updated 9/19/2008 12:20:40 PM ET 2008-09-19T16:20:40

Guests: Rep. Robert Wexler, Rep. Eric Cantor, Roger Simon, Dominic Carter, Roger Simon, Dominic Carter, David Corn, John Fund, Michelle Bernard, Joan Walsh

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: If the fundamentals are strong, why is the stock market dropping like a rock?

Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews. Leading off, of course, money matters. Once again, it's been a terrible day on Wall Street, with the Dow-Jones dropping almost 450 points. Once again, there's been a big government bailout, $85 billion for the insurance giant AIG. And once again, the economy is, of course, what the candidates have to be talking about.

Barack Obama hit John McCain today hard out in Nevada.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: John McCain went on to say how angry he was at the greedy corporate interests on Wall Street. He is so angry that he wants to punish them with $200 billion worth of tax cuts for them!


MATTHEWS: McCain holds a town hall meeting tonight later in Michigan. We'll talk to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle about specifically what their candidates plan to do to fix this mess.

Also, how is this playing with the voters? The conventional wisdom is that the economy is the Democrats' home turf and Obama should be gaining, so what's keeping them? Are McCain and Palin somehow making the case that they're the change we've been waiting for? We'll take a look at the latest polls. We've got some brand-new ones to give you tonight.

And look who's talking now. Sarah Palin is doing a second media interview, this one with FOX, and she's taking some questions tonight-some-at a town hall meeting alongside John McCain. We're going to look at that and at the latest efforts by Republicans to shut down that so-called "troopergate" investigation up in Alaska.

And we've got some brand-new "Time" magazine polls on key battleground states. We'll share them with you in the "Politics Fix" tonight. And if you think John McCain is the guy running the latest number-of the greatest number of negative ads on TV, we've got some surprises for you on that one later in the HARDBALL "Sideshow." Finally, Obama is getting tough on television.

But we begin with what Obama and McCain would do to fix the economy. U.S. congressman Robert Wexler's from Florida. He's a Democrat. And Congressman Eric Cantor's a Virginia Republican.

First of all, Congressman Wexler, I don't know how many hundreds of billions of dollars in wealthy we've lost just in three days. I've never seen a tumble like this in the stock market, 500 points one day, 450 points today, offset a little bit yesterday. Who knows what hell's coming tomorrow. And we got two candidates running for president. We only got a choice between the two of them. What's your guy think is the problem? What's your guy think is the solution?

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA: The solution is to invest in the American people again. Put government on the side of middle-income Americans. Give significant tax breaks to people who make $250,000 and less. Take seniors who make $50,000 and less off the federal income tax rolls altogether. Create tons of jobs in America.

We've lost more than 600,000 jobs this year. We need to build roads, bridges, lay broadband. We need to develop alternative energy sources that will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in America, stem cell research, which will create a whole new generation of jobs and wealth here in America. Those are the kinds of things we need to do.

What we don't need to do is the deregulation that John McCain and the Republican Party have championed for the last three decades, and that has come home to roost in a very, very dramatic way this week.

MATTHEWS: Congressman Cantor, your candidate, John McCain, says the fundamentals are strong. What do you mean by that? What does he mean by that?

REP. ERIC CANTOR ®, VIRGINIA: Chris, first of all, you asked what the problem is. The problem right now is we have a crisis of confidence in our capital markets right now that has shaken this economy. It has not only affected the investments in Wall Street, it's affected real people. It's affected the middle class who are worried about their retirement, who are worried about whether they're going to have a job, who are worried about their health care.

And what we've got to do is put some confidence back into the minds of the public. Number one, change the way that Washington works, and number two, provide that transparency for the investor community out there so that we can get the economy going again.

And the bottom line, if you look at the two candidates, it is Barack Obama who continues to harp on the fact that we need to tax capital formation. Right now, that means...


CANTOR: ... cut off credit from small businesses. That means, Don't grow jobs. We've got to look at the records, and the record is John McCain has been out there since 2002 talking about changes needed in corporate governance in this country.


CANTOR: He has been on bills since 2005 talking about reforming the GSEs. So all this talk about John McCain not being for reform is just not accurate.

WEXLER: Well, I would...

MATTHEWS: But he says the fundamentals-let me just ask you what he means by the fundamentals, not this nonsense about the workers being a good guy. We know all that. What does he mean when he says the economy-the economy-is fundamentally strong? What does he mean by that about when we've lost maybe a trillion dollars in wealth in the last couple days? What does he mean by the economy is fundamentally strong? What does that mean?

CANTOR: Well, you know, look...

MATTHEWS: Congressman Cantor.

CANTOR: Well, Chris, I...

MATTHEWS: What does he mean?

CANTOR: Chris, I can't tell you what he meant, but I also know that John McCain has said that there is a crisis, an economic crisis in this country right now. It starts with people across this country having difficulty with the cost of living. Look at the price of gas. We sit here in Washington...

MATTHEWS: Well, it's your crowd's...

CANTOR: ... and we have been here...

