updated 10/31/2007 12:13:14 PM ET 2007-10-31T16:13:14

Guests: Dan Balz, Howard Fineman, Ryan Lizza, Brian Tierney, Michael Smerconish

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  In or out, is Barack Obama a contender for the Democratic nomination or not?  Will he make good on all of the excitement about his candidacy or let Hillary Clinton continue to wear her crown?  Tonight we‘ll see, let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  The fight in Philly.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL, from Drexel University in Philadelphia.  At 9:00 p.m. tonight, just two hours from now, Democratic presidential contenders will gather in a debate moderated by NBC‘s Brian Williams, joined by Tim Russert. 

Expectations are running high for challenger Barack Obama, will he come out swinging against Hillary?  Will John Edwards get into the mix?  Could this battle turn into a brawl with Hillary walking away unscathed, and maybe even stronger?  Last night I said what I thought Barack Obama should say in tonight‘s MSNBC debate. 

Here‘s what I think another candidate, not in the top rank right now, should say.  Here is what I would say tonight, if I were Joe Biden.  Quote:

“I can‘t believe my Democratic Party, we won control of Congress this time last year by promising to get the American Army out of the Arabian desert.  Let‘s face it, we promised something completely different than the Republicans led by President Bush.  Where is that difference, when the top contenders of my party are asked if we will still be in Iraq in 2013, they act like that‘s reasonable prospect? 

“A war that will last not four years, as it has already, but 10 or more.  I am the only candidate who offered a plan for getting our troops out of the endless role of refereeing this three-way battle among Sunni, Shia and Kurd.  It‘s time for America to let the divisions that were predicted when we marched into Baghdad to take their natural course.  It is time to divide up the political power in Iraq, to give self rule to the three groups there because it is the only way anyone has come up with to get America out of Iraq. 

“And if you don‘t have plan for getting us out of Iraq, stop promising the American people that you do,” close quote.  That‘s what I would say if I were Joe Biden tonight. 

We begin with our roundtable, however.  NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell; Dan Balz of The Washington Post, and Newsweek magazine‘s Howard Fineman.  Let me start with Andrea, my colleague. 

OK, it‘s fight night.  OK, no cigars here, no smoking on the set. 

But.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  There may be some cigars, you don‘t know that. 

MATTHEWS:  But this is Philly, as you and I know.  Andrea first crossed our paths I think many years ago when you were at KYW Radio here.  The Philly fans want blood, they want the Roman coliseum, will they get it tonight? 

MITCHELL:  They very well may.  But—and if they don‘t, Barack Obama is going to have real problem because he has raised expectations for himself.  He has gone out there, he and his people saying that he is going to step up his attack on Hillary Clinton.  If he now doesn‘t there is going to be lot of disappointment. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this his last chance? 

MITCHELL:  It is not his last chance, but it is a very important chance.  He has really got to show himself. 

MATTHEWS:  Dan Balz, same question to you.  Lots of touting of the fight tonight, lots of Don King pre-game excitement.  Will we get it? 

DAN BALZ, THE WASHINGTON POST:  I think we‘ll get some of it, Chris.  But I‘m struck by something that David Axelrod said to me some weeks ago with his.

MATTHEWS:  Who is with Obama. 

BALZ:  He is Obama‘s chief strategist.  He said to me, a lot of people in the media would like to see a steel cage match between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and that is simply not the way Barack Obama plays the game. 

I think Obama is in a difficult position, obviously, because he has had expectations raised on himself.  He contributed to that with an interview in The New York Times over the weekend.  A lot of people are anticipating that they will see a newly aggressive—I think he is going to try to draw some sharp distinctions but I think he wants to do it in his own way, and that‘s going to be tricky. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard, I guess one reason why people expect him to draw blood, as Dan suggested, that is the language some people are using, is because he is falling so far behind.  One of the national polls has Hillary up to 50 percent now against the field.  The L.A. Times poll has 31 points separating Hillary Clinton from Barack Obama.  Everybody figures that is when you have to do something. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  Well, he told a friend of his the other day, Chris—yes, he told a friend of his the other day, I have to do something in Philly.  He said, I have to do something in Philly.  So, Barack Obama knows that this is a key time for him right now.  His problem is he has got to be respectful but he has got to attack at the same time. 

And I am reporting in msnbc.com today that his staff has been looking at the tapes of Bill Clinton from years ago when Bill Clinton tried to represent a new generation going after the powers that be.  So one of Barack Obama‘s arguments is going to be, I am the real inheritor of the tradition of Bill Clinton, not his wife, because Hillary has been in Washington too long.  I, Barack Obama, represent a new generation.  That is what he is going to have to say tonight. 

MITCHELL:  You know, Ed Rendell, the governor of this state, former national chairman, someone you know well, and Dan and Howard know well, I was talking to him today, and I said, is it a problem for these guys to gang up on the one woman on the stage?  Is that a risky strategy?  Can Obama get too tough? 

And Rendell said, not against her because she is such a tough woman, she has shown how hardened she is to these kind of attacks before that you can take that risk and that he has got to show it.  He has got to show that he is ready for prime time. 

MATTHEWS:  Dan, let me ask you about John Edwards, the third man in this fight—the third person.  Some people think that what will happen tonight is all of the expectations will be—I think Tim Russert said this earlier tonight, that all of the expectations might be for Barack Obama to make his move.  And in fact what will happen is, John Edwards is more likely to really go for it. 

BALZ:  Well, I think we have seen in past debates, Chris, that John Edwards has been in many ways much more aggressive in going after Senator Clinton than Barack Obama has been.  In the Dartmouth debate a month ago, he was the one who really went after her on her vote on the Iran amendment in the Senate that very day. 

He gave a speech yesterday in Manchester in which he pointed out that she has taken more contributions from Washington lobbyists than any other candidate in either party and that she is in essence, you know, at the nexus of what is—he describes as a corrupt relationship between Washington lobbyists and lawmakers. 

