updated 8/8/2007 12:53:07 PM ET 2007-08-08T16:53:07

Guests: Richard Trumka, Lynn Sweet, Eugene Robinson, John Feehery, Karen Finney

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Is tonight the night of Hillary‘s coronation?  Is organized labor, the old base of the Democratic Party, ready to lay down for the frontrunner?  Is big labor ready to squeeze into its seat on the Hillary bus?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.

Today is “Super Tuesday” on MSNBC, and at 7:00 Eastern tonight, the Democratic candidates will face off before an audience of over 10,000 union members in the AFL-CIO forum out in Chicago.  The live event from Soldier Field will be moderated by my colleague, MSNBC‘s Keith Olbermann, and I‘ll have post-game analysis starting at 8:30 Eastern.

There‘s a lot at stake for the Democratic contenders tonight.  A new “USA Today” a Gallup poll shows Senator Hillary Clinton is the solid frontrunner—catch these number -- 48 percent, almost 50 percent now, a commanding lead of 22 points over Barack Obama and gaining.  John Edwards is third with only 12 percent.

Edwards has the most to lose tonight, as he has been courting labor as part of his strategy to win the nomination, so expect Edwards to come out swinging tonight.  We‘ll talk to Richard Trumka, the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO in just a moment.  And later, presidential candidate Senator Christopher Dodd‘s going to join us from Soldier Field.

Has Hillary already locked things up, or can John Edwards throw a Hail Mary pass tonight on that football field and get back in the game?  And what about Barack?  Is the favorite son of Chicago going to let Hillary walk all over him?

But we begin with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster with this preview of tonight‘s debate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Tonight, the Democratic candidates for president face off in a fight to win the party‘s all-important labor vote.  Heading into this form sponsored by the AFL-CIO, each candidate was given an opportunity to produce an opening video statement.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And I recently stood on the picket line in March with the workers at the Congress Hotel here in Chicago.  I had marched with them four years earlier, and I told them that if they‘re still fighting four years from now, I‘d be back on that picket line as president of United States.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘ve spent half my life fighting for working families.  Much as I hate to admit it, that‘s three decades now.  But I can‘t fight alone.  The only way we‘re going to change things in this country is together.

SHUSTER:  For John Edwards, who‘s now in a statistical three-way tie with Obama and Clinton in Iowa, the stakes are the highest.  Without the labor vote, Edwards has a slim chance of winning that first caucus state, which some would argue he needs to catapult through the rest of the primary season.

At a speech Monday in Iowa, Edwards focused on trade issues.

JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  But the truth is that for too long, presidents from both parties have entered into trade agreements like NAFTA, promising that they‘d create millions of new jobs and enrich communities.  Instead, too many of these agreements have cost jobs and have devastated towns and communities across this country.

SHUSTER:  By attaching Presidents Bush and Clinton, Edwards is trying to underscore Mrs. Clinton‘s ties to special interests.

On Saturday, before a major meeting of liberal bloggers, Hillary Clinton defended herself.

CLINTON:  A lot of those lobbyist, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans.  They actually do.  They represent nurses.  They represent, you know, social workers.  They represent—yes, they represent corporations that employ a lot of people.

SHUSTER:  But John Edwards does not take money from lobbyists, and today, even though Edwards did not mention the Clintons by name, he continued his criticism by hammering corporate influence.

EDWARDS:  And these people‘s job is to rig the system.  And what we need to do is get their money influence out of what‘s happening in Washington, whoever they represent.  That‘s all.  They‘re entitled to speak their mind.  They‘re entitled to say to members of Congress what they think they should do, but they shouldn‘t be doing that during the day and having fund-raisers at night.

SHUSTER:  The big question for tonight‘s forum is how tough John Edwards will be against frontrunner Hillary Clinton, at 48 percent in the latest “USA Today” poll, and against Barack Obama, who stands at 26 percent.  Edwards trails at 12 percent.

Another big question for tonight is whether Barack Obama can beat back the barrage of attacks against him in the past few weeks over foreign policy.  And will he engaged Hillary Clinton head on?

(on camera):  Finally, debates and forums often create a few surprises, and tonight‘s event in front of tens of thousands of union activities is taking place just five months before the start of the presidential primaries.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Richard Trumka is secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO.  He‘s formerly the head of the United Mine Workers of America and a third-generation miner.  He joins us now from Chicago.  Richard, it‘s great to have you on.  I‘m a big fan.  But we have to talk about something very important right now—Utah.  What‘s the latest word on those six miners, or those miners 1,500 feet underground out there?

RICHARD TRUMKA, AFL-CIO SECRETARY-TREASURER:  Still no word.  We‘re still trying to get to them.  We‘re making every effort that we can to try to rescue the miners, and we give our hopes and our prayers that we‘ll find them alive.  We‘ll soon find out.

MATTHEWS:  Do you have any complaint about management out there at that mine?

TRUMKA:  You know, look, Chris, everybody—he tried to say that this was an act of God.  This wasn‘t an act of God, it was an act of man.  And either one of two things happened.  Either the laws we‘re being followed, or the laws are too weak to save people.  In either case, we have to have some changes.

MATTHEWS:  Were they following that dangerous procedure of retreat mining, of whatever it‘s called?