MATTHEWS: ... been in charge for eight years. How can you complain about the economy and then claim your party should get a four-year extension?

CANTOR: Chris, there is absolutely no excuse that this Nancy Pelosi/Harry Reid-led Congress cannot, will not act on the number one issue...


CANTOR: ... facing American families...


CANTOR: ... which is the affordability of energy.

MATTHEWS: OK. Well, the way...


CANTOR: ... energy bill to bring down gas prices.

MATTHEWS: The way we keep score in American politics is the party that's in power for eight years and runs the White House and three quarters of the time ran the Congress and the White House takes the heat when things go bad. Congressman Cantor, you're trying to change the rules now and saying, Oh, if we take off our uniforms and don't say we're Republicans this week, the people will be fooled.

CANTOR: Absolutely not.

MATTHEWS: I've never heard of that happening in politics!

CANTOR: Absolutely not, Chris. What...

MATTHEWS: You're taking off your uniforms!

CANTOR: Absolutely not, Chris.

MATTHEWS: You're saying you're not Republicans!

CANTOR: Chris, absolutely now. What I tell you is there is a...

MATTHEWS: Are you a Republican?

CANTOR: Absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Are you a Republican?

CANTOR: There is a very...

MATTHEWS: OK, who's been running...

CANTOR: Yes, I am.

MATTHEWS: ... the White House for eight years? Which party?

CANTOR: And there is a distinct difference in what the Democrat candidate for president, Barack Obama, stands for...


CANTOR: ... and what John McCain stands for, as well as a very distinct difference in their records. John McCain has been on the side of reform. John McCain believes we've got to return some type of transparency and give investors what they need, the information they need to act in a prudent way.

We need to also make sure we do not send the signal that we're going to tax capital formation. That capital doesn't have to come to America anymore. It can go anywhere in the world. That's the way you create jobs.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you-let's take a look...


CANTOR: ... going to have the money come into this government...

MATTHEWS: OK, Congressman...

CANTOR: ... the way that Robert wants to spend it.

MATTHEWS: Congressman Wexler.

WEXLER: Here are the facts. Senator McCain chaired the Senate Commerce Committee and was the champion of deregulation. Senator Phil Gramm chaired the Banking Committee, was the enabler of the deregulation of the banking industry. Whether we're talking about the prime loan crisis-the subprime loan crisis, whether we're talking about deregulating banks, deregulating telecommunications, it's been McCain and Gramm, Gramm who's writing McCain's economic plan.


WEXLER: These guys cannot run away from their 30-year record, and now it has come home to roost. And what we need to do to protect the families who have their money invested in AIG. And John McCain has flip-flopped on that. Yesterday, he said, No, don't help the families. Today he said, Yes, help the families. Barack Obama almost two years ago filed legislation to address the debilitating effects of these mortgages. John McCain did nothing.

CANTOR: All Barack Obama...

MATTHEWS: You know, I'm surprised...


MATTHEWS: Congressman Cantor, we're in a national crisis right now. I'm looking at the market every day, and it's scary. And we have a president of the United States who's still in office, he still lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The normal president at this time of a crisis would be on national television at 9:00 o'clock at night talking to the American people about the problems we face.

Do you still take-have confidence in this president you've elected? You voted for Bush the last time. You supported him. Does your party still support President Bush and the way he's leading this country economically? Do you like the job he's doing?

CANTOR: Listen, no one...

MATTHEWS: Do you like the job that Bush is doing?

CANTOR: Chris-Chris, no one likes an economic crisis. We have, as I said before...

MATTHEWS: Do you like the job the president is doing leading this country?

CANTOR: We have a crisis of confidence. What this president has done through his secretary of the treasury has reached out and tried to make a situation right itself so that...


CANTOR: ... the families of this country will not have to worry about where their retirement is coming from. And you know what? It is about time that we start the-stop the finger pointing and start solving the problem. That's exactly what this campaign should be about. That is what John McCain is talking about. And you compare that to what Barack Obama has been saying in the last 24 hours-let the voters hear that because the question will be, when they go into the ballot box, is who, in their minds, is going to best be able to approach the problem...


CANTOR: ... and solve it as quickly as possible without trying to point fingers and lay blame.


MATTHEWS: The problem you have is that your colleague from Virginia, Tom Davis, who once ran your campaign committee, said if the Republican Party was a dog food, they'd take it off the shelves. And you haven't used the word Republican tonight. Your party didn't use it in the acceptance speech. John McCain never said the word Republican. He never said the word Bush. You're trying to take off your uniforms and run from the field of political battle and claim you're not Republicans.

You're claiming you're running against this administration, and I'm not going to let anybody get away with that kind of foolery! You have...

CANTOR: Absolutely not.

MATTHEWS: ... to take responsibility, sir, for the policies of this administration that has gotten us into this mess. You can't walk away and say, Oh, we had nothing to do with it. Can you? Say it if you want to.

CANTOR: No. Listen...


MATTHEWS: ... to do with this situation.