So I think he has given every indication that he us prepared to make a real argument against her on this question of, can she change a broken system? 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Howard Fineman.  Howard, I have the big question for you.  Why is Hillary, who has been being so careful about the war in Iraq and a possible war with Iran, being sort of in the middle on those questions, not being anti-war, how come she is doing so well in anti-war party? 

FINEMAN:  Well, because she is running in the general election already.  You may consider it hubris, or you may consider it too arrogant by half.  But she is already looking to a general election which she wants to appeal to independents and even Republicans.  She is thinking of a presidency.  She doesn‘t want to just be the anti-war candidate and she wants to invite the others to do so. 

I would also point out that in three-way race, which is pretty much what this is right now, the other two people attacking Hillary have to be very careful, because the one place that this still a race right now is in Iowa.  People in Iowa don‘t like attack politics, John Edwards is still right in the mix in Iowa. 

Question, does he want to be the attack dog here and risk his standing in Iowa, because either Edwards or Obama is going to benefit but not from their own attacks, from the other guys‘ attacks.  You have to really watch the three-way nature of this race here tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  Dan. 

BALZ:  I was just going to say, on the question of why she has put herself in the position she has on Iraq and particularly Iran, every indication is that she is doing very well even with anti-war Democrats.  I mean, that they see her as the person who is most capable of trying to get the United States out of Iraq if she becomes president.  So she has got some leeway within the Democratic base right now.

MATTHEWS:  Do they think she is faking it? 

BALZ:  Do they think she is faking it?  They don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Like positioning herself on the more—further to the right than she really is to win the nomination and win the presidency?

BALZ:  I‘m not sure they see that it way.  I think what they see is a person who has performed extremely well in the debates, who has given every indication that she is comfortable on her feet and ready to step in. 

MATTHEWS:  The reason I ask that is because, you know, all of this year and last year, everyone has said, the Democrats took control of Congress because of their anti-war position.  I expected this race to be battle to see who was most anti-war.  It seems like it doesn‘t work out that way.  Nor did it work out in 2004 when Howard Dean, who was sitting in that chair an hour ago, was the total anti-war candidate, and he didn‘t go anywhere. 

MITCHELL:  Well, a lot of other things going into the equation.  And with Hillary Clinton, she clearly, as Dan points out, is looking at the general election and you have got two Democratic parties.  You have got the Pelosi party and rest of the party.  There really is a division even among those who won in ‘06. 

The rejection in ‘06 had more to do with people‘s expectations than Democratic promises.  The hopes—sort of people assuming that the Democrats, when they came in, would reverse the Bush policies on the war, rather than knowing that there was a real platform to do precisely that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I must have been one of those people, because I thought that they ran on an anti-war platform. 

MITCHELL:  They did, but not entirely.  Hillary always kept her options, others who were looking towards the presidential campaign kept their options open. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s talk now to the more sophisticated viewer who is looking for a nuanced way out of Iraq.  A person who is looking to avoid a confrontation with Ahmadinejad, who also wants to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of mad man, a man many people do not trust. 

Is there going to be a nuanced discussion about the new future of Iraq, dividing it up through a confederation like Joe Biden is talking about?  Will there be some nuanced debate over how to use pressure against Ahmadinejad?  Are we going to learn anything tonight about new initiatives or is it the same old fight?

BALZ:  Well, I don‘t think the debates are generally the place where you get nuanced conversation about important policy discussions.  What you get is people trying to lay down a marker and make their own position clear. 

But I think we saw some of that again in the Dartmouth debate when the candidates were asked, will you get the troops out by—before the end of your first term?

MATTHEWS:  And none of them.

BALZ:  And none of the leading candidates said they would, I think to the astonishment of a lot of people. 

MATTHEWS:  That was to my astonishment.  I just led my proposed debate point for Joe Biden to say, hey, if the leaders aren‘t going to get us out in 10 years, a 10-year war, maybe we should try something else. 

BALZ:  I‘m going to be interested to see the discussion particularly between Obama and Clinton on the issue of Iran, because they seem to be on opposite sides but they agree on one important aspect.

MATTHEWS:  What is that?

BALZ:  . which is, they both say that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps should be designated as a terrorist organization. 

MATTHEWS:  They do say that. 

BALZ:  They are both in favor of that.

MATTHEWS:  They are both with Kyl-Lieberman. 

BALZ:  Well—but Obama opposes Kyl-Lieberman, but on a different basis.  So there is some debate that can go back and forth on that issue. 

MATTHEWS:  So we may discuss a debate point tonight that will tell our country‘s war footing in terms of Iran come—that that is a future issue. 

MITCHELL:  But Joe Biden and others say that they are dead wrong on that.  That you should not designate them a terrorist. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe the world news service will move with a big story out of here tonight, where the Democrats end up on whether we to go another war in the Middle East. 

Obama, Hillary are neck and neck in the Iowa poll right now, with just over two months to go, they are within the margin of error.  And so is John Edwards, very close.  Will we see tonight a decisive battle that will tell us who is going to win in Iowa and who is going to win this nomination?  Is tonight the night it finally gets tough?  Does (INAUDIBLE) finally get tough?  (INAUDIBLE).  By the way, is going to calling Hillary next year, “her.” We will be right back with the roundtable.  You are watching HARDBALL where we preview the Democratic debate, live from Philadelphia, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL, live in Philadelphia, we are back with the roundtable right now.  I want to start with you, Howard, and then Andrea and then Dan can jump in. 

And the big question, we have all watched this series of debates—we have all watched this series of debates among the Democratic candidates, and we have looked how they have performed.  I want, Howard, you to start once again.  You have got the tough job.  Give me a sense of how Hillary handles herself in these debates against other Democrats? 

