updated 11/1/2006 1:32:35 PM ET 2006-11-01T18:32:35

Guests: Jonathan Alter, Chuck Todd, Jeremy Bronson, Steve McMahon, Rick Davis, Matthew Dowd

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  So what is it, gotcha or botcha? 

Fighting for survival, the Bush team jumps on something John Kerry said.  But in a desperate bid, did they botch their last chance?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews and welcome to HARDBALL.  Today with the violence getting worse in Iraq and the election just a week away, Republicans found their weapon of mass distraction.  In a choreograph of press releases, Republicans collaborated in a chorus of attack on former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry for something he said last night.  In a string of attacks on President Bush, Kerry last night ridiculed Bush‘s lack of education on the Middle East, which Kerry said got us stuck in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  Yesterday, I was in the state of Texas.  As you all know, President Bush used to live there.  Now he lives in a state of denial, a state of deception.  I‘m glad to be here with you now, I really, thank you.  We‘re here to talk about education and I want to say something.  You know education, you make the most of it, you study hard, do your homework, work hard, you do well.  If you don‘t, you get stuck in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Republicans from Rush Limbaugh to Tony Snow to John McCain to Denny Hastert have said Kerry was really maligning the troops there, implying that American service people only join up because they are educational failures.

This violent interpretation of Kerry‘s words let the senator himself to issue this blistering counter attack today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY:  John McCain ought to ask for an apology from Dick Cheney for misleading America.  He ought to ask for an apology from the president for lying about the nuclear program in Africa.  He ought to ask for an apology for once again, a week ago, referring to al Qaeda as being the central problem in Iraq, when al Qaeda is not the central problem.

Enough is enough.  I‘m not going to stand for these people trying to shift the topic and make it politics.  America deserves a real discussion about real policy.  And that‘s what this election is going to be about next Tuesday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Kerry further said if anyone thinks a veteran would criticize the more than 140,00 heroes serving in Iraq and not the president who got us stuck there, they‘re crazy.  And late today, President Bush called for Kerry to apologize.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The senator‘s suggestion that the men and women of our military are somehow uneducated is insulting and it is shameful.

(APPLAUSE)

The members of the United States military are plenty smart and they are plenty brave.  And the senator from Massachusetts owes them an apology.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well just to recall that, just so you put this in context and let everybody decide for themselves, this is the “Associated Press” report on what Kerry said yesterday.  “Kerry opened his speech at Pasadena City College with several one liners, saying at one point that President Bush had lived in Texas, but now lives in a state of denial.”

Kerry then said, “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you work hard, you study hard, you do your homework, you make an effort to be smart, you can do well.  If you don‘t, you get stuck in Iraq,” talking about Bush.

Now this is where the fight—is that part of a litany of attack on President Bush, where he made fun of the president‘s lack of preparation or knowledge of the Mideast before taking us to war there?  Or, was this some shot across the bow out of nowhere against people fighting in our military services. 

Let‘s go right now to HARDBALL political analyst Chuck Todd, the editor-in-chief of the “Hotline.”  And NBC News analyst Jonathan Alter, who‘s with “Newsweek.”

Chuck, what was Kerry talking about yesterday in that litany out in Pasadena?  Was he attacking the president for not having the knowledge to understand the Middle East and all of those Shia and Sunni and all that stuff over there, or was he taking a shot at the IQ and the academic ability of work and fighting service people?

CHUCK TODD, HARDBALL POLITICAL ANALYST:  Look, I think it was clear he was probably to go after the president and his IQ.  But he did it from that place that northeastern liberal Democrats sometimes do it too much.  It was this—even though it was an attack on President Bush‘s intellect, you know, it is that stuff that makes the right-wing crazy.  You know, they hate the elitism, intellectualism attacks on them the same way that it sort of bothers liberals when the conservatives go with the anti-intellectualism stuff and in some way, it rallies the base for the Republicans, which is why they‘re fired up on it.

MATTHEWS:  Even if they interpret it the way he wants it interpreted.

TODD:  That‘s right, but the way Kerry did it, just that whole line of attack for Kerry.

MATTHEWS:  Why do liberals—let me go right now to Jonathan Alter.  Why do liberals always accuse conservatives of being stupid?  Whether it is Eisenhower or Reagan or Gerry Ford or any—George W. Bush.  They‘re all stupid.  Why do always liberals get back and say, “OK, they win elections, but we‘re smarter.”  What‘s the game here?

JONATHAN ALTER, NEWSWEEK:  Well, it‘s stupid for liberals to accuse other people of being stupid, Chris.  I mean, it‘s just bad politics.  Franklin Roosevelt, who was not nearly as smart as Republican Herbert Hoover, he never made that mistake. 

It‘s more the baby boom generation that does get a little bit patronizing sometimes.  But I think this is not a useful distraction right now for the Republicans, for them to be putting all their chips on this at this point with a week to go, does not keep them on message.  And I don‘t think it does a tremendous amount to really the base.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that would be what I would call the botcha theory, what happened.  They botched it by jumping on this, when they thought they caught a case of gotcha, where they caught Kerry in a mistake.