TRUMKA:  I‘m not actually aware, Chris.  I don‘t know the intimate details of that.  I haven‘t gotten a report yet.  I will soon.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about politics tonight.  Hillary Clinton—boy, she‘s going gangbusters.  Whatever you think of this candidate, she‘s 40 percent in the Gallup today.  She‘s closing in on a majority support among Democrats in these polls.  What‘s that say to you fellows in labor?  And women.

TRUMKA:  Well, it says that we‘re going to continue on with our process.  We‘ve tried to involve our members in the selection process of a president more this year than we‘ve ever done before, Chris.  We‘ve had surveys.  We‘ve had town hall forums.  And tonight we‘re going to have the biggest job interview in the history of the country because working people right now are preparing to mobilize to put a working-friendly person in the White House, and we‘re going to interview them tonight and see which one gets the nod.

MATTHEWS:  Do you expect the international presidents to agree on a candidate, or will they all go their separate ways?

TRUMKA:  Well, tomorrow, we‘ll have a discussion on that at our executive council, and we‘ll decide whether we call our general board in.  It takes a two-thirds vote of our general board, and that‘s the presidents of all the unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO, in order to endorse.  If they don‘t, then we‘ll --  some of the affiliates will endorse, some won‘t endorse until after the primary.  We, of course, at the AFL-CIO will be free to call the meeting of the general board any time we think we have consensus of all of our affiliates.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about John Edwards because he runs in third place in this new poll.  He‘s been in third place for a while.  Yet this guy has been making a real effort to try to win labor support.  I mean, he‘s been questioning, in fact, condemning the pro-trade policies of the Clinton administration, the Republicans.  He‘s come out for—what‘s it called, check card or card check neutrality.  He‘s pushed minimum wage from day one.

TRUMKA:  (INAUDIBLE) free choice (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.  That‘s how you call it.  He‘s been consistent about giving you guys a better chance to organize.  He‘s pushing against what you consider unfair trade practices.  He‘s pushed hard on minimum wage from the beginning.  Why don‘t you endorse the guy who seems to agree with you on everything?

TRUMKA:  Well, I‘d say he has a lot of support among working people.  Some of the other candidates have a lot of support, as well.  Our job is to let our members decide.  Tonight they‘ll get a good chance.  They‘ll get to interview him.  We‘re hoping to hear a discussion about how these candidates will restore the American dream to the millions of workers that have been left behind by the Bush administration.  The person who does the best job tonight will get a leg up, regardless of which one of those candidate it might be.

MATTHEWS:  You know, when you guys kick into your PACs and the workers kick in and you are able to help candidates, usually Democrats, some Republicans, you think it helps, don‘t you.

TRUMKA:  Well, first of all, none of the money from our political program goes directly to candidates.  All of the money from our program goes to educating our members, registering them, mobilizing them and getting them out.  Yes, we think it helps.  We were one out of every four votes in the last election, and we think we‘re going to make the difference in this election on who becomes president.  We think it‘s going to be a working-family-friendly president...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

TRUMKA:  ... and it‘s not going to be anybody else.

MATTHEWS:  And when you work in Washington, Richard, as the AFL-CIO is centered here, and you lobby Congress, you believe that works, too, right?

TRUMKA:  Well, I believe that the strength of our stories works.  When we lobby congress, we bring workers in and we have them tell a story, or when we go up and we talk to people on the Hill, we say, Here‘s why we want a change in law or a new law, and here‘s who it helps.  And we hope the strength of our words and the power of our argument of workers actually changes their mind and gets them to do what‘s right by working America.  This administration has locked working Americans out.

MATTHEWS:  And when you make contributions to candidates, you believe that works, too.

TRUMKA:  Well, obviously, contributions are important in today‘s world.  You can‘t run...

MATTHEWS:  Well, the reason I asked...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMKA:  ... for office without them.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the reason I asked that is Hillary Clinton said something the other day that sounds ludicrous.  She said that the money she gets from corporations doesn‘t influence her.  Is this the only politician in history that can honestly claim that they‘re not influenced by the money they get from corporations?  I just want to know your reaction.  Since you‘ve said that money does talk, why do you think doesn‘t talk with her?

TRUMKA:  Actually, what I said, Chris, was that the power of your argument does talk.  That‘s why we bring in working people, so that they can use those arguments.  Now, look, you and I both know that the system is broken, that it needs overhauled, it needs fixed.  But you can‘t focus on one part of it right now in the middle of the game and say, Change everything.  Let‘s really look at it.  Let‘s really change it.  Let‘s take money out of the system...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

TRUMKA:  ... completely so that the strength of the argument always wins for America‘s working people.

MATTHEWS:  Because you believe that money does influence political decisions on Capitol Hill.

TRUMKA:  I think it very well could.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Hillary disagrees with you.  She says that all the money she gets from corporations has no influence on her whatever.

TRUMKA:  Well, I don‘t want to get in a family squabble, but she‘s speaking for herself.  And it could very well be that it does not influence her.  I‘m not going to speak for her.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

TRUMKA:  What  I‘m going to say is the system is broken, and we need to fix it completely.

MATTHEWS:  Well, thank you.  Good luck with your program tonight.  I think you‘re going to have a lot of people watching tonight on MSNBC.  Thank you, Richard Trumka, who‘s treasurer-secretary of the AFL-CIO, which is hosting tonight‘s debate, along with MSNBC.  And Keith Olbermann‘s going to be moderating, of course.  The Democrats face off tonight at 7:00 Eastern, live from Chicago.

