updated 7/18/2008 10:54:16 AM ET 2008-07-18T14:54:16

Guests: Mike Barnicle, Pat Buchanan, Roger Simon, Stuart Rothenberg, Chris Cillizza, Mike Paul, Steve

McMahon, Nancy Giles, Jim Warren, Maria Teresa Petersen

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  The Obama world tour—a big opportunity, but big risks, too.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Mike Barnicle, in tonight for Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  John McCain has made much of Barack Obama‘s limited foreign policy experience, so perhaps, it should come as no surprise that Obama‘s upcoming overseas trip has becomes a major media event.  But all that attention can cut both ways.  Will Obama be able to sell himself as a credible commander-in-chief, or might he commit the kind of embarrassing gaffe that could undermine a candidacy?  The risks and rewards of Obama‘s trip in a moment.

Plus, think you know what the key battleground states are?  Well, think again.  We‘ll show you what five states to look at and give you a “Smart Voter‘s Guide” to figuring out who‘s up and who‘s down.  And if you‘re living in one of those five states, you‘re probably seeing a lot of political ads.  The candidates are fighting an air war, and later, two political ad men will guide us through what works and what doesn‘t.

And what did President Bush do to make this little girl run so fast in the other direction?  We‘ll let you know in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

But first, Obama‘s world tour.  Roger Simon of “The Politico” and Pat Buchanan, MSNBC political analyst, two very articulate gentlemen, are with us right now.  And I want to start you off with this poll in “The Washington Post,” “Washington Post”/ABC News poll.  By 2 to 1, voters think Obama would better improve the U.S. image in the world.  And in almost a direct flip-flop now—no pun intended—by 2 to 1, voters think McCain has a better knowledge of world affairs.

Patrick J. Buchanan, is this political schizophrenia as exhibited by the voters, or what?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  No, I think the voters are very realistic.  McCain has far more experience in foreign policy, but Mike, Barack Obama‘s beating him by something like 4 to 8 points in most national polls.  But this does underscore the importance of this trip and the opportunity for Barack Obama to be seen on a world stage.  I think the up side is higher than the down side that he makes some major gaffe because world leaders are going to say, We‘re talking to the next president of the United States, and maybe we ought to help this fellow look good.

BARNICLE:  Roger, though, you know, he‘s going to hit multiple countries overseas, including Iraq and Afghanistan.  What would the down side be?  What is the down side here?  He‘s going to receive massive saturation coverage.  What‘s he going to do to screw it up?

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM:  The down side is he makes some terrible gaffe.  I think that‘s a small down side, compared to what we‘re likely to see, which is huge adoring crowds, not necessarily in Afghanistan and in Iraq, but in the European countries that he‘s going to.  You know, he‘s pretty good at set speeches, and his campaign is pretty good at the optics and visuals of these things.  It‘s likely to be, you know, a home run.

The down side, since you asked about the down side, is what he ran into when he gave his speech at AIPAC and he talked about Jerusalem, a very touchy subject, said it had to remain an undivided city, capital of Israel.  Well, that‘s not exactly where his campaign is and it‘s not exactly where U.S. policy is, so he had to walk it back a little bit.

It‘s sensitive stuff he‘s dealing with, and he‘s got to get it right.  But I have a feeling he‘s going to be pretty well briefed before he steps down off that plane.

BUCHANAN:  You know, Mike, I think the two land mines are Israel, where the Israelis clearly want American support for an air strike on Iran.  He‘s going to talk to Bibi Netanyahu.  He‘s going to be pushing him.  And of course, the Palestinians are going to want to commit him—get him committed to negotiations face to face.  I think that could be a problem area.

And the second problem area, General Odierno and General Petraeus could, I think, try to push him to say, Look, sir, please back off a little bit this 16-month deadline.  Things are going well, but we may need more time.

The real opportunity, Mike, I think, is a possibility of a roaring welcome from a group of combat veterans, say in Anbar province, when he walks into the hall.  A picture like that would be enormously beneficial to Barack Obama.