Is this going to ruin a lot of personal relations in politics?  I mean, John McCain and John Kerry are famous friends.  To have McCain say...

ALTER:  ... Not anymore, Chris.  Actually I heard a few months ago that their friendship had really suffered during the 2004 campaign.  Remember, Kerry wanted McCain to be his running mate.  He made repeated entreaties for McCain to join the ticket.  That ended badly with a lot of bad blood at the staff level on both sides, and I heard that the senators themselves, that their friendship had suffered.  So that predates this.

MATTHEWS:  In other words, John Kerry‘s probably angry at McCain for the fact that it leaked, that he had offered him the VP job.  Do you think that‘s what happened?

ALTER:  Yes and also for not taking it.  Because he—Kerry actually told me at one point that he was just amazed that McCain didn‘t step up and take it for the good of the country.  That was Kerry‘s view.  McCain‘s view was that Kerry was unrealistic and that there were a lot of staff issues.  Kerry had John Weaver over to his house.  John Weaver being McCain‘s aide and there are varying accounts on what happened there.  The net effect, Chris, was that what had been a friendship that went back at least a decade to when the two of them were really responsible for giving Bill Clinton cover to restore diplomatic relations with Vietnam, the friendship forged over Vietnam, sort of broke up over the last couple of years.

MATTHEWS:  Hate to see that happen.  Here‘s Senator John McCain talking about John Kerry‘s remarks yesterday.  Here‘s McCain today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I believe that Senator Kerry owes an apology to the many thousands of Americans serving in Iraq who answered their country‘s call because they are patriots and not because of any deficiencies in their education. 

Americans from all backgrounds well often poor serve in the armed forces in the United States because they are dedicated to the cause of freedom and democracy.  They deserve our respect and deepest gratitude for their service.  The suggestion that only the least educated Americans would agree to serve in the military and fight in Iraq is an insult to every soldier serving in combat today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there is Senator McCain.  It looks like he was reading notes.  I mean, his attack was very deliberate and he clearly aimed at serving a tough end right before the election.

TODD:  Well, I think that he saw this as a political opportunity.  Look, he‘s still courting the conservative base.  The base Republicans that love George W. Bush and love when he throws out the red meat of bashes that liberal senator from Massachusetts, my opponent—you know, he never really addresses Kerry by name.  You know, John McCain is trying to get in with that crowd a little bit, because that‘s the crowd that‘s going to make or break his presidential, but so is this opportunist.

MATTHEWS:  I wonder if that is a smart move, if that‘s the case because I wonder whether this war is going to have any fans two years from now.  What do you think, Jonathan?  I mean, is he getting on a sinking ship, the cause in Iraq?  I‘m just asking the question politically.

ALTER:  I think that—within the Republican Party, there is still a lot of support for a very robust, even bellicose foreign policy.  I am not sure that that is a loser for him within the Republican Party.

And Chuck is absolutely right.  It is all about for McCain right now is mending those fences with conservatives within the Republican Party in order to get that nomination.  And this is the kind of red meat that helps them a little bit in that.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this election as we get closer.  Tomorrow we‘re going to wake up, it‘s six days for the election,  In a couple of days it will be four days, and then it will just be a weekend.  It is getting so close to the end. 

My sense watching elections over the years, and when I try to pick winners, if you know which way the wind is blowing on Thursday, the Thursday before an election, and you know which way it‘s going, you basically can pick the winners.  That‘s all the information you need, the numbers then, the polling then, and which way it‘s going. 

Do you have a sense we‘re right now at the edge of this cake being baked?  Chuck.

TODD:  Yes, look, I think we‘re getting really close.  You know, all the national polls coming out, nothing has really changed over the last week.  If anything, we saw sort of an uptick for the Democrats in a bunch of weekend polls. 

Now, the question is, is this weekend momentum because what Republicans love to say, oh, Republicans are never home on weekends because they have families and Democrats don‘t?  You know, that‘s always the big charge of why Democrats supposedly poll better on weekends.

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s home?  I love this ... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The single ...

TODD:  Right, all the single Democrats are hermits and they‘re sitting at home.  All the Republicans have families and they‘re at soccer practice. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re out at soccer practice, right.

TODD:  But assuming that that isn‘t what happened—and you saw a fundamental shift and this is about the 100th death this month in Iraq ...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  ...and that‘s what—exactly, and that is what is shaping the electorate, and this thing may be stick a fork in it. 

ALTER:  I‘m not sure about that.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be back—well, let‘s come back with John and hear his disagreement.  We‘ll be back with Chuck Todd and John Alter of “Newsweek” in just a minute. 

You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Despite all the attention on John Kerry‘s comments today, the violence in Iraq continues to get worse and it is looming ever larger in this election.  With the latest on the war and the impact here at home, here is HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In the midst of the unrelenting violence in Baghdad, the Iraqi government has announced it will no longer count the number of civilian casualties so precise figures are now impossible.  But based on figures from local morgues, some Iraqi officials believe the body count is now up to at least 130 per day. 