FINEMAN:  Well, in one word, flawlessly, Chris.  She has been calm.  She has been cool.  She has been collected.  She has been strong.  She has been feminine at the same time.  She has been detailed.  She has been specific.  She has hit all of the points on all of the topics, superbly prepared and unflappable. 

And that is one reason why these debates have been so good for her as forums not only because she has done well, but because it has kind of divided the opposition.  It has muted the concentrated attack on her that the media otherwise might have mounted or individual candidates might have mounted. 

Even tonight when we are focusing on Barack Obama and John Edwards, there is still a lot of other people on the stage, a lot of other factors.  And that spread-out nature of it has allowed her professionalism and calm to build her lead in the polls.  That is how she has done it. 

MATTHEWS:  The calm, cool presence of a Grace Kelly, if you will.  It is almost—that is the way that Hillary has been.  She has been charming but cold and absolutely flawless, I agree. 

MITCHELL:  Well, one of the things that was most telling to me was sitting with you and Pat Buchanan in South Carolina, after that first big debate.  And Pat Buchanan said, Hillary Clinton tonight passed the commander-in-chief test.  That is Pat Buchanan giving her an A-plus on being commander-in-chief.  She has not.

MATTHEWS:  She didn‘t get his vote. 

MITCHELL:  But she has not missed a step on foreign policy questions.  And that is what she need to do in these debates, and she has accomplished that.  It is no accident that Hillary Clinton, as well as she has done in these debates, takes nothing for granted.  We have not seen her publicly since Saturday night when she was with Charlie Rangel in Harlem.  She has done nothing but prepare, prepare, prepare.  She has the best debate prep of any of these candidates... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  For tonight she has done a lot of prep.  Dan, it seems to me that she has managed to keep the voice tenor down.  There has been none of that fingernail on the blackboard kind of hectoring sound.  It is tough for a woman candidate because we set standards, I admit, different than we do for men.  Although Howard Dean learned the danger of fingernails on the blackboard.  But do you think she is able to keep that cool through a torrential attack like we expect tonight? 

BALZ:  Well, I don‘t know.  I mean, we will see.  This could be her toughest test.  I would disagree one on one point.  I she had one debate where she do not do well.  That was the debate at the Yearly Kos convention where she was in front of a group of bloggers.  That was the debate where she defended lobbyists. 

She said, remember, lobbyists are people, too, or something to that effect.  And it provided.

MITCHELL:  How soon we forget. 

BALZ:  It provided John Edwards with an opening that he is still trying to drive his campaign wedge through. 

MATTHEWS:  Maybe she was—you know, they say—who was it, Phil Byrd (ph) in old days in California, or Jesse Edwards (ph) said, if you‘re going to get bought stay bought or something.  I mean, she was willing to say, all right, I do take money from the medical industry, I do take money from the lawyers, I take money from industry.  Damn it, I do it.  Isn‘t that the only answer?

MITCHELL:  And then in the next quarter, she beat Obama in fundraising.  So maybe she gave up a debating point to John Edwards.

BALZ:  To get a little money.

MITCHELL:  . to get a couple of million dollars. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s talk about Barack Obama.  A lot of us were out there in Springfield, Illinois, that exciting day when he announced.  And I thought he would catch Hillary by May.  It was magnetic, it was exciting.  And yet his campaign has never really checked in.  He is now running about 17 nationally, which is what Jesse Jackson reached as a minority candidate years ago. 

Dan, he hasn‘t broken loose from minority status.  He‘s still an outsider in terms of the numbers. 

BALZ:  He is.  And I think one of the reasons, Chris, is the debates.  Barack Obama is not comfortable as a debater, and I think he would be the first to admit that.  In one of his books he wrote about debating Alan Keyes back in the 2004 Senate campaign in Illinois, and how Keyes was able to get under his skin and it bothered Obama. 

I talked to him earlier in the summer and he said, I‘m not as good at that 90-second or 60-second format as some of the others.  And so I think he is a little self-conscious about his debate capability.  He has gotten somewhat better.  He has had good moments, but he has also had some uneven moments. 

MITCHELL:  But where I would disagree is, I would give him better props, not in the debating scale, but in his fundraising.  He has got the money that other lesser candidates have not had. 

MATTHEWS:  What is he doing with it all?

MITCHELL:  Well, he has got money to go the distance.  I mean, if he gets past Iowa, if he gets past New Hampshire, he is in it for the long term. 

MATTHEWS:  How many times can he run the biography story? 

MITCHELL:  Well, he can—“the man from Hope” ran it forever. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but it didn‘t win.  Bill Clinton was able to take on Tsongas, take on Bob Kerrey.  He took on Jerry Brown.  He took on his and beat them all. 

MITCHELL:  He was able to spin a second place finish, which is exactly what Obama or some other Democrat may have to do. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Oh yes.  You mean, Bill Clinton came in 8 points behind Tsongas in New Hampshire and declared himself the winner even though he had been way ahead in the polls? 

MITCHELL:  Well, that is the scenario we may see in Iowa this time. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go to Howard.  The same question to you, Barack Obama, give me the track record on him. 

FINEMAN:  Well, Chris, when we saw him out in Springfield, he was an event waiting to happen.  And that event sort of happened in the spring heading into May and June.  Don‘t forget at that time in the national polls he was running neck and neck with Hillary Clinton.  The only place he is doing that now is Iowa. 

And I would say that is an important exception.  If he can win Iowa, and it is not impossible, then he is in the ball game.  And that is part of the problem he has here tonight.  He has got to attack and he has got to explain why Hillary Clinton cannot win the presidency.  And that if she even can win the presidency, she can‘t govern because she will divide the country. 

It is a tough thing for him to do but he has got to do it.  My sense of him, and I have covered him for a while, is that he is a lawyer but he has a judicial temperament, not a prosecutorial temperament. 

Tonight he has got to be the prosecutor and he has got to say more in sorrow than in anger, Hillary, your service has been great but you can‘t lead the country, I can.  Tough thing to do, a gutsy thing to do, but he has got to make that generational argument.  If he doesn‘t make it he doesn‘t have a chance. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said. 

MITCHELL:  What Obama‘s people, what Edwards, what Chris Dodd said to me personally today was she is not electable.  And they keep pointing to some polls showing that 48, 49, 44 percent of people say they would not vote for her under any circumstances. 

Now things change if you become the Democratic nominee.  But that is their best arguing point, exactly what Howard.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And the worse thing that could happen to Hillary Clinton is to win all of the marbles in January and have to spend 11 months defending herself against the 527s, against the Swiftboaters, the whole shebang for 11 months. 

MITCHELL:  That is what Bill Clinton would call a “high class problem.” 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he may have one on his hands and he may have to have fantastic—she is going to have to wear a face mask.  Anyway, Howard Fineman, Andrea Mitchell, Dan Balz, it is great having the heavyweights on. 

Is tonight the night that Barack Obama comes out swinging?  We keep asking that question, you are going to have to know the answer yourself when we watch.  We will all be watching tonight live from Philadelphia the big debate tonight.  It is only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  They keep yelling HARDBALL over here, HARDBALL live from Philadelphia, where the Democratic presidential candidates debate tonight at 9:00 Eastern.  With just about two months ago before the Iowa Caucuses, it is show time for Barack Obama.  Here is HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Heading into tonight‘s debate, polls show the race for the Democratic nomination increasingly belongs to Hillary Clinton.  Six months ago at the first major Democratic debate, Clinton held narrow 5-point national lead over Barack Obama, 36 to 31.  Now the same NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows Clinton leading Obama nationally by 21 points, 44 to 23, with Edwards clocking in at 16. 

The race is closer in Iowa, but both Edwards and Obama are showing signs they understand that now is the time to challenge Clinton head on.  Yesterday Edwards condemned Clinton‘s links to special interests. 

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Today Senator Clinton has taken more money from Washington lobbyists than any candidate from either party, more money than any Republican candidate.  She has taken more money from the defense industry than any candidate from either party. 

SHUSTER:  And Obama has been ratcheting up his criticism of Clinton for failing to speak truthfully about Social Security. 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The other day here in Iowa she skipped another chance to give a direct answer on this. 

SHUSTER:  But Hillary refused to budge from her safe position of knocking President Bush. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When George Bush threatened to privatize Social Security, Hillary was there fighting every step of the way to stop him. 

SHUSTER:  The issues that will likely produce the greatest fireworks tonight involve Iraq and Iran.  Last week the Bush administration imposed economic sanctions on Iran, the harshest sanctions against any country in contemporary history, because of Iran‘s alleged this nuclear ambitions and support for terrorism. 

It came on the heels of a Senate vote to give President Bush more authority to target Iran.  Hillary Clinton supported the measure and at the last debate she was taken to task by Mike Gravel. 

MIKE GRAVEL (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And I want to congratulate Biden for voting against it, Dodd for voting against it, and I‘m ashamed of you, Hillary, for voting for it.  You are not going to get another shot at this. 

SHUSTER:  Because Gravel was not invited to tonight‘s debate, it will be left to Obama and Edwards to try and argue that Clinton‘s Iran vote was reckless.  On Iraq, Obama has had difficulties face to face drawing much of distinction with Clinton.  And at the last debate both he and Clinton could not promise bringing all U.S. troops home from Iraq by 2013. 

OBAMA:  But I don‘t want to make promises not knowing what the situation is going to be three or four years out. 

SHUSTER:  Obama advisers say the distinction is simple, if you want the Bush policies but with more competence, vote for Hillary.  If you want a change in policy, vote for Obama.  Still Obama‘s inability to say it that simply himself has left his own supporters frustrated. 

Nonetheless the debate tonight is in the city of the Broad Street Bullies and the ferocious Eagles fans.  It‘s also a city that gave the nation Rocky Balboa, the greatest underdog story in popular already American culture. 

Tonight, just 65 days before the voting begins in 2008, this debate has become a heavyweight prize fight with the Democratic nomination possibly on the line.  Will Hillary be stopped?  Can she fend off the blows and pivot back, knocking out Obama and Edwards and burying them for good?  All eyes are now focused on Philadelphia. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  David Shuster.  Up next will Barack Obama get some hits in tonight on Hillary Clinton or is it too late to slow her down?  We will check the latest polls and preview tonight‘s fight in Philly, as we said.  You are watching HARDBALL, live from Drexel University, the site of tonight‘s debate in Philadelphia, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we are pre-gaming this baby, welcome back to HARDBALL.  It is about 90 minutes away right now from the Democratic presidential debate at Drexel University in Philadelphia.  Let‘s go right now to the polls now with NBC News political director Chuck Todd; and Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker magazine. 

I‘m looking at the polls right now.  It shows that in this state Hillary is doing quite well.  She is way ahead of Obama.  It is probably typical of the situation around the country.  Everyone that has been on on this show tonight, both our 5:00 edition and now, says basically to expect a fight tonight.  Do you? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  You have to.  I mean, when you actually look at the calendar, if you don‘t make the move now to go after her and to try to create the contrast, when are you going to do it?  Thanksgiving is coming up, January 3rd is 65 days away. 

MATTHEWS:  We get Halloween tomorrow, then Thanksgiving, and then holidays. 

TODD:  Hey, literally, you don‘t have time.  You have—we are in the last three.

MATTHEWS:  How many shopping days.

TODD:  . weeks.

MATTHEWS:  . for politician until Iowa, really, if you think about it? 

TODD:  I would argue that you are literally—it is almost a virtual month.  It is a virtual 30 days.  We may be 65 days, but when you start pulling away all the—Thanksgiving weekend, you pull away Christmas week, and you pull away that—sort of that other December part of the Christmas shopping, you suddenly get closer to 30, 35 days until you get to Iowa, not 65 days as the calendar says. 

MATTHEWS:  What a strange calendar.  Ryan, what crazy person is going to—now we are picking leader of the world in the middle of all of this crazy Halloween, crazy Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, of course, New Year‘s, and then on two days after New Year‘s, people are barely sober again, we‘re picking the president. 

RYAN LIZZA, THE NEW YORKER:  Yes.  Yes, I just made my reservations to fly into Iowa on December 26th.  You want to pick one person who is responsible for this, it is probably Senator Levin whose decision this year was to try and blow up the system by moving Michigan really early and getting everyone frustrated with this system so hopefully we would have to do something different next time. 

TODD:  So it his fault. 

LIZZA:  I (INAUDIBLE) it is his fault, but.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Given the fact that the Christmas rush is on... 

LIZZA:  . give me a good reason behind it.

MATTHEWS:  I know, the jingle bells are on—I haven‘t quite heard that Frank Sinatra yet, or Perry Como, but it‘s coming.  What are we going to see tonight in terms of fireworks.  Will Obama be the candidate a lot of people thought he would be, an anti-war candidate who says that the Bush policy about Iraq and the oncoming policy of Iran is wrong, I‘m going to offer a difference?  Will he do that or will he fade into the shadows again and offer something near Hillary? 

TODD:  Look, I think—I do think he ends up doing it.  I think all day today what has been fascinating, Chris, is the Clinton people have been slowly churning out stuff, criticizing, oh, is this really the politics of hope?  Mark Penn put out a memo. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s all B.S. 

TODD:  Right.  No, no, no, no.  But you know they are doing.

MATTHEWS:  They are saying, don‘t have a fight.

TODD:  That is right.  They are trying to convince him that if he does.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why do you guys read that.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  No, Chris, you are not listening.  What I‘m saying is, is they are trying to see if they can scare him from not attacking her.  And we will see.  I don‘t think.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You think his people are going to be afraid of those little dandelions?

TODD:  I think no, but I think the Obama campaign is divided.  I think half of them thinks, let Edwards be the attack dog, we should stay above it all and pounce later.

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA:  It is the 10th round here, he has to do something.  And it is not just, he can‘t begin and end tonight.  I mean, there has been a lot of homework done on this campaign by Hillary.  Hillary started this race with three big problems, right?  She was the—you know, was the health care debacle going to sink her?  Could she—could her Iraq War vote sink her?  Could electability sink her? 

On all three of those big issues, those big questions, she has taken care of business.  Obama started this campaign with one big question out there.  Does this guy have the experience to be president?  So not only does he have to start raising some of those doubts about Hillary again, he has got to then be the alternative and prove that he is the guy, that he can be president.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is he out of his weight? 

LIZZA:  He can hit that threshold. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he out of his league here? 

LIZZA:  Tonight is just the start. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he is out of his league? 

LIZZA:  I don‘t think he has answered the question in the minds of most Americans that he is ready to be president.  And that is the next step.  Hitting Hillary is the first step.

MATTHEWS:  Here is candidate who has a different background than Jesse Jackson who ran as an outsider—an effective outsider.  Jackson gave the best speeches in ‘84 at the convention, ‘88 at the convention.  He was effective candidate in a way, but back in those days—it is not that long ago, he was an African-American candidate, he ended up getting around 17 percent of the vote around this time in the year before the election in ‘88.  OK? 

That is what Obama is getting right now.  Obama, with his fascinating background, with his brilliant education, and all of the advantages of media push, and he is no better off than Jesse Jackson at this point. 

LIZZA:  That is true, that is true.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I mea, isn‘t that a statement of his failure? 

LIZZA:  In the national polls, I think Jesse Jackson is the wrong analogy, it is more that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, give me another example of a guy who had so much hope behind him. 

TODD:  John Glenn. 

MATTHEWS:  John Glenn is better. 

TODD:  John Glenn is really where Obama—John Glenn was the former astronaut, this was an American hero, and he couldn‘t beat Walter Mondale. 

MATTHEWS:  Because he couldn‘t engage. 

TODD:  That is right.  And what happened? 

MATTHEWS:  Whereas Gary Hart.

TODD:  Gary Hart did and ending up passing him. 

LIZZA:  Bill Bradley.

TODD:  This is actually the new John Edwards argument, some of his campaigners are saying, hey, you know what, go back to ‘84, Obama is John Glenn.  On paper, the perfect candidate, in practicality, can‘t engage the inevitable frontrunner, Mondale, Clinton, whatever you want to call it. 

LIZZA:  The other argument is Bill Bradley versus Al Gore, the establishment candidate who attracts the labor base of the party, but the Bill Bradley model is you just get elites, you just get the wealthy liberals and.

MATTHEWS:  Are the idealists in the Democratic Party condemned to relentless quadrennial defeat?  The people that support Adlai Stevenson, the ones who support Gene McCarthy, the ones that support Tsongas.  The people that support Gary Hart.  The ones that support Bill Bradley, they are always looking for the idealist, that somebody with a big picture solution.  And they relentlessly lose to the interest group candidate. 

LIZZA:  Look, it is the meat and potatoes candidate versus the appealing to our sort of fuzzy ideals.  But look, if you are making $25,000.

MATTHEWS:  Well, don‘t put them down.  Ideals are important. 

LIZZA:  No, no, no.  I‘m just saying, if you are making $25,000 in Iowa and you have lost your job, you want to know what this candidate is going to do for you.  You want to know what the government is going to do for you.  You don‘t necessarily have time. 

MATTHEWS:  But what is Hillary going to do for that person? 

LIZZA:  Well, she is.

MATTHEWS:  Minimum wage.

LIZZA:  Minimum wage, she has got a very... 

MATTHEWS:  More health care.

LIZZA:  . meat and potatoes—health care, the minimum wage.  She has got a whole middle class tax reform.

TODD:  But she comes across solutions.

LIZZA:  That is right.  It is very solution-based, it is very policy-based.  Obama, when you hear him talk, those things are all there, they are layered into the speech, but the big overriding message is a little bit more contextual.

MATTHEWS:  So he suffers—excuse me, Ryan, from the problem that Gary Hart did years ago, “where‘s the beef?”. 

LIZZA:  Yes.  I don‘t think it is as bad because there is beef if you scratch the surface, it is just not what he leads with. 

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, what is the problem with Barack Obama?  He had so much promise when he began his campaign.  He has sunk in the polls. 

TODD:  Well, I think the other thing is, they believe that the Democratic Party was going to reject the Clintons.  That the Democratic Party was going to buy into this argument that, you know what, we do need to turn the page.  That they were going to be able to turn Hillary Clinton into “George W. Clinton” as part of the Clinton-Bush-Clinton-Bush fatigue, and it is not there. 

MATTHEWS:  Is anybody else—you guys have to look at all of the candidates, let‘s be fair right now to all of the candidates.  Will Richardson, Biden, Dodd, Edwards, will anybody really do something tonight, besides Barack? 

TODD:  I expect Edwards.

LIZZA:  Edwards.

TODD:  And Biden has always done well at these debates.  I expect Edwards to do something.  The guy that I expect to fade the most into the background has been Richardson.  He seems to be not engaging.

MATTHEWS:  Is he running for V.P.?

TODD:  I don‘t—I think he is running for the United States Senate. 

LIZZA:  Senate.  He is going to go back to the Senate.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he is going to drop out and run for the Senate for Domenici‘s seat? 

TODD:  He announced today he is not taking matching funds.  It is an arcane decision.  What that really means, he wants to make it easy to transfer presidential money to a Senate committee. 

MATTHEWS:  Can he still switch to that fight in the Senate out there?

TODD:  He has got until February. 

LIZZA:  Oh yes, of course, yes.  He is the only viable candidate the Democrats have out there. 

MATTHEWS:  You are betting on it, aren‘t you?

TODD:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Because he wants to get out of New Mexico. 

TODD:  Well, why not?  Why not.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  I don‘t know.  I like Santa Fe.  There is nothing wrong with Santa Fe.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he wants to stay out there or come back to Washington? 

TODD:  There is nothing—he is term-limited in 2010. 

LIZZA:  He can‘t do anything.

TODD:  And everything I have heard, I have heard his wife that—would like to be in Washington.  And he is a creature of Washington.  This guy chose to move to New Mexico so he could go win a congressional seat. 

MATTHEWS:  So he could come back to Washington. 

TODD:  So he could come back to Washington. 

MATTHEWS:  That is not unusual. 

LIZZA:  Originally he was a carpetbagger.

TODD:  No, it is not.  There is a lot of United States senator there today.

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t use the word carpetbagger in a race that Hillary Clinton is winning.  OK, let‘s be careful here.

LIZZA:  No, I don‘t mean it as—no, there is a proud tradition of being a carpetbagger.  Not that there is anything wrong with a carpetbagger.

TODD:  Hillary Clinton, Jay Rockefeller, whatever, there are a lot of people that... 

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA:  By definition he is a carpetbagger. 

MATTHEWS:  Jay Rockefeller went to West Virginia “en vista” (ph), then he ran for secretary of state of the state.  He spent a long time establishing his roots out there. 

LIZZA:  Right, I ‘m not—OK. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think that is entirely fair.

LIZZA:  Now we are getting arcane. 

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you Chuck Todd.  Thank you, Ryan Lizza.  I‘m standing up for wealthy people like Jay Rockefeller. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Less than 90 minutes to go now before the Democratic debate tonight.  What do Democratic voters want to hear from the candidates?  This is HARDBALL, live from Drexel University only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to Philadelphia, live in Philadelphia right now for the Democrats‘ big fight at 9:00 Eastern.  We are on the edge of that right now, a crucial debate.  Everything thinks Barack Obama has got to take Hillary Clinton‘s head off.  It may well be John Edwards who does that work.  It is going to be a tough fight tonight.  It could be some of the best fighting we have seen in American politics.  And what a fitting city in which to have that happen. 

Let‘s take look at our new guest tonight.  Brian Tierney is publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the major morning newspaper in this town.  It has been around—I think it is the oldest daily newspaper since the beginning of time. 

BRIAN TIERNEY, PUBLISHER, THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER:  1829, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  1829.  And Michael Smerconish, who is often on our program, is kind of the big talker from Philadelphia, and he is one hot shot.  Thank you, very much, Michael. 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  And a columnist of his. 

MATTHEWS:  And a columnist of his.  Let‘s talk about—no lovey-dovey.

TIERNEY:  And The Daily News too.

MATTHEWS:  . here, no grabbing knees.  Let‘s talk about Philly.  Why is this crowd the way it is?  Why is Philly so different than the rest of this country in terms of the way it looks, the way it is.  It‘s not like Boston, it‘s not like L.A.  What is it like? 

SMERCONISH:  We take our politics seriously.  I mean, politics here is a HARDBALL business, 365 days a year.  So I have been around the block, as you know,  with number of these campaigns, none of this surprises me.  I love it.  I think it engenders interest in our system. 

MATTHEWS:  How did this city get beyond race?  Because for years when you were involved in politics and I was growing up, it was Frank Rizzo on one side with the white vote from South Philly, maybe Italians and Irish against the blacks.  It was very divided. 

SMERCONISH:  I will tell you how.

MATTHEWS:  And now we have a mayor who—looks like he is going to be mayor, Michael Nutter, who was sitting here earlier tonight, African-American, St. Joe‘s Prep.  Went to Penn right down the street here.  This guy united every one of the ethnic groups. 

SMERCONISH:  Everybody has got to win one.  And we went through this process with Wilson Goode twice until African-Americans had some control in this town. 

MATTHEWS:  Wilson Goode is the guy that burned down half the city right here. 

SMERCONISH:  And still was elected.  Listen, Chris, my mother‘s relatives sent checks to Dennis Kucinich because he was a Yugoslav.  So I understand that mentality. 

MATTHEWS:  Boy, tribal politics.

SMERCONISH:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  No big deal.  Brian, tell me about The Inquirer.  It is like a lot of newspapers just trying to make it in the big city, how do you do it? 

TIERNEY:  We are doing well.  We are growing circulation.  We were up in the spring.  We are going to be up—the official numbers don‘t come out until next week, we are going to up 7,000.  We are marketing.  We are out in the community.

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Tell me, you are marketer, you know public relations, you come from that background.  What is this city about?  Is it about the Eagles?  Is it about the stinkin‘ Phillies, as they are called after they lose?  Is it about the Broad Street Bullies, that hockey team?  Why is everybody here so damn tough? 

TIERNEY:  Well, you know what, it is not—and there is a toughness, there is an authenticity to it.  I was up in Boston last night, it is lovely city.  You are up in another.

MATTHEWS:  They are not this tough. 

TIERNEY:  But you know what, it is—there is a grittier—there is sophistication as well though.  In the last 20 years in this town.

MATTHEWS:  Ha!

TIERNEY:  Downtown, you see museums and theaters and.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, that.  I know about those.

TIERNEY:  So there is an interesting kind of a—but what it is.

MATTHEWS:  The Avenue of the Arts, I know. 

TIERNEY:  People like a fighter.  Rocky does epitomize in many ways what this town is about.  It is the guy who is down on the canvas, who gets down five times, stands up six.  People love that in this town.  And I think it is about the ethnic roots.  I think there is—it is about the history.  It is about being overlooked a little bit by New York and Washington. 

Now having renaissance, downtown Philadelphia.  There used to be 80,000 living downtown in the four or five -- 10 blocks.  It is now 120,000 in a few years. 

MATTHEWS:  Explain South Philly. 

TIERNEY:  South Philly is now.

MATTHEWS:  You have got Italians mainly, Irish, Jews, but mainly Italians who will not move out of the neighborhood no matter what happens.  They clean the graffiti off the walls.  They have big house on the shore. 

They have got a big carpet.  They will not move. 

TIERNEY:  They won‘t leave except you have got this in South Philadelphia, you have houses that were $60,000 are now selling for $400,000 to yuppies.  They call it Bella Vista.  But there is this—the Italian market is run by Vietnamese now.  I mean, so it is an incredible change, don‘t you think, downtown, Michael?

SMERCONISH:  I do.  And I think that lot of what Brian is describing embodies the way we like our political candidates.  You know, a guy like Bill Clinton gets a lot of support in city like this because he did come back so many different times. 

Somebody like Rudy I think draws a lot of support from this kind of a mentality because Rudy is a fighter.  He is a scrappy guy.

TIERNEY:  Obama has an appeal, too.  What this town is not, no offense and not to demean, is John Edwards.  This town is not John Edwards. 

MATTHEWS:  It is not good haircuts. 

TIERNEY:  It is not good haircuts.  Although we all, except for you, Michael, have good haircuts. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why is it not John Edwards?  What is it? 

TIERNEY:  It is not $450 haircuts.  It is not.

MATTHEWS:  I think it is $200.  Let‘s not expand on that. 

TIERNEY:  But you know what I‘m saying, there is an inauthenticity about that.  There is a saying, I‘m for the average guy.

MATTHEWS:  How about Romney, do you think he is the genuine article now that we are doing inauthentic here? 

TIERNEY:  I don‘t think he is a Philadelphia guy, to be honest with you, either. 

(CROSSTALK)

TIERNEY:  He is a little too perfect.  They like somebody who has got a little pasta sauce on his shirt.  You know what I mean? 

SMERCONISH:  Who like breaks a sweat. 

TIERNEY:  No doubt about it. 

SMERCONISH:  Who likes a cheese steak. 

TIERNEY:  Not so photogenic. 

SMERCONISH:  Yes, exactly.

MATTHEWS:  I like this.  You know, you guys are like anthropologists. 

I like this because I think this crowd here is so different.  Philly!

(CHEERING & APPLAUSE)

CROWD CHANTING:  HARDBALL!  HARDBALL!  HARDBALL!

TIERNEY:  Just throw them a little sausage out there. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s like “Lawrence of Arabia” out here.  You know, it is like it is so tribal.  We will be right back.  This is a unique city.  We will be back with Michael Smerconish and Brian Tierney.  We will be talking about Philly.  You are watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  While we were sitting here—welcome back, while we were sitting here, MSNBC has been conducting a survey which asks you out there to text message which issue is most important to you.  And here are the results of our survey just taken. 

Now this is so interesting, Iran and Iraq are the issues that are most important to you out there with 46 percent of your votes.  Followed by, these numbers are interesting, 29 percent who say health care, 20 percent say the economy, national security at 5.  That is fascinating. 

Let me go right down to Michael, are you surprised Iraq/Iran on the Democratic side? 

SMERCONISH:  Not at all.  They are two different issues and it comports with the sort of phone calls that I take every day on my talk program, Iraq number one, Iran, I think totally separate issues, but coming in at a close second.  In fact, probably about ready to overtake Iraq as lead issue among these candidates I think. 

MATTHEWS:  Brian? 

TIERNEY:  I‘m not surprised at all. 

MATTHEWS:  You guys—do you tell your newspaper to focus on those issues or local issues? 

TIERNEY:  I‘m hands off on the editorial policy of the paper.  I let Bill Marimow and Michael Days do that.  But these are the issues that are out there.  But I think there is—this election is going to be about something more than that, I really do, when it adds up. But I think there is almost—there is a certain zeitgeist out there, there is a certain feeling out in the public. 

MATTHEWS:  Can a Republican win the presidential election next year if he doesn‘t promise change? 

TIERNEY:  No, I think he has got to—I think he has got to kind of.

MATTHEWS:  Just can‘t say, more of the same, stay the course, can he?

TIERNEY:  No.  I think there is a real fatigue right now, I mean, in terms of where things are in general.  I think it is fatigue as well as it relates to Congress, too.  I mean, it is just—people are just sick and tired of this whole.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Have you guys noticed—I know you are both Republicans, did you notice Fred Thompson has stepped away from the pack on two big issues.  He said the Schiavo case is a case which was obviously about life and death, and the federal government—where the federal government should have stayed the heck out of it. 

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  Yes, but wait a minute.  It was an embarrassment because at first he couldn‘t even speak to the facts of the case.  He didn‘t know anything about it.

MATTHEWS:  But he did get there—he did some research that said, stay out of it.  On the issue of Iraq, he said, I hope we are not still in there in four years.  I mean, he is starting to separate himself from the hawks. 

TIERNEY:  No. 

SMERCONISH:  The guy is—he has been a dolt on the campaign trail so far. 

MATTHEWS:  Ha!

SMERCONISH:  I think that the news is that he is out there campaigning.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  . as a dolt. 

TIERNEY:  I don‘t think there is much happening. 

MATTHEWS:  Brian, I think he is trying to make distance from him from the president.

TIERNEY:  I think he is trying to figure out—trying to put some key in the lock.  It doesn‘t seem to be—it seems like his biggest day was the day before he announced, really.

MATTHEWS:  So you think, guys both, that Rudy is the strongest Republican to win this state?

TIERNEY:  It appears right now, I think, yes...

SMERCONISH:  I do.

TIERNEY:  . that you would say that. 

SMERCONISH:  I think.

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about it. 

SMERCONISH:  Well, you have got to play well in the Pennsylvania suburbs.  You have got to do well in Montgomery and Chester and Bucks counties.  And you know, the demographics have changed out in suburban Philadelphia.  I think you have got to be liberal or middle of the road on those social issues and more hawkish on defense.  That is why Hillary runs so well, I think, in Pennsylvania. 

MATTHEWS:  Does he get help—I know this is a tricky question because you are not supposed to talk about ethnicity, but I think it helps.  Does it help him to be Italian-American? 

TIERNEY:  Oh, it does. 

MATTHEWS:  And how does it help? 

TIERNEY:  It helps—listen, the state of Pennsylvania is about 35 or 40 percent Catholic.  I think being Italian Catholic kind of goes—even if you are married three times, I think that helps. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree. 

TIERNEY:  I think the hard work for Obama.

MATTHEWS:  I think the Irish like the Italians because they went to school with them and... 

TIERNEY:  And they are all married together.  Like my father was Irish, my mother is Italian.  I think the hard work for Obama that he needs to do, he can‘t do himself.  He needs third parties to do for him what Hillary seems to have, whether it be third parties or even her husband.  I mean, she is not doing.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  She has got great surrogates.  This guy Howard Wolfson is a kneecapper. 

TIERNEY:  Yes, and Obama needs somebody else to take.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  . to do it himself.  And I have got to say that if I‘m Obama and looking at the current data, and now we are finally eight weeks out, does the guy really have a shot?  And if he doesn‘t have a shot, does he want to go negative on her on a night like tonight and deny himself a vice presidential position? 

MATTHEWS:  He is not going to be a vice president.  Let me tell you something, the question I asked you about, is he the dog in the manger, is he protecting Hillary because he is number two and number else can get past him?  He sits there, he won‘t take her on but nobody can get past him to get to her. 

TIERNEY:  I think you are seeing now a guy who really hasn‘t played at this level before and isn‘t competent enough to do what is.

MATTHEWS:  Is he protecting Hillary by being unable to take her on? 

SMERCONISH:  Not deliberately. 

TIERNEY:  I don‘t think he is deliberately doing it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Not deliberately.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m suggesting that without purpose, he sits there as her number one contender and makes sure that nobody else nobody else gets past him. 

SMERCONISH:  Well, you could say that for all of them.  I mean, who really has after her even on the war issue?

TIERNEY:  He needs to be in a position where.

MATTHEWS:  So even without him in the way, the other guys wouldn‘t have challenged her? 

SMERCONISH:  I don‘t think so.  I haven‘t seen any sign of it so far.

MATTHEWS:  So Richardson wasn‘t going to take her on.  Biden wasn‘t going to take her on.  They are all going for V.P. and secretary of state. 

SMERCONISH:  Chris, look where we are.  No one has done it so far. 

MATTHEWS:  Is Biden going for secretary of state?

SMERCONISH:  I think he would be a good one.  He should.

MATTHEWS:  Is Richardson going for V.P.?

TIERNEY:  I think he is. 

MATTHEWS:  Is Biden going for secretary of state?  Come on!

SMERCONISH:  I said that he was.  I like him. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I think that is what is going on.

(CROSSTALK)    

SMERCONISH:  Here is a guy with a plan in Iraq. 

TIERNEY:  If you are crazy, if you are them at this point and you are going to try to kill her. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Philadelphia‘s own Brian Tierney, who is the publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer.  And our own—almost our own Michael Smerconish, one of the—and in fact, the top radio voice in this city.  Thank you, Michael.  Thank you, Brian. 

In one hour, 9:00 Eastern, it is the fight in Philly right here at the Democrats debate.  So stay with us until 11:00 so we can come back and tell you who won, and most importantly, who lost.  “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now.

(CHEERING & APPLAUSE)

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

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