BARNICLE:  Roger, what Pat just said, though, it gets into, you know, Obama‘s difficulty, if you want to call it that, with the left in his party.  They‘re saying, you know, Oh, we thought Obama was the real anti-war candidate, now he‘s stretching it out in terms of when we‘re going to leave that country, stretching it out in terms of we‘re going to listen to the commanders if he does become president.  This could fuel even more of that left venom, growing venom toward Obama, couldn‘t it?

SIMON:  It could.  And he did bobble his answer originally on why he was going on the trip.  He said one of the reasons he‘s going on the trip is to revise—continue to refine—sorry—to refine his position on Iraq.  Well, his party doesn‘t want a position refined on Iraq, they want to get out of Iraq.  And now he said, well, he‘s not going to refine it.  He‘s going to go and he‘s going to meet with the generals, but his plan is still the same, to get combat troops out of Iraq on 16-month timetable.

Which leaves the question, why is this trip necessary?  Well, we know why it‘s necessary.  We‘ve seen the poll figures.  It‘s to persuade people that he has a knowledge of foreign affairs.  It‘s for the good visuals.  But I think he‘s absolutely going to absolutely avoid—and Pat has talked about the pitfalls of it.  He‘s going to be avoid conducting any foreign policy there.

For one thing, he‘s not the president.  And he doesn‘t want to get pinned down.  He doesn‘t want to green light or red light the Israelis about attacking Iran, no matter what his personal feelings may be.  He wants to avoid any kind of commitments.  He wants to go there to show that he‘s listening, to once again articulate his policies, but to not make any real news beyond that.

BARNICLE:  And still, Pat, traveling to the Middle East—his political travels are taking him more and more toward the middle of American politics, are they not?

BUCHANAN:  They certainly are.  I mean, he‘s going to meet with the Palestinians in Ramallah.  But that is—this is—really, look, the Israeli vote—I mean, the Jewish vote in the United States is deeply concerned, aware, and alert of every nuance of Middle East policy.  And the Israelis know this, and they will try to lock him into some kind of position which is basically tilted constantly toward Israel, understandably.  And as the president, he may not want to do that, but as a candidate, that‘s an attractive position.  And Netanyahu will certainly try.

But the generals—I got to think that one of the most powerful men this fall in this election, Mike, is General Petraeus.  If he should stand up and make a statement, you know, that was picked up by reporters that said, Look, we‘re winning this thing and we can win it, but if you give a hard and fast timetable, that could cost us everything we fought for, and that could be a real problem for Barack Obama.  And I think those generals have—I mean, they believe in this cause, and many of them may well think that a fast withdrawal could jeopardize it.  And so those are real problems for him.

BARNICLE:  You know, on the politics of this, I mean, the McCain camp today, they had more disruption.  Communications director Jill Hazelbaker said today, on Fox, quote, “Let‘s drop the pretense that this a fact-finding trip and call it what it is, the first of its kind campaign rally overseas.”

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Now, she said that this morning.  Senator McCain reacting to today to his campaign director.  Here‘s what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I can only give you my opinion, and I will talk to her.  But the fact is that I‘m glad that he‘s going to Iraq, and I think it‘s—I‘m glad that he‘s going to Afghanistan.  It‘s long, long overdue if you want to lead this nation and secure our national security.

QUESTION:  So you disagree that—you don‘t think it‘s a campaign trip?

MCCAIN:  No.  I mean, I—all I can say is I don‘t—I‘ll let other people judge that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  So Roger, what should be McCain‘s strength—I mean, Obama should be playing an away game here on foreign policy, McCain‘s natural strength, his constituency.  They seem to be unable to get their act together on a day-to-day basis.

SIMON:  Yes.  You get thrown under the bus pretty quick in the McCain campaign now!

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON:  To Hazelbaker‘s credit, communications—she‘s a smart person.  Communications directors don‘t come up with this stuff on their own.  It‘s the product of conference calls and planning.  So apparently, McCain wasn‘t part of the conference call or the planning.  But McCain is right.  You can‘t goad Barack Obama into going on this trip—which is what McCain and the Republican National Committee did, running a clock, 914, 915, 916 days since he‘s been there, he‘s got to go, he‘s got to go—and then complain that he‘s going.  That‘s number one.