And when we return right now, our panel‘s going to weigh in on what that looks like tonight and who‘s going to throw the long ball and who‘s going to go for three yards in a cloud of dust.  I think that‘s Hillary, the Woody Hayes of America politics.

And later, one of the Democrats running for president, Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut.  He‘s here.  And I got to ask, what‘s it like trying to catch up to these big three, Hillary, Edwards and Obama.  That‘s one of the big questions as we preview tonight‘s presidential forum coming up at 7:00 Eastern here on MSNBC.

And then later, at 8:30, I‘ll be back to dig into what really happened.  And I love that stuff.  We‘ll be fighting with the spinsters and trying to get the straight story about who actually won and who will have the headlines in tomorrow morning‘s newspapers.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Just a couple of hours now away from the AFL-CIO presidential forum tonight out in Chicago, where the Democratic candidates will face off over the usual list—jobs, farm policy, trade, the war in Iraq.

Here to size up the frontrunners are NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell, “The Chicago Sun-Times‘s” Lynn Sweet—she‘s on live (ph) -- and MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan and “The Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson.   Boy, I think I‘m watching “Hollywood Squares” here. Who‘s going to be—what‘s that guy‘s name, Lynde, Paul Lynde?  You, Pat?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

LYNN SWEET, “CHICAGO SUN-TIMES”:  I thought it was “The Brady Bunch.”

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Pat, I want to ask you because I know you don‘t like the trade policies of the Clinton or the Bush crowd, is labor going to make a stand?  Are they really going to say that trade‘s been killing the working guy and the working woman?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it‘s a very good issue in the Democratic Party...

MATTHEWS:  Will they fight?

BUCHANAN:  Look, the key thing is John Edwards is certainly going to fight on this issue.  He started off very hard in Cedar Rapids.  I think he‘s going to hit it hard.  He‘s got that fellow, the former congressman in Michigan, who was...

MATTHEWS:  David Bonior...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  He was a lion on the NAFTA issue...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  ... when we were fighting it.  And I think it‘s a good bet for him because it‘s not only in the left wing of the party, in the center of the Democratic Party, they‘re concerned about these trade deal because real wages of working men and women have been stagnant in the Reagan—excuse me—the Bush recovery.

MATTHEWS:  Lynn Sweet, that is—is that an issue among the locals out there in Chicago, this trade stuff that always means that the factory towns, Michigan City out there, and Indiana, Spencerville in Ohio—everywhere I go, there‘s always a small town, and all that‘s left—I‘ve said this before—is a Blockbuster and a diner.  That‘s all they got left in these towns—except for rust.

SWEET:  Well, I‘ll tell you, because Chicago is such a multi-layered industrial manufacturing community, the issue here today won‘t (ph) be for the Chicago crowd here, and frankly, Obama has such a home field advantage in this one, I think that will be the overriding sentiment more than any specific issue.  I think, though, that people want to come and hear about a lot of issues, not just trade.

MATTHEWS:  OK, well, we‘ll disagree on that because I think this guy‘s got to hit some home runs here tonight, doesn‘t?  Doesn‘t Edwards...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Look at these numbers!  He‘s at 12 points, and Hillary‘s at 48.  She‘s lapping him four times his number!

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, I think Edwards clearly we can expect to come out really strong on the kind of anti-trade, basically...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  ... anti what the Clintons did when...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

ROBINSON:  ... when Bill Clinton was in office.  I think it will be really interesting to see how Obama plays it.  As Lynn said, he does have home field advantage here.  So to kind of win the crowd, he doesn‘t have to make a strong statement.  But if you believe that latest poll, that shows a 22-point gap, he‘s going to want to start closing that.  And so it‘ll be interesting to see if he, like Edwards, really goes after her on—on the...

MATTHEWS:  Andrea Mitchell, we‘re talking about a competition among the three frontrunners.  Of course, we got Chris Dodd on the show tonight in a few minutes.  But among the three front-runners, it does look like Hillary Clinton, for whatever reason, is really stretching out her lead to the point where I can see her passing 50 percent pretty soon, which may tell a lot of people to jump on that bus.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  There already are some indications among some of the contributors that these kinds of numbers are having an impact on people who were undecided or giving to Obama, giving to Hillary, hedging their bets.

But at the same time, she‘s walking into a hostile setting tonight.  There‘s no question that this labor crowd, whose hearts may be with her on some issues, really resent the NAFTA trade deal that her husband espoused.  And the question tonight is, is she going to stand by her man, stand by Bill Clinton, and the NAFTA agreement.  I think she has to.  She cannot run away from that legacy of the Clinton White House.

She will push back hard, I think, on the whole lobbying deal because she will make it very clear that Barack Obama took lobbyist money until he ran for president.  So it was good enough for him in 2004, when he was running for the United States Senate.  And I think she‘ll also try to make the case that John Edwards takes money from trial lawyers and other groups, and that, in effect, as far as the Clinton campaign is concerned, that is the same as taking special interests money from lobbyists.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Pat, I had Schaitberger on here the other night, Harold Schaitberger.  He‘s the top leader of the firefighters.  And I think he‘s moving toward endorsing Hillary, from the way he talks.  He certainly hates Rudy Giuliani.