U.S. troop casualties are also on the rise, and with the Pentagon announcing over 100 killed this month, October is finishing as the deadliest month for U.S. soldiers in a year.  Many of the casualties came along the same roads and in the same neighborhoods where countless other U.S. soldiers have been killed. 

And a big issue in the U.S. congressional elections is the growing perception that the Bush administration is sending soldiers to die in a war that seems to be getting worse.  The latest “Newsweek” poll found that 60 percent of voters say that the U.S. is losing ground in Iraq, compared to just 29 percent who say the U.S. is making progress. 

And Democrats across the country are hitting the issue of Iraq hard.  In Virginia, for example, Democratic senatorial candidate Jim Webb is now flooding the airwaves and pounding Republican incumbent George Allen with this. 

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN ®, VIRGINIA:  I very much agree with the president. 

We need to stay the course.

JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  The people who failed to prevent this disaster are not the ones who you can count on the fix it.  I‘m Jim Webb.  We need to end our occupation of Iraq, and to bring stability to the Middle East. 

SHUSTER:  In New Jersey‘s Senate race, Democrats are hammering Republican Tom Kean Jr. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Even today, Tom Kean Jr. says that if he had been in Congress, he would have supported going to war in Iraq.  Kean Jr. sided with George Bush.  Don‘t we need a senator who will side with New Jersey?

SHUSTER:  And in a crucial House race in New Mexico, Republican incumbent Heather Wilson is facing this. 

REP. HEATHER WILSON ®, NEW MEXICO:  We need to stay the course. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Standing with George Bush. 

WILSON:  Stay the course. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Echoing Bush. 

WILSON:  Stay the course.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Voting with Bush. 

WILSON:  Stay the course. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right up to the mess that Iraq has become today. 

WILSON:  We need to stay the course.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No we don‘t.  We need to make a change. 

SHUSTER:  The Bush administration is hitting back.  Vice President Cheney argues that things are getting better in Iraq, not worse. 

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There is a new government in place in Iraq.  They‘ve only been in business about six months, but they are making progress. 

SHUSTER:  That appears to be a contradiction with what President Bush said last week. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation in Iraq.  I am not satisfied either. 

SHUSTER:  This week, however, President Bush is making Democrats the issue, not the situation in Iraq.  And in an especially combative speech Monday in Georgia, the president argued that Democrats are on the side of terrorists. 

BUSH:  However they put it, the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down this: the terrorists win and America loses. 

SHUSTER:  The aggressive tone signals a final administration push to energize conservatives.  But it‘s not an easy task on the heels of what many say is conservative disenchantment over the Mark Foley page scandal, federal spending, and the course of the Iraq war.

(on camera):  It is all forcing President Bush to stay out of races where moderate and independent voters will be pivotal.  Republican strategists say the GOP is wise to be worried about the war in Iraq, especially the news that troop casualties are on the rise.

I am David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

We are back with “The Hotline‘s” Chuck Todd and “Newsweek‘s” Jon Alter.  I guess the question is these polls are very interesting, John.  The more or less confidence seems to be a pretty good indicator of whether people think—whatever they think of the president‘s rhetoric, what they think of the war and they don‘t have any confidence that we are getting any closer to victory. 

ALTER:  That‘s right.  I mean, this is the 500 pound gorilla in this race.  But I think what people have to recognize is that all of these national polls, trying to superimpose them on congressional districts, it is a little bit of an apples and oranges situation, because they are not always congruent, to use a fancy, you know, word, that in a lot of these local districts, even though the war is the big issue, if you take a poll, there are also local concerns.  There is pork that the member brought home.  There‘s get out the vote operations, so you have a lot of different factors that are working against the issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Chuck? 

TODD:  I don‘t know.  It is hard to say. 

MATTHEWS:  This news every night from the war front.

TODD:  I was just going to say, I have not seen, outside of Missouri -

of all the competitive races, Missouri and Tennessee are the only two where I don‘t feel like Iraq is the single most important issue in that race, be it a House race or a Senate race. 

It seems like, for some reason, the economy is higher in Missouri and Tennessee is just all about Harold Ford, you know, whether you love him or hate him.  But everywhere else, it‘s Iraq is the number one issue. 

MATTHEWS:  And if there is a desire to say something about the president, it‘s just about 2-1 that people want to say something negative about him.  In other words, to the extent there is a national influence, a national wave out there, it‘s almost 2-1 against the president.  We see that in all the numbers.

TODD:  There‘s no—look, you—if somebody is walking into the voting booth, thinking about the national climate, that is not a good day for the Republicans. 

MATTHEWS:  Jonathan?