Number two, you can‘t call it the first ever kind of foreign campaign trip when John McCain went to that market square in Baghdad in April of 2007 with the flak jacket and the five helicopters overhead.  I‘m sure his Republican opponents who were going to face him in the primaries thought that was a campaign trip.  But I don‘t think it‘s the first ever.

BUCHANAN:  You know, Mike, Ms. Hazelbaker probably has never heard of the “three I” trip for every New York politician...

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  ... Italy, Ireland and Israel!  You go to all three, touch base and come home, you know, and say, I‘ve been over there with our folks.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  The—who do you think‘s going to get more coverage on this trip?  I mean, compared to the McCain trip to Baghdad, when they had the five Black Hawks overhead, I mean, the Obama campaign coverage is going to be five to one to what McCain got.  I mean, the inequity of this thing is really bizarre.

BUCHANAN:  Well, this—well, this is a royal progress through the world, exactly.  I think it‘s going to be—three anchors going.  And here‘s another thing, Mike.  There‘s a lot of journalists there who see Barack Obama—some are empathetic to him naturally and—but they also see him, Look, this is the future president of the United States.  Shall we cut his legs off?  I think their natural tendency—and he‘s an American and they kind of like the candidate.  It‘s exciting.  I think they‘re going to—their tendency is going to be to say, Barack‘s doing a fine job over here as a representative of the United States.

BARNICLE:  Well, he‘s also a bipartisan guy.  I want you to watch this new Obama ad that‘s running right now to prove his bipartisan stripes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We are a beacon of light around the world.  At least, that‘s what we can be again.  That‘s what we should be again.

The single most important national security threat that we face is nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.  What I did was reach out to Senator Dick Lugar, a Republican, to help lock down loose nuclear weapons.  We have to lead the entire world to reduce that threat.

We can restore America‘s leadership in the world.

I‘m Barack Obama, and I approved this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Hey, Pat, does it remind of you of “Morning in America”?

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  Look, Ronald Reagan in 1979 and ‘80, he was saying, I agree with Scoop Jackson on the SALT II treaty.  I agree with John (INAUDIBLE) criticism.  He wrapped himself in the most responsible centrist Democrats to get rid of that edge that he had, and Barack‘s doing the same thing.  And he‘s doing it pretty well, Mike.

BARNICLE:  Hey, Roger, in addition to mentioning Dick Lugar in the spot, he‘s taking Chuck Hagel with him on the trip.

SIMON:  Yes, he‘s using a Republican to calm down Democrats.  He‘s taking a Republican who voted—you know, was one of three Republicans to vote to get out of Iraq in 120 days.  This happened, you know, last year.

He is definitely sending a message, two messages, one to independents and some Republicans, he‘s bipartisan.  But two, he‘s also calming fears to the Democratic Party that he is somehow not going to get out of Iraq.  He‘s taking Reed of Rhode Island, who voted against the war.  He‘s taking Hagel, who‘s very much against this war, and he‘s sending that double message, I‘m bipartisan, but I‘m bipartisan only as far as picking people who don‘t like this war.

BARNICLE:  Hey, Pat, what do you figure, Chuck Hagel‘s going to end up as Barack Obama‘s Joe Lieberman?

BUCHANAN:  You know—oh, is Joe Lieberman—yes, I think so there, but not on the ticket.  I mean, if they‘re talking about on the ticket—I think—I wouldn‘t be surprised to see Chuck Hagel wind as—up in the cabinet of Barack Obama, Defense or State, or something like that, although I think Joe Biden‘s got his eye on State, and others, too.  I don‘t think he‘s going to be vice president because I can‘t believe that a leader of a party would put the whole future of the president of the United States one step away from somebody that belongs to the other party.  Chuck Hagel‘s a conservative Republican on a lot of issues.