This idea that she can go on national television, Hillary Clinton, a Democrat...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... and openly claim, with some happiness, I take money from corporate lobbyists—I don‘t know I‘ve ever seen that before, where somebody on the Democratic says, yes, I take money from business, like it or lump it, basically.

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think it was a good—I think it was a very good moment for Hillary.  She also said, you know...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but you like these—all that corporate money‘s pro-trade.

BUCHANAN:  I know, but she said—look who she talked about.  They represent unions.  They represent nurses.  They represent workers, and they represent some corporations.  What she‘s saying is, you know, lobbyists are human beings, too.

MATTHEWS:  Well, yes.

BUCHANAN:  So she‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... human beings.

BUCHANAN:  So she defended her friends.  And I will tell you, every lobbyist in town, is my guess, said, well, at least the lady stood up for us.  I will say this, I thought it was a good moment for her.  The boos and everything.  She stood up like a president and said, yes.  This is what I do. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, what?  Yes, what?

BUCHANAN:  I take money from lobbyists, and they are nice guys. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Pat seems to have got a fluttering heartbeats for Hillary all of a sudden.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Andrea, I do not know what you think.  And I guess—well, I will ask you to analyze this, again, give an opinion.  We know—you and I have been in Washington a while.  We know there are some extremely wealthy people in this town who are lobbyists.  They are extremely effective, that is why they are wealthy.  They get big fees. 

MITCHELL:  Democrats as well as Republicans. 

MATTHEWS:  Both. 

MITCHELL:  And most firms have both.

MATTHEWS:  Because they can go to Capitol Hill and at the margin they can move members to vote for or against transition rules.  They can get relief for industry against regulation at the agencies.  They can get tax matters—well, let‘s put it this way, refined in the direction of their clients, and it works. 

Hillary said the other day, it does not affect me.  All of the money I take has no influence on me.  I have never heard a statement like that.  In other words, give me the money, I am not doing anything for it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t it amazing?  Andrea, please, you are the analyst.  Have you ever heard of a lobbyist who made a ton of money and said, I don‘t get anything done for it, but keep giving me the money, because I deal with people like Hillary I can‘t influence. 

MITCHELL:  She is basically saying, and she will cite chapter and verse, that these are the cases where she has taken positions that have been against the interests of some of her own contributors.  She is trying to at least say that she is independent of all of this money that is circulating around. 

Look, the money is obscene, there is no question about that.  And none of us have ever seen so much money in politics.  I will tell you what lobbyists in Washington are really concerned about right now is the new ethics rules that were passed, and unless President Bush vetoes it, this will be a whole new responsibility. 

These lobbying firms are going to have to take responsibility for everything that is spent and said by people who work for them at every level.  And that is what they are really focused on right now.

MATTHEWS:  Hey, Lynn Sweet, when we come back, I know you have done a lot of reporting on this, when you do studies of people‘s FEC reports, and you see where their money is coming from, do you noticed notice a pattern in how they vote?  We will be right back with the answer.  I think there is a connection between who is paying and what tune is being sung. 

Anyway, Andrea Mitchell, Pat Buchanan, Gene Robinson, they are all staying with us. 

And later, Chris Dodd is coming here, one of your contenders for the presidency.  And we are going to be back live from Chicago.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back with the panel.  NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan, and The Washington Post‘s Eugene Robinson.  Who have I forgotten?  Lynn Sweet, I think you are up there. 

Lynn, I promised to go back to you.  You have done a lot of reporting on the issue of fundraising in connection to how politicians vote when they come to Washington.  What is the connection?  Was Hillary right in saying campaign contributions do not influence voting on Capitol Hill? 

SWEET:  Well, I do read disclosures like a steamy novel before I go to bed.  The campaigns‘ money goes—thank you for listening, it was—the campaign money goes to people to maintain the positions that they usually trend towards anyway.  That is why labor goes towards Democrats, because it is people who are towards their position.  Money from the Sierra Club tends to go to people that have the positions they want.

In some specialized cases, you actually could do a story where you could see a cause and effect on (INAUDIBLE).  But I want to quickly underscore something Andrea said that is very important, I think, and see if it comes out tonight.  When—if Senator Obama and Senator Edwards want to open the door now and beat up Hillary Clinton for taking money from political action committees and PACs, two quick things to remember.  PAC money is not a big influence in this election. 

Hillary Clinton has got the most.  It is only a half a million dollars, so—if you look at all of the $220 million going to all the multiple candidates, number one.  Number two, it was only until February of this year that Senator Obama stopped taking money from political action committees and federal lobbyists. 

He was raising money for his Obama 2010 reelection fund up until he decided to run for president.  So if he opens the door and goes through there, it (INAUDIBLE) a record that he has also perhaps—we will see what happens in the debate, to discuss too. 

BUCHANAN:  Let‘s talk about the debate.  I think that Edwards has to move.  He is down at 12 percent.  He has got to go on the offense.  He has got to put the ball in the air, if you will.  He has got to take risks.  Obama has got to watch himself, because if he starts carving up and going after her too hard, and she is moving up and he is moving down, he has got a real problem.

If I were her, I would not respond in kind, say you are another and all of this stuff.  She is the presidential one.  She is rising in this thing.  So he has.

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t take the bait.

BUCHANAN:  So he has got a very tough—it is a very tough job for him because... 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Suppose he opens a cut on her eye, using the metaphor of a boxing match, and that cut above her eye is the fact she took corporate money.  She takes lobbyist money.  Can she ignore that kind of punch? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, yes, she will say, up to—you know, yes.  Well, she will just answer it, but I would not come back cutting him up.  You do this, you take money from trial lawyers.  That brings you down to their level.  She is above that.  She is at a presidential level right now and she ought stay there, take the hit and come back tomorrow if you have to. 

MATTHEWS:  Andrea Mitchell, is it possible for Hillary Clinton to take a punch and smile? 

MITCHELL:  I think it is.  In fact, one of the things you notice in the polling is that even though she has really opening up this 22-point lead, if you look down at our poll, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last week, her negatives are still so high on warmth and compassion, 30 percent negative on whether she is warm enough, compassionate enough, only 39 percent positive. 

So she always has that double bind as a woman candidate.  She has to show her toughness on commander-in-chief issues, but she also has to show some personality and some likeability because she really has to show that she is approachable and a little bit softer than she has been in the past. 

MATTHEWS:  I know, she has to smile when she puts the knife in. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  Well, I think credit has to be given, though, because she has really run I think a really smart, good campaign to this point. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you are not kidding.  I share that assessment... 

ROBINSON:  Look at the national numbers.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I have not seen any body this smooth in a long time. 

ROBINSON:  . really, really well.  And maybe some things are happening in the state level that are in Obama‘s favor.

MATTHEWS:  Is it “Slick Hillary” now, eh?  Anyway, thank you, Andrea Mitchell.  Thank you, Lynn Sweet.  Thank you, Pat Buchanan.  Thank you, Eugene Robinson. 

Up next one of the Democratic presidential candidates who will be on stage tonight out in Chi-town, Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. 

And join me at 8:30 tonight for all of the post-forum analysis, don‘t you like that?  Including for the first time, the top three advisers of the top three candidates:  Howard Wolfson, he is a toughy, from the Clinton campaign; David Axelrod, love that name, from the Obama campaign; and David Bonior, the former labor congressman from Michigan for the Edwards campaign.  They are going to all face off here in a three-way shoot-em-up. 

You are watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The papers have been full of articles lately, not just about the 2008 candidates, but the candidates‘ spouses and families.  It is not all flattering, but is it any of our business?  Our debate tonight, will family matters matter to voters?  On the left, Karen Finney (ph), spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee.  On the right, John Feehery, a Republican strategist and consultant. 

Well, where do you stand, John?  Is it all right to talk about Judith Giuliani, with the detail the newspapers have been showing; to talk about Jeri Thompson, the second wife of Fred Thompson?  Is it all right to talk about them with the detail that we have been showing? 

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  You know what, I do not know how you can avoid it.  I think it is the nature of the business today.  I think that is part of the game.  If people want to run for president, their family lives are going to be part of the.

MATTHEWS:  Fair game.

FEEHERY:  It is fair game. 

MATTHEWS:  And talk about their kids too?

FEEHERY:  Kids are a little bit different because... 

MATTHEWS:  Caroline joining the Face—what is it called, YouTube or.

FEEHERY:  Facebook.  I think it depends on how old the kids are.  I think the Caroline thing was a little bit over the top. 

MATTHEWS:  They should not have talked about the kid joining up with Obama when her dad is running on the other ticket.

FEEHERY:  Although, that is a funny story.  It is hard to avoid that story if you see it.  But it is still... 

MATTHEWS:  You are a sophisticated man.  Karen, are you as sophisticated?  Do you believe that we are going to live in a world.

(LAUGHTER)

KAREN FINNEY, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE:  Of course!

MATTHEWS:  . in which, if you are going to go live in the White House, we have got to know who is going, not just the husband, not just the wife, but if the whole family is going to the White House, we can talk about the whole family?

FINNEY:  I think a lot of it depends on how the candidate and the campaigns themselves actually put their family life out there.  In the case of Jeri Thompson and Judi Nathan Giuliani, they are trying to play very public roles in the campaign.  I think that puts them up for a different level of scrutiny than, let‘s say, small children, where I don‘t think that is appropriate.  And I think with adult children, I think there is a line that can easily be crossed.  Again, it depends on what is the.

MATTHEWS:   So if Judi Nathan—or Judith Nathan says, I want a seat at the cabinet room if my husband gets in there, we have got to talk about it. 

FINNEY:  I think we need to know who she is and what she offers.  But look, I think the Republicans are in more trouble when it comes to the issue of family values, when it comes to their positions, than what, you know, who their spouses are.

MATTHEWS:  How so?

FINNEY:  . and what their children are.  Well, I don‘t think they support positions that are good for America‘s families.  And I think that is what voters are really going to care about. 

MATTHEWS:  Does it bother you, John, that of all the leading Democratic candidates, they are all married to their first wife, and on the Republican side, you have got to go way down that list to find somebody still married to their first wife, just to go through the list?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  The Mormon guy running, I mean no disrespect, has had one wife since he got started in the marriage business.  Rudy Giuliani is on number three.  I‘m sorry.  Rudy Giuliani is on number three.  Who else are we talking about?  Fred Thompson is on number two.  Fair enough. 

But haven‘t the Republicans made a big issue about family values, and yet they do not seem to have the steadfastness with marriage that they claim as a value.  Whereas the Democrats, you go right down the list. 