CANTOR: Listen, Chris, it is John McCain and Barack Obama who are on the ballot for the presidency of this country. And what the choice is before the people is whether they're going to vote for John McCain, who has had...


CANTOR: ... the record of experience, who has been a reformer Washington...


CANTOR: ... versus Barack Obama, who has been in the Illinois senate and then been in Washington for three years, with very little record to show for it, and frankly, very little demonstrable ability to solve problems. People are worried...

MATTHEWS: Has the record of the Republican Party...

CANTOR: ... about whether they can afford gas and...

MATTHEWS: You keep giving these talks...

CANTOR: ... whether their retirement will be secure.

MATTHEWS: OK. Is the Republican Party responsible for the economic policies of this country right now? That's all I'm asking.


MATTHEWS: What do you mean wrong?

CANTOR: Democrats have been in charge of Congress for two years.


CANTOR: They have been unable to pass any legislation...


CANTOR: ... of any consequence...


CANTOR: ... and that also is why we're in the situation...


MATTHEWS: I have never in my life seen a party run from its own record like the Republicans have. Sir, I like the way John McCain the other day said the fundamentals are strong because at least he was playing defense honestly. He was admitting that he had to play defense. You, sir, say you don't have to defend the status quo. You can simply run for office, back Bush for two terms in a row, when he blows it, then you can run somebody else and claim, Oh, he was wearing a different uniform. You got to defend your party, sir, don't you?

CANTOR: Chris-Chris, let's just take the situation as it is. You know, we've got economic crisis. Families in the country...


CANTOR: ... are very worried. They are very insecure. I am not...

MATTHEWS: And where does the buck stop?

CANTOR: ... dodging that question.

MATTHEWS: Where does the buck stop?

CANTOR: So we've got to go forward and try and solve the problem.

That's going to be...

MATTHEWS: OK, Harry Truman...

CANTOR: ... the question at hand in this election.

MATTHEWS: I know Harry Truman's one of your heroes, sir, because he's a hero of every Republican. And he said, "The buck stops here." I'm just asking you, where's the president of the United States tonight? You had Paulson out there. Where's the president? He's pulling one of these Katrinas again! Where is he? The country's worried like hell. When you lose this amount of value in the wealth of this country in a matter of days, you'd think the president would come on television to explain the situation to the American people. I'm just asking where he is.


CANTOR: Chris, again, you'll have to ask-I don't know where he is. I assume he's in the White House. And I assume also that he's in daily, and if not, hourly contact with his secretary of the treasury, who has been very active over the last several weeks in trying to right the ship so we can get our economy moving again...


CANTOR: ... and get jobs growing again.


CANTOR: And the answer is not to raise taxes so that we can redistribute wealth so that somehow, we can help a select few. We've got to help all Americans. They're all worried about their jobs. They're all worried about retirement security.


CANTOR: They're all worried about where their health care is going to come from. Those are the kind of issues this campaign is about. Those are the kind of issues...


CANTOR: ... that John McCain has a demonstrated record on...


CANTOR: ... and that is the decision these voters will have to make in November.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask Congressman-put some heat on Congressman Wexler here. You laid out the plan, the program of your candidate, tax cuts for the middle class, big public spending like WPA, works projects, infrastructure building, including cutting-edge spending on things like stem cell research. All that sounds good. But one part of your program is going to cut the revenues of the federal government. That's a tax cut. The other part's going to increase the spending of the federal government. It sounds like you're doing more fiscal overreach. More deficit spending sounds like the bottom line of the program you advance here.

WEXLER: No because we're actually being honest. We're saying if you make $250,000 or less, you're going to get tax cuts. But if you make $250,000 or more, you're going to get the tax cuts that George Bush, and yes, the Republican Congress gave you over the last eight years-we're going to take those away and put you back...


WEXLER: ... at the rates of the Clinton administration and that will even it out. It is unbelievable that Mr. Cantor and others continue to say that Barack Obama wants to raise taxes. The truth is. if you're a middle-income American, you will benefit greatly.


WEXLER: Yes, families are hurting and they need help with their jobs, their health care and their taxes, and that's what we're offering.

MATTHEWS: OK. I'm not pointing fingers here, gentlemen, but I want to ask you both to answer a question yes or no. You can answer it either way. You're elected officials. I'm not. Congressman Wexler, do you take responsibility politically for the performance of the Democratic Congress the last two years? Yes or no?

WEXLER: Of course we do.

MATTHEWS: Do you take personal-OK. Do you take responsibility, Congressman Cantor, for the performance of this president the last eight years? Do you take responsibility for that politically, the performance of this president?

CANTOR: I take responsibility...

MATTHEWS: Yes or no!

CANTOR: I take responsibility for my performance in the seat that I hold in Congress...


CANTOR: ... and our party in Congress.

MATTHEWS: So it's every man for himself now in your party.

CANTOR: Absolutely not. I support the policies that our party has put forward. When you look at...

MATTHEWS: It sounds like you're jumping ship, sir.

CANTOR: No. Wait...