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  ... speed dial, Pat.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON:  Chuck Hagel—yes, I agree with Pat 100 percent.  He‘s especially a conservative Republican on the issue of choice.  His NARAL pro-choice rating is zero.  The Democratic convention I don‘t think would ever nominate Chuck Hagel as vice president.  He‘d be a much safer choice for defense secretary.

BARNICLE:  Gentlemen, thank you very much, Roger Simon and Pat Buchanan, as always.

Coming up: Which battleground states are must-wins for Obama, and which does McCain need to win?  We‘ll look at the five biggest battleground states in the presidential election next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Whenever he asks.  That is, we had a good talk and he said he wanted me to campaign with him, and I said I was eager to do so.  And you know, he‘s busier than I am, on politics, anyway.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Nobody‘s busier than that guy in politics.  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That‘s Bill Clinton talking about campaigning for Barack Obama.

Now, Al Gore and John Kerry missed the White House by just a couple of states.  So can Obama win where they couldn‘t?  Could he lose where they won?  Stu Rothenberg is the editor of “The Rothenberg Political Report.”  Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix” for the Washingtonpost.com, two must-reads.

Gentlemen, we‘re going to peel right through these states, a couple of them surprises.  Let‘s start with Colorado.  Let‘s start with you, Chris.  Bush won it twice in 2000 and 2004.  Why would Obama have a shot here?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOT.COM:  Well, you know, Mike, I think 2008 is going to tell us, in Colorado, at least, is how much—how far have Democrats come.  They‘ve won a U.S. Senate seat, a governor‘s race.  They‘ve won two House seats in the last couple election cycles.  The question is, these Democrats who won—Bill Ritter, who is the governor, Ken Salazar, who is a new senator from the state—they ran as conservative Democrats.  Can a Democrat who is not as conservative, Barack Obama, win in the state, or is it still fundamentally a conservative state?

BARNICLE:  Stu, on the poll that we just saw, the Real Clear Politics poll, that has Obama up by 3 points—could the addition of a Mitt Romney, a Mormon, in this state, Colorado, where there‘s a fairly substantial Mormon population, I think—could that benefit McCain?

STU ROTHENBERG, “ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT”:  Well, it‘s certainly possible.  A race that close, anything could change things.  But I think the trend that we‘ve seen in Colorado over the past few years, as well as the presence of the kind of Obama voters that we‘ve seen elsewhere, some upscale—we used to call them brie and chablis voters—probably makes this a terrific Democratic opportunity.

BARNICLE:  Virginia‘s next.  Virginia, Real Clear average, McCain leads 45-44.  George Bush won the state twice.  Chris, northern Virginia, Arlington, Alexandria, you see a lot of Obama bumper stickers when you‘re down there.  What‘s going on in Virginia?

CILLIZZA:  Well, this a state, Mike, that I think a lot of Democratic activists seem to think is in the bag for their party.  But if you talk to people who have been around the Democratic game for a while, they‘re a lot more skeptical.  Remember, this a state, a commonwealth, that no Democratic president has won since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.  There‘s a long history of Republican voting at the presidential level here.

But again, like Colorado, it‘s a place where Democrats have made gains.  Mark Warner wins the governorship in 2001.  Tim Kaine wins it in 2005.  Jim Webb wins an upset over George Allen in the Senate race in 2006.  So Democrats, like in Colorado, have had a lot of victories.

BARNICLE:  So Stu, I mean, a lot of people think of Virginia—I think a lot of people, you know, from New York and Philadelphia—as a Southern state.  But it‘s not skewing so Southern anymore, it appears.

ROTHENBERG:  Oh, exactly.  As a matter of fact, there is some talk about Obama doing well in the South and winning some Southern states.  I don‘t think he really will.  The reason why Virginia is on this list is it‘s not quite a Southern state anymore.  The growth in the northern Virginia suburbs, the Washington, D.C., suburbs, has changed the demographics of this state, and it‘s behaving more like a middle Atlantic state, rather than a pure Southern state.

BARNICLE:  John Kerry‘s nightmare is next, Ohio.  Obama, 4-point lead right now in the Real Clear Politics average, a state with, you know, unemployment, a Rust Belt state.  Chris, what‘s going on in Ohio?  Why does Obama have a shot in Ohio?