Well, Hillary has still got Bill.  John Edwards, lucky for him, has Edwards

has Elizabeth.  Who else is on that list?  And Barack has got Michelle. 

FEEHERY:  You know, the fact of the matter is that.

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t it interesting the family values ticket is loaded with heavy extra numbers of wives? 

FEEHERY:  Somewhat (ph).  I would say that I think what people want right now out of the candidates is someone who is strong on the defense, strong on defending the family, strong on defending the country.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t want to answer the question, do you? 

FEEHERY:  I don‘t want to answer the question.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to answer, Karen, is there an irony here?  If you are looking at this from another planet, or another country, it is like, now which party is the family values party?  It must be the one where everybody monogamous and still married to the—well, I don‘t want to push it too far, but is still married to the same guy they were married to in the beginning? 

FINNEY:  Well, look, I think it is different actually.  I think people are going to look at, you know, their relationships, but they are also going to look at where are they on the issues when it comes to families.  Do you support health care for children?  For example.  Many of the Republicans do not.  Do you think that universal health care is a good thing?  The Republicans do not and the Democrats do. 

So I actually think whereas, sure, people are going to look at—they want to know things like, are you a good father, is he a good husband, is she a good wife?  They ask those questions.  But they want to.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you—I mean, everybody is (INAUDIBLE) at that stuff.  You are just doing Pollyanna here.  Are you for gay marriage?  Is the Democratic Party for gay marriage as an institution? 

FINNEY:  The party—at this point, we support equal rights for every American, and some members of our party do support gay marriage, and some do not. 

MATTHEWS:  So there is no party position?

FINNEY:  But fundamentally, we support equal rights for every American. 

MATTHEWS:  But there is no party position?

FINNEY:  Well, there are differences within our party. 

MATTHEWS:  So there is no party position. 

FINNEY:  There are differences within our party.

MATTHEWS:  So there is no Democratic position on marriage. 

FINNEY:  There are differences within our party.

MATTHEWS:  See, I love you guys, you can‘t handle it, you can‘t handle the truth.  John.

FINNEY:  Well, I don‘t have to accept the premise...

MATTHEWS:  . is the Republican Party.

FINNEY:  . of your question.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the premise is, I would like an answer. 

Does the Republican Party have a position on gay marriage now that you guys have obviously official position on multiple marriages?

FEEHERY:  Well, we are against gay—I think the party is against gay marriage.  I think that is pretty.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think that is fair.

FEEHERY:  . pretty clear that most Republicans—all Republicans as far as—maybe Ron Paul, but al Republicans are against the marriage. 

MATTHEWS:  Why?

FEEHERY:  Well, because they think it is—marriages is between a man and a woman, not between two men or two women.  I mean, that one of the party‘s principles.

MATTHEWS:  Do they believe it is a danger to straight marriage, to have gay marriage?

FEEHERY:  I think some do.

MATTHEWS:  The last thing you need in the Republican Party is another danger to straight marriage.  You have got a lot them already, right? 

FEEHERY:  Well, you know, I am married, I love my wife, and that does it. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, here we go.  Let‘s—you don‘t love your wife, do you? 

I am just kidding. 

FINNEY:  I happen to be single, Chris, thanks for that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  . let‘s get back to the debating point here before we get too frivolous.  Should we be talking in the big newspapers and in these kinds of debates about marital history?  Is it fair game for the president of the United States, who ran—this president who is president now, our president, George W.  Bush, who campaigned from day one when he ran, he said, when I take the oath to the Constitution, I also swear to uphold the dignity of the Oval Office.  And everybody knew the one word he was saying, Monica, over and over and over again.  Was that fair for him to do that, to run against the Monica mess?

FEEHERY:  I think he was running against what happened with Bill Clinton, there is no doubt.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FEEHERY:  There is no doubt about it.  He was running against kind of how Clinton treated the Oval Office.  And just—not just the Clinton—

Clinton‘s marriage, but also how he respect the Oval Office.  It wasn‘t just that issue.

Now, the question is—

MATTHEWS:  Was that fair game?

FEEHERY:  I think anything is fair game in a campaign.  But I think when you talk about marriage and family and stuff like that, that is a lower-level, kind of a rumor part of the campaign, not part of what gets people to vote.  There‘s a variety of things that gets people to vote, their religion, how they look at life.  It is kind of how they relate to people.  It‘s if they have the same kinds of belief systems. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a variety of things.  Does the person seem like one of us, or one of them.  I know how that works.  But let me ask you a really important question: I have had a proposition for years about politics; it is semi-serious.  But you are on the mark, I think, in agreeing with it.  Once you enter public life, and you decide to offer yourself to the American people, regardless of what office it is, it seems like you should have a choice.  If you want to run on your marriage, you have a nice spouse, nice kids, you want to show them, then you are fair game. 

If you simply say, assume the worst about my private life.  I‘m straight, gay, whatever.  You can think of anything you want, but I‘m not selling anything.  I am selling myself as a public official whose going to be the right thing on issues.  But therefore, shouldn‘t that person be immune to all personal attacks who says I‘m not bragging? 

FEEHERY:  You‘re not immune to anything in politics.  You can‘t cut a deal with the voters.  You can‘t cut a deal with your opponents.  Your opponents are going to say whatever they can to beat you.  That is part of politics.  It‘s the way it goes. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you from Chicago?

FEEHERY:  I‘m from Chicago.  By the way, one thing I say about Democrats, I‘m glad they‘re in Chicago.  It‘s the greatest city in the world. 

MATTHEWS:  The Bears?

FEEHERY:  I think the monsters of midway are gathered on that stage. 

They‘re all just monsters, not actually in the football sense.

FINNEY:  You know, the interesting thing, Chris, is you actually asked a different question about George Bush and what he‘s done to the dignity of the office of the presidency, which actually I think has been a disgrace, by lying and taking us into this war.  Whether or not he made Monica an issue or not, what he has done by taking us into war by lying to the American people is probably more of a disgrace than I think your question implied. 

MATTHEWS:  Really?  The sad thing is that a lot of major Democrats running for office voted to authorize the war that he -- 

FINNEY:  But every one would get us out, wouldn‘t they? 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m afraid some of them would take us into Iran.  That is my worry.  Thank you.  I am afraid we‘re not past the problem area of foreign policy error.  Anyway, thank you Karen Finney, even though you fudged like mad.  John Feehery, thank you for backing up Chicago.  Let‘s get Tim on here to talk about Buffalo.  We‘ll do it all night here. 

The Democratic presidential candidates will face off tonight, as I said, before an audience of more than 10,000 union members of the AFL-CIO Presidential Forum in Chicago.  MSNBC‘s Keith Olbermann will be moderating the event at Soldier Field beginning at 7:00 p.m. tonight.  That‘s eastern time. 

One of the Democratic contenders who will be on that stage is Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut.  Senator Dodd, thank you for joining us.  You are so distinguished, a member of the Senate, sir, so veteran in your seasoning, so prepared to be president tomorrow morning.  Why are you running against this field that seems to be dominated by Hillary Clinton?  She is at 48 percent now in the national polling. 

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT:  First of all, thanks for having us on.  These polls are all over the place.  One poll one day shows one result, a different result the next day.  This is six months to go before the first ballots get cast in primaries or caucuses.  What it shows to me, more than anything else, is that people are shopping.  They‘re looking for leadership here.  Our own work done in these primary and caucus states show the overwhelming number of people in Iowa and New Hampshire are very undecided at this point here.

So I do not put a lot of stock in these polling numbers, except the volatility of them indicates that people are still shopping and looking.  I think experienced background here, as we get closer to these dates—I think all of those issues and that background will loom larger and more important to these votes. 

MATTHEWS:  But I know you and I have watched your career, and you are a smart guy, and you are seasoned, and you make generally the right decisions, although you did vote to authorize the war.  How do you get that across when there is so much show business around Hillary and Obama? 

DODD:  Well, I think as you go forward, I am going to be spending days in New Hampshire, Iowa in August, South Carolina, Nevada.  People are coming out.  They‘re listening.  Again, I make the point here, Chris, our phone banking that we‘re doing in these states, over 70,000 calls, the overwhelming majority say that they are undecided in these matters.  So one poll one day, a poll the next.

Again, the people in Iowa and New Hampshire, and elsewhere, they do not want to be told by a poll in the “Wall Street Journal” what they‘re going to do in January.  They‘re offended by that.  They will make up their own minds.  They‘ve got a reputation of proving the pundits wrong.  I think the door is very much open.  I think people are still shopping.  They‘re looking for leadership that has experience and successful leadership in the  past of making a difference on these issues. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the unique selling point of Chris Dodd of Connecticut? 

DODD:  One, I have a record here of getting things done, not just talking about issues.  Talk is cheap.  People want to know what you‘ve done; some assurance that what you‘re saying you will do, you will actually get done.  So when I wrote the Family of Medical Leave Act, when I fought and stood up for child care legislation, improving Head Start, working on our financial institutions, election reform, making a difference in foreign-policy—I think people want to know I have that kind of background. 

Maybe in previous elections, if you had said that, they would say look, we don‘t want to hear about that background.  After six years of on the job training with George Bush, I think experience matters; successful experience and making a difference in people‘s lives.  Bill Clinton has said that the Family of Medical Leave Act changed America; 50 million Americans today are taking advantage of that low.  That took me seven years, three presidents, and two vetoes to get done.  I think that shows a stick-to-it-ness and determination that people are looking for in a presidential candidate. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think if the Democrats get back—if you get in, that we actually could have a national health care system?

DODD:  I do.  I believe that very strongly here.  You‘ve got to describe, I think, a plan that is attainable, universal, affordable, that is going to have no discrimination against pre-existing conditions, that is portable, that ought to be as good as the plan I have as a senator.  I have the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan.  I happen to believe that every American ought to have as good a plan as their member of Congress.  I use that as part of my plan and my structure.

But it is going to take leadership that can bring people together.  No one party is going to right this.  It will take political leadership that knows how to bring people together. much as I did on the legislation I just described to you over the last 20 years, bringing Democrats and Republicans together to make a difference on this issue.  I believe I can do it in four years, the first years of this administration. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk Iraq for a second.  The close tonight—the “Washington Post” reports today on the front page that in Basra, in southern Iraq, the British have pulled out of a region down there that has now resulted in civil war among the various Shiite militia groups.  If that is going to be the result of our occupation of Iraq, why don‘t we just end it now?  If it‘s not going to end with an established democracy—It‘s going to end with warring factions fighting over the spoils, why stick out their another day?  

DODD:  I don‘t disagree.  Candidly, you have to withdraw our troops reasonably and safely.  I‘m told by those are experienced in this, you can withdraw about 2.5 brigades every month out of Iraq.  That would allow us to have a safe redeployment of those forces, withdrawal of those forces over the next seven months.  That‘s what I advocated.  I would begin immediately.

I led on this issue, Chris.  I am not just a follower here.  I began talking about this back in January.  I am glad the other candidates have joined me on it, but we ought to be standing up very categorically, commending and doing what we can for these kids coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq.  But also seeing to it that these kids come out of Iraq, and then say to the Iraqis it is up to you now to decide whether you want to be a nation-state or not.  Nothing else, in my view, is going to work.  So I think there should be redeployment immediately. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator Clinton said the other day, in a candidate forum, that receiving campaign contributions from corporate sources, from lobbyists, as she described them, had no impact on her voting record.  Is that your experience, that money coming into your campaign war chest does not influence your voting on the hill? 

DODD:  Listen, I am an advocate, as you recall, Chris, of public financing for years.  That is the one way to get money out of politics.  I believe that would be what we ought to be doing.  If I am president, I will be leading on the issue.  I think it is an important question to ask, but I think it is also important to ask; when you have been given the power to serve in office, what you have done with that vote?  So, on issues like bankruptcy, or the estate taxes, on whether or not you really stood up for working people—we had an opportunity to do so—that is the more important question in my view. 

Changing our financing  system is something I would like to achieve and have fought for for years.  But the issue is far more important, in terms of where you have been on these question. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, one of the candidates in tonight‘s debate at the AFL-CIO forum in Chicago. 

Up next, as the Democrats get ready for their main event tonight, we will get  a preview from the moderator of tonight‘s forum, my colleague Keith Olbermann.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Just over an hour now before the big Democratic debate tonight in Chicago hosted by the AFL-CIO.  We have visual contact here.  And we‘re getting ready for it.  Keith Olbermann, my colleague, is going to be hosting this.  I can‘t wait to see how he does it.  He‘s got such a unique personality.  He‘s going to be interesting to watch tonight.  We are also joined by MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan and the “Washington Post‘” Eugene Robinson. 

You know, I‘m waiting for this campaign to get started.  But I have a sense it is going to get started just about the time that Hillary wraps it up.  I‘m wondering—I keep think Labor Day.  I keep thinking about the audiences for shows like this.  I keep thinking, we are going to have a huge audience around Thanksgiving, maybe by October it will kick in, maybe by September. 

People are going to say, wait a minute, we have to replace President Bush.  We‘re picking somebody for the next eight years.  We have this terrible war.  We need a change candidate, perhaps.  We have got this problem with illegal immigration.  We have this problem with health care in the country.  We have a problem with trade and jobs and the stock market.  And what are we going to do? 

By the way, we have Keith Olbermann right now.  Keith Olbermann, you‘re joining us. 

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  I hope so, Chris.  Am I?

MATTHEWS:  There you are sir.  What are your butterflies telling you about tonight?  I want to know the inner Keith Olbermann.  What is your stomach telling you about tonight‘s event?   

OLBERMANN:  I‘m trying to figure out how the last time when we were together and you did this in the Reagan Library, we were indoors and I‘m out here in 400-degree heat in the middle of Soldier Field.  Are you sure this is how Howard K. Smith and Nixon and Kennedy got started? 

MATTHEWS:  I recorded that one rather well in a book.  Let me ask you about your sense of this; are you going to try to give all the guys the same amount of time, even though the also-rans don‘t have a prayer?  How‘s that for a mean question?

OLBERMANN:  That‘s a leading question indeed.  We would never do anything like that.  The goal—There are mathematical formulas.  We are, in fact, going to be tracking the amount of time given to each candidate to make sure that we come as close to an even handed presentation as possible.  This is, no matter what you or I think about what is first tier or second tier; these are all serious candidate.  They all have their supporters and adherents and we are going to do the best we can. 

It is well, as you know—these things are well prepared and the allocation of time is a serious—approached almost from a religion point of view.  It‘s an attempt to be fair to everybody. 

MATTHEWS:  How are you going to control the audience Keith?  Keith, how are you going to control the audience when you‘re in Chicago, the Bear‘s home stadium there?

OLBERMANN:  It‘s better than that, Chris.  My back will be to 15,000 people most of time.  The answer is, I‘m not going to.  We are hoping that the AFL-CIO will do any of the heavy lifting required on this.  Simply put, these people are not here because it‘s a nice day.  They are here because they want to hear these answers.  They want to support their candidates.  Mostly, they want to hear the answers.

They know that the more they interrupt, the less we are going to hear from the candidates.  I think it‘s not going to be a problem.  Also, this is one time where I think the heat works to our advantage.  It really is a punishingly bad mistake to try to move down there.  So I think people will be pretty happy to be seated—sweating and seated, but seated. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, one person who will not be sweating is you, sir.  You are a cool customer.  I can‘t wait to see them come head-to-head with the great Keith Olbermann. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m sweating now.

MATTHEWS:  Break a leg, buddy.  We‘ll be back to talk about it afterwards.  The Democrats face off in just an hour from now, 7:00 p.m.  eastern.  That‘s here.  6:00, obviously, in Chicago.  Join me for full coverage and analysis starting at 8:30 right afterwards.  Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

transcript

Watch Hardball each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,