MATTHEWS: Are you defending President Bush's performance as president of the United States, his economic management of this country right tonight?

CANTOR: I absolutely-this president has been...

MATTHEWS: Do you defend his economic performance as of tonight?

CANTOR: This president...

MATTHEWS: You got him elected!

CANTOR: ... has always been for trying-this president has always been for trying to return more of the people's money to them, those who earn it. He has been a commander-in-chief who's gone out...

MATTHEWS: OK. All right.

CANTOR: ... after the threats that have been presented to this country.

MATTHEWS: OK, change the subject. Change the subject. (INAUDIBLE) Next time you quote Harry Truman, Congressman Cantor, remember what he said, "The buck stops here." OK, thank you very much, Congressman Wexler. Thank you, Congressman Cantor.

WEXLER: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: So how will the frightening financial drop-and it is frightening-affect this election? And by the way, it is a choice between two parties, as well as two candidates. Can Obama win by linking McCain to the economic failures of the past eight years? He said he would. Let's see if he can do it.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Is the economic meltdown we're watching on Wall Street helping Barack Obama bounce back in the polls? Well, something's doing it for him. Today's Diageo "Hotline" tracking poll has Obama-Biden up by 3. It was just a 1-point lead on Monday. Gallup's tracking poll has Obama now up by 2 points. McCain was up 2 points on Monday. The Ipsos/McClatchy poll has it tied at 45 each. McCain led by a point a week ago. And the Pollster.com combination of all the averages nationally has Obama now up by a point.

Roger Simon's a political columnist for Politico, and Dominic Carter's the senior reporter for New York 1.

First of all, gentlemen, these polls always lag a couple of days. But is it really possible that what happened here is just on the Palin front, that her sort of new car finish or scent, you know, the new car feel-that maybe that's just worn off, that there's only so much-this country has a hard time keeping its attention on anything new.

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM: I think that's true. I also think, you know, she was a shot of adrenaline to the ticket, which the ticket needed, but now...



SIMON: Well...

MATTHEWS: And that's it.

SIMON: Well, I think we're seeing an erosion of that. And I think also, you know, John McCain may be sitting around now saying, What if I had picked Mitt Romney? Would that, in the long run...


MATTHEWS: ... yet, but should Hillary be on the other ticket? Dominic, what do you think? Do you think that it's just we could only focus on the new kid on the block, the new person on the block, a couple of days and everything loses its sheer-its sheen or whatever?

DOMINIC CARTER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, first of all, Chris, nice to see you.

I think the bottom line here is that the Democrats still have not found an answer. So, I disagree a little bit with the-with the assessment. I still don't think the Democrats have found an answer, as of yet, to Sarah Palin.

But, as far as the economy, I think it's definitely a situation where Senator Obama is seeing a bounce. Any time they can portray McCain as out of touch, that's a good thing for the Democrats.

MATTHEWS: I think, when he referred to the economy as being fundamentally strong, I think he made a-he stepped into cement. You know that ad we...


CARTER: A big problem.


MATTHEWS: ... with the guy who steps in the cement and it gets hard around him?

Let's take a look. Here's Carville, who is, no matter what anybody thinks, one of the smartest people in this-in this punditry business.

He said on Tuesday-that's yesterday-"I think it's-September the 15th will be the day that John McCain's chances for the presidency pretty much evaporated. Barring some big gaffe by Obama, this race is essentially over. This is like the 16th time he's defended this economy as being fundamentally strong."

This is what John-he believes, just to cut to the chase here, that the minute John McCain said the economy is fundamentally strong, he identified himself with the way things are going in this country, and people don't like the way things are going.

SIMON: Exactly.

And the essential question is, for Obama to ask, are Republicans good stewards of the economy? They say they are.

MATTHEWS: Do you trust them with your money?

SIMON: Exactly. They say they are, but look at the economy.

And, as you pointed out, you know, it's-a president is limited in his role to make immediate short-term effects or improvements in the stock market. What a president can do is restore public confidence. And this is where the Bush administration and the Republicans are letting people down.

It's what FDR did during the Depression. Actually, all that 100 -- his first 100 days legislation had less effect at ending the Depression than the restoration of public confidence. And you don't see the chief executive of our government coming forward and restoring confidence.

MATTHEWS: Dominic, this crowd around McCain, if it's a statement as to his ability to select top-rate people, is amazing. You have got Phil Gramm, who said we're a bunch of whiners. He is blaming the bad news of the economy on the people, the voters. That's smart.

You have got McCain's-you have got Fiorina, who may have an ego situation or whatever, because she said that her candidate, McCain, couldn't do the job she once did, which is run Hewlett-Packard to a point. And then you have got this other guy coming out saying that-we're going to have it later in the "Sideshow," which is where it belongs-his top economic adviser is now saying that he invented the-the BlackBerry.

And then-and another person has to say, well, he was telling a joke, which he wasn't.


MATTHEWS: He's got a strange crew. It reminds me of the original Mets back in the original days in-over in Queens.


MATTHEWS: What do you make of this?