CILLIZZA:  Well, you know, I think, Mike, Stu hit it right on the head today.  He—in his column, he wrote about Ohio and the sort of down—the decline and fall of the Ohio Republican Party. 

You know, this, in the early—in the late ‘90s, early 2000s, Bob Taft was a popular governor.  Republicans were on the ascendancy.  Well, all of a U.S., Bob Taft, runs into a lot of ethical problems.  He leaves office on a rail with approval ratings, you know, that would make George Bush look like he was popular at this point. 

(LAUGHTER)

CILLIZZA:  And the Ohio Democratic Party really capitalizes.  They beat an incumbent senator in Mike DeWine in 2006.  They take back the governor‘s mansion.  Ted Strickland wins.  So, it was really a whitewash in 2006, where Democrats just won everywhere in Ohio.  The question is, how badly damaged is the Ohio Republican Party brand, and can they bounce back so quickly? 

BARNICLE:  So, Stu, why is Ohio different, if it is different, today than it than it was in 2004, when John Kerry barely lost it?

ROTHENBERG:  Well, I think there are a number of ways you can look at this.

I mean, you can start off given what Chris said.  You could say, why do the Republicans possibly have a chance of winning here?  This is a state that has suffered economically.  The Republicans messed up when they governed the state.  Why does McCain have a chance? 

Or you can look at it the way you said.  Democrats lost it in 2000 and 2004.  George Bush was not wildly popular in 2004.  You know, which way is the state going to go? 

I think that—I think there are a couple of things to look at.  There are working-class, white, Reagan Democratic voters.  We have to see where they go.  The Republican Party, you know, is—is down.  The question is whether it‘s out. 

George Bush won by 118,000 votes four years ago.  That was a drop-off from 2000.  But is there still enough, a reservoir of Republican votes to hang on there?  So, I think there are questions on both sides here. 

BARNICLE:  Chris, Nevada, RealClear average shows that it‘s a dead heat, a tie between McCain and Obama.  Why am I surprised that Nevada is even a tie?  I wouldn‘t think that McCain would be doing very well there, Republicans would do very well there, but no.

CILLIZZA:  You know, Mike, Nevada is one of those places where I think it‘s hard to—as a political handicapper, it‘s hard to get a real grip on it, because there‘s so much growth in the state. 

You know, this is a state, in Clark County, the Las Vegas area, is growing just exponentially.  They added a congressional district in redistricting after the 2000 census.  So, it‘s hard to know sort of what the makeup of the voters are here. 

The thing that we always forget, I think, we all think of Las Vegas when we think of Nevada.  And that‘s a big chunk of the vote.  But there‘s a lot of rural area there.  Jim Gibbons got elected governor, a Republican, in 2006.  It‘s not just Las Vegas which is trending more and more Democratic. 

BARNICLE:  Stu, you agree with that? 

ROTHENBERG:  I think, Mike, if you look at the 2000 and 2004 numbers, you will probably be surprised at how close that state was.  Yes, George Bush won it twice, but it was an absolute squeaker. 

And, remember, you have a significant Hispanic population there, also, organized labor, particularly in Clark County, Las Vegas.  It turns out it‘s a very competitive state.  You look, it‘s a state with three congressional districts, a Republican district, a Democrat, and the third congressional district is about as even as you can get.  So, I think it‘s going to be a competitive state.

BARNICLE:  In Michigan, a state battered by the economy, Obama is up eight points in the RealClearPolitics poll average.  I mean, why would John McCain even bother campaigning in Michigan, Chris? 

CILLIZZA:  Well, you know, I think a couple reasons. 

Number one, Mike, he has shown some real appeal there.  Remember, even after he lost South Carolina in 2000 to George Bush in the primary process, he went and won Michigan, despite the fact that the state‘s governor had endorsed and was working for Bush. 

He‘s been there many times.  He‘s—he‘s someone who I think has an appeal there.  The other thing is, the Democratic brand, like in Ohio, where the Republican brand is in trouble, actually, the Democratic brand is not great there.  Governor Jennifer Granholm is not particularly popular, though she did win reelection in 2006. 

And put the Mitt Romney factor that you mentioned earlier, Mike—

Mitt Romney, father was the governor of the state, was born in the state, has real appeal in the state.  If you put him on the ticket, I think you‘re talking about Michigan being much more competitive. 

BARNICLE:  So, Stu, I mean, in terms of Romney as a potential vice president, we‘re talking he might some have impact in Nevada as well, but Michigan certainly, right? 

ROTHENBERG:  I think he could have some impact.

But I think the key here, is, again, white working-class, older white working-class voters, Reagan Democrats.  Can they accept Barack Obama as their nominee, the president of the United States? 

And, remember, Mike if you look back just a couple of month, RealClearPolitics‘ average will—will show you that McCain for a while was ahead in that state.  More than anything else, voters in this state, I think, are just so tired of government‘s failure with the economy.  The state is—is an economic disaster. 

The question is whether they‘re ready to roll the dice for somebody like Barack Obama or maybe somebody like John McCain.  And I should—

Michigan is on this list, but we could have put on Pennsylvania, maybe even Wisconsin.  It‘s the same kind of voters that I think are the key in all three of these states. 

BARNICLE:  Yes.  No, Michigan is in desperate, desperate shape.  Well, we will find out in November.

Stuart Rothenberg, Chris Cillizza, thanks very much.

Up next:  How bad have things gotten for Republicans in Congress?  Well, wait until you hear what they‘re doing to encourage their members to get involved. 

Plus, what did President Bush do to make this little girl take off? 

That‘s next in the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Oh, I love that little merry-go-round.

Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

You have heard of life imitating art?  Well, the same goes for sports, too.  Check out this moment from yesterday‘s White House T-ball game when one girl was given her chance to meet the president. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Emily.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There you go. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There you go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We will see about Emily in a bit here.

Let‘s go to Tennessee and Meredith Bailey (ph). 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Oh, she probably thought she was meeting Dick Cheney.  But there she is, going, going, gone.  Man, Bush really hit that one out of the park—proof he‘s having a hard time getting anyone to stand with him this year.

Speaking of, you have heard of gold stars for good behavior?  Well, the GOP‘s got their own version, Spirit Awards for speaking on the House floor.  That‘s right. 

The Politico Web site reports that morale has gotten so bad, that the House GOP conference is bribing members to do what they‘re elected to do, speak.  The prizes are nothing special.  Think commemorative oil cans for talking on energy legislation.  Oh, my goodness.

Not everyone is thrilled.  One unnamed Republican House member told Politico—quote—“The idea that people who are in the House of Representatives need to give each other awards for talking bull—dot—and that‘s really what it is.  What kind of party is that?”

Well, let me tell you.  It‘s a party that apparently needs morale boosters in the first place. 

Next, potential first daughter Meghan McCain was out and about in Hollywood with reality TV star Heidi Montag this week.  And, well, it looks like the town‘s paparazzi didn‘t know quite what to make of the Washington transplant.  Check out this clip from “Access Hollywood.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “ACCESS HOLLYWOOD”)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Continuing her support for the potential first family, Heidi shared hugs with Meghan McCain after girls had lunch at the Ivy in Santa Monica.  Clearly clueless about the identity of “The Hills” star‘s lunch date, the paparazzi ignored Meghan, instead asking only Heidi to pose for a photo, and then showering only Heidi with questions. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So, what‘s all the controversy with Spencer and Mary-Kate Olsen? 

How‘s “The Hills” going? 

You got a ring on the finger yet?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Now, I‘m clueless as to who Heidi is. 

But, anyway, talk about a sideshow.

Now for “Name That Veep.”

This Democratic governor feels strongly that his historically Republican state could go blue this fall.  Well, Senator Obama is clearly showing some faith.  The Obama campaign announced yesterday that they‘re opening 20 campaign offices in this potential vice president‘s state, a place that Democrats haven‘t won since 1964. 

If added to the ticket, this early Obama supporter would give a boost to the campaign‘s Washington-outsider message.  So, who is it?  Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. 

Well, if you ask us, an Obama/Kaine ticket would be the Democrats‘ best chance of turning Virginia blue this fall. 

Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”

We know that Senator Clinton is still on the fund-raising circuit, hoping to recoup some of that $11 million she poured into her campaign.  But what about Mitt Romney?  He, too, opened his wallet to keep his presidential bid alive. 

Well, “The Boston Globe” reports today that Romney will not ask donors to refund those personal loans to his primary campaign.  So, all in all, how much will Mitt Romney have to eat from his failed presidential bid?  Forty-five million big ones.  That‘s right.  Mitt Romney poured $45 million of his own money into his campaign, and he‘s not trying to get it back. 

That‘s more lost money than any other primary candidate in history. 

Who knows, though.  He could still get the number-two spot on the ticket—

$45 million, that‘s tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next, we have got brand-new campaign ads from Barack Obama and John McCain.  Which ads will win over voters?  And which ones fall flat?  The latest on the ad wars—next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELISSA LEE, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Melissa Lee with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks rallying again, as oil prices plunging for a third straight day the Dow Jones industrial average surging 207 points, the S&P 500 gaining almost 15, the Nasdaq up 27.  Oil falling another $5.31, closing at $129.29 a barrel.  Crude is now down more than $15, or about 14 percent, over the past three trading sessions. 

Financial stocks rallying an a second day of strong results, today, J.P. Morgan Chase posting better-than-expected quarterly earnings.  Yesterday, it was Wells Fargo Bank. 

And major earnings news after the closing bell.  Google‘s quarterly earnings missed analyst estimates by 11 cents a share.  Microsoft earnings were a penny short of estimates.  And Merrill Lynch earnings were also worse than expected. 

The good news, though, IBM earnings beat estimates, IBM also raising its earnings forecast. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Now let‘s look at the campaign air wars, and see which ads are breaking through. 

We‘re joined by Steve McMahon, who just got off his cell phone, and worked on Howard Dean‘s 2004 campaign...

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  ... and has created ads for the Democratic National Committee, and Mike Paul, a former aide to New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Senator Al D‘Amato, who is now a public relations consultant. 

Gentlemen, we‘re going to show these spots.  You guys are the experts. 

You are going to tell me what works and what you don‘t think works.  OK?

So, the first one is an ad put out by Planned Parenthood.  Check this out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, PLANNED PARENTHOOD ACTION FUND AD)

NARRATOR:  Ever use birth control?  Then you will want to hear this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... unfair that health insurance companies cover Viagra, but not birth control.  Do you have an opinion on that? 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don‘t know enough about it to give you an informed answer.

NARRATOR:  Planned Parenthood Action Fund is responsible for the content of this advertising, because women deserve quality, affordable health care. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Oh, Mike, I feel badly for John McCain there. 

MIKE PAUL, PUBLIC RELATIONS CONSULTANT:  Translation:  I‘m not ready to answer that right now, which is very different than, I‘m not informed enough on the issue. 

You‘re putting it in a juxtaposition with this Viagra thing.  You know what?  I‘m also thinking of the conservatives, and the right, the Christian right as well, and I‘m just not prepared for that question right now. 

And that‘s, quite frankly, not only a John McCain problem.  That‘s a John McCain team problem.  He should have been more prepared for that.  If I were working on his campaign, he should have been answer—able to answer that question. 

BARNICLE:  Steve, it—it gets into the pro-life/pro-choice issue and the women‘s vote in this country, which does not break well for John McCain, right? 

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  That‘s right. 

And this is an issue that is important to women.  Senator McCain, of course, has voted twice against requiring health insurance companies to cover contraception for women.  It looked a little bit like he was briefed for that appearance by Governor Sanford. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCMAHON:  I don‘t know if you...

(LAUGHTER)

MCMAHON:  I don‘t know if you remember that little...

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

MCMAHON:  ... that little interview snippet that we have been looking at the last few days.  Maybe those guys do fit together nicely on a ticket. 

BARNICLE:  Oh, that‘s a tough one for John McCain.

But let‘s watch this one.  This was put out by the Vets For Freedom. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, VETS FOR FREEDOM AD)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Some in Washington told us the war was lost. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Others said the surge would fail. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But, while they argued, we continued to fight. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Today, even the harshest critics agree, the surge worked. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The surge worked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Al Qaeda has been decimated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And the Iraqi government grows stronger each day. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  These are the facts. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They cannot be denied. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  While some may not like this war...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... those who fought it know we can‘t afford to lose. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We need to finish the job. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We need to finish the job. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No matter who is president. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Steve, you have got this huge dichotomy in this country.  No one—very few people like the war in Iraq.  But even fewer people want this country to be humiliated.  This is a pretty good ad for John McCain. 

MCMAHON:  It‘s a pretty good ad, but there‘s an internal logic problem. 

If the surge worked as well as they‘re saying, if al Qaeda has been decimated, and if the streets of Iraq are safe, and if everything was accomplished, isn‘t that an argument for coming home?  The Maliki government wants us to come home.  The people in the United States of America want us to come home.  Everybody wants us to come home but John McCain.  I do think it‘s an effective ad because it‘s dramatic, but I don‘t there‘s a logical consistency to it that helps John McCain all that much. 

PAUL:  Here‘s the consistency that works; it‘s a classic third-party endorsement, and John McCain needs a lot more of that.  The reason why people love Obama is because Obama isn‘t talking about Obama.  People are talking about Obama, and John McCain needs people to be talking about him. 

To your point, if the surge is working, it‘s time to bring them home; you talk to those vets and ask them that same question.  They‘re educated enough, with experience, to know that it doesn‘t end on that day. 

MCMAHON:  Mike, the people over there on their fourth tour, I can assure you, don‘t want to stay.  They want to come home.  The surge has worked militarily.  There‘s a political situation over there that hasn‘t improved very much.  I don‘t think staying for 100 years, as John McCain suggested he‘s willing to do, is going to solve the political problem.  It‘s time for the troops to come home. 

BARNICLE:  We‘ve got another one from the Obama campaign, the aforementioned Obama campaign.  Look at this one. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Forty years ago, it was missile silos and the Cold War.  Today, it‘s cyber attacks, loose nukes, oil money funding terrorism.  Barack Obama understands our changing world.  On the Foreign Relations Committee, he co-sponsored a law to lock down loose nuclear weapons.  As president, he‘ll rebuild our alliances to take out terrorist networks, and fast track alternatives, so we stop spending billions on oil from hostile nations. 

New leadership for a changing world. 

OBAMA:  I‘m Barack Obama and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  All right, Michael, you‘ve got Barack Obama in the George Patton deal, standing there in front of the flag.  I‘m ready to go. 

PAUL:  Lugar is not a bad guy to be standing next to.  But the bottom line is he‘s about to go on his first tour.  I do believe it is a learning tour for him abroad.  Let‘s see not only what Barack has to say about himself, let‘s see what our friends internationally have to say about Barack, not only as a person, but when he‘s asked some tough questions with some tough situations. 

BARNICLE:  He does need props in foreign policy stuff, doesn‘t he, Steve. 

MCMAHON:  I think he‘s got some good ones there.  There‘s no question that Senator Obama wants to engage Senator McCain on foreign policy and on national security, because he wants to cut into the lead that Senator McCain has, and, frankly, that Senator McCain has earned over a long period of time.  I think this ad does a pretty good job of doing that. 

It does something else that‘s interesting.  It ties what‘s going on in Iraq to other problems.  I think what you‘re going to see from the Obama campaign, moving forward, is the observation, for instance, that they‘re paying 40 cents a gallon in Iraq because they don‘t have to pay for their schools and their bridges and their roads.  We‘re paying for them.  And we‘re paying 4.50 a gallon.  I think that‘s going to be an effective message. 

BARNICLE:  Here‘s the last ad, John McCain and everyone knows about John McCain.  This is a reminder of who he is, