updated 4/9/2008 10:35:25 AM ET 2008-04-09T14:35:25

Guests: Jim Webb, John Ensign, Claire McCaskill, Mark Pryor

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Does David Petraeus know the way out of Iraq? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

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

No timetable for withdrawal.  That was the message today from General David Petraeus, who along with Ambassador Ryan Crocker faced senators today all day today at two hearings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCES IN IRAQ: 

Withdrawing too many forces too quickly could jeopardize the progress of the past year, and performing the necessary tasks in Iraq will require sizeable conventional forces, as well as Special Operations forces and advisor teams. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, should the United States set a timetable for withdrawal, or should our commitment there be open-ended?  We‘ll hear from two U.S. senators who have very different ideas about what should be done in Iraq. 

Also, here‘s something we do know.  Petraeus and Crocker answered questions today from the next president of the United States.  What we don‘t know, of course, is who that man or woman is. 

John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama all had the opportunity today to look like the commander in chief.  How did they do?  We‘ll ask three senators, all of whom are supporting different candidates.

Plus, don‘t look now, but the polls in Pennsylvania keep getting tighter.  Are these gains by Senator Obama?  Are they real?  Is this a real movement or just a mirage based upon polling every couple of days?  We‘ll find out. 

And speaking of polls, have you even been called by a pollster?  Well, if not, wait till you hear who got a call the other day in Pennsylvania.  Talk about a small world.  By the way, most people have never gotten a call from a pollster.

And our politics fix panel tonight scoops up all the latest news from the campaigns.  But first, the Petraeus-Crocker hearings today.  Senator Jim Webb is Democrat from Virginia who sits on the armed services committee and the foreign relations committee.

Senator Webb, you saw all day the testimony.  I didn‘t get anything out of it except that we‘re staying there indefinitely; there is no condition we can point to.  Petraeus and Crocker never told us what to look for so we can know when we‘re getting close to the end of the tunnel.  I was very dissatisfied by the hearings.  You, sir?

SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA:  Well, we‘re seeing the same thing that we saw in September.  And quite frankly, their mandate is to discuss only Iraq.  Their problems are regional and well beyond Iraq.  And so when you go to where the solutions are. 

For instance, there was testimony by Ambassador Crocker saying that al Qaeda activities are markedly down inside Iraq, but that we need to stay there because al Qaeda may become or they want al Qaeda to become the centerpiece of international terror. 

That‘s an old argument.  It‘s not true anymore.  Look at what‘s happened to the United States with respect to this engagement in Iraq.  We‘re caught inside a double mouse trap.  On the one hand, we‘ve tied up the greatest maneuver forces in the world, the United States Army and Marine Corps, block by block, city by city in one spot while the forces of international terrorism have sort of recentered themselves.  And on the other, we‘ve neglected all these larger strategic issues. 

So it‘s kind of interesting, actually, the difference in tone from the senators on armed services versus foreign relations, because foreign relations, the diplomatic side really came out a lot more. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, didn‘t they set goals that could be achieved in the near future?

WEBB:  No.  And in fact, I think what we‘re seeing is their attempt to deal with a situation that is changing underneath our feet.  They‘re doing a great job in terms of always what our military has been doing in Iraq.  But it‘s not going to change until you get a new president. 

This is—I‘ve been saying for four years, this is a situation that‘s only going to change with strong, robust diplomacy.  And whenever they were asked questions about this, and they were asked from both sides on the foreign relations committee, about where is the diplomacy that will bring us out of this?  They basically responded with this civilian program or that civilian program, rather than the truth of the matter, which is that kind of diplomacy is only going to happen from the very top. 

So I think they were pretty hamstrung in what they were able to say. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s the senator, the chairman on the service committee, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, asking a question of General Petraeus today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETRAEUS:  It‘s when the conditions are met that we can make a recommendation for further reductions. 

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN:  Could it be three months?

PETRAEUS:  Sir, again, at the end of the period of consolidation and evaluation, it could be right then or it could be longer.  Again, it is when... 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Bring them home!  Bring them home! 

LEVIN:  General...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Bring them home!  Bring them home!

LEVIN:  General, we‘re going to ask you a different question.  Please don‘t scream.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Bring them home!

LEVIN:  That‘s all I‘m asking. 

PETRAEUS:  When the conditions are met. 

LEVIN:  I understand, but I‘m just asking a direct question.  Could that be as long as three months?

PETRAEUS:  It could be, sir. 

LEVIN:  Could it be as long as four months?

PETRAEUS:  Sir, it is when the conditions are met. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘ll say one thing, Senator, for that noisy guy in the back of the room, that heckler, at least he had a clear-cut policy.  He said was bring them home.  I can‘t understand, listening to General Petraeus, why is he being put in a position of explaining administration policy.  Shouldn‘t you have the commander in chief sitting in that chair, come up with this policy?

WEBB:  There are two hesitations I have from watching the testimony today.  One is, I don‘t see, in military terms, why you have to have a pause like this.  I think it‘s a political reason. 

And who knows?  You may see an announcement on October the 30th that, all of a sudden, we‘re going to bring more troops home.  I don‘t—I‘m not comfortable with what was said in that regard. 

The other is Iran keeps coming out from the—from the other side and from the testimony in a way that there is something else that‘s going to happen later this week, early next week, where I think we‘re going to see a lot more finger-pointing at Iran. 

When the truth of this, and something that I tried to say in the earlier hearing, we have failed at the top to adequately and aggressively deal with the Iranian situation for five or six years.  And now, they‘re going to be dealing with it, essentially, tactically. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at General Petraeus here on the role of Congress as he sees it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETRAEUS:  I fully understand the role of this body and the folks up the chain of command from me in determining where do they take the risk?  And at the end of the day, as Senator Able (ph) said, you salute and you try to take the hill with what you‘re given. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that the role of the general, Senator, to take orders, try to follow them with what you‘ve got in terms of resources?  And here, he‘s put in a position of trying to defend an ideology that took us into Iraq, an ideology that says, “Stay there to build a nation.” 

WEBB:  Well, here‘s where this is going to come to a head.  I actually asked the general about this in the armed services side of the hearing.  And that is, we are going to reduce the troop level to 141,000, which is 10,000 more than we had before the surge began at the same time that we were seeing other commanders, particularly in the Afghanistan area, asking for more troops.  And we‘ve already burnt out our troops. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

WEBB:  So how are we going to come to a conclusion on this?  And I asked General Petraeus specifically whether Admiral Mullen had approved this troop level of 141,000.  And so we need to hear from Admiral Mullen later this week about how he sees this troop level and the burn out of our ground forces, playing into what he wants to do in Afghanistan. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Senator Webb of Virginia. 

Here‘s what John McCain, by the way, had to say at today‘s hearings. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I do not want to keep our troops in Iraq a minute longer than necessary to secure our interests there.  Our goal, my goal is an Iraq that no longer needs American troops.  And I believe we can achieve that goal, perhaps sooner than many imagine. 

But I also believe that the promise of withdrawal of our forces, regardless or the consequences, would constitute a failure of political and moral leadership. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Senator John Ensign is from Nevada.  He‘s a McCain supporter, a Republican.  Senator Ensign, is that the battle line for the election that Senator McCain is laying down?  That he will support the administration in keeping our troops in Iraq until they‘ve completed the mission as they define it?  The Democrats want to get out. 

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN ®, NEVADA:  Well, McCain has offered a different policy, actually, than the president.  He was the first one to suggest a surge is needed, that we needed to change course in Iraq. 

This last year, with General Petraeus‘s plan, a change, of course, was effectuated.  And that change of course has been very effective.  I was over there a little over a month ago, and it was my third time there.  And I will tell you, it is—the progress that has been made over the last six to seven months is really remarkable, not only on the military front, but also on the economic front and the political front. 

MATTHEWS:  The two conditions that were discussed today by Senator Obama with General Petraeus where the concern about the Iranian influence in Iraq and, of course, the possibility of a reconstitution by—by al Qaeda in Iraq.  Is there any near-term way we can deal with both those threats and then come home?  Or are they just long-term threats that will require a stay in that country for a long period of time?

ENSIGN:  Well, the bottom line is, is that the faster that we can get Iraqi troops, their army, as well as their police force, up trained, fully trained, along with their leadership trained, the faster that we can pull out of Iraq. 

And when you go over and visit the training bases, you will see that the Iraqis are becoming trained in a—in much better than they had in the years past. 

What a lot of people don‘t understand is how difficult, though, it is to actually train and stand an army up.  Till we‘re—not only are the troops on the ground effective, but also that their leaders, the sergeants, the captains, the colonels, the generals, that they actually have experience that they know how to lead.

And that‘s what we‘ve been working on the last couple years.  There‘s been an increase in the speed of that this last year.  And from everything that I‘ve been told, by the end of this year, the Iraqi army will really be fully equipped, almost fully trained.  We still have a lot of work to do on the police force, but I don‘t believe that we will have to be there with a significant—significant force, long term. 

We may have to have a smaller force, but where the Iraqis—where we‘re just doing a lot of support work, where the Iraqis are doing the vast majority of the risk-taking, as well as taking on places, coming in from—people coming in from Iraq—Iran. 

And also I think that al Qaeda‘s days are numbered in Iraq.  And that is because not only has—has al Qaeda indiscriminately killed Sunnis and Shia and Kurds, whoever it is, and they have turned the Iraqi people against them.  And that‘s why they‘re joining us. 

And the Sons of Iraq is a very good example.  Those are Sunnis who used to try to kill Americans.  Now they‘re joining us to actually hunt down al Qaeda. 

MATTHEWS:  Who wins the public argument in Nevada and across the country, Senator, between those who say—these are the Democratic candidates—that we should be leaving over the next couple of years by sometime in 2010 and Senator McCain who puts out a further horizon?

ENSIGN:  Well, the bottom line is, I think that it‘s a question of credibility.  John McCain, when it was not politically popular, took a very courageous position to say this is exactly what we need to do in Iraq.  And he staked his whole political campaign.  He even said, “I‘d rather lose a political campaign than lose the future of America and the future of American security in Iraq.”  That took a lot of courage. 

And that‘s the straight talk that John McCain offers to the American people.  And I think that you‘re going to see that, that that will sell well when it comes to the general election.  Because the American people are tired of politicians just coming up with things that they want to hear instead of straight talk.  And John McCain, as we learned from the last couple of elections, if nothing else, he gives you straight talk. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, thank you very much, Senator John Ensign of Nevada. 

Coming up, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor on the Petraeus hearings today.  They support different candidates, Hillary Clinton in one case, in the case of Pryor, and in the case of McCaskill, it‘s Barack Obama.  We‘re going to hear a fight now about who won the debate today in terms of those two senators‘ participation, Hillary‘s and Barack‘s.

You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, Barack Obama‘s catching up to Hillary Clinton up in Pennsylvania, at least according to a new poll.  We‘ll break it down and see if it‘s real, when HARDBALL returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Three presidential candidates were in the spotlight today for the Petraeus hearings.  Senator McCain opposes the withdrawal of U.S. troops, as we all know.  Well, what‘s the difference in how Clinton and Obama would handle Iraq as president?  Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill supports Senator Obama, and Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor supports Senator Clinton. 

Lady and gentleman, thank you for joining us, both senators. 

Let‘s take a look at what Hillary Clinton said today.  I was quite impressed by this question.  Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The administration has announced that it will negotiate an agreement with the government of Iraq by the end of July that would provide the legal authorities for U.S. troops to continue to conduct operations in Iraq.  Does the administration plan to submit this agreement to our Congress? 

AMBASSADOR RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR IN IRAQ:  At this—at this point, Senator, we do not anticipate that the agreements will have, within them, any elements that would require the advice and consent procedure.  We intend to negotiate this as an executive agreement. 

CLINTON:  Well, Ambassador Crocker, it seems odd, I think, to Americans who are being asked to commit for an indefinite period of time the lives of our young men and women in uniform.  The civilian employees, whom you rightly referenced and thanked, as well as billions of dollars of additional taxpayer dollars.  If the Iraqi parliament may have a chance to consider this agreement, that the United States Congress would not. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Senator McCaskill, we claim to be in Iraq under a U.N.  sanction.  We used the language in Chapter 7 of the charter.  Now, we‘re saying that we need to have some sort of bilateral arrangement with the host government, which we helped set up over there. 

I don‘t understand how this Senate is going to allow us to set up some sort of treaty with the Iraqi government we set up that keeps us in there permanently without a vote. 

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI:  Well, what they‘re going to do, Chris, is they‘re going to reference us as a SOFA, a status of forces agreement, which generally, have been more executive than legislative. 

But that‘s really a problem in this instance.  First of all, in the SOFA‘s we have with, for example, Germany, and Japan and Korea, they‘re helping foot the bill for our—our presence in those countries.  And you could tell today that Ambassador Crocker hadn‘t even considered forcing Iraq to help foot the bill for our temporary bases. 

So there are some serious questions that have to be answered about this SOFA going forward and whether or not Congress needs to get in on this.  The American people have a right to be really irritated that Iraq has budget surpluses, we have budget deficits, and we‘re paying for everything. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Senator Pryor, I was struck by the guy you oppose in this race, Senator Barack Obama.  In his question at the end of General Petraeus, he said, you know, you‘re in there for two reasons.  He said, these parade of horribles.  One is we‘ve got to deal with the Iranian influence in the country. 

Secondly, the possibility of a reconstituted al Qaeda or a continued -

continued possibility of that recurring.  And he said, can we ever deal with those things in the short run?  And the general and the ambassador couldn‘t answer him.  It sounds like we‘re there in perpetuity, because we‘re setting goals we can‘t reach in any near future. 

SEN. MARK PRYOR (D), ARKANSAS:  Well, that‘s the concern.  And clearly, when you look at the three people who are running for president, John McCain is very, very close to where President Bush is and where the administration is. 

The Democrats are in a very different place.  And I think that is one of the great things about Senator Clinton‘s very smart question about this agreement.  Because basically, what the administration wants to do is they want to bind the U.S. long term to some commitments in Iraq. 

I‘m going to tell you right now, the American people are not comfortable with this administration, in a unilateral fashion, binding this country long term to a presence in Iraq.  They would feel much, much better if the Congress had some say in that.  And in this instance, I think President Bush followed the example of President Reagan in Lebanon, where he did send this type of agreement to the Congress. 

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s Senator Obama going after Ambassador Crocker. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If we had the current status quo and yet our troops had been drawn down to 30,000, would we consider that a success?  Would that meet our criteria?  Or not be good enough and we‘d have to—we‘d have to devote even more resources to it?

CROCKER:  Senator, I can‘t imagine the current status quo being sustainable with that kind of precipitous drawdown. 

OBAMA:  That wasn‘t the question. 

CROCKER:  No, that wasn‘t the question.  That wasn‘t the question.  I wasn‘t suggesting that we yank all our troops out right away.  I‘m trying to get to an end point.  That‘s what all of us have been trying to get to.

If, on the other hand, our criteria is a messy, sloppy status quo, but there‘s not huge outbreaks of violence, there‘s still corruption, but the country is struggling along, but it‘s not a threat to its neighbors and it‘s not an al Qaeda base, that seems to me an achievable goal within a measurable time frame.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, I put together the math, Senator McCaskill.  I‘m going to ask the same question of Senator Pryor.  It seems that Barack Obama is talking about a 16-month removal of the troops over there, over 16 months.  That would take us into 2010. 

Senator Clinton talks about a 28-month withdrawal, because if you take a brigade out a month, that‘s what it adds up to.  So she‘s somewhere near the early part of 2011. 

And then you think of McCain as somewhere, as we used to say in economics, somewhere in end space or somewhere in infinity, if you want to get tough about it.  Is there a big difference between Hillary‘s 28-month withdrawal, if you go a brigade a month, and—and Senator Barack Obama‘s plan for a 16-month timetable once he gets in?

MCCASKILL:  I think there‘s a lot of difference if you look in the rear-view mirror in terms of judgment of the war at the beginning between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  And the American people will have to decide about judgment. 

Going forward, they both, I think, want to get us out as quickly and as reasonably as possible.  I think one difference between them is that I think Barack has shown much more of a willingness to be open to having to deal with the bad guys in the Middle East, focusing on Pakistan and Afghanistan, where al Qaeda does plot to do bad things to America, and having a much more open view of tough diplomacy, but nonetheless, diplomacy with those people that we‘ve got to learn to check in terms of their threat. 

And I think Hillary Clinton is much more traditional in her view as it relates to foreign policy. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Senator Pryor.  I didn‘t see much of a difference there in terms of the timetable.  Is there a huge difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—she has a somewhat slower timetable, if you take her to word, about a brigade a month. 

PRYOR:  Well, I think what you see there is the two candidates are close.  They have some nuance differences. 

But basically, I think what Senator Clinton is recognizing is the reality of the situation.  And that is, whether people like it or not, we are in Iraq today.  And how we get out of Iraq is a very challenging problem, because what you could see in Iraq—and I‘m going to tell you, this is a real scenario.  You could see a regional civil war if we don‘t get out of there in the right way. 

And so here again, you see President Bush and, with all due respect, John McCain over in one place, and the two Democrats.  They have some nuance differences, but they‘re fairly close.  And I think the two Democrats in this instance are much, much closer to where the American people are.  I think that‘s why some of the answers today, they were hedging their answers a little bit because they‘re not quite where the American people are. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Senator Clinton is a 28-month withdrawal plan and Senator Barack Obama‘s is 16 months.  I figured out the math: 22 months would be the compromise for removal from Iraq, somewhere before two years are up. 

Anyway, thank you very much, Senator McCaskill, Senator Mark Pryor. 

Up next, “American Idol” gets political.  We‘ll have that story, just ahead.

You‘re watching it, HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So what else is new in politics?  Well, on April Fool‘s Day, Senator Clinton challenged Senator Obama to a Pennsylvania bowl-off, after everyone watched Obama‘s gutter balls. 

With that in mind, Ellen DeGeneres gave Clinton a chance yesterday to strut her stuff.  Check it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Well, you know, this is one of those stressful situations. 

Oh!   Made you look good. 

                ELLEN DEGENERES, TALK SHOW HOST:  Yes, thank you.  That‘s why I like

you. 

Again, making me look good.  I think you‘re fantastic, and I just—just keep going, and people should decide.  I think it‘s wrong for anyone to tell somebody—whoever you‘re for, everyone has a right to vote for whoever.  But to tell someone to get out, it‘s our vote.  It‘s—we‘re the people that should choose who our president should be.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it looks like bowlers won‘t have a champion in the race at all.  I‘m actually surprised by the fact that neither Barack or Hillary have bowled much in their lives.  Maybe that tells you something about the Democratic Party. 

Anyway, “American Idol‘s” special charity episode, called “Idol Gives Back,” airs tomorrow night.  “USA Today” reports that during Sunday‘s taping of the show, the shows producer, quote, promised the Democrats in the audience that they would be smiling by the end of the night, because Clinton and Obama would appear in taped messages of support. 

But what about Senator McCain?  Well, according to the “USA Today,” again, footage supplied by McCain was apparently so poor in quality that it could not be shown by the show.  Producers invited McCain to try again, and his campaign now tells us at NBC that they were able to re-tape his message. 

Ever wonder who pollsters are talking to when they say they call up people?  Well, you know, the people actually vote in these polls.  We talk about them all the time.  Who are those people? 

Well, we know at least one person, finally, from Quinnipiac‘s latest Pennsylvania‘s survey.  Hillary Clinton‘s top Pennsylvania supporter, Governor Ed Rendell, himself got a call from the pollster. 

The “Harrisburg Patriot-News” reports that Rendell picked up the phone at his house last weekend when Quinnipiac‘s computer randomly dialed his number.  Rendell said it was the first time he‘s even been called by a pollster.  Asked, quote, “Did the endorsement of Hillary Clinton by Governor Ed Rendell have an impact on your vote,” Governor Rendell confessed, he said, “Absolutely.” 

Asked if Senator Bob Casey‘s endorsement of Barack Obama had any impact, Rendell said he answered “No difference.” 

And finally, it‘s time for the HARDBALL big number of the night.  With all three presidential candidates grilling General Petraeus today and Ambassador Crocker, the campaigns may want to note the mood of the voters on Iraq.  Well, a new Gallup poll today asked if it‘s better to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq or to keep them there until the situation gets better. 

Well, overall, 60 percent of voters said set a timetable.  As expected, 81 percent of Democrats say set a timetable.  Just 32 percent of Republicans want one.  But the number that matters most is one that represents these swing states and those swing voters, who will ultimately, of course decide who is the next president.  So how many independents support a timetable?  Get this, 61 bank account.  That‘s where the action is, 61 percent.  Tonight‘s HARDBALL big number, 61 percent of independents, that‘s more than three out of five voters, support setting a timetable now to remove U.S. troops from Iraq.

Up next, your age tell as lot about which candidate you prefer.  The generational breakdown in the ‘08 race is powerful and it is coming up next.  Wait until you catch the difference about what happens to you politically once you‘re over 45.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  New numbers out of Pennsylvania tonight.  They show that Barack Obama is narrowing his lead or actually narrowing Hillary Clinton‘s lead.  In the latest Quinnipiac poll, Hillary Clinton leads Obama 50 to 44.  Now in their last poll released April 2, earlier this month, it was 50 to 41.  If you go back a month, look at the difference.  He‘s halved the lead.  It was 12, now it‘s six.  Joining me now to talk about that halving of the lead by Hillary Clinton on behalf of Barack Obama NBC political director Chuck Todd and MSNBC senior campaign correspondent Tucker.

What do you make of this?  It was 12 points, now it‘s six.  Is this a mirage or is this one of those things that‘s going to disappear the Saturday and Sunday before the voting?  The 20th and 21st like it often does before.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  If weird watching these poll numbers move like this and knowing how much money Barack Obama is spending on television in Pennsylvania, if his numbers weren‘t moving, he‘d be having problems.  So he should be shrinking this lead.  He should be picking off undecided votes.  It‘s interesting that her number is staying solid.  Look, Quinnipiac is a good Pennsylvania poll, but obviously I think the internal numbers from the two campaigns are better.  I like the pollsters that work with both campaigns.

MATTHEWS:  And what are they telling you?

TODD:  That it is single digits.  There‘s something going on.  He‘s spent a ton of money.  It has closed a little bit.

MATTHEWS:  Does TV advertising, in your experience Tucker, changed people‘s mind in a presidential election.  This is a very mature campaign.  Why would you change your mind after a few TV ads after two years of exposure?

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I have always believed that‘s a myth.  Promulgated by people who get a percentage of the ad buy.

MATTHEWS:  The TV stations.

CARLSON:  The TV stations, I‘m all for advertising on television at very high rates, obviously.  But I think that‘s a myth that consultants keep alive.  Chuck is on to something.  What else accounts for this movement in numbers?

MATTHEWS:  I think doing the college HARDBALL tour last week gave him a bump.  I‘m dead serious.  I think he got a lot of ink out of it.  A lot of people watched it.  Several million people.  And I think a lot of Pennsylvanians watched it.  As they will watch McCain next week and if we get Hillary Clinton they‘ll watch her.  It‘s your hometown that‘s voting.  They are paying attention up there.

TODD:  The person what runs the most ads doesn‘t always win, but they usually win.  OK?  And he dopes seem to move numbers when he exposed them to advertising.  Don‘t forget, this isn‘t just television he‘s doing but there‘s direct mail and there‘s phone calls.  There should be movement.  If there wasn‘t movement than they should be worried.  There‘s another reason he‘s spending so much in Pennsylvania don‘t forget.  They see it as a down payment for November.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look now at the poll again in Pennsylvania.  This is fun.  It shows a clear generational break.  I told you in the tease here.  Obama takes people under 45 by a 15 point margin.  Look at that differential, 55 to 40 among people under 45 and look at people above 45, it‘s an absolute flip.  Where Clinton wins heavily among the people over 45.  Here‘s the question.  Will the younger people - you can‘t call them kids if they‘re up to 45 years old, will they be more encouraging, more influential on their parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents than the older people will be on the younger people?  Who‘s going to have the influence in family discussions the next 10 days?

TODD:  It‘s been interesting.  Over the last six months, the younger folks have had more influence on the older folks.  My favorite anecdote from my travels in Iowa was you go to a Clinton event and you would see grandmothers bringing their granddaughters and you‘d go to an Obama and you‘d see grandchildren bringing their grandparents.

MATTHEWS:  Tucker, our parents saying get up for school, get up for church, get up for your career, get up moving.  This is the first time in our lives where kids said to their parents why don‘t you go out and vote for Barack.  There‘s a generational flip here.

CARLSON:  You see over 130,000 Republicans in the state of Pennsylvania become Democrats over the last 12 months.  That‘s older people almost by definition.  People who had a party identification and have changed it.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not like changing toothpaste.

CARLSON:  It‘s not at all.  And I think it‘s a much more significant number than the voting numbers.  There are those taking Rush Limbaugh‘s order and going .

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t build him up, his ego is big enough.

CARLSON:  Listen.  There are some people who are causing mischief.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe Rush Limbaugh actually gets people to vote strategically?

CARLSON:  I think there are some.  I think that‘s far different than going to the office and saying I‘m changing my party I.D.

MATTHEWS:  The I.D. is the key word.  I think it‘s a big deal.  It‘s almost like changing your religion.  One day you‘re a Republican the next day you‘re friends say, what are you politically and you say, I‘m a Democrat.  Is it that big a change or just paperwork?

TODD:  Ask your brother in Montgomery County what‘s going on.

MATTHEWS:  His wife, my sister-in-law Karen changed her registration to Democrat.  It‘s going on.

TODD:  It‘s hitting locally.  What happened in Pennsylvania, we‘d seen 20 years of Republicans voting Democrats on the national elections but still voting Republican on local.  You‘re seeing the full conversion where you‘re seeing this stuff trickle down onto the local ballot.  You‘re seeing these Republicans now switching to Democrats.  And Democrats .

MATTHEWS:  The war has a lot to do with that.

TODD:  They are but now in the suburbs of Philadelphia.  You know this.

MATTHEWS:  Montgomery County.  Is now a Democratic County.

CARLSON:  Who are those people?  Are Republicans becoming Democrats so they can vote for Hillary Clinton?  Sorry to laugh.  No, they are not.  Of course they are not.  They are—common sense tells you they are overwhelmingly Republicans switching to Democrats to vote for Barack Obama.

TODD:  Remember what kind of Republicans these folks were.  They were Republicans because their parents were republicans.  They never really bought into the current ideology.  What they bought into was the tradition of sticking with their family.  Their family was Catholic.  Their family was Republican so they were Republican.

MATTHEWS:  So they were RINOs.

TODD:  That‘s right.

Now, they decided whatever it is, it‘s Obama or it‘s Clinton, you guys can decide.

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you something.  I think something else is going on here.  We can argue about this, but we watched Barack Obama give a speech on race in America.  I really did notice the difference in how people reacted to it.  And I don‘t think it was party reaction.  There‘s a difference in sensibility.  Some people were taken with it.  I was.  And some people weren‘t.  Some people were taken with Obama‘s whole argument.  Not that he should be president but were taken with his message.  Some are not.  I think it‘s really causing a bit of a division.  It‘s a little more emotional, a little more sentimental or whatever, a little more cultural than just how you grew up, who your mommy and daddy were.

TODD:  I think, you brought up the generational gap, but there‘s been the distinctive, generational and with Obama it‘s also educational.  The more college degrees you have the more likely you‘re an Obama person.

MATTHEWS:  Is that because you‘re more economically confident?

TODD:  That‘s what Bill Clinton‘s argument is.

MATTHEWS:  Is that what it‘s about?  I don‘t know.

TODD:  The argument has been the folks who don‘t need a president are for Obama.  The folks that need a president, the ones farther down the ladder, the blue collar.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a knock.

CARLSON:  Insulting.

MATTHEWS:  It is a knock a little bit.  But I‘m just saying.  That‘s been the argument.  I don‘t know if it‘s the case or not.

CARLSON:  It‘s purely cultural.  I believe.  I don‘t think it‘s economic.  I don‘t think people vote their economic interests very often at all.

TODD:  Neither party does.

CARLSON:  I don‘t think they do on either side.  I think it‘s cultural.

MATTHEWS:  I think they do in Pennsylvania.  Older people in Pennsylvania lost their industry and their kids to other states.  They are voting for maintenance and survival in a lot of cases.  That‘s why they are angry about trade.  Not because they‘re definitely right but they think their jobs have been stolen by overseas competition.

CARLSON:  And they may be right.  I‘m not arguing the merits of the case.  I‘m saying in the 1980s, we saw time and again people voting their culture over their economic situation.  That was the whole point of the Reagan Democrats.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s great to have you.  I like this argument.  It‘s festive and exciting and true.  Thank you Chuck Todd.  Thank you Tucker Carlson.

Up next, all three presidential candidates of course spoke at the Petraeus hearings.  They asked questions but they told us a lot.  Who looks more like the commander in chief?  Well, the politics fix will tell us when it comes back.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and our politics fix tonight.  Tonight‘s roundtable, MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard, Tim Grief of Politico and Dana Milbank who was on my television screen today all day long.  Dana every time I looked at General Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, there you were.  Let‘s look at this.  I have no opinion on this, surprisingly.  Here is something John McCain said today about the role of al Qaeda and how it fits into the various different groups over there, the Shia, the Sunni.  Let‘s see how he ultimately got it right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  There are numerous threats to security in Iraq and the future of Iraq.  Do you still view al Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER U.S. FORCES IN IRAQ:  It‘s still a major threat, but not as major a threat as it was, say, 15 months ago.

MCCAIN:  Not an obscure sect of the Shiites overall?

PETRAEUS:  No, sir.

MCCAIN:  Or Sunnis or anybody else.  Al Qaeda continues to try to assert themselves in Mosul, is that correct?

PETRAEUS:  It is senator.  As you saw on the chart, the area of operation of al Qaeda has been reduced in terms of controlling areas that it controlled as little as a year and a half ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I have to ask you as everybody is jumping all over that, all the Democrats are jumping on the guy saying he doesn‘t understand al Qaeda is a Sunni operation, never had anything to do with Shia.  He made a little but of a mistake and quickly corrected it.  Is it worthy of our attention?

MICHELLE BERNARD, INDEPENDENT WOMEN‘S VOICE:  It is worthy of our attention because there is the unmistakable picture in everyone‘s mind from a week or two ago with Senator McCain having to have Senator Lieberman correct him.

MATTHEWS:  His lifeline.

BERNARD:  I wouldn‘t call him his lifeline.

MATTHEWS:  What do they call it on “Who wants to be a millionaire?” 

What do they call it?  The lifeline?

BERNARD:  I don‘t know.

MATTHEWS:  I think they did.

Let me go to Dana, you were so intent and within a few steps of Senator McCain, was that a booboo or not a booboo?

DANA MILBANK, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  I wish I knew I was on camera.  I would have waived a HARBDALL insignia or something like that.  Of course it was a mistake.  You could see it very clearly there and as you guys have pointed out, it compounds the meaning because of his problem earlier.

Fortunately, for McCain, I caught Obama mixing up Iran and Iraq later in the day.  They better be careful how far they go on this one.  It wasn‘t a good day for McCain overall.  He was listless in the questioning, then he sort of high tailed it out of the hearing before it was less than halfway over.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s rate them, then, let‘s get into politics here let me go to Tim Grieve, I have to ask you, I thought Hillary had a very good question there, Senator Clinton, when she asked the two gentlemen Petraeus and Crocker, why doesn‘t the United States Congress, the Senate particularly get to vote in the long term commitment on staying in Iraq instead of letting the president who is leaving office in six months deal with this by himself.

TIM GRIEVE, POLITICO:  She made that point and got Crocker to admit the point that the Iraqis are going to vote on it.

MATTHEWS:  Teaching democracy but not practicing it.

GRIEVE:  It dovetailed perfectly with what Levin was doing earlier in the day.  Iraqis are getting fat and happy on their oil revenues.  They have a surplus.  If you‘re out of work construction worker in California and watching this on TV, I think you‘d be pretty be upset.

MATTHEWS:  You know when you ride the subway in a place like Philly or New York and it‘s a little old?  We could use $100 billion infusion of infrastructural investment.  We‘re over there putting together their electric power grid, we‘re putting together their school system.  What kind of deal do we have?

BERNARD:  Today was the day for Senator Obama, Senator Clinton and Senator McCain to show their commander in chief bona fides.  I think it was a mediocre day for all three of them.

MATTHEWS:  No, Barack was good.

Let‘s get another opinion.  I thought Barack was elegant at the end.  I think Senator Clinton was good.  I thought Barack was very good in raising the two questions.  This parade of horribles that keeps us in there, can we deal with it or are we going to be stuck there forever?  Can we ever guarantee that al Qaeda won‘t come in there ever again sometime?  Can we ever stop the influence of Iran on its neighboring country?  Those are quicksand questions.

GRIEVE:  Those were good lawyerly questions.  They were quicksand questions.  They were good lawyerly questions.  But I thought Obama came off looking tired and a little sensitive and not as presidential as we wanted to.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s this, the make up department?

MILBANK:  It‘s all cosmetic.

MATTHEWS:  Jay comes on the earlier program—What do you think, Dana, since you were close enough to notice.  Let‘s do a cosmetic look at the three candidates.  Who was the most well turned out?

MILBANK:  Since that‘s the most important thing.

MATTHEWS:  You write columns like this.  Don‘t pretend you‘re above this.

MILBANK:  They all looked dreadfully tired.  Clinton and Obama were stealing glances at the clock.  They were both chewing gum.  Obama was doing a lot of rocking in his seat.

Couldn‘t observe McCain because he darted out too fast to judge anything.  If I were given you a scorecard on this, I think legislatively, Clinton was the finest, McCain had quite a weak day and Obama was in the middle.

MATTHEWS:  It takes self-confidence and willpower to sit and listen for hours of other people asking questions of somebody else.

GRIEVE:  What Clinton did was she got on the table the key thing.

MATTHEWS:  The constitutional role of the Senate.

GRIEVE:  The constitutional role of the Senate.  The other thing she did is she got Petraeus to admit not only do they not have a timetable for withdrawing troops, but they don‘t have a timetable for when they are going to have a timetable.  They also don‘t have the conditions that are going to lead to those decisions.

MATTHEWS:  Carl Levin kept asking three months, four months?

GRIEVE:  He never got an answer.

MATTHEWS:  These guys have a very short leash on what they‘re allowed to say.  These guys are under orders.  As General Petraeus the great man said, your job is to take the Hill with the resources you have.  He is under orders.  He is not a politician.  He shouldn‘t be defending the policy.  He should be executing it and that‘s it.  Now he‘s put out their on point to defend Bush‘s policy.  Bush should have been in the chair today.  The president of the United States who sets the policy.

We‘ll be right back with the roundtable for more of the politics fix. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  We‘re back to ethnic territory here.  We are in a tricky situation on language and comparisons.  Here‘s a supporter of John McCain and what he said that‘s causing a bit of a stir.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You can have your tiger woods, we have Senator McCain.  Senator McCain endorsed five and a half years unimaginable years as a prisoner of war.  It took unimaginable perseverance, unrelenting strength.  My friends, this is the real audacity of hope.  Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you Senator John McCain.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, ® SC:  If Tiger Woods is listening, if you‘ll play around with me, I‘ll drop John McCain like a hot stick.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s called an allez oop.  It seems to me he took the edge off that if there was an edge.

GRIEVE:  He took the edge off.  I don‘t know the point the guy was trying to make but for McCain, look, McCain survived.

MATTHEWS:  He was comparing Barack to Tiger Woods.  Let‘s not get too complicated her.

GRIEVE:  He‘s a young articulate .

MATTHEWS:  Skinny black guy.

GRIEVE:  African American sort of mixed race.

MATTHEWS:  Was it a knock or was it just an available comparison?

GRIEVE:  What‘s the knock of being compared to Tiger Woods?

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the question.  It is a knock or simply an obvious comparison that has no malign purpose.

BERNARD:  I don‘t know what the purpose was.  For my father who is an avid golfer, when he sees Tiger Woods, he sees Jesus.  This guy is probably thinking the same thing.  He‘s African American, and he is obviously talking about the fact that his mother was from Thailand.  Tiger Woods who was named after a Vietnamese soldier who was a friend of his fathers‘.

I don‘t know what the point was, but the comparisons are pretty obvious.

MATTHEWS:  I remember that first Masters when he hit the ball into the wrong fairway and hit it over the trees back to the green from the wrong fairway over the trees, over a forest of trees.  I‘ve never seen that in my life.  Dana, you want to weigh in here?  What are the latest rules of engagement on ethnicity and reference to someone‘s look, if you will and how it relates to other people.

MILBANK:  I‘m just popping out of the hearing, but it seems inadvertent like a sort of Freudian slip which obviously has ...

MATTHEWS:  There was no tell prompter, obviously.  Can we agree, the three of us?  No harm, no foul on this one?

MILBANK:  I wouldn‘t agree with that.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What‘s the harm?

MILBANK:  The harm is you have another case of poor imagery in the sense that you‘re assuming McCain would get any African American votes any way.  But certainly, this is the sort of thing that can pop up again later in the campaign.

BERNARD:  I don‘t think so.  It would be different if he compared him to Al Sharpton or done one of Bill Clinton‘s things with Jesse Jackson winning South Carolina, but I don‘t think this hurts him.

GRIEVE:  John McCain stood there earlier in a campaign season next to a supporter who called Hillary Clinton the witch word.  That seems to have no deleterious effect.  This was way more subtle.  And whatever this guy meant it wasn‘t anything as bad as that.  It‘s just hard to see .

MATTHEWS:  I want to hear the supporting actor role to Lindsey Graham who quickly covered for him by saying if I could play a round of golf with Tiger Woods, I would give up my lifelong support of Senator John McCain.  I would call that a sacrifice move there.

Anyway, guys.  Thank you very much.  We‘ll agree, it‘s two to one. 

Let him off.  One, hang him.

Thank you Michelle Bernard, Dana.  You‘re going to do a column on this, aren‘t to do a column, thank you Tim Grieve—one of the best columnists around.  Right there, page two.

Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for HARDBALL. 

COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN starts right now.

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

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