CARTER: Well, they have had a bad couple of days, the McCain side, no doubt about that.

The bottom line here, Chris, whenever the economy is discussed, as opposed to Palin or lipstick on a pig, it's a good day for Obama.

But here's my point. Don't think this race is over. Anything can happen. It's still so very close.


MATTHEWS: You don't have to sell me on that, Dominic. I think this is the most unpredictable election of our life.

Here's-take a look at-here's Senator Obama today.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: John McCain actually said that, if he is president, he will take on-and I quote-"the old boys' network in Washington."


OBAMA: I'm not making this up. This is somebody who has been in Congress for 26 years...


OBAMA: ... who put seven of the most powerful Washington lobbyists in charge of his campaign. And now he tells us that he is the one who is going to take on the old boys' network...


OBAMA: The old boys' network, in the McCain campaign, that's called a staff meeting.




MATTHEWS: Will those kind of snappers work for this guy?


I mean, this is a reformulation and a more human face...


SIMON: ... of the change argument. He is saying, look, John McCain says he is change. He is not change. He's the old boys' network.

I mean, you-you-it-it is a fuddier, more human, different way of saying, I'm the true change.


MATTHEWS: Can he do these snapper jokes? He used to be more of a Danny Thomas joke-teller, longer, more elegiac.


MATTHEWS: Can he tell these quickies, and is this going to work for him, this sort of knocking the other side with a quip?

CARTER: Well...

MATTHEWS: The old boys' network is a staff meeting. These are the guys who have been together forever.

CARTER: Well, it's definitely a good punchline. These guys are battling each other now over change, where the McCain folks are trying to co-opt Obama's message.

Again, I continue to look at the polls, and we will just see how this thing plays out. But it is very, very close, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Oh, tell me about it.

CARTER: And the more that the topic is on the economy, the better it is for Obama.

MATTHEWS: Because, generally, the voters vote yes or no. They either like the way things are going and keep the party in power that's in, or they don't like the way things are going and they vote that party out, the other guys in, give them a shot.

I always say the voter is like a baseball manager sitting in the dugout. He is watching that pitcher out there. And if he can't get the other side out, he doesn't look at the bullpen and say, how is he throwing in the bullpen? He goes to the bullpen. And the voters tend to be like that.

The Republicans keep saying, look at the guy in the bullpen. He's not as good as the guy on the mound. Wait a minute. That's not how people think. They go, get that guy out of there. He can't pitch.

Let's take a look at McCain, however, making a pitch in Michigan today.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I'm here to send a message-message to Washington and to Wall Street. We are not going to leave the workers here in Michigan hung out to dry, while we give billions in taxpayers' dollars to Wall Street. We are going to take care of the workers. The workers, they're the ones that deserve our help.


MCCAIN: It's time to get our auto industry back on its feet. It's time for a new generation of cars and for loans to build the facilities that will make them.


MATTHEWS: Well, everybody knows I like John McCain personally, but there he is going out to Michigan, reading a script, saying you have got to tell Washington-you just came from Washington.

I mean, what is this game of-this charade that is going on here,. Roger, of claiming they are not Republicans, claiming they never heard of George Bush? These are the guys that brought us George Bush, campaigned like hell for him, people like Cantor we just had on. They were all singing the guy's praises until yesterday. The thing hits the handbasket. They go, oh, who was president?

I say, where is the president of the United States? They don't even defend him anymore.

SIMON: Again, this...


MATTHEWS: They left their uniforms back on the field somewhere.

SIMON: This is what is letting Obama back in the game, getting back to his original message...


SIMON: ... which is that this-John McCain will be, Obama says, the third term of George Bush.


SIMON: And the more he hits home on that, the better he does.

MATTHEWS: We are getting back, Dominic, to the fundamentals of politics. If you blow it, they yank you. You get a turn if the other guy blows it.

Thank you, Dominic Carter. It's great to have you back on the show.

Roger, thank you.

Up next: You probably remember the flap over Al Gore creating-I think that was his word-the Internet. Wait until you hear what a senior McCain aide said about John McCain creating something else. Very interesting stuff. It's part of that kind of craziness, the gang that can't shoot straight, around him.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL and time for the "Sideshow."

Well, McCain top economic adviser, Douglas Holtz Eakin, got caught boosting his boss' economic credential yesterday in a briefing with reporters when he ran this surprising claim to fame up the flagpole.


QUESTION: What did he do on the Commerce Committee that Americans could look at say, oh, this is a guy who understands financial markets? I mean, correct me if I'm wrong...



Telecommunications of the United States, the premier innovation in the past

15 years, comes right through the Commerce Committee. So, you're looking

at the miracle that John McCain-John McCain helped created. And that's

that's what he did.


MATTHEWS: So, he invented the BlackBerry?

Some other people in McCain's war wagon heard that groaner, and plunged deep into damage control.

"Boneheaded," they declare, not just that, but a boneheaded joke, they called it, as if the wild claim on McCain's behalf was made as some sort of a knee-slapper for the entertainment of the listening reporters. Nice try. The claim he is responsible for the BlackBerry now joins the charge by another McCainiac that we are a country of whiners, and Carly Fiorina's lament just the other day that not even John McCain is capable of doing the job she once held, running a company.

Next: Sarah Palin has done the impossible. She has eclipsed Barack Obama's star power, at least for now, when it comes to Internet merchandising. CafePress.com, an online market for user-generated goods, has seen sales for its Sarah Palin merchandise skyrocket in recent weeks, everything from T-shirts, to hats, to baby bibs.

In fact, this marks the first time that a candidate has rivaled Senator Obama's sales on CafePress.com. Let's see how long the Alaska governor can ride the charts.

And a new group comes to Governor Palin's defense. Yesterday, we learned that the V.P. nominee used her own money to install a tanning bed in the Alaska governor's mansion. Well, what did the-we now know that the Indoor Tanning Association has-has said something good about that-quote-"Kudos to Governor Palin for standing up to dermatologists and other members of the sun scare industry who are trying to frighten Americans away from U.V. light."

So, she has got the tanning industry on her side, the governor does.

But doesn't John McCain, a victim of too much sun, warn people as he goes by them on the beach, for example, about exactly the danger of all this tanning? Interesting conflict there.

Time now for tonight's "Big Number."

The McCain camp has been getting a lot of attention for some recent hard-hitting ads. In fact, the Wisconsin Advertising Project, a group that studies politics ads nationwide, deems that 56 percent of the ads aired by the McCain campaign last week were negative. That's 56 percent of McCain's ads negative.

But here's a number that may surprise you. How many of Obama's ads in that same time period last week were negative? Seventy-seven percent-an indication, perhaps, that Obama intends to come out swinging, or these are the next couple months. He is going to be doing it. Nearly four out of five ads Obama aired last week were negative-tonight's "Big Number."

Up next: Republicans in Alaska are pushing to delay the investigation into whether Sarah Palin abused power by firing a state commissioner who wouldn't fire a state trooper, her former brother-in-law. We're going to look into what's going on up in Alaska, interesting stuff.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MIKE HUCKMAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I am Mike Huckman with your CNBC "Market Wrap."

And stocks plunging in the wake of the federal bailout of AIG on worries that more big financial firms will fail, the Dow dropping 449 points, the S&P down 57, and the Nasdaq off 109 points.

Meantime, "The New York Times" reports, struggling savings and loan Washington Mutual has put itself up for auction. "The Times" also reporting that Morgan Stanley is considering a merger with Wachovia or another bank.

That's it from CNBC, first in business worldwide-now back to


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Sarah Palin, who is the Republican nominee for vice president, is expected to take questions tonight from a crowd at a town meeting, along with John McCain at her side. She is doing a second media, by the way, with FOX. Sean Hannity has got her. It's the second interview after Charlie Gibson. At the same time, the ethics investigation involving Palin up in Alaska has been gaining attention, as Republican lawmakers there, their legislators up in Alaska, are trying to stop it on behalf of Sarah Palin.

What does all this mean for the race coming up now?

Well, joining us right now is David Corn of "Mother Jones" magazine, and John Fund of OpinionJournal.con. John, of course is author of "Stealing Elections," a wonderful thought right now, nothing like that to get us wobbly in our knees. We would like to get the count right.

But, let me ask you, David Corn, is there anything to trooper-gate? Is it something that would matter to a voter who is really trying to make up his or her mind this November?

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "MOTHER JONES": Well, you know, initially, you might think that it wasn't much-it was much ado about maybe not so much, a small little investigation going on in Alaska about whether she abused her office to basically settle a family score and force the dismissal of her ex...

MATTHEWS: Firing an ex-brother-in-law.

CORN: Ex-brother-in-law.

But-but what-but it's interesting. In the last few days, the Republicans are treating this like it's another Watergate, and they better shut it down right away. And they sent this Edward O'Callahan, who used to be a top terrorism prosecutor from the Justice Department, up to Alaska to handle this investigation for Sarah Palin, to try to shut it down. Republicans up there have been filing-I've got all these legal briefs in my lap at the moment. They've filing papers like crazy the last two days to try to shoot it down.

At the same time, this was supposed to be done within a couple of weeks and it was originally a bipartisan investigation. In fact, State Senator Lyda Green, who is a Republican, says that it's the John McCain campaign that is politicizing what was supposed to be a bipartisan effort and she is very upset about that.

MATTHEWS: I'm surprised to hear that. I didn't know it was bipartisan. John Fund, is this a really story or a wild goose chase?

FUND: It could be real and I think the investigations should continue. But let's be clear. I was up in Alaska when this story broke. I did some reporting up there. This story started out as a bipartisan investigation. It changed completely on August 29. Since then, both parties have completely politicized this investigation. On the one hand, the Republicans, as David pointed out, are trying to slow down. On the hand, the Democratic chairman of this committee, Hollis French, has basically automatically said this is a personnel matter that went out of bounds. That's drawing a conclusion before the investigation has been finished. He's warned about an October Surprise his investigation might cover.

I think this has become very politicized. If I were deciding what to do, I would say the attorney general of Alaska should meet with the Democratic and Republican members of the legislature and say look, we need an independent counsel to look into this. This is no longer a bipartisan operation in the middle of a presidential campaign. You can't have one.

MATTHEWS: Doesn't that put the lid on it until after the election?

FUND: No. Let's have a report by November 4th.

CORN: The attorney general of Alaska did speak out today. And he is not elected. He's an appointed attorney general. He said he will not let state employees comply with the subpoenas that were voted the other day. Listen, this is-there is still a bipartisan element here. Last Friday, the committee overseeing the investigation voted three to two in favor of these subpoenas. And one of those crucial votes came from a Republican senator who comes from the town of Wasilla, Sarah Palin's own hometown, whose representative voted in favor of going ahead with the subpoenas.

FUND: One of the things we know about Sarah Palin is she went up against the corrupt Republican machine of Ted Stevens. There are a lot of them who have two words for Sarah Palin of Alaska, and they are not happy birthday.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the politics of Sarah Palin nationally. John Fund, you know how PR works. You know how journalism works. Is she getting the kind of entree to the press that most VP nominees get or is she being (INAUDIBLE), what the right word is. You know what President Bush calls it? The prejudice of declining of lower expectations of whatever he calls it. Is she being kept from talking to the press because they don't trust the situation? Is that what's going on here?

FUND: Chris, this reminds me an awful lot of the way Geraldine Ferarro was treated in 1984. She was someone who was a complete surprise on the national scene. She had relatively limited experience in national politics. And believe me, as soon as questions about her husband and his ties to various unsavory characters were raised, they drew her back and they had one brief press conference with her several into her selection.

MATTHEWS: Let me just defend Geraldine. She stood out on the stage one weekend afternoon, after the questions came up about her tax returns and her husband's relations, in terms of the income they were filing, the May 15th report. She stood there like for an hour on the stage answering every single question. She even called her accountant. His name was Murray, I'll never forget, and she said Murrah, come out here. They answered every question.

David Corn, I think Geraldine Ferraro, whatever her problem were, she faces the lion.

FUND: That happened well after her selection, and maybe Sarah Palin will ultimately have to do that. The point is, once she did that, she also disappeared from the campaign trail for a while.

MATTHEWS: David Corn, your turn.

CORN: It's not just Sarah Palin. I think it's been 35 days now since John McCain has had a press conference. Neither one of these people are really putting themselves out there to be questioned. Going on with Sean Hannity? That is not a serious interview. She won't be asked the hard questions. I think the McCain camp would like to run out the clock as long as possible for both McCain and Sarah Palin, so they don't have to talk about the issues that you have been talking about earlier in the show.

FUND: Let's just be clear. All of these candidates are trying to keep things from reporters and from the public. I spent a lot of time trying to get the most important records out of the Rezko land deal from the Obama campaign. They not only refused to give them, but they won't even give a reason why they won't give them. McCain is doing the same. Palin is doing the same. And believe me, Obama has released one page of medical records, versus John McCain's thousands of pages. Everybody is playing hide the ball.

MATTHEWS: I have a lot of faith in Gwen Ifyll moderating the debate of the two vice presidential candidates. I think it will be an hour we're going to learn a lot. That's October 2nd. It's a long time to wait. David Corn, John Fund, thank you for joining us.

Brand-new polls coming in from key battleground states tonight. We got some hot ones for you from the Midwest, around the country. They show a very tight race. Neither side is winning, neither is losing as of tonight.

Plus, can Barack Obama convince voters he is the guy to fix the economy. He still has to prove he cares deeply about what is going wrong in the country, and has a tool kit to fix it. He has to do both. He has to care. He has to have the strength to prove he can do it. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix. Tonight's round table, MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard and the Salon's Joan Walsh. Ladies, every time I see that commercial for HARDBALL, I see Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, and Joan, I see Tina Fey now every time. It was such a rip. What did you think of that imitation she did Saturday night?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: It was perfect. She was born to play Sarah Palin. She was a little bit scary, too. A little too close for comfort.

MATTHEWS: I like when she said, that's just god hugging us closer.

Global warming.

WALSH: I use that joke today about global warming in a staff meeting. I think there are a lot of good ones. And I can see Russia from my house, too.

MATTHEWS: You almost have that Fargo accent.

WALSH: I went to high school and college in Wisconsin, so it comes very naturally.

MATTHEWS: What did you think?

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I liked it. I thought it was really funny. the impersonation that Fey did, as well as the one of Hillary Clinton. I liked it. It was funny. Sometimes a little over the top. But the accent, she had it down perfect.

MATTHEWS: Let's take look at the latest number. Hot in tonight, Indiana, the Hoosier state. 51-45. Looks like Republicans are going to keep that state. North Carolina-as of tonight. North Carolina, McCain leads Obama 48-47, really too close there. North Carolina is still in play. Florida, unbelievable, the Democrats are even at 48-48. That's impressive for the D's because I thought they had lost that. That explains why Hillary Clinton was campaigning the other day down there.

Wisconsin, again, a substantial-significantly not a big one, 50-47 for Obama in Wisconsin. Ohio-this is a hot one. Obama, if wins Ohio, he wins the election, 49-47. Let's take a look at a poll on Sarah Palin's favorability, which has also been declining this week. On Monday, September 15th, she was at 48, unfavorable 36. That was down from Sunday, where she was 49 favorable, 34 unfavorable. Saturday, three or four days ago, she was at 52-30.

I'm not going to make too much of that. What do you make of that?

There's some erosion there from her top of the charts excitement.

BERNARD: I always expected it. I think anybody should have expected it. She came out of nowhere. You expect to be-

MATTHEWS: Is she going back to nowhere?

BERNARD: No, I don't think she is going back to nowhere. I think she is leveling off to an appropriate level and she has to put voters in position-actually, to tell you the truth, I almost said she is at the top of the ticket. That's the problem for John McCain right now. He needs to get voters remembering that he is at the top of the ticket. He is running for president and really fight this thing out.

MATTHEWS: He's with her again tonight. They're running-I've said this before, they're running as a classic anchor team, male, female, older guy, younger woman. It almost like he's ready to retire. She's at the top of her game. Interesting how this television thing seeps into the values of politics. Joan?

WALSH: Definitely interesting. I think that she is eroding because we're seeing more of her, to be quite honest. She is an enormously charismatic person. She is charming. That interview, the set of interviews with Charlie Gibson last week, really sobered a lot of people up. You saw a lot of conservative commentators like David Brooks and others come out after that and say, wow, she is really not ready.

The more we see of her, the more there is a risk that it will continue to erode.

MATTHEWS: What got me was when she repeated the same phrases verbatim. That is a sign of a coached person. It doesn't say she's not smart. It just says on the issues she's talking about, talking about, she's basically been coached.


MATTHEWS: You don't have to say, we generally are friends with Israel. You say we never second-guess them. second-guess, second-guess them. You start talking like a broken record. By the way, a broken record is a reference to old time technology. I have to explain that to people. There was once a thing called a record that went around, a record. It would break and make that repetitious sound.

BERNARD: I don't think her interview was as bad as other people think it was. I think she was not necessarily ready for prime time yet. I'm sure she was coached. She absolutely had to have been coached. This is a new scene to her. People don't know her yet. And she needs to get a little bit better.

MATTHEWS: I predict we talk more about the economy the next week, too. This thing is so horrible. We have lost-the American people, whatever your piece of this-over a trillion dollars in wealth in three days. This is ghastly, what's going on. I don't know where the president is, but he's not out there building confidence. He is in the White House somewhere. It is a Katrina moment, I think.

We'll be right back with Michelle Bernard and Joan Walsh for more of the politics fix. You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: We're back with Michelle Bernard and Joan Walsh for the politics fix. Let me go to Joan. What has amazed me tonight is we had Eric Cantor, who is a young, up and coming, US Congressman from Richmond, I believe, from Virginia. He didn't defend his administration. He didn't defend the Republican party. I put it together. I watch what happened and you did, too, out in Minnesota. The Republicans never mentioned they were Republicans. Never mentioned they had a president in office running the country right now named George W. Bush. Is there like an army that has taken off its uniform in the field of battle and raced away from the field of battle and come back, dressed differently? Or are we just civilians here? We don't know anything about these guys.

WALSH: We have nothing to do with it. We're all about change, too, Chris, and we'll bring change. And then the changes are never specified. I thought that was awful. I also thought it was awful to watch John McCain struggle with his cue cards, or his index cards in Michigan, talking about how we're going to help the workers, but absolutely no facility with what he would do to help the workers. And really, almost not even seeming like his heart was in it. I believe he has a good heart.

MATTHEWS: I like him too. But 26 years in Washington and he says I have to go to Michigan and read some cue cards, saying we have to send a message to Washington. He just came from Washington. This locution of we're attacking Washington by these characters; they all want to go to Washington.

WALSH: He is part of this culture deregulation, too. He and Phil Gramm. They really do bear some responsibility for this. This isn't nebulous stuff. We're not sure who thinks what. It is real. He really did back those policies. They really got us into trouble. I understand. I'd be taking off my uniform too.

BERNARD: I understand what he's doing. He should be taking of his uniform. This is part of strategy. He is running as a change agent, as is Barack Obama. It boils down to what kind of change agent do you want? He is not running on the George Bush ticket.

MATTHEWS: He is running on the Republican ticket.

BERNARD: But he is saying, I'm a different kind of Republican. I'm not the person who did that.

MATTHEWS: The night of the inaugural parties, if he wins, it will be the same crowd that was there for the Bush victories. They're the same people. Let's not kid ourselves, the same lobbyists, the same friends, the same costumes. Anyway, thank you, Michelle Bernard and Joan Walsh. Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Right now, it is time for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE with David Gregory.



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