updated 9/27/2007 12:34:27 PM ET 2007-09-27T16:34:27

Guests: Joan Walsh, Perry Bacon, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Howard Dean

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Is Hillary unstoppable?  Can the other candidates still beat the pantsuit off her? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m Chris Matthews.  And welcome to HARDBALL.  We‘re live from the campus of Dartmouth College up in New Hampshire, where, in just two hours now, the Democratic presidential candidates will have their big debate.

And, of course, the big question, who is ready to fight?  Who is ready to knock off Hillary Clinton?  Is her coronation as the runaway nominee premature or not so sure? 

The second story tonight:  Who will win swing voters in this election?  Can Hillary Clinton be the one to do that?  Is she a good bet to take into the general election, if you‘re a Democrat?  After eight years of President Bush, will the independent voters, those people out in the political middle, actually back the Democrats?  We will talk to someone who hopes they will, who hopes they will vote for change, Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean. 

Our debate tonight on HARDBALL:  Will Hillary win the nomination? 

Some people say it is already done. 

Much more on that later, but, first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The odd thing about the election so far is that, while Republicans are stepping up their attacks on Hillary Clinton like she‘s a tough Democratic front-runner, most of her Democratic opponents are staying soft, and it‘s hurting them. 

The latest poll in New Hampshire shows Clinton doubling Barack Obama at 43 percent to 20 percent.  John Edwards clocks in with 12 percent.  And Bill Richardson is at 6.  And Clinton is leading Edwards in Iowa, where the January caucuses traditionally gives the winner a huge boost, as the field heads to New Hampshire the next week.

This past Sunday, Clinton reinforced the image of invincibility by appearing on all five network Sunday talk shows.  She made little news, but surviving without a scratch was itself a headline.  And Clinton even managed to laugh in the face of FOX News. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”)

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”:  Senator, talk about conservative hit jobs, right-wing conspiracies, why do you and the president have such a hyper- partisan view of politics?

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, Chris, if you had walked even a day in our shoes over the last 15 years, I‘m sure you would understand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The Republican presidential candidates are already treating Clinton like she is the Democratic nominee. 

MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Hillary Clinton, fundamentally doesn‘t believe, or trust, the private sector.  Of course not.  She‘s never worked in the private sector, except to sue people. 

SHUSTER:  They even invoke her name to appeal for support. 

RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I hope you vote for me.  I think—I honestly think I have the best chance of defeating Hillary Clinton. 

SHUSTER:  But, for some weird reason, while Republicans are treating Clinton like the opponent, her top Democratic rival is giving her a pass.  For Democrat Barack Obama, tonight‘s debate could be a watershed moment.  In recent weeks, Obama has avoided any criticisms of Clinton.  And he appeared literally above it all in this recent interview with NBC News. 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think Senator Clinton is a terrific senator for New York.  And, obviously, I wouldn‘t be running if I didn‘t think that I could make a better president at this time, in this moment in history. 

SHUSTER:  Obama‘s soft approach has coincided with him falling further behind Clinton in most state and national polls. 

John Edwards has been trying aggressively to chip away at Clinton.  And tonight‘s debate comes in the midst of a flurry of attacks he‘s been launching at her over health care reform. 

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The lesson that Senator Clinton seems to have learned from her experience with health care is, if you can‘t beat them, join them. 

SHUSTER:  For the rest of the field, the debate this evening represents an opportunity to try and break through at a time when many voters are just starting to pay attention. 

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  To end this war, we have to get all the troops out, all of them.  Our kids are dying.  Our troops have become targets. 

SHUSTER:  And, just like the last debate, Iraq will again be front and center.  New Hampshire has more military veterans per capita than most states. 

(on camera):  Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton may be vulnerable over Iraq because of her original vote authorizing the use of force.  Clinton could also face tough questions about an indicted fund-raiser and about contributions from corporate lobbyists. 

But unless more of her Democratic rivals ratchet up their criticism, the only mystery may be who emerges as Clinton‘s general election Republican opponent.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Here to preview tonight‘s debate in New Hampshire are “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman, NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory, and MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O‘Donnell. 

Let me go to David first, this big question.  Tonight, will Barack Obama go after Hillary Clinton, or won‘t he? 

DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  I think he will.  And I think he knows that he has to.  Look, this campaign is predicated that his experience is the right kind of experience, not the wrong kind of experience, that he says she‘s got, the inside-Washington experience, the experience of knowing how to work the system. 

His argument is:  I have got experience.  More important, I have got judgment.  Judge her on her judgment on the war.  That‘s what gives her all the experience.  She‘s been in the Senate.  The most important vote in the Senate, he will argue, she got wrong. 

He needs to have that conversation with her in a way that he can follow up, that he can keep boring in on her.  People have been very unsuccessful at really pinning...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GREGORY:  ... her down on that point, when that is a vulnerability that she has skillfully, politically, maneuvered away from. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard, every time she goes—he goes at her or tries to, in a kind of hesitant way, it‘s a glancing blow, usually glanced off by one of her surrogates, Howard Wolfson, one of her key people.  It never seems to land, the blow.  He doesn‘t seem to know how to throw a Sunday punch. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it‘s because he‘s a lawyer by training, but he‘s behaving too much like a judge and not enough like a prosecutor. 

He has to have a sense of urgency here.  He has to say, she was wrong on the war.  You can‘t trust her judgment.  She represents the upper end of the baby boom and an establishment in Washington.  It‘s time for that establishment to get out of the way. 

He has to prosecute this.  And he‘s got to not be afraid to make enemies.  The thing about Barack Obama, he wants to be the best liked and best respected man in the room.  Everyone respects him. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  But he‘s got to make enemies.  He‘s got to be willing to make enemies.

MATTHEWS:  Is he too busy?

FINEMAN:  And, by the way, if he doesn‘t do it, he is going to fall back into the pack, it‘s going to change the dynamics of the race, to allow other people... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the big thing.  We established two things.  He better go after her.  And, if he doesn‘t go after her, he has got to get out of the way, or he will get knocked out of the way.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  The Obama would people argue, OK, we get all of that, but just don‘t look at the national numbers.  What‘s happening in Iowa?  It‘s actually a tight race.  It‘s a tight three-way race.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Yes, David, but the latest numbers, the latest poll in Iowa shows Hillary ahead in Iowa. 

MATTHEWS:  I know. 

FINEMAN:  So, that‘s the big danger signal...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Norah here. 

Norah, it seems to me that—do you think that Obama has to take a shot at the—at the champion tonight? 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  I think he does, but, again, attacking Hillary is in some ways fundamentally at odds with what is this premise of his campaign, which is to run a different kind of campaign, a campaign that includes the politics of hopes.  That‘s why he‘s been reticent to do that in the past. 

I remember interviewing him months ago and asking him about why he didn‘t draw sharper contrasts with Senator Clinton.

And he said, well, you know, when I‘m attacked, I will hit back.

But he doesn‘t—he—he seemed reluctant.  And I think, as one columnist put it today, there‘s a lot of hope, but where where‘s the audacity behind that? 

And what matters, Chris, is that we‘re reaching the end of this fund-raising quarter.  And, while Obama will probably stay neck and neck with Senator Clinton in this quarter, after that, anybody who is giving money is going to want to see Edwards or Obama performing better, or else the money is going to dry up. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to go back to something you said. 

I remember that great film “Presumed Innocent,” where the prosecutor in Chicago said—he opens the book—Scott Turow—every prosecutor, to be a prosecutor, must point at the defendant, the murder suspect, point at him for the jury to see, and say:  He killed her.  She killed him. 

FINEMAN:  Here‘s...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, until Barack Obama points at Hillary and say, she voted for the worst political decision in American history, to take our American Army into Arabia, she voted to approve that.  She does not have good judgment. 

When is he going to point the finger at her and say, she was wrong on the biggest question of her life; she was dammed wrong?

When is he going to point the finger and say that?

I would argue, Norah, if he doesn‘t point the finger and say that, he ought to get out of the way and let someone else get engaged in this debate. 

What do you think? 

GREGORY:  Well, I mean, there is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Otherwise, why are we arguing about the biggest—are we having a debate over the war?

GREGORY:  The only thing I think that goes against that is the idea that this is not a general election campaign yet. 

O‘DONNELL:  Right. 

GREGORY:  These are still Democrats, who are highly supportive of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  They have both got very high favorable ratings. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I am sorry.  I am sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t want to right the campaign. 

Our job here is not to be passive.  It is to be neutral.  And part of being aggressive in getting a campaign going is to remind the voters and the candidates, what are the issues of our time?  And the issues are this war in Iraq. 

And, for some reason, they skate away from it, because they all—they all say, yes, I‘m against the war.  Yes, I‘m for bringing the troops home.

But they don‘t really engage in the judgment issue. 

FINEMAN:  Chris, Chris, his argument is that politics is—in Washington, it‘s fundamentally corrupted and ruined. 

MATTHEWS:  Has he said that? 

FINEMAN:  That it‘s broken.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  Well, he said it pretty much in those terms. 

And he‘s got to be willing to take the next step and say who is at fault. 

Now the problem he‘s got it is, he‘s running as a character who‘s supposedly above politics, who is better than traditional politics, who is more inclusive, who is more judge—more full of good judgment and calmness. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  But he‘s worked himself into a situation here by waiting for others to take the argument to Hillary, to let Chris Dodd do it, to let John Edwards do it.  He‘s been hanging back.  He‘s dropping back in the polls, and somebody else is going to come forward to do it. 

MATTHEWS:  Norah, what I hear is, he‘s waiting around for the press to do his dirty work for him, for the media to start building stories about Hillary, perhaps about Bill as well, about the Clintons.  And then he will just pick up the pieces.  I don‘t think the media‘s going to do his dirty work for him. 

O‘DONNELL:  No, I don‘t think so.  I don‘t think any politician should leave it up to that.  But I think—again, I think this is just a fundamental problem with Obama‘s presence, or it may be his strength.  You can see it either way. 

He doesn‘t view—what you were describing earlier is politics as blood sport.  And I don‘t think that he fundamentally believes that.  I think he really does want to change the way Washington is practiced.  Now, whether you can win a campaign with that sort of a belief is a very different question. 

FINEMAN:  I‘ll tell you what, though.  But, if he doesn‘t believe that...

MATTHEWS:  Sure, if you beat Alan Keyes to be a U.S. senator, you have a pretty bad track record of how to learn to be a politician. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s how he got the job. 

FINEMAN:  If he doesn‘t believe it, he‘s not going to get the nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  You know...

GREGORY:  Here‘s the Edwards argument, too, which is that Obama is failing as the number two, that, while it‘s been Clinton-Obama, Clinton has pulled away. 

What Edwards wants to do is continue to be the one who says, she‘s for X.  I‘m for Y.  There‘s a clear choice there.

FINEMAN:  By the way... 

GREGORY:  There‘s a clear distinction. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How does she get...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Excuse me.  That‘s a great point. 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  We talked about this earlier. 

David, how does John Edwards, who really wants to win this thing, who‘s going for broke, get around this blocking back Barack Obama?  It‘s like Hillary‘s got a front line in football and her front line is Barack Obama. 

GREGORY:  Part of it is, as you know, is the choreography of these moments in the debate.  Can he seize on an opportunity to really start a conversation, to start an individual debate with her that gets picked up?  I mean, what he wants is a side-by-side picture of the two of them, that he‘s the real number two...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And she‘s going to dance away from that.

FINEMAN:  Can I mention another name here?  Let me mention another name here...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  ... which is Bill Richardson—which is Bill Richardson.  He‘s well organized up here.  He‘s got a big contingent up here.  I saw him do well out in Iowa.  He may raise more money this quarter than John Edwards will.  Don‘t forget about the guy.  Don‘t forget about the guy. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Norah, your thought?

O‘DONNELL:  I was just going to say that maybe John Edwards tonight is going to start acting a little bit like more like Elizabeth Edwards...

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  ... who has really been road-testing...

MATTHEWS:  Ah.

O‘DONNELL:  ... road-testing some themes.

And while it hasn‘t been picked up much, I was reminded by the Edwards campaign that, as Elizabeth has attacked Senator Clinton, whether it‘s on her health care plan, the following days, John Edwards has picked that up same line of attack.  So, she, in many ways, is road-testing his attack lines.  And I bet we will see him be very strong in that sense tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  People have written the headlines, David and Howard and Norah, for the election primary season already.  They have written the headlines.

It was in “The New York Times” this Sunday.  The election has already been covered.  The story is, Hillary‘s winning.  Rudy‘s probably winning. 

Is this going to—have they basically made a big mistake that is going to get this campaign in gear?  Has the media gotten ahead of the story, Howard? 

FINEMAN:  Yes, no question. 

I have been coming to New Hampshire since 1984.  This is the Khyber Pass of American politics.  And the New Hampshire people are dedicated to upsetting expectations.  They go to the polls with the specific intention of doing that. 

So, they‘re going to wait.  Today, I was told by somebody that a poll here in New Hampshire, a pollster here in New Hampshire says that only 9 percent of New Hampshire voters are truly settled on their choice for this election. 

MATTHEWS:  I like it.

FINEMAN:  It‘s 9 percent.  That‘s according to the University of New Hampshire. 

MATTHEWS:  Norah, are we going to see a fight tonight or are we going to see a sleepwalk? 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, Clinton in the crosshairs tonight.  It will be a good

a good one to watch, I think.  I am just trying to make sure that I can stay up that long. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Your prediction, David? 

GREGORY:  Yes, I mean, the question is, can she be stopped?  This is when they got to start stopping her. 

MATTHEWS:  It has to start tonight?

GREGORY:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  It‘s amazing that the campaign in—by past terms is only beginning, but now we are talking about it is like it is the eve of the election.  It‘s not.  There is still time, but it has got to start tonight for Obama, or he‘s going to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think Thanksgiving is next week, isn‘t it? 

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I think they—I think they better start moving right now. 

FINEMAN:  Yes, right, exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, tonight—if we have anything to say about it, they will fight tonight.  We want this to be a dogfight, with blood out there. 

Anyway, thank you, Howard Fineman. 

Thank you, David Gregory. 

Thank you, Norah O‘Donnell.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  Coming up:  The chairman of the Democratic Party, the national Democratic Party, Howard Dean, he‘s coming right here.  In fact, he‘s right over there behind the camera. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, live from Dartmouth.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Where—well, will the independents vote this way?  A lot of you are already talking right now, why run Hillary if she is going to get blown away in the general election by men who don‘t like to vote for women, or conservative women, or whatever, or whatever.  We are going to talk right now about the independent voter, because one of the three big issues of this campaign is campaign fund-raising, and whether it is sleazy or not, this war in Iraq, and whether the Democrats can actually pick a winner, because everybody knows they have had a history of picking losers. 

How many times have the Democrats gone up to the plate and picked people like McGovern, picked people like—well, Gore, Kerry, Mondale make the list. 

We are here with Howard Dean, who never quite got the title shot, but he is chairman of the Democratic National Committee. 

You could have been a contender. 

HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  I was a contender.  I just didn‘t...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you were a contender, but you didn‘t get to the title shot. 

DEAN:  That‘s right.  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do Democrats keep running these weird presidential candidates, who always seem—ever since Jack Kennedy and maybe, well, Bill Clinton, they always lose the personality question.  They always seem geekier, nerdier than the Republican guy.  Why is that the case? 

DEAN:  How do you really feel about that, Chris? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s true.  It‘s an objective assessment.  Look at Dukakis in the tank.  That‘s an objective reality.  I mean, Mondale. 

DEAN:  Let me tell you—let me tell you what we have to do.

MATTHEWS:  Jesus, a good guy, but unacceptable on television. 

The Republicans, they get the charm school.  They got Reagan.  they have got this guy George W.  Bush.  You know, they seem to run charming people. 

DEAN:  What Democrats have to do is talk about their values.  People vote on values.  They don‘t vote on position papers. 

MATTHEWS:  No, they vote on personalities. 

DEAN:  They vote on—well, they vote on what they think you‘re like. 

What kind of a human being are you?  And that is your core value. 

So instead of explaining our position papers, what we need to talk about is the things that matter to the American people—that is, what kind of a human being are you?  Are you tough enough to stand up for terrorism?  Are you a fair person?  Do you believe in helping the 80 percent of the people who have really been in trouble in the Bush administration in the last seven years? 

Or are you just going to be giving tax credits to the same people that George Bush gives tax credits to? 

MATTHEWS:  What is George Bush‘s problem—in terms of basic humanity? 

DEAN:  His basic problem is he‘s incompetent. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he—is he...

DEAN:  George Bush‘s presidency and...

MATTHEWS:  ... incurious about the American predicament?

DEAN:  I don‘t think—look, lots of people have been incurious in the presidency before.  The problem is, he‘s surrounded himself with people who wouldn‘t tell him the things he needed to hear, and his presidency ended with Katrina.  People no longer believed that the president and his people were competent. 

And, then, of course, the revelations about how we really got into Iraq began to come out. 

But you know, what, Chris?  That is not going to win us the election.  That was fine for the ‘06 election, to talk about how terrible the Republicans are. 

We have to talk about what we‘re going to do differently to get out of Iraq with a reasonable timetable, do a health care bill that the president won‘t veto because we will have a Democratic president.  We‘re going to have real campaign reform and ethics, which the candidates have talked about, and we have actually passed a pretty decent ethics bill, and things like minimum wage increase and doing something for working people.  Those are the things that matter. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Hillary Clinton is a credible reform candidate? 

DEAN:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  On campaign finance? 

DEAN:  I think she‘s—absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Come on, she‘s got money from Hsu and this guy, this Italian guy.  And she‘s got all this—she‘s wallowing in all this strange money.

DEAN:  That‘s totally untrue.  She gave it all back.

MATTHEWS:  Yeah, I mean, when she got caught.

DEAN:  No—she—look, I know...

MATTHEWS:  She didn‘t give anything back until she got caught.

DEAN:  Nobody expected what we got from Norman Hsu.  Look...

MATTHEWS:  Eight hundred and fifty thousand dollars in bundled money from a crook, an international crook. 

DEAN:  And who was to know he was a crook, if the California court couldn‘t even keep...

MATTHEWS:  Well, shouldn‘t there be some checking on these people? 

DEAN:  Chris, come on.  Look, this is not about this kind of nonsense. 

This is about, what are you going to do Iraq?  What are you going to do about health care?

MATTHEWS:  You said it was about campaign reform. 

DEAN:  And it is. 

MATTHEWS:  Two seconds ago, you said...

DEAN:  And we will have it. 

MATTHEWS:  And you think your party‘s credible on that issue? 

DEAN:  I think we‘re a hell of lot more credible than the Republicans.

MATTHEWS:  When Bill Clinton used the White House as Motel 6 and he was moving people in and out of the Lincoln Bedroom every night for fund raising, do you think that‘s a credible case for campaign reform?

DEAN:  The only people who have led campaign on finance reform in this country are the Democrats.  And the only two states that have campaign finance reform, Arizona and Maine, have Democratic governors.

MATTHEWS:  John Edwards has been running his campaign since day one on trial lawyer money.  You know, is that the reform movement?  Make sure there‘s no caps on financial settlements?

DEAN:  Look, the system is the system the way it is.  I‘m not defending it.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You‘re going to fall back...

(CROSSTALK)

DEAN:  But this election is going to be about Iraq, it‘s going to be about health care, it‘s going to be about the economy and it‘s going to be about helping middle class people achieve the American dream again, which they have been unable to do for the last seven years.

MATTHEWS:  You opposed the war in Iraq before anybody else did.  When the Clintons and the Bidens and the Edwardses were all voting yay—yay, yay, sir—aye, aye, sir, supporting the war, you were prescient enough, for whatever reasons of values and character and prescience, to know that this war was going to be a catastrophe. 

What does that tell you about you?  What does that tell you about the people you‘re trying to promote now, the ones that were wrong when you were right? 

DEAN:  I—you know...

MATTHEWS:  How you can sell their judgment when your judgment was 180 from theirs?

(CROSSTALK)

DEAN:  Look at our candidates, first of all.  They look like the future of America.  Look at their candidate.  They look like the 1950s and they talk like the 1850s. 

Every single one of our candidates thinks we ought to be out of Iraq.  Every single one of their candidates thinks we ought to be in Iraq.  Every single one of our candidates thinks we ought to have universal health care.  Their candidate are calling it “socialized medicine.”  Not one Republican even voted for Medicare since 1964.

Our candidates think it was a bad idea to pardon Scooter Libby and pass an ethics bill.  Their candidates think Scooter Libby should be pardoned.  What an incredible, clear difference there is between every single Democrat and every single Republican.

The important stuff here is not who voted for what and when they voted for it.  The important stuff is, do you want America to go forward or do you want America to go backward?

MATTHEWS:  Do you still want to be president? 

DEAN:  Not this year. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You were right the first time, Governor.

DEAN:  Thanks. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

DEAN:  We will see you.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Howard Dean.

Up next:  Bill Clinton sells tickets to share a couch with him. 

More political headlines ahead. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  You are watching HARDBALL, live from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, only on MSNBC.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Now for some debate-night politics. 

Barack Obama‘s campaign is out there saying, it‘s got 75,000 brand-new contributors.  But he‘s got almost as many people lining up with money as all the Republican candidates put together.  His big challenge, tonight, again, is to take all that excitement and show it in debate.  He‘s the guy who has to put his mouth where his money is. 

A couple of other Democrats just got some good news and some bad news today.  The U.S. Senate resolved by a vote of 75-23 that Iraq should be split up into three parts, Sunni, Shia and Kurd, in a loose federal system, rather than the tight centralized government of Saddam Hussein.  Joe Biden sponsored the bill, along with Republican candidate Sam Brownback. 

And the bill won the aye vote of Hillary Clinton. 

Biden, by the way, is putting everything he has into a strong showing into that first big test in Iowa this January.  He said it‘s a make-or-break for him.  If he doesn‘t make the top three in Iowa, he‘s getting out of the race. 

Meanwhile, a big blow to John Edwards today.  The SEIU, one of the most politically powerful unions, has decided to hold off endorsing a candidate for 2008.  Edwards has been courting the service employees aggressively. 

Today, Larry Craig‘s lawyers attended a court hearing in Minnesota to withdraw his guilty plea in that airport sex sting. 

Craig released this written statement late this afternoon—quote—

“Today was a major step in the legal effort to clear my name.  The court has not issued a ruling on my motion to withdraw my guilty plea.  For now, I will continue my work in the United States Senate for Idaho.”

Craig had said he would resign on September 30 unless he could reverse his guilty plea.  He‘s not about to give up this fight. 

And here‘s a great scene today from an anti-war lion in the U.S.

Senate. 

Here‘s Robert Byrd and war protesters from the group CODEPINK. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA:  Let‘s clear the room.  Let‘s clear the room.  We have had enough of this.  Clear the room.  Clear the room.  Clear the room.  Clear the room.  That‘s enough of this. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We have had enough of the war. 

BYRD:  I have tolerated all I can stand. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Stop the killing.  We can‘t tolerate...

(CROSSTALK)

BYRD:  I stopped it before you were born.  I said stop it before you were ever born.  I said, don‘t go into it before you were ever born. 

Get out of this place.  Here.  Let‘s go.  Clear this room. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Finally, Bill Clinton thinks he‘s the best company that money can buy.  Take a look at this little treasure.  The former president sent out this e-mail invitation to supporters—quote—“Hillary‘s campaign will pick three people, each invited with a guest, to watch one of the upcoming presidential debates with me.  We will sit down in front of a big TV with a big bowl of chips, watch the debate and talk about the race.”

Well, maybe this is how to get an interview with Bill, along with some potato chips. 

Up next, the HARDBALL debate:  Will Hillary Clinton win the nomination, or can somebody stop her here tonight? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, live from New Hampshire, as the Democrats face off in their big debate in 90 minutes, at 9:00 Eastern, only on MSNBC. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DAN KLOEFFLER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hello, everyone.  I‘m Dan Kloeffler.  Here is what is happening.

A crackdown in Myanmar turns deadly.  It follows a month of protests against the military government that seized power 19 years ago.  Government forces opened fire on unarmed Buddhist monks and other demonstrators.  There are reports of hundreds arrested, many injured, and as many as seven dead. 

The Bush administration is asking Congress for almost $190 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during the fiscal year that begins Monday.  That‘s $42 billion more than earlier estimates. 

A Minnesota judge says he will rule next week on Idaho Senator Larry

Craig‘s request to withdrawal his guilty plea in an airport sex sting.  In

a statement, Craig says he will stay in office for now, omitting any

reference to his pledge to resign on September 30. 

And the judge declared a mistrial in the murder trial of music producer Phil Spector because of a deadlocked jury there.  Spector was charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of actress Lana Clarkson at his Los Angeles home in 2003.  Prosecutors say that they will seek a retrial. 

You‘re up to the minute.

Now let‘s go back to HARDBALL. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL, less than 90 minute away from tonight‘s Democratic big debate here in New Hampshire here.

And we will—the big question, of course, everybody is asking in the media, will front-runner Hillary Clinton be the nominee?  Has she already locked it?  That‘s the HARDBALL debate tonight. 

Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst, and Katrina Vanden Heuvel is editor of “The Nation,” a great magazine of, I guess, liberal America. 

Let me ask you, Pat, why do you think Hillary‘s got this locked?

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I don‘t have that she‘s got it locked, but I think Hillary can lose Iowa and New Hampshire and still win the nomination, sort of the way Mondale did, because she‘s so strong, got tremendous resources, tremendous support, tremendous depth.

I don‘t think Edwards can win it, Chris, because I don‘t think he‘s got those things, even if he does well.  I think Obama has a shot at it, but I think he has to win Iowa and very probably has to win New Hampshire. 

And the problem for him is, that if he‘s beaten out there by Edwards or Hillary—I think, if he‘s beaten by Edwards, Edwards rises in New Hampshire, at his expense, and he‘s gone.  I think he‘s got to win it.  I think he can do it, but I think he‘s getting increasingly to be a long shot. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

So, you believe the only way Hillary can lose is if somebody like Obama comes in and wins it, starts running the table at the beginning? 

BUCHANAN:  I think Obama is the only man in the race that can beat him

beat her. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Let‘s—let‘s go to Katrina Vanden Heuvel. 

We‘re narrowing—or we‘re actually broadening this discussion.  I believe you argue that Hillary‘s nowhere near got this locked. 

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR, “THE NATION”:  Well, I mean, Chris, at that time last cycle, everyone was crowning Howard Dean as the nominee. 

You—you have followed politics long enough.  These primary contests can be very dramatic.  Howard Dean imploded in the last cycle.  And I think people—people haven‘t voted yet, Chris.  What we have seen is a media anointing a front-runner.  You have seen that process. 

What we have had is the money primary, the debate primary, which Hillary has done very well in, the endorsement primary.  So, a voter hasn‘t even voted.  So, I think you have got to get citizens involved. 

I think you do have a problem with Obama.  If he doesn‘t get out of way, Edwards isn‘t going to be able to come forward.  And Obama‘s not making that bold move.  You were talking earlier, Chris, about the defining issue of this election on the war.  He hasn‘t been punching, as he should, to really strike and speak boldly about an issue on voters‘ minds. 

BUCHANAN:  Chris, let me what the difference—the difference is, on Dean, is this.

Dean was an unknown.  He was a single-issue candidate.  He was like a McGovern, and the whole country was unaware of him.  Hillary Clinton is one of the best-known people in America.  Everybody knows her negatives and her positives.  And she‘s getting stronger and stronger. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But—but...

BUCHANAN:  So, unlike Dean, she can take beatings in early primaries and come back and win. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But..

BUCHANAN:  I agree on Obama. 

Let me just say, on Obama, he should not attack Hillary Clinton, but he should clearly differentiate himself from her position and say, “I disagree, respectfully, with Senator Clinton on this,” because he‘s got to give people a reason not to nominate her, because they‘re all moving toward her right now.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  He has to give a reason—Pat is so right—because she has stolen, for the moment, the mantle of change.  She has done something very clever, which is, she‘s essentially an establishment quasi-incumbent campaign in an election of change. 

And Obama has to come forward again.  Now, Edwards has been leading on so many issues.  But Obama‘s the block.  On the other hand, Pat you know well, events intrude.  Times change.  Voters change. 

In 1991, who thought that after, the Gulf War I, George H.W. would not be invincible?  He—the economy came forward.

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  And that Democratic nomination was there and seemed important.  So, I think things can change.  Never say never.  Things change. 

BUCHANAN:  I do think things can change.

But Edwards does not have the legs, in terms of, I think, the resources, the depth, the support in the party.  Even if he won Iowa, I don‘t think he would win New Hampshire.  And Hillary Clinton, as I said, can come back. 

Obama does have the resources, but he‘s low in the national polls.  I would focus everything now on Iowa and New Hampshire.  He‘s not going to get the national polls up against her.  But you can move those local polls.  And I would really work those two states, because I think they‘re going to be clearly decisive for the outsiders. 

Edwards...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But you know what‘s so crazy, Pat? 

BUCHANAN:  Edwards has gone too far left for the general. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Oh, please. 

You know, Pat, what‘s so crazy is, we‘re talking about this before a single voter has voted.  And, to me, that suggests a corrosion of our democracy.  It‘s all about the money and the horse race.  And I think you have got to step back.  People aren‘t paying attention yet, even in Iowa and New Hampshire. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

BUCHANAN:  I agree with you about...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Iowa and New Hampshire, they‘re paying attention. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Oh, I mean we heard earlier...

MATTHEWS:  Let me—let me ask you both—let me ask you both about the—the factors right now. 

I have lined them up, I think.  And I think they are the war in Iraq and where the voters want to come out on that.  Do they want to pick a candidate who was clearly against the war, who believe that it was fundamentally a mistake for American foreign policy, not badly managed, not it didn‘t turn out right, or there were not enough troops, but a fundamental mistake, in fact even almost a moral mistake for America?

Do they want a candidate like that?  Is that—let me just leave that question to the both of you. 

Katrina, do you think the Democratic Party, deep down in its soul, wants to make a statement that they believe this war was wrong? 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  You know, Chris, I worry, because I see too many in the Democratic Party doing the incompetence dodge. 

What‘s crucial is to say that this war was morally wrong.  This war was the greatest foreign policy debacle, morally and in other ways.

And except for maybe Bill Richardson, who may rise because of his strong support for a real end to this war, bringing all troops safely home, or a Dennis Kucinich, who, sadly, is not registering in the polls in any real way...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... I don‘t think the Democratic Party leadership is there. 

BUCHANAN:  All right.  Chris—Chris, I think you‘re exactly right. 

But I don‘t think Obama has the nerve to get up there and say, you made a terrible—this war is not only mismanaged.  This war is a historical mistake.  This war was unjustified.  It should have never been voted for. 

If do you that, I think he can move the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and the base of it in Iowa and New Hampshire.  But he doesn‘t seem willing to do that.  His position is not that different than Hillary‘s. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I—you know, I hate to say—I hate...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m waiting for those moments, Pat.

And, Pat, in your party, the Republican Party, there was a great moment back in the early ‘50s, where it was Dirksen or somebody who pointed to the liberal wing of the party and said, you led us down the road to defeat. 

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Why doesn‘t—and points the finger. 

BUCHANAN:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  Why doesn‘t Barack point his finger?  Like Scott Turow said in “Presumed Innocent, point your finger at the guilty party, or else the jury will not do that, unless you point at her and say...

BUCHANAN:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  ... she led us wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But he won‘t do it. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Pat, you have...

BUCHANAN:  That is exactly the point, Chris, that he pointed his finger at Tom Dewey, sitting there smugly.  And—but...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  ... the truth is that he wasn‘t going for—Dewey won that battle, because Eisenhower got the nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  I know. 

BUCHANAN:  But you‘re exactly right. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But, you know...

BUCHANAN:  You need a dramatic moment and a dramatic separation from the whole war party.  That‘s risky for the general.  But it‘s the only way Barack Obama‘s going to win this nomination. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I don‘t think, as you said earlier, Pat, he needs to point a finger.  But he needs to lay out very clearly that he is a choice, not an echo. 

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  And I think that‘s true on other issues. 

We haven‘t talked about health care. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Again, I think John Edwards leads.  But Hillary came forward this past week.  The Democratic Party is not speaking to majority support for Medicare for all. 

You still have this kind of private insurance company piece of it. 

So, again, I fear that you‘re not seeing as bold leadership as you could.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  Well, look, they‘re not exactly stepping up to the fight. 

You know, clarity is not the goal of the Democratic Party right now. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Stark clarity is not what they‘re trying to push. 

BUCHANAN:  It‘s got to be the goal, if you are going to separate yourself from the front-runner and go after them.  Clarity is needed. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But, you know, Chris, why should there be historic clarity?  You can see tactically. 

I mean, you have the most—you know, the most incompetent administration, which has abused power at an unprecedented level in modern America history.  The—people are looking for change.

But I, speaking as someone who cares deeply about the future, in a really progressive tradition, I don‘t see pushing the limits, as you could, at this moment, really raising bold, bold issues, and make—and having people follow you, if you led. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, look, if Obama doesn‘t do it, what‘s the argument for him? 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Well, I think Edwards could.  And I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Ladies and gentlemen, I mean...

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But I think the issues primary needs to be engaged, not just the money primary and the... 

BUCHANAN:  That‘s what I‘m talking about.  He‘s got to give a reason why the front-runner should be rejected. 

MATTHEWS:  Katrina, I am sorry.  It‘s great having you back on the show. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat, it‘s a great—you‘re a great debate.  I love both of you on.  And I think I am with Pat, because I want to see a clear debate.  I want to see it tonight.  I keep waiting for it.  If this war is not an issue worth debating, I don‘t know what is. 

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I agree. 

MATTHEWS:  But thank you very much, Pat Buchanan, Katrina Vanden Heuvel.

Up next, the HARDBALL roundtable on Hillary, Obama, and the rest of the Democratic presidential contenders set to face off tonight, right here at Dartmouth.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC, live from New Hampshire. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We are just over about an hour away right now from tonight‘s big Democratic presidential debate. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  Here to discuss is Salon‘s Joan Walsh.  She actually exists.  There she is.  NBC News political director Chuck Todd, and, down in D.C., Perry Bacon of “The Washington Post.”

Let me start with you, Joan. 

Let‘s talk about the women candidate for president, Hillary Clinton. 

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SALON.COM:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  We keep slipping over the fact that she must come here tonight with a strategy.  Just because she‘s the front-runner doesn‘t mean she doesn‘t have a plan. 

Is it to do what she did on Sunday, when she went on five shows with the goal of not making news?

WALSH:  Yes, she just notched—put all those notches on her belt.  I got through the five shows.  I laughed.  I chuckled.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know what it was like?  She was like a woman in a knife-throwing thing, when she just stands against the wall...

WALSH:  Missed me.

MATTHEWS:  ... lets Russert throw a knife, let everyone else, Chris, and everybody throw knives.  And she is just like...

WALSH:  Missed me.

MATTHEWS:  Missed me.  Missed me. 

WALSH:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Is that what it is about? 

WALSH:  I think that‘s what it is about. 

Look, she has benefited from our low expectations this whole time.  She‘s appeared like a much stronger candidate because we said she‘s unlikable, she‘s got all this scandal, she got Clinton fatigue.  And she‘s impressed us.

But now it‘s real.  This is the show.  It starts tonight.  So, I think she has to come prepared to take some punches, but also to throw some.  She can‘t just sit there.  She can no longer win by not losing.  That‘s what she has done.

MATTHEWS:  Do you really believe that?  Or are you a tumbler, like me? 

WALSH:  That‘s what I want.

MATTHEWS:  You are a tumbler, like me.

WALSH:  That‘s what I want to see.  Come on. 

MATTHEWS:  You want to shake this thing up. 

WALSH:  Mix it up. 

MATTHEWS:  I do believe our job is not to—is to be neutral, not passive, in this thing.  If we can shake this debate up, I think we help. 

Chuck Todd, will Hillary have a strategy, beyond just self-defense, tonight? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  It‘s interesting.

I actually think she has a strategy of not making news, or, if she does mix it up, to purposely not mix it up with Obama or Edwards, but, instead, let Dodd pick the fight and have a little tete-a-tete with Dodd, or let Biden pick the fight, because what does that do?  As long as you elevate everybody against you, she comes out the winner.  So...

MATTHEWS:  Is she going to do a Reagan and just say, there you go again every time somebody takes a shot at her?

TODD:  Well, I think—no.  Her version of that is the laugh. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, that laugh? 

TODD:  The laugh.

MATTHEWS:  Did you like that laugh with Chris Wallace?

The only thing that was really legitimate about that—and the reason I liked the laugh—first of all, I know politicians all know how to laugh on cue. 

TODD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I liked the fact that she laughed at Chris Wallace, who had gone after her husband a few months ago. 

TODD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  You know...

WALSH:  I thought she looked great.  I thought she looked very confident.  I liked—I—I enjoyed the laugh. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

TODD:  Look, the laugh stuff, it‘s humanizing and all that stuff. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Perry Bacon—Perry Bacon, what do you think Hillary Clinton will try to do tonight, up against the—the Lilliputians, if you will? 

PERRY BACON, STAFF WRITER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I think she will try to stay the front-runner.  She will try to talk about her experience and talk about—I assume she will talk about her health care plan she just laid out and talked about on Sunday a lot, too.

So, I think she will probably avoid—unless there‘s some obvious point to reinforce her notion that Obama doesn‘t have the experience, unless they ask some obvious way to do that, I suspect she will just sort of stay with game plan, which is going to about what she‘s doing and stay positive. 

MATTHEWS:  So, she won‘t take the shot back; she will let her people later do it after the event is over tonight?

BACON:  That‘s my guess, or—I mean, unless there is some obvious—if Obama makes some kind of or Edwards makes some statement she thinks she can jump on, I guess she would.  But I suspect otherwise.

She will sort of hang back and talk about her themes and emphasize them again, the sort of change plus experience kind of theme she‘s been talking about a while. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Chuck, you hear a lot from Republicans, who like to say, never underestimate Hillary Clinton.  She‘s going to be a formidable opponent. 

Are they sucking the Democrats into picking her? 

TODD:  Look...

MATTHEWS:  Are they? 

TODD:  Half my brain says yes.  The other half of my brain...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do they think it‘s a “Don‘t throw me in the briar patch” thing?

TODD:  Yes. 

The other half of my brain says, well, OK, they used to say that about Ronald Reagan.  Yes, bring on Reagan.  So, you sit there and you are like...

MATTHEWS:  No, I used to say, bring on... 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  You‘re like half your—on the other hand, you do wonder, look, not that they think that they can beat Hillary Clinton, but they think they can hold their losses. 

You talk to a lot of congressional Republicans, they‘re desperate to run for reelection in ‘08 with Clinton leading the Democratic ticket, because they think it will prevent—it will at least keep some of the base coming out for Republicans, and it will prevent a wave.  It will prevent a Democratic wave that picks up five Senate seats, 20 House seats, and, instead, hold the losses to two Senate seats, five more House seats. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what Republicans—Democrats want?

TODD:  Congressional Republicans are thinking that. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, they think they can deal—they can deal with her?

TODD:  They can deal—well, no, it‘s just that they hold their losses in ‘08, and then not have to be able to win this thing back in ‘10.

WALSH:  They think she brings out the base.  They think, in these congressional districts, in these swing districts, she is going to galvanize...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know, five days before the presidential election next year, no matter what anybody says, if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, every Republican in the country will want to vote against her, right? 

WALSH:  I think that‘s true.  I think that that‘s true.  But there‘s a limited number of them.  And they‘re banking that she excites women and gets new voters out.  I‘m not sure, but that‘s—that‘s the strategy. 

MATTHEWS:  You know who was the number-one voter registrar among African-Americans in my home town in Philadelphia?  Frank Rizzo, because every black person in Philly had to get out as a matter of manhood or womanhood...

WALSH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... and register to vote, to vote against the guy they thought was after them.  And they had a reason to believe that.

Remember? 

TODD:  Well, look, you don‘t...

MATTHEWS:  Sometimes, the bad guy, or the bad woman, the person on the other side is the one that gets you excited, because you can‘t expect the Republican nominees to all of a sudden become fascinating. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We will be right back with our roundtable. 

You‘re watching it, HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back. 

We‘re with Salon‘s Joan Walsh from out West, NBC News political director Chuck Todd from Washington, and “The Washington Post”‘s Perry Bacon. 

Perry, what is the thinking in the “Post” newsroom about Barack Obama?  Is he going to escalate tonight?  Is he going to play his game out?  Or how is he going do this?  Is he going to take her on, or is he going to hope the media is going to bring down Hillary Clinton, and he will get there by default?

BACON:  From talking to their staff over the weekend for a piece I was doing, it seems they—there‘s a little reluctance to go too negative on her. 

I don‘t think you‘re going to hear a lot of sort of Lincoln Bedroom, Clinton scandal kind of things from Obama.  I think he will try to emphasize, you know, she‘s—he‘s new and she‘s old and that kind of thing, the kind of things they have been talking about in the campaign throughout.

I don‘t think that they—I know—I saw the previous segment.  I don‘t think they have the same sense of sort of panic that some people outside, who are outside, who might advise the campaign do.  I think they think that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, they believe that—I‘m sorry, Perry.

They believe that what they are doing is working or will work?  What is their confidence based upon? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Usually, you change tactics if they are not working.  And, if they are—if you think they‘re working, you don‘t change them. 

BACON:  They think that we‘re over-focusing on the national polls in

part.  And they think the race is closer in Iowa, where they are actually

close and tied with Clinton, to some extent.  And they are sort of trying -

they have a more sort of Iowa, win Iowa, have the momentum, win New Hampshire, and then from there go forward.

And, in that sense, that is sort of—you know, the big focus in the field operation in Iowa is to turn out new voters and old voters.  And that is sort their focus, I think. 

MATTHEWS:  Chuck? 

TODD:  Well, I mean...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, I‘m going to ask you a simple question.  If Barack Obama thinks his strategy is working, fine.  He will continue on course, being positive...

TODD:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... being optimistic, not laying a glove on her. 

If he thinks it‘s not working, because he looks at the poll numbers—and this campaign has been—begun.  Katrina Vanden Heuvel is wrong.  People are thinking about this or they‘re getting committed to candidates.

TODD:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re getting engaged.  Their campaign—they‘re contributing to campaigns.  They‘re working for candidates.  It has begun. 

WALSH:  This is it.

TODD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And, so, the question is, if it is not working, will he change it or just take defeat? 

TODD:  Well, look, I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is he going to be like Bush in Iraq? 

TODD:  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  I just stick to my guns? 

TODD:  You know, the question is...

MATTHEWS:  Just stick there?

TODD:  Yes, he‘s got to show a point. 

I think he‘s got to show his supporters, who are really into him—I think his base is pretty deep.  You know, the one thing about his 20 percent is, it doesn‘t move.  You have never seen him drop in the polls.  It‘s a bump from 20 to 30. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

TODD:  It doesn‘t go below. 

But, if he doesn‘t show them that he‘s out to win this time, you know, you get to a point where you start wondering, is he playing for second?  Is he just playing not to lose? 

WALSH:  Right. 

TODD:  And I know that they may say, oh, we‘re just trying to get a fight. 

And I can just hear David Axelrod now:  You guys don‘t get it.  This is a new type of campaign, a new type of politics.

But, no, politics isn‘t new.  It—it—it happens like this all the time.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  And it‘s the candidate that learns how to engage and be above it all at the same time that wins these things. 

WALSH:  I was—I was really struck by his vote, or non-vote, on the MoveOn resolution last week.  I thought that was a classic Obama move.  But I thought it was a very bad move, because you cannot reinvent new politics all by yourself. 

TODD:  It was potentially a good move, had he led on it. 

WALSH:  Right. 

TODD:  Right? 

WALSH:  He ducked out.

TODD:  It took him two-and-a-half-hours. 

WALSH:  He snuck out. 

TODD:  Right.  If he had said....

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This was the vote of—to condemn the advertisement...

WALSH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... put on by the MoveOn.org in “The New York Times” that said “General Betray Us.” 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Chris, if he had gone on in there and said to Harry Reid, come on, let‘s lead a boycott of this thing and let‘s not vote on it...

WALSH:  Exactly.  Politics is marshaling people behind you. 

TODD:  Exactly. 

WALSH:  And he has not shown...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I think about Barack Obama.  He‘s not a leader. 

He‘s not a leader.

WALSH:  Yes. 

TODD:  He issued up a silent protest.  It was a chance.  And the other part—I will tell you, another one...

MATTHEWS:  See, this is so fundamental.  To be a leader, you must have followers.  Who are the followers of Barack Obama in the Senate? 

TODD:  But he has the followers.  And that‘s the thing.

WALSH:  But not in the Senate. 

TODD:  Well, in the Senate, he doesn‘t have it yet.

WALSH:  He has not spent enough time.

TODD:  He hasn‘t been there enough.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  He ranks 87th in seniority.  We calculated it. 

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  And he missed key votes today.  He missed the Biden vote and he missed Kyl-Lieberman.  And Hillary was there for both.  So was Biden.  So, you know, he‘s making choices.  And I think...

TODD:  We can‘t sit here and say Clinton‘s been a leader in the Senate either.  She‘s not gone out there to try to marshal the troops as well either. 

None of the senators have that much.  They have sort of—they put out bills that get voted on, so they can say they introduced a bill.  But they haven‘t really tried to corral the Senate, say, you know what?  I‘m—that‘s it.  I‘m—I‘m not on the campaign trail until I get this done. 

WALSH:  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  Well, it was a big day for Biden, for Biden to marshal that kind of bipartisan support behind his Iraq plan. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Perry Bacon first, and then the same question to everybody.

Will there be a moment in tonight‘s debate when Barack Obama, the senator from Illinois, who is in second place in all—most of the national polling, will he confront Hillary on her vote in Iraq?  Will he make a fundamental challenge to her judgment?

BACON:  He has made the point on Iraq over and over again, that he voted—you know, he opposed and she voted for it. 

I mean, I think he will make the point, yes.  Will he make it in a pointed, “You voted for it for political reasons”?  Will he make it in a pointed way?  I don‘t know the answer to that.  I am sure he will make the point.  He‘s made the point all year in various ways. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Will he do it dramatically, Chuck?

TODD:  No, I don‘t expect him to.  He hasn‘t yet. 

MATTHEWS:  Joan?

WALSH:  If he‘s been watching you all day, he will, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I want him to do.  I want a fight. 

Anyway, thank you, Joan Walsh.

Thank you Chuck Todd.

Thank you, Perry Bacon of “The Washington Post.” 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  The Democratic presidential debate begins in just one hour. 

“COUNTDOWN” starts now.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

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

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