democrats 201.  The Democrats need 15 seats to get a majority and then they take control.

Tonight, we talk to Senator Rick Santorum, a Republican rising star, who may be about to fall.  Plus Mike Barnicle, Michael Smerconish, Pat Buchanan and Ron Reagan all weigh in on the issues, the ads and the polls.  But first, the new poll released by MSNBC and McClatchy News shows Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum losing to challenger Bob Casey right now by twelve points with just two weeks to go.

Senator Santorum is a fighter.  Can he come back and win?  Let‘s ask him.  Good evening, senator.

SEN. RICK SANTORUM, ® PA:  How are you doing, Chris?

MATTHEWS:  Thanks a lot for joining us.  I‘ve known you a long time. 

You have been elected pretty well a couple times by Pennsylvania voters. 

Why is this a tough one?

SANTORUM:  Well I mean it‘s tough environment out there.  There‘s no question about it.  You mentioned the three things that are weighing on people‘s minds.  We‘re hoping to focus on obviously the issue of security.  There‘s a big difference between my opponent and me.

And there‘s also a difference on the economy.  The stock market hit another high today.  Unemployment is down even in Pennsylvania we‘re at 4.6 percent.  You have got the governor out there, Governor Rendell talking about how great the Pennsylvania economy is.  And we‘ve got a lot of good things to show for it.  So there‘s a mixed bag.  And we‘re hopeful in the next two weeks we can close this gap.  And we think we will.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about your differences with Bob Casey Jr.  Bobby Casey.  The president‘s spokesman today, we had him on earlier on one of our earlier editions today, Tony Snow, said that “stay the course” no longer applies as a slogan for this administration‘s policy.  Do you think the ice is cracking around this policy?

SANTORUM:  Well it‘s never been my policy.  I don‘t know whether it‘s been the administration‘s policy or not but it‘s not been mine.  I‘ve been someone who has been out there trying to work to move in a different course that shows the respect that I think unfortunately our enemy deserves.  This is a very difficult enemy.

Particularly the fact that as you have heard me talk about many times with Iran and the complicating factor Iran plays in Iraq.  And I think we saw that played out very clearly with Muqtada al Sadr last week and his advances.

This is a man who is funded by Iran, who gets his weaponry from Iran, who gets his ideology from Iran.  And he has been a major problem as well as other Shiite radical groups sponsored by Iran that are fermenting the kind of sectarian violence that we see.

That‘s why I authored the Iran Freedom and Support Act early this summer.  Actually, I authored it two years ago but I brought it to the floor of the Senate early this summer and I was opposed by the administration.  They fought me even though a majority, vast majority of Republicans voted with me against the administration to try to have a stronger Iran policy.

Understanding the threat that Iran was not just Iraq but ultimately to the entire Middle East and to this country.  And so I have not been stay the course.  I have been someone that says we‘ve got serious problems.  Iran is a complicating factor which I believe this administration has not confronted directly.  And I believe that we saw a difference with just a few weeks ago finally Democrats and the administration came to the table with us and said OK, we think you are right now.  We think Iran is a bigger problem and we were able to pass a big chunk of the Iran Freedom and Support Act which I was the author of.

MATTHEWS:  Are you more of a hawk than the president?

SANTORUM:  Probably.  I mean I don‘t know if I‘m more of a hawk.   I think I try to explain and I‘ve been giving speeches all across Pennsylvania now for the better part of the year, trying to explain the gravity of the threat that we face.  As you know, Chris, we‘ve had this discussion, I don‘t think the president‘s done a good enough job in articulating the complexity and the gravity of this threat.

I in fact am giving a series of speeches starting later this week called “The Gathering Storm of the 21st Century.”  Because I do believe that we are facing a time right now equivalent to the late 1930s where there is an evil out there.  This is an evil that is very clear about what its intentions are.  It‘s an evil that is out there trying to impose itself in other countries around the world.  I‘m talking about Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, this Axis of Evil.  Even though they don‘t have a common ideology, they have a common enemy.  Just like the Germans, the Nazis, the fascists, Italians as well as the imperialist Japanese.  They didn‘t have anything in common ideologically but they had a common enemy.  They wanted to defeat the Western world.

And we are now in a position where we‘re facing that with radical fascist Islam.

MATTHEWS:  Just as your language is so strong the president has really been pulling it back.  He is very careful about what he says about North Korea.  He has talked carefully about Iran, a little less carefully.

And he‘s basically talked about some sort of new adjustment or modification in our deployment of troops in Iraq.  Meanwhile you are setting a tone that‘s very hot here.  And Bush seems to be—and I‘m not overestimating the difference.  Bush has got his spokesmen out there today saying it‘s really not stay the course, that‘s a little too strong.  We‘re much more flexible than that.  You sound very inflexible, very tough tonight.

SANTORUM:  Well, all I can tell you is I been looking at this issue for several years now.  I‘ve studied it.  I authored the Iran Freedom of Support Act two-and-a-half years ago and I authored the Syrian Accountability Act.  It took me three years to get the president and administration to sign on to try to do something to get tough with Syria to get them out of Lebanon.  And we did.

I‘ve been active and involved in these issues.  I believe that this is a threat that I believe is the greatest threat we‘ve ever faced.

MATTHEWS:  Why are you - I‘m sorry to push you, senator, but we have very little time.  We are you so much the target of the Democrats?  They went out and found Bob Casey, a respectable Pennsylvania politician.  They brought him in here into the race against you even though he is pro-life and that is almost anathema to a lot of Democrats who are higher up in the party.  They found the guy they thought they could beat you with.  Even if it meant compromising on their big position, the choice position the party takes nationally.  Why did they go to so much trouble to knock you off?

SANTORUM:  I think—I mean I just talked about two pieces of legislation that I authored that I was successful.

MATTHEWS:  Why would they care you being more hawkish than the president?

SANTORUM:  I use that as an example.  I think the fact is that I‘ve been a successful person in the Congress, a successful conservative.  Also successful in articulating the positions of our party a lot better than others.  And that‘s why they want to get rid of me.

I mean, if you have an effective person on the other side—you know, when you are playing a football game you don‘t go out and try to injure the offensive guard.  You try to take out their best running back.  You try to take out their quarterback.  And that‘s exactly what‘s going on here.  They see someone who is leading the offense, someone who is effective in communicating, someone who is effective in getting things done, and they want to take me out.

And I am honored by the attention.

MATTHEWS:  Does Bob Casey Jr. have the competence to be a U.S.  senator?

SANTORUM:  No.  I think anyone who watches—I encourage you.  Go on my Web site.  There‘s links to the full debate.  Watch both of the televised debates.  The one in Pittsburgh and the one in Philadelphia and you tell me whether he either answered a question—go on the Web site of the “Philadelphia Inquirer.”

MATTHEWS:  Are you - you said “competent” is a legal term.  I know you are not an attorney and I‘m not one but it‘s a legal term.  Are you saying he is incompetent, meaning he doesn‘t have the intellectual competence to serve as a U.S. senator?

SANTORUM:  I think this is a guy who is not ready to do this job and doesn‘t have the skills to be able to take this job on.

MATTHEWS:  Are you saying he is not smart enough to be a senator?

SANTORUM:  I don‘t think he has the skills to take it.  I am not going to talk about his intelligence.  I‘m talking about what he has shown in debates.  What he has shown—this guy does two campaign events a week.  He doesn‘t do interviews.  He doesn‘t answer questions.  He is simply hiding from the public.

MATTHEWS:  If he is such a light weight why is he ahead twelve points of you right now?

SANTORUM:  Because he is effectively hiding from the public and very few people know.  That‘s why everyone who has watched that debate from the liberal blogs to conservative blogs to everyone I talk to across the commonwealth, they tell me, wow we didn‘t realize there was this huge difference between the two of you.

And, again, I‘ve had people including reporters say every Pennsylvania voter should have the requirement of watching one of these two debates to see how little this man has to offer.  How little this man understands the issues that are before us.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  Is he an honest pro-lifer?  Has he cut a deal with the national Democratic Party to lighten up and not really push any pro-life initiatives as a senator from Pennsylvania.

Has he cut a deal like that?

SANTORUM:  Yeah.  He‘s already said publicly that this is not his issue.  He said I am not my father when it comes to this issue.  And he has already said he would vote for filibustering judges.  Which of course anybody who filibusters judges, the reason they are being filibustered is because of the pro-life issue.  So this is not a - this is a guy who is saying what he has to say .

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe he‘s cut a dark deal that he‘s not telling us about to lighten up on abortion rights?

SANTORUM:  Well, I can tell that Barbara Boxer and Chuck Schumer have said so.  I don‘t know whether he has but they‘ve come out and said he‘ll be with us on judges.  That‘s what they say.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Senator Rick Santorum battling for reelection in Pennsylvania. Coming up we‘re going to talk about the battle for power with Mike Barnicle, Michael Smerconish of Philadelphia and Bob Herbert of the “New York Times”. You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  There‘s a big race for the governor of Massachusetts.  A new poll shows that the Democrat Deval Patrick has a 25 percent lead over Republican Kerry Healey.

MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle is well versed in all things political up there in Massachusetts.  And he is here to assess that race for us.  A real squeaker huh, Mike?

BARNICLE:  Well, Chris, yeah, it‘s become a real squeaker.  In the past two or three days, Deval Patrick, the democrat who has never run for public office before, has, as you indicated, opened up a wide lead of 25-27 points over the incumbent Republican Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey who has served under Governor Mitt Romney for the past three-and-a-half years.

Last week, a few days ago, as a matter of fact, they had the first formal largely widely televised debate in the state, the four candidates with the two principals Patrick and Ms. Healey debated in historic Faneuil Hall.

The great NBC producer/cameraman Steve McCarthy and I were there and we filed this report.  Let‘s take a look, Chris.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARNICLE (voice-over):  Historic Faneuil Hall, Boston.  This is the warm up before a recent gubernatorial debate between Republican Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey and Democrat Deval Patrick.

DEVAL PATRICK, MASS. GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE:  Thousand cops on the beat makes a difference in public safety.  You think it‘s bad idea say so.

KERRY HEALEY, MASS. LT. GOVERNOR:  I don‘t think it‘s bad idea.  I just think you can‘t pay for all the things you have proposed.

BARNICLE:  The election is days away.  Patrick leads Healey who fights back with this commercial.

ANNOUNCER:  If anyone you knew actually praised a convicted rapist, what would you think?  Deval Patrick did.

BARNICLE:  Patrick wrote the parole board in 1998 on behalf of a convicted rapist.  The spot resurrected visions of the racially charged Willie Horton ad used against Michael Dukakis.

HEALEY:  I think Deval Patrick has the wrong priorities working on behalf of a convicted rapist who brutally raped a grandmother.

PATRICK:  I am the only one up here who has actually ever actually prosecuted someone.  And if you come down off that high horse of yours sometime and see how it actually works in the street, I would be happy to show you around.

BARNICLE (on camera):  Could you tell me what you expect voters to feel about the ad?  Not think about the ad, but feel about the ad?

HEALEY:  I think they should see that it‘s the truth and they should think about it.

BARNICLE (voice-over):  The lieutenant governor said she did not have time for an interview.

PATRICK:  She is better than this.  Than the kind of campaign she is running, a very negative campaign.

BARNICLE:  Deval Patrick‘s story is uniquely American tale.

(on camera):  Wake up in your bedroom in the south side of Chicago, tell me what you see when you wake up.  You look out the window, the hallway, tell me about that.

PATRICK:  We lived in that apartment with my mother and my sister and my grandparents and occasionally an uncle who had a heroin problem and would shoot up in the living room.

BARNICLE (voice-over):  A teacher recommended Patrick to a Boston based educational organization, a Better Chance.

(on camera):  Deval Patrick would earn a scholarship to this school, Milton Academy just outside Boston.  Years later he would say it was like coming to a different planet.

PATRICK:  I remember over Thanksgiving vacation people talked about going to ski at their place in Switzerland and so forth.  But there was a very strong sense of community there.  There were teachers and other faculty members.  They were parents of other kids who took a real interest in me.

BARNICLE:  In summers would you go back home?

PATRICK:  The first time I went home my sister said ooh, he talks like a white boy.  And my grandmother without missing a beat said he speaks like an educated boy.

BARNICLE (voice-over):  Harvard followed Milton, then a law degree.  Soon he was an NAACP civil rights lawyer suing Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton who years later named Patrick assistant attorney general for civil rights.  Clinton always the mentor.

PATRICK:  He understood at every moment of human progress.  It‘s a tension between and a triumph of hope over fear.  It always takes hope to move us forward.

BARNICLE:  And Deval Patrick insists it is hope and optimism that helps him on a nasty campaign trail.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Great story Mike Barnicle.  Thank you.

Michael will be staying with us.  We‘re going be joined by “New York Times” columnist Bob Herbert and the Philadelphia talk radio host Michael Smerconish.  We‘re going to talk about the new ad that the RNC is running in Tennessee against Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr.  And later we‘ll go live to Ohio for a report from HARDBALL‘s David Schuster in Columbus.

We‘ll also talk to MSNBC‘s Ron Reagan tonight and of course the great Pat Buchanan.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle.  We‘re joined now by “New York Times” columnist Bob Herbert and Philadelphia radio talk show host Michael Smerconish.

Let‘s look at the ad that the RNC, the Republican National Committee, is running against Harold Ford in Tennessee.  And by the way, listen to the tag, the disclaimer at the end.  It‘s very interesting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  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‘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, who hasn‘t?

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Harold, call me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s what Congressman Harold Ford said about that ad in our 5:00 p.m. edition tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  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.

Some people believe 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?

REP. HAROLD FORD, (D) TN:  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 he‘s chosen not to.  And that‘s his choice.

O‘DONNELL:  But he - publicly he said it is a nasty ad and he says that it should be pulled.

FORD:  Well, if the Democrats are 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 are excited, they‘re not looking towards the past, they‘re looking towards the future.  They realize 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 wondering how they won a race.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get reaction from our guests to that.  Mike, you first.  Mike Barnicle, is Ford right?  Is this guy Corker running against him two faced, saying he wants the ad pulled just so it looks like he does but he doesn‘t really send a message to Washington to do it?  Who is telling the truth here?

BARNICLE:  I would bet that Harold is telling more of the truth here than Corker is, Chris.  I thought the Kerry Healey ad in Massachusetts against Deval Patrick was tough.  This ad is actually kind of funny.  What is Harold Ford supposed to do here now?  Basically tell the people of Tennessee, look I‘ll tell you what‘s not an issue here in the United States Senate race.  I don‘t want to marry your sister.  I mean that‘s the thing on the ad.  I mean come on.

MATTHEWS:  I think you got to the heart of it.  I think it‘s good like you and me to grow up in the big city to know what this is all about here.  We sit around saying how we‘re going to solve the Shia and Sunni problems over in Iraq a million miles away from here and here we are with the same old tribal crap.

Let me go to Bob Herbert.  What‘s your view of that ad?  I‘ve been watching that until I‘m sick here today, I could have watched it all day.

BOB HERBERT, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  It‘s racist ad and exactly what the Republican Party has been doing for the last 40 years.  It‘s part and parcel of the southern strategy.  It‘s disgusting.  I would like to see the big shots in the Republican Party, President Bush, Senator Frist, the vice president, stand up and say, you know, this is not what this party stands for.  But we haven‘t heard from them, they just keep doing it over and over and over.

MATTHEWS:  Michael, your view.

SMERCONISH:  My view is it‘s funny as hell.  And I don‘t see any racism in there whatever.  And I think when folks like Mr. Herbert play the race card looking at a funny ad like that .

HERBERT:  I play the race card when they‘re playing this miscegenation

SMERCONISH:  I heard you.

HERBERT:  And I‘m the one playing the race card?  I didn‘t run that ad.

SMERCONISH:  I heard you.  How about if I get a chance to respond now?  When you play the race card and you cry racism about a funny ad like that, people sitting all across the country look at it and when the next time there‘s real racism they don‘t take you seriously.

HERBERT:  Fine.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Michael, about that last little part where the cutie pie after the ad seems to be over .

HERBERT:  Let me just interrupt and interject here because I just want to make it very clear there is nothing funny about that ad.  Now go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  That cutie pie does that goodbye after the ad is supposedly over, like they got a thing going.  This loose woman, a white woman, wants to pick up this guy.  Who has already been described as good looking in the ad.  You are saying that‘s not sexually and racially charged advertising?

SMERCONISH:  Chris, I am offended.  I think it‘s sexually exploitative of white women.  So I want to assert a claim on behalf of white women because I think it impugns their reputation.  Come on it‘s funny!  Humor works in politics.

MATTHEWS:  Every joke has a point.  What‘s the point of that joke?

SMERCONISH:  The point is you are not suppose to take this guy too seriously and he is more of a playboy than he is a legislator.  Get over it already.

HERBERT:  I can‘t believe this.  Michael, this is what‘s happening up at Boston with Deval Patrick.  This is what‘s happening down in Tennessee.  And trust me this is what awaits Barack Obama if he runs for president.

BARNICLE:  Michael Smerconish, I can‘t believe that you don‘t think there is race involved in this ad.  I just can‘t—you are too smart a guy to look at that ad and see that good looking blonde, blue eyed young woman at the end and not think it‘s aimed directly at Tennessee, directly at people fearful of race.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go beyond.  Let‘s go—Bob Herbert, the ad ends with what we call a disclaimer in television, political advertisements.  The content of this ad has been approved.

All day long we‘ve heard people kind of confuse that issue, put all kinds of smoke up there saying that is an independent committee operating within the RNC.  I‘m told that Ken Mehlman who is the chairman of the Republican National Committee has spent all day long saying how the ad is fine with him.  It‘s particularly within his rights in this new campaign spending law to say that ad ought to be pulled.  He is perfectly within his right to say no more money goes that group, we don‘t like the way they do advertisement.  He has done none of that.

HERBERT:  He‘s done none of that.  But here is what is you know one of the many troubling aspects of this ad.

Over the past three or four decades the country has actually made a great deal of progress in terms of race relations.  Blacks and whites are not in the same place that they were in the 1960s and the 1970s.  They‘re in a better place relative to each other right now.

And you know it‘s really horrible to have the Republican Party which is the party in power now basically doing everything it can to undermined that.  I mean it‘s really disgusting.  We‘ve moved to a better place.  And what we ought to be doing now is try to keep that momentum going, not undermining it.

MATTHEWS:  Michael Smerconish, you know I study these ads, everybody knows what the ads are about.  Isn‘t the real purpose of this ad not some stupid blunt instrument to say he is black, we‘re white, don‘t vote for this guy.  It‘s more subtle.

What the purpose is and I hope you back me up on this, is to start some kibitzing, get people talking.  Working regular people that don‘t normally pay attention to politics.  What‘s this ad about.  Is this guy a playboy or something does he go out with white women.  That‘s what the ad is intended to do.

SMERCONISH:  Come on!

MATTHEWS:  Get that story out there and talking in the bar rooms of Tennessee.  That‘s what they‘re up to.

SMERCONISH:  You have lost your street smarts from the days you were here in Philadelphia.

MATTHEWS:  I hold on to them, buddy.  I hold on to them.

SMERCONISH:  Chris, let me tell you something, what it‘s like in this media market.  You can‘t watch television without this barrage of commercials and one runs into the other and into the other.  The only purpose here is humor, to pierce that veil and to make the commercial stand out.

MATTHEWS:  I think the purpose was to rip the scab off.  Mike Barnicle, your thoughts.

BARNICLE:  Oh, please, Chris, it‘s close race.  It‘s neck and neck in Tennessee.  This ad is aimed at scratching a sore among two or three percent of the population who are going to tilt this to the Republican Party.  That‘s what this ad is.

MATTHEWS:  Somebody said today, Bob, that this guy, Harold Ford Jr., should have known this was coming.  And this shouldn‘t surprise him.  That‘s just the game he is in.  It‘s called America.  It‘s called racial difference.  It‘s the San Andreas Fault of American life as you write about all the time.  He should have known what he is facing.  Does that exonerate these people at all?

HERBERT:  No.  It doesn‘t exonerate him.  Whether he should have known it was coming or not is irrelevant.  He may have known that something like this was coming.  The factor is that he has to deal with it.  And the question really that the Republican Party has to face is what it stands for and whether this is just going into the future, whether this is just going to be a permanent aspect of the GOP.  That they‘re always going to play the race card.  That they‘re always going to try to win the close races where there‘s an African American involved by appealing to the basest instincts of white voters.  They need to stop.

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s a permission slip.  Anyway - what I mean by that is an excuse to vote against the black guy because of what they claim is his lifestyle.  Mike Barnicle, Michael Smerconish and Bob Herbert are staying with us. 

And later we‘re going to go live to California for a report on Arnold Schwarzenegger and his re-election fight that looks awful good right now.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Boy, I wish this stuff was going on year-round.  We only had two weeks of it, but it is two weeks now until the election.  Voters in 33 states will go to the polls to vote in U.S. Senate races.  Of those 33 races, 8 of them, in New Jersey, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Virginia, are so close they‘re tossups. 

We take a closer look now at Ohio, where according to the new MSNBC/McClatchy poll, Republican Senator Mike DeWine is trailing U.S.  Congressman Sherrod Brown. 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster is in Ohio tonight.  That senate race and the other race in the Buckeye state, covering them all.  David, what‘s the latest? 

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, unlike the other battleground states, the big issue here is not Iraq, although Iraq is a factor.  And there‘s a clear distinction between Sherrod Brown and Mike DeWine on Iraq.  But the number one issue in this state is the economy.  For anybody who is from the Midwest, remembers the rust belt, the states who produced all those manufacturing jobs for so many years, that has largely disappeared here in Ohio. 

The economy here pretty much stinks, according to anybody you ask.  And even though the state has added jobs over the last two years, those jobs are the low paying, minimum wage, fast-food restaurant type of jobs, not the high paying manufacturing jobs.  And that‘s why you find in Ohio, for example, the Democrats thinking, let‘s take advantage of this anxiousness over the economy by putting a minimum wage proposal on the ballot. 

That is designed to bring out Democrats to the polls in two weeks.  And as it stands, you‘ve got a candidate like Sherrod Brown, who is talking a lot about the economy, talking a lot about starting to bring troops home from Iraq.  And those two issues, taken together, along with the issue of scandal, which has dominated the state-wide races, the governor‘s race, and all of that has Republicans getting their clocks cleaned, Chris. 

I mean in the Senate race, you have got, as you said, Sherrod Brown up by eight points.  In the governor‘s race, you‘ve got the Republican for the governor‘s race down by 24 points.  And the great fear along the Republican side is that this sort of landslide that they believe is coming, at least in Ohio, could take four or five House seats along with it.  And that, of course, could determine control of the U.S. Congress, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, David.  See you soon. 

Continuing now with MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle, we‘re doing that; the “New York Times” columnist Bob Herbert and Philadelphia radio talk show Michael Smerconish. 

Michael, I am going to try one more time.  I won‘t beat a dead horse, but there was an ad put on in Tennessee a couple days ago by a group called Tennesseans For Truth.  It laid into Congressman Ford, saying he is a member of the Black Caucus, that fights for the advantages of blacks over whites in America.  Do you think that was a fair ad to run on the radio? 

HERBERT:  Me, Chris, or Mike Smerconish?  . 

MATTHEWS:  No, no Smerconish. 

SMERCONISH:  Well, I haven‘t heard the spot.  Come on now, you are paraphrasing a commercial that I‘ve not heard. 

MATTHEWS:  The ad attacks him for being a member of the black caucus, an organization which seeks to promote the interest of blacks above whites. 

SMERCONISH:  I don‘t like the language of saying that the Black Caucus seeks to promote the interests of blacks over whites.  If, however, someone were to analyze some of the specific positions of the Black caucus, to put it in my terms, embracing Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is a cop killer.  That, I think, would be fair game. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it turns out that both candidates in Tennessee called for the ad to be removed from the radio.  So you agree, I guess, with Mr.  Corker who thought—no, I guess you don‘t agree.  Mr. Corker thought the ad was unacceptable, but you thought it might have been. 

SMERCONISH:  No, I am not falling into your trap.  You are asking me to respond to a commercial, I‘ve never heard.  You play me the commercial and I‘ll tell you what I think. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, we will get you the commercial.  OK, we will, because I am trying to find out where you stop here. 

Let me ask you about the—Bob Herbert, do you know about that ad. 

HERBERT:  Only what you just said. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, well I guess I have insufficient evidence to bring to you folks tonight. 

HERBERT:  Based on what you just said, it sound like more of the same to me.  I mean, I think it‘s disgusting.  There‘s no question that the Black caucus does not try to promote the interest of blacks over whites in this country.  It‘s ridiculous. 

MATTHEWS:  I just thought it was an effort, an extra effort to obviously report on the man‘s ethnic background.  He is a member of the Black caucus.  Let me remind you he is black. 

Michael, that‘s how it struck me.  Why would you bring up the fact all the black members of the Congress, I believe, have always been members of the Black caucus.  Right? 

SMERCONISH:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  So what‘s the news here, except you want to remind the voters one more time that race is being played with here.   

HERBERT:  That is what the party does when black candidates run and have a chance of winning significant seats.  They try to play to the prejudices of the white voters and it frequently works. 

BARNICLE:  You know what‘s interesting here, Chris, with regard to both the radio spot that you just referred to, the Tennessee, the two Tennessee commercials, the element introduced here of the Republican Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey‘s commercial against Deval Patrick. 

We have in this country a chance with a Deval Patrick, with a Harold Ford, with perhaps a Barack Obama, to give people a great gift, to give white people a great gift, to give them that one moment in the voting booth when they can feel as if they are truly color blind.  If it‘s only for a single second, by voting for qualified candidates like this. 

When you contrast that kind of a thing with what‘s going on in Ohio, off of David‘s report, when you consider that pension is becoming a lost word in American culture, when the companies in Ohio and elsewhere in this country, especially in the North-east, are disappearing to conglomerates in Japan and Europe, the idea that these wedge issues, like race, like gay marriage, like abortion rights, are going to play out as heavily as they once did, it‘s gone. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much Mike Barnicle, Michael Smerconish. 

I‘ll get that tape for you.  And Bob Herbert. 

Up next NBC‘s George Lewis will report from the campaign trail with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

We‘ll also be talking with MSNBC‘s Ron Reagan and Pat Buchanan.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and today‘s coverage of MSNBC‘s Decision 2006, Battleground America. 

Lets go now to California, where a new approach has helped the current Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to stay well ahead of his Democratic challenger, State Treasurer Phil Angelides.  For more on the race in California, we go right now to NBC‘s George Lewis, George.  

GEORGE LEWIS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, Chris, we‘re in Santa Monica, California, where Arnold Schwarzenegger got his start as a body builder at Gold‘s Gym.  Now it looks like he has a lock on a second term as governor, but there were some hitches along the way.  And to get there Arnold Schwarzenegger had to undergo a political makeover. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEWIS (voice-over):  It hasn‘t all been smooth sailing for Arnold Schwarzenegger.  A year ago, pundits were questioning whether he would be a one-term governor. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Arnold turned himself into something that he said he wouldn‘t be, partisan, arrogant, cozy with special interests. 

LEWIS:  He backed a series of losing partisan initiatives and bickered with powerful labor unions.  His approval rating slumped to 35 percent.  But then Schwarzenegger reinvented himself. 

PROF. SHERRY BEBITCH JEFFE, USC POLITICAL SCIENTIST:  One thing Arnold isn‘t is stupid.  One thing he is is a fast learner and very competitive.  He figured it out. 

LEWIS:  Arnold 2.0 is bipartisan, signing legislation Democrats favor, such as measures to fight global warming and hike the minimum wage.  The latest polls give Schwarzenegger a double-digit lead over his Democratic opponent Phil Angelides. 

And his support is wide spread.  He takes 88 percent of the Republican vote, 51 percent of independents and even 17 percent of Democrats.  In Santa Monica, a city so liberal it‘s been called the People‘s Republic of Santa Monica, we found one of the Schwarzenegger Democrats. 

BENNET SPECTOR, LAWYER:  Arnold has, sort of, changed a little bit from being a hard core Republican. 

LEWIS:  The Democratic party tries to connect Schwarzenegger to President Bush. 

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER ®, CALIFORNIA:  Let‘s re-elect President George W. Bush. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s policies are George Bush‘s policies. 

LEWIS:  But Schwarzenegger has kept his distance from the president. 

SCHWARZENEGGER:  I think to link me to George Bush is like linking me to an Oscar.  I mean, it‘s like, you know... 

LEWIS:  Political experts say Angelides doesn‘t seem to be gaining any traction, while Schwarzenegger is having fun in the closing days of the campaign. 

SCHWARZENEGGER:  My question to you is what is the funniest moment during your campaign. 

PHIL ANGELIDES, CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA:  That‘s a great question. 

LEWIS:  But Angelides didn‘t have a great answer during their televised debate, which most observers believe did nothing to dent Schwarzenegger‘s momentum. 

SCHWARZENEGGER:  I am a machine. 

LEWIS:  And the former Terminator is confident that he‘ll be back.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEWIS:  Now, some observers are saying there‘s a lesson here for other candidates.  Schwarzenegger rehabilitated himself by reaching out across party lines, because voters are sick and tired of partisan bickering, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  That reminds me of Jerry Brown, back in the old days of the 70s, adjusting to prop 13.  He opposed it, then accepted it.  Californians like flexible leaders.  Any way, thank you George Lewis. 

Each night on HARDBALL we want to tell you what‘s happening on the ground in Iraq.  And today‘s news is dominated by the announcement that Iraq‘s government has agreed to a timetable for progress there and there will be more war related deaths, of course, in Iraq today.  We had four today.  Four Iraqi firefighters were mistakenly shot by coalition forces.  We also lost four Americans today.  While the military is also looking for a hijacked fire truck.  U.S. forces pulled over a truck that matched the description of the one they were searching for. 

Now let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and MSNBC political analyst Ron Reagan. 

Ron, thank you for coming on tonight.  Ron, this war in Iraq sits out there as sort of the background noise, but unfortunately it involves Americans getting killed, a couple a day now, almost 4,000 a month, Iraqis getting killed.  It‘s war that, for whatever reason, isn‘t quite in our face anymore.  Will it still have the impact it should have as an issue? 

RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Oh yes.  I think it‘s the leading issue in most states.  In Ohio, more the economy, but pretty much everywhere else, where there are competitive races.  Iraq is number one.  I talk to people on the radio every day who are Republicans, many of them, who call in and say well, I am a Republican, but I am an anti-Bush, anti-Iraq war Republican.  So yes, it‘s very much out there. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think it really is, Chris. 

Look, the macro-economy, I mean Ron‘s right about the situation in Ohio and Michigan is rough, but the macro-economy is in pretty good shape.  Stock market, record high, inflation, unemployment, all the rest of it.  I think Iraq and the steady debilitating casualties and deaths and slaughters every day of Iraqis and Americans is just turning the American people off. 

They want out of this horrible war.  I think it‘s setting a pall over this election.  It‘s the reason why the Republicans are in grave trouble.  It‘s the reason why the president is down.  Its the reason why Republicans are moving away from George W. Bush, the primary reason.  I think if it weren‘t for the war, I think the president would be in the high 40s. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he trying to politically finesse that by the announcement today that they‘re sort of—by Tony Snow, the press secretary for the president, his chief spokesman saying “Stay the Course” is no longer an appropriate slogan, Meeting with the generals, meeting with Khalilzad, the ambassador? 

BUCHANAN:  Look, I got off at Dulles.  I came in from California and a guy—I am on the tram, coming across, and this guy, he‘s a liberal fellow.  He‘s kidding to me about what‘s going to happen to Republicans.  He said, what do you think, are we going to stay the course?  And he starts laughing.  And look, the president has used “Stay the Course, Stay the Course.”  The point of this is, Chris, is Republicans ran down a “Stay the Course” versus “Cut and Run.”  They were going to turn the election into that and they have broken on “Stay the Course” and the Democrats aren‘t using “Cut and Run,” so that‘s ...

MATTHEWS:  Nobody has ever said “Cut and Run” in any political party in any war.  Nobody uses those words, obviously. 

BUCHANAN:  But, you know, they do say turn around, let‘s get out.   

MATTHEWS:  Redeploy is the fashionable term. 

BUCHANAN:  But, the point is that the president has even broken on his own basic—

MATTHEWS:  So is the ice cracking around his policy. 

BUCHANAN:  Listen, the policy is failing.  We are not winning the war.  The war is being lost.  Everybody knows it.  Everybody knows a change is coming after the election.  Ninety  percent of the country would bet that Rumsfeld is going to be gone.  And they all know this.  That‘s just simple reality. 

REAGAN:  Chris, I was going to say, part of the re-strategerizing that he is doing now may also be to preempt the Jim Bakker report coming out.  You know, Jim Bakker is going to come out with this report saying it‘s not working, what we‘re doing in Iraq.  We need to do something different and Bush may want to be able say to him, well great, thank you very much, but we‘re way ahead of you there. 

MATTHEWS:  Have you noticed that the people who are very hawkish, including John McCain, who was on our college tour last week, they‘re basically doubling their bet.  They‘re saying the reason we lost is we didn‘t put enough troops in.  Ron, you take it from here.  They‘re not saying we were wrong in the concept of the war, going into Iraq, but we—the president was wrong in not putting enough troops in there.  Is that going to protect them politically in the years ahead, especially McCain, to say look, if you had done it my way, it would have worked? 

REAGAN:  No, I don‘t think so.  I don‘t think that‘s really enough.  I mean, the issue is it comes down to competence, among other things.  As far as the president goes, I am not sure about John McCain, but as far as the president goes, people have just gotten completely off the bus now.  I don‘t think they‘re paying any attention to what he says about the war, because it doesn‘t seem to be attached to reality in any way. 

BUCHANAN:  Let me say, the 100,000 troops—the McCain position, the position of the neo-conservatives, is exactly that.  We didn‘t go in with enough strength.  Rumsfeld vetoed the big army that was needed.  The generals were telling him we needed it, Shinseki and all the rest of it.  That‘s going to be the case they make, and frankly they may get away with it for this reason, Hillary and Biden and Edwards and Kerry all voted for a war, in my judgment, they didn‘t believe in.  Now, what is their argument going to be? 

Are they going to say, when they run, well, you know, George Bush fooled me.  I was brainwashed?  I was stupid?  Why didn‘t they do due diligence and make demands on the president to prove why we have to go in there?  So both of them, both the hawks side have a real problem here.  Frankly, my position, which is we should never have gone, I don‘t know that that will be a successful position in 2008. 

MATTHEWS:  I feel a dangerous brotherhood with you Pat Buchanan when you talk like that, because they should have decided at the time we went to war, because that was when the time to decide was.  They went along with the president.  They accepted his leadership.  They thought he was right. 

We‘ll be right back with Pat Buchanan and Ron Reagan.  You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well that‘s reversal of fortune.  The last time we saw a version of that, it was the Democrat got the first shot and the Republican got the last shot in.  What did you think of that?  You didn‘t see that, did you Ron? 

REAGAN:  I did.  No, I got a monitor.  I saw it. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s pretty funny.  What do you think of it? 

REAGAN:  I think it‘s pretty funny too. 

MATTHEWS:  For sort of our major ad here for the closing stretch. 

BUCHANAN:  I didn‘t I have my glasses on.  I couldn‘t make out what was going on.

MATTHEWS:  The Republican is the elephant.  And the Donkey is the Democrat.  The donkey has got a blue short on.  It‘s got a D on it.  It‘s got three ways of identifying it.  You can‘t see that?  Republican has an R.  It is an elephant.  And it is a red.  OK, I now we got that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The first shot is delivered by the Republican, right in the chest, solar plex.  The Democrat goes down.  The donkey is dragging there.  A little break here as they come back.  He is back in the race.  Here he comes back.  The D has got to stay in there.  Come on boy, come on, stay in the race.  There he‘s staying.  Now he delivers this illegal shot, behind the head, suckers him behind the back of the neck.  He is almost going down.  Jesus, is that what is going to happen? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, he hits him in the back of the head.  That is a foul blow. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Ron Reagan, we have another version that shows the Republicans as the dirty players here.  Do you think there is, in fact, going to be, dare I say it, a November surprise, somewhere between now and November 7th

REAGAN:  Well, that is a good question. 

MATTHEWS:  A la the D.U.I. charge that Democrats apparently, well I think, probably sat on for a few months, that they hit Bush with the last day in 2000.  I guess the bin Laden tape that came in Friday before the last election probably was a legitimate news story, an even.  But what do you think, somebody has something hidden in their socks? 

REAGAN:  Well, Carol Rove has told conservative journalists to watch out for an October surprise, maybe it will be a November surprise, and George Bush does seem to be awfully confident about things.  I am not sure what it would be, unless they actually pull Osama bin Laden out of a freezer somewhere and present it to us, because they got a lot surprising going against them, of course, in the last few years. 

MATTHEWS:  All they need to do is save about five seats they would otherwise lose in the House, save a couple of Senate seats.  It is do-able, they could hold on. 

BUCHANAN:  I think it‘s going to close.  The last month everything has been breaking for the Democrats, Foley—I tell you , one surprise could be this House Ethics Committee is going harder and faster and tougher—

MATTHEWS:  Think they might report?

BUCHANAN:  I think something could leak out of there, because there is clearly contradictions of testimony.  His AA was in there for six hours?  Discussing what?  Three or four meetings.  I think there could be a real problem there, but my -- 

MATTHEWS:  With the leadership? 

BUCHANAN:  I think right up to the top.  It really could be.  We could have—

MATTHEWS:  How about that priest over in Malta?  He is hiding out over in Malta.   

BUCHANAN:  Well, they are going to keep him there.  But listen, I

think Chris, if I had to predict now, I would predict this is going to

close somewhat, because I think Republicans, who have been outraged and

sickened and unhappy, are naturally going to start slowing coming home as

you get toward -

MATTHEWS:  You want to bet 50 cents on that? 

BUCHANAN:  I tell you what, if you give me some odds, I will bet you they Senate. 

REAGAN:  Speaking of that Pat, you remember, if Rick Santorum loses in Pennsylvania, you owe me five dollars.  We had a bet last time. 

BUCHANAN:  You sure that wasn‘t 2000 that we bet that?

MATTHEWS:  Maybe we should hold.  No maybe we should hold.

BUCHANAN:  I agree with you.  I made a bet with you. 

MATTHEWS:  Who wins the House, right now? 

BUCHANAN:  I think the Democrats win it easily. 

MATTHEWS:  Ron, who wins the House right now?

REAGAN:  Democrats, Democrats, but maybe not as widely as some people think.  You know, the polls don‘t reflect things like gerrymandering. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you Ron Reagan, thank you Pat Buchanan.  Play HARDBALL with us again Wednesday.  We‘ll have all the latest campaign news and analysis in the fight for power.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith starts right now.

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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