ALTER:  Well, you know, I believe that the Democrats will take the House but I think people need to be careful about their expectations here, because you do have lunch bucket issues and, you know, some people are pretty self-obsessed when it comes to voting.  If they don‘t know anybody in Iraq, they don‘t watch the news that much, they ask themselves, am I better off, you know, is my family better off?  And a fair number of those folks might stick with the Republicans. 

There‘s also what the Democrats used to experience where their base would kind of come home, and you heard President Bush use that code—or not code, necessarily, but that word, that phrase today talking about voters coming home.  You saw it when the Democrats were in the majority and you might see some of that this coming weekend for the Republicans in some of these races tightening up. 

MATTHEWS:  Just to finish up tonight here for us, is Kerry right to behave this way, to be very truculent in saying, don‘t misinterpret me, don‘t exploit my inarticulateness, don‘t try to turn me into a guy against the troops, or I will never stop fighting against you?  Is he smart to do that?

TODD:  Depends on who he‘s worried about.  If he‘s worried about John Kerry, presidential candidate 2008, yes.  If he cares about the Democrats party, then it was a very selfish act, and he may...

MATTHEWS:  You mean, fighting to correct the record?

TODD:  ... inadvertently helping the Republicans beat up Democrats. 

Even for one news cycle, even if he‘s worried about his own reputation, he might have sacrificed for the party. 

MATTHEWS:  Jon, do you agree with that?  That he was being selfish and in following up today and really making this a fight? 

ALTER:  Yes, I mean, he just vowed he would never be Swift Boated again.  He has nightmares about what happened to him in 2004 and he just has absolutely insisted for the remainder of political career he‘s going to hit back twice as hard when he gets decked. 

MATTHEWS:  My belief, since neither of you guys asked me, is that because of videotape, because of the Web, the Internet, we can keep records forever of what anybody says, or anything said about them.  Unless you correct the record right away, and say, this is what I meant and they were wrong to interpret it that way, you will never be able to catch up to the story.  It will be for you like chasing paper in the wind.  You‘ll never collect the paper back unless you do it right away, because once it gets beyond you, you can‘t catch it.  Just like paper.  You better go running after it immediately or you‘ll never catch it.  I‘m within him.

ALTER:  Good analogy.

MATTHEWS:  I disagree with you, Chuck.  I think John Kerry had to defend his record, because if he‘s trashing the troops, he shouldn‘t even think about running for president. 

Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd, even though you‘re wrong, and Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek”.  You‘re occasionally wrong.

Up next, what‘s a Googlebomb?  We‘ll find out how these new weapons are shaping campaigns in the battle for power.  And later, how Michael J.  Fox is trying to change this election.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Back in 2004, bloggers made their presence felt in campaign politics. 

Now they‘re out to do it again.  This time, with a whole new plan. 

HARDBALL‘s Jeremy Bronson has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEREMY BRONSON, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Call them a pajama-clad political army.  With only one week until the election, the bloggers are back, and this time, they‘re going nuclear.

Liberal and conservative bloggers have announced plans to set off something called a “Googlebomb”.  It may sound silly, but the goal is dead serious.  A Googlebomb is an attempt to manipulate the Google search engine, so that certain carefully selected search results appear first. 

In this case, liberal bloggers want negative article to pop up when you search for ‘06 Republican candidates.  And conservatives want to pull of the opposite. 

A left-wing blog called “MyDP.com” first organized the plan to target dozens of ‘06 candidates, including Missouri‘s Jim Talent, Tennessee‘s Bob Corker, Virginia‘s George Allen and rMD+IN_rMDNM_dozrMDNM_rMDNM_enrMDNM_srMDNM_ more. 

HEATHER GREENFIELD, “THE NATIONAL JOURNAL”:  It‘s probably pretty easy for the bloggers to carry this off.  From the technical standpoint, they know how to grab a link and put it on their website.

BRONSON:  If these bloggers succeed, when you Google “Bob Corker,” for example, you‘ll be more likely to read this hand-picked piece about shady finances before you read a piece about Rudy Giuliani‘s recent campaign stop. 

A conservative called “Right Wing News” quickly plotted a counterattack, targeting Connecticut‘s Ned Lamont, Missouri‘s Claire McCaskill, and New Jersey‘s Bob Menendez.

This election season is not the first time that Googlebombs have been used for political purposes.  During the 2004 election, a computer programmer from Washington state went after George Bush.  When users typed in “miserable failure,” they were led to the president‘s official biography. 

If bloggers do succeed in promoting negative pieces in key races, could it make a difference come November 7? 

MICHAEL FELDMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, in a tight race everything counts.  And so it‘s conceivable in a close election that these strategies, the online strategies could have a crucial impact on how voters get their information and, ultimately, whether or not they turn out to vote and who they turn out to vote for in November. 

BRONSON:  Republican strategist Mark McKinnon disagrees. 

MARK MCKINNON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  As much attention as there is on this election, I think that voter turnout is actually going to be fairly low.  People are saying “A pox on both your houses.”  They don‘t like Democrats, they don‘t like the Republicans.  And so I don‘t think unaffiliated and undecided voters are likely to turn out in very large numbers.  So I don‘t think Googlebombing‘s going to have a big impact.  Although, it is an interesting—the latest way to game the system.  So it‘ll be interesting to watch how it rolls out in the future. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRONSON (on camera):  This Googlebomb effort could be a good test of how well bloggers can cooperate and organize themselves on the Internet.  And if it works you can expect their influence over future elections to keep on growing. 

Jeremy Bronson, MSNBC, Washington.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Jeremy. 

Up next, NBC‘s David Gregory will report on the star power of Michael J. Fox in “Decision 2006”. 

And don‘t forget next Tuesday‘s the day to get out and vote.  And if you experience any problems voting, we‘ve got a national voter hotline for you.  Call 1-866-MYVOTE1.  It‘s one number for everything you need, from finding your polling place to sending an alert about voter fraud. 

So go vote.  It‘s your right.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  I‘m Milissa Rehberger with breaking news. 

Officials say two passenger jets clipped wings at Newark Airport tonight.  Lufthansa and Continental planes were reportedly involved.  The incident is described as minor and no injuries were reported.

Officials are also investigating why a Continental jet landed Saturday on a taxi way at Newark instead of on a runway.  The taxiway is only half as wide.

And in a surprise move, North Korea agreed to return six nation nuclear talks.  The action comes three weeks after its nuclear test.  Now back to HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Michael J. Fox has become a lightning rod in this election cycle as he campaigns for Democrats who support embryonic stem cell research and as NBC‘s chief White House correspondent David Gregory reports, he is not backing down.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  How are you?  Good to see you.

(voice-over):  Monday morning Columbus Ohio, week two in the political crossfire for Michael J. Fox.

(on camera):  Do you feel like you have been roughed up?

MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR:  You bring the message and you hope to discuss it on its merits.  But this being American politics it‘s not going to happen.

GREGORY (voice-over):  At an event in support of expanded embryonic stem cell research for Democratic Senate candidate Sherrod Brown, Fox announced that being in Columbus was a homecoming of sorts.

FOX:  Columbus is the home of Alex Keaton and the Keatons of Ohio.

Remember, you still owe me $74.50.

GREGORY:  On “Family Ties” Fox was Alex Keaton, a conservative poster boy.  Now, however, it‘s conservatives taking aim at him over his support for candidates who back stem cell research.

FOX:  What you do in Missouri matters to millions of Americans.  Americans like me.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST:  He is moving all around and shaking and it is purely an act.

GREGORY:  In his most pointed rebuttal yet he answered those questions including rush who later apologized.

FOX:  I guess I am—I am not supposed to speak with you until my symptoms go away.  Or maybe I am just supposed to go away.  But I am not going go away.

GREGORY:  Later Fox argued that it would be wrong hide the symptoms.

The symptoms are part of the message.

FOX:  The reaction is almost appropriate in a way because that‘s the point. 

The point here we are, we are doing this and dealing with these illnesses.  And these symptoms and these conditions.  And we you know we have few choices.  We can either are ourselves or we just go away.  We send polite notes.

GREGORY:  Fox explained that the symptoms critics c claimed he manipulated by going off his medication were actually the result f result of his medication.  The drugs make him shift in his chair but they prevent the tremors.

FOX:  I want comfort.  I just want to be comfortable.  I don‘t want to be bouncing around.  I don‘t want to be spilling my drink.  I don‘t want to drive myself to the point of insanity trying to tie a tie or shave or any of that stuff.

GREGORY (on camera):  But it looks like it‘s exhausting.

FOX:  It is exhausting.

GREGORY (voice-over):  At times so is the politics of stem cell research.  Opponents of using embryos left over in fertility clinics for stem cell research, including the president .

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT:  It crosses a moral boundary .

GREGORY:  Argue it is wrong to take a life in order to save lives.

FOX:  I don‘t want to be cute about this but because I am I am a big fan of and proponent of in vitro fertilization but if you‘re against us, and you have not for the last 20 years, we‘re talking about the waste of these eggs, of these fertilized embryos.  Hundreds of thousands have been destroyed.  If you have not been out there on that, there isn‘t any consistency in your moral position.

GREGORY (on camera):  This is a wedge issue now and you are a lightning rod.

FOX:  As I understand it, a wedge issue is something that is a big divider.  By most polls, 70 percent of Americans are in favor of an issue.  In a way it‘s (inaudible).  If you really believe this.  We are waiting for you.

GREGORY:  For people who look at you and say to themselves he looks like he has gotten worse.  Have you?

FOX:  Sure.  It is a progressive disease.  I am not getting any better until we figure this out.  And having said that, it‘s not my goal - without trying to sound to selfless about it.  Because I‘m definitely selfish about it.  I want there to be a cure and I would love be there in my old age for my family and be there in a way I probably won‘t be now.  But I also see this for other people, too.

GREGORY:  We see your optimism, we see your courage, your commitment, your activism.  What don‘t we see?

FOX:  I get scared.  And I have a sense about it.  There‘s not much people don‘t know.  For me, unique to my situation, it is a gift.  It is a gift that keeps on taking.  But it is a gift.

GREGORY:  But you would not go back?

FOX:  No.  I wouldn‘t go back.

The path that it has put me on has been so amazing.  And again, I have so many blessings.  I have a great family that I am sure are with me and I have a great relationship with my kids.  And my wife is fantastic and I don‘t have to worry about my employer and I don‘t have to worry about my insurance and I don‘t have to worry about being in a situation where my disease makings me unsafe because there are people around me that will ensure my safety.  And those are all big things.  A lot of people don‘t have those things and I appreciate that and understand that and I‘d like to help them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  When we return, strategists from both sides to talk about how John Kerry and his rhubarb today may play out.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the president put that at the end of his remarks so we‘d watch the whole thing?  Pretty smart politics.  Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.  Let‘s bring in Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and Republican strategist Rick Davis.  Steve, what was that about?  The president of the United States, a week before a general election, a chance to make a big point, he jumps on a statement made by his former opponent the day before and accuses him of trashing the American troops.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Right, accuses him if you read the A.P. story and you believe the way it‘s characterized there, perhaps somewhat disingenuously of going after the American troops.

I think what we have here is another example of nuance by Senator Kerry.  And it was not a nuance that worked in his favor this time.  It‘s clear to me reading that that he was talking about what happens when a president doesn‘t study very hard in school and do his homework, the president gets stuck in a quagmire in Iraq.  It‘s unfortunately not the way it came out, and he is going to spend a day explaining it and it‘s a distraction, frankly.

MATTHEWS:  Will this go on until the election?  Will this be the big November surprise they were hoping for?

MCMAHON:  The Republicans will hope it goes on until the election, but it is going to last another news cycle, and it will be out of it.

MATTHEWS:  Will it hound Senator Kerry as long as he is in politics?

MCMAHON:  I don‘t think so.

MATTHEWS:  If he sticks to his guns, is he smart?

MCMAHON:  He‘s got to stick to his guns here and frankly if you read the transcript, it looks like Senator Kerry‘s version of the truth is more aligned with the truth, which doesn‘t surprise me particularly.

MATTHEWS:  Rick Davis.  Truth?

RICK DAVIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  It‘s not so much the act, but the cover up.  And I think a lot of what Kerry is doing today is keeping this story alive because of the cover up.

MATTHEWS:  Is it a cover up if it is a badly reported story by the president and the other Republicans?

DAVIS:  It doesn‘t mater.  If there was any question that he was actually insulting our troops, our men and women in uniform he should just have said, look, I apologize if anybody took this wrong.

MATTHEWS:  Then he is admitting a mistake.

DAVIS:  Politicians never made a mistake, this is the problem with Kerry.

MATTHEWS:  I just want to add do you think he possibly meant to rid ridicule the American fighting person.

DAVIS:  It doesn‘t matter if he meant it or not.  It‘s no question if you watch the show .

MATTHEWS:  I‘m trying to find reasonable people .

MCMAHON:  You‘re on the show, Rick.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe he might have been doing this to make fun of working people?  People who went out and fought for their country?

DAVIS:  I don‘t know what he thought he was doing, but it sure sounds like he either screwed up a joke, or intentionally maligned them.  And in that case anybody worth his salt says clean this up and move on.  Does John Kerry really want to be the closing story in the ‘06 election?

MCMAHON:  What‘s really funny here .

DAVIS:  Say sorry and move on.

MCMAHON:  What‘s really funny here, Rick, is that you have a bunch of guys in the White House that didn‘t serve, and in fact went to great lengths not to serve, to avoid service in Vietnam.  Some perhaps didn‘t even show up when they supposed to.

DAVIS:  It doesn‘t have anything .

MCMAHON:  Yes it does have something to say.

DAVIS:  If John Kerry said I have never said anything negative about someone in the uniform, what did he do when he came back from Vietnam and sat in front of the Senate committee and said that men created atrocities in Vietnam.

MCMAHON:  He was talking about the president of the United States.

DAVIS:  But look what he said today.

MCMAHON:  This is the kind of .

DAVIS:  In the press conference today he said I‘ve never said anything negative.

MATTHEWS:  Let me read you two points again, if I have had to do this five times during this hour I will do it.  Just so when we walk away from the show you will have the facts, you can interpret them as you will.

This is the Associated Press story of what happened yesterday at Pasadena City College.  After several one liners saying at one point that President Bush lived in Texas but now lives in a state of denial.  He said then, “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you work hard, you study hard, you do your homework, you make an effort to be smart you do well, if you do not, you get stuck in Iraq.”

The context is he‘s trashing Bush for not having studied the region of the Middle East, not being prepared for what we face over there, the Sunnis and the Shias and everyone else fighting with each other, being stuck in that quicksand.  That was his point.

Here is Kerry today.  You can take it for what it is worth, Rick.  You are invited on this show to express a smart point of view.  Let‘s get at it.  “If anyone thinks a veteran would criticize more than 140,000 heroes serving in Iraq and not the president who got us stuck there, they are crazy.

DAVIS:  What did Kerry do when he came back from Vietnam?  He criticized the men in uniform in war.  They were still fighting the war in Vietnam when he came back and said this.

MCMAHON:  Let‘s talk about Vietnam.  What did the president do?  What did Dick Cheney do?  What did everybody over at the White House do?  What did they all do?

DAVIS:  He criticized everyone that attacked them.  John McCain said on a press release this morning, he had the same A.P. article in front of him that you have.

MATTHEWS:  We don‘t know that.  You don‘t know that, and I don‘t know that, but he was probably called by the White House like every one of these other guys, John Boehner, Denny Hastert.

DAVIS:  He read the story.  I talked to him this morning.

MATTHEWS:  Tell me what he said?

DAVIS:  He said, look, he was aghast by this statement.  He said this is the kind of thing that cannot stand if there is any implication that any politician regardless of who he is and what he did in his youth, wearing a uniform and criticizing .

MATTHEWS:  So he believes sort of (inaudible).

DAVIS:  He ought to just clean up.

MATTHEWS:  So you believe that John McCain believes that the guy he has always called his friend actually gave a speech trashing American troops as flunkies?

DAVIS:  I don‘t think he thought he gave the whole speech to trash American troops but the statement but the statement he read indicates .

MATTHEWS:  So John McCain told you this morning that John Kerry is such a lousy guy that he would make fun .

DAVIS:  He didn‘t say he was a lousy guy.  He said look, John Kerry .

MATTHEWS:  Anybody who says people serving in the military right now are in the military because they flunked school.

DAVIS:  He is in a university he‘s telling these jokes, it‘s a lousy joke. 

He needs to apologize for implying that he‘s insulting the troops.

I don‘t think you give him on a bye on this and say, hey, the right thing to do is to attack the president .

MATTHEWS:  Let me read for the third time.  “Kerry opened his speech at Pasadena City College with several one liners saying at one point that Bush had lived in Texas but now lives in a state of denial.  He then said, ‘Education, if you make the most of it, you study hard and do your homework and make an effort to be smart, you do well.  If you don‘t you end up in Iraq.‘”  Kerry said that was meant as a reference to the president, not the troops.  The president says it was a reference to the troops.  What do you think?

DAVIS:  I think it probably was a reference to the troops.  But who knows what he‘s thinking.  I have a right to think whatever I want.

MATTHEWS:  Of course you are.  That‘s why you‘re here.

MCMAHON:  The Republican attack machine .

DAVIS:  It‘s not a Republican attack machine.

MCMAHON:  . is out in force with talking points.

MATTHEWS:  You are perfectly to have that interpretation.  I had that interpretation when I first heard it, but then I heard the context, I saw what he was doing, he is getting into a fit of political rhetoric.  He was blasting Bush, trying to tell jokes about him.  Finally saying this is what happens when you don‘t study in school, you end up taking the troops to Iraq.  He skipped a couple of words.  He didn‘t say it well.  It‘s like a doctor performs a brilliant operation and then leaves a hammer in the body.  That‘s what it was like.  I‘m not going to defend his confusing us.  The fact that we are arguing over what he said shows that he didn‘t say it well.

MCMAHON:  He is not in the business of comedy and obviously he should stay away from telling jokes but it is clear from the context, it is clear from the article what he was talking about.  He is talking about a president who wasn‘t prepared when he went into war and I think the evidence amply supports his argument.  Who didn‘t tell the truth to the American people before we went, who attacks everybody, including now John Kerry, that disagrees or expresses a point of view that is even slightly questioning of a policy that is an absolute miserable failure.  They ran Colin Powell out of the administration and now I‘m sure they‘d like to run John Kerry out of Congress.

DAVIS:  Now we are on to Colin Powell?

MCMAHON:  It‘s what they do, Rick.  And you know what is surprising to me is John McCain and his people do .

DAVIS:  And says, look, I‘m more important today than all these guys I‘m out campaigning for.

MATTHEWS:  Rick.  You know what?

You wouldn‘t believe the number of press conferences, I mean press releases coming into this studio from the top Republicans, all of them in a grand bit of choreography, not since the June Taylor dancers has their been so much choreography.

DAVIS:  They had a gift from John Kerry, they‘re going to take it.

MCMAHON:  I can‘t believe you are sitting here doing this for them today.

DAVIS:  If you look at what Kerry said today, he insulted John McCain by saying he is only being attacked by people that didn‘t serve.  John McCain served.

MCMAHON:  You remember what they did in South Carolina and Virginia, don‘t you, Rick?

DAVIS:  Nothing to do with South Carolina and Virginia.  This has got all to do.  The better behavior would have been .

MATTHEWS:  If you are watching, you read what was said.  You look how it was said, how it was—We have to get the whole tape, that would be really good, to get the whole tape of what he was saying, maybe we would have less argument.  I think it is open to both interpretations.  My interpretation became after seeing it a couple times and reading the text of what he was saying, he was out there trashing the president‘s lack of preparation for going into Iraq, and by the way, I agree with him on that.  If this president had more sense of history about the Middle East, we would not be stuck in Iraq.

Anyway, thank you Rick Davis, thank you, Steve McMahon.  When we come back we‘re going to start with former Bush/Cheney campaign strategist - I love that word.  Matt Dowd.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Let‘s bring in Matthew Dowd, a Republican strategist, and co-founder of hotsoup.com.  Matthew Dowd, sir, your assessment of this rhubarb, I am not going to say everybody has the same interpretation, and mine at first was Kerry said something terrible, I read the context and I realize it was in a litany of an attack on the president for his basic lack of education in the Middle East before we went to war there, but you are open to any possibility, here, sir.  What do you think is going on here with the president calling our attention to a major national speech in Georgia trashing Kerry?

MATTHEW DOWD, HOTSOUP.COM:  Well I think it‘s something that the American public really does not care all that much about.  I think John Kerry served in Vietnam very well, and misspoke and got jumped on, as what happened in the politics, and the way people jump back and forth, but I think by tomorrow or the next day, the American public will want to know what is the Democrats plan to get out of Iraq and to fix the situation, and what are the Republicans going to do.

I think this is just a story that I think the American public, as we found out in Hot Soup throughout the course of the last few weeks, this is the kind of thing that we don‘t want us to focus on, they want to focus on the substance of problem.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Kerry was making fun of the troops, military men, enlisted women as people who can‘t make the academic grade and therefore end up in the military?  Is that what you‘re saying?

DOWD:  Do I think that was his intention?  No.  I think Kerry supports the troops, and I think that he was a member of the military, and I don‘t think his intention was that.  He said it badly and different people can interpret it different ways but I think John Kerry‘s intention has always been in his own way to support the troops.

MATTHEWS:  When I first worked in politics back in 1971, believe it or not, when I got back from the Peace Corps in Africa, I worked for a senator, and I was writing speeches and doing little answering mail and things like that, and the Eagleton affair came along where Tommy Eagleton had electro analysis on himself because of his psychiatric condition years before, and I got really mad when he got in trouble and I thought how could people be so cruel in this business?  He said, this is Frank Moss, the great old guy, he said, the whole business of politics, Chris, is to take the littlest bitty thing in the world, the littlest bitty thing and make it into the biggest thing you ever saw.  Is that what turns people off to politics, this inflate notion of the smallest thing?

DOWD:  I think with YouTube and with all these different things, with 24-hour cable and with all the things that we have, it‘s what it has become, the small nitpicky thing that people focus on and discuss when in reality, what I like to say what people are interested in the signal not the noise and I think this is part of the noise.  And it is not the signal.

What people care about in Iraq is not what John Kerry, John Kerry lost a presidential election, the American public has already made that decision, what they care about is what is going on there and how we are going to deal with the situation, not some misspoken statement about whether or not he thought the troops were ignorant or not which I don‘t think that you can say he thought that.  He misspoke.  But I think it‘s another example, and it‘s one of the reason why Hot Soup which you talked about, does so well because we are trying to have a discussion about stuff that matters to people and not the little tiny things.

MATTHEWS:  Give me three most important issues for people voting in the voting booth that you have discovered by talking online to people?

DOWD:  I think one, they are worried about Iraq and what is going to happen there.  That‘s not only Democrats and independents, but Republicans.  What is going to happen.  How we are going to make sure Iraq is stable and at the same time bring home our troops as fast as possible.  That‘s what the American public wants.

And two is the economy.  We have an economy, though growing people are very anxious about it, the average person changes jobs nine times by the time they are 30 years old, so they are very anxious about the economy and three, I think just where the country is headed in from their kid‘ perspective, what is the educational opportunities, what are the job opportunities, just future oriented part of it, I think that is what is going to dominate this election, Iraq, the economy and a future oriented where is the country going to go?  That‘s what I think ultimately is going to be decided.

MATTHEWS:  Who do you think has been good in purr recent history at addressing these big issues for kids, people in there 20s, and they worry about what they‘re doing in their lives and they have seen all the careers changing and the jobs their fathers and mothers had have disappeared and they don‘t know what to do?  What president can really affect that sort of really personal conundrum or problem.

DOWD:  I think in my last forty or fifty years, the president I think has done very well at speaking to the youth, I think Ronald Reagan spoke to the youth, and the optimism and the hopefulness of the youth and what they could do, and I think that he spoke very well.

MATTHEWS:  I think that you are right.

DOWD:  And I think John F. Kennedy actually spoke in a similar way to the same—I think those two presidents in a way pointed a direction for the future and the youth, and I think that‘s what we need for the next president.

MATTHEWS:  It would be good to be that good with young people.

Thank you Matthew Dowd.  “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now.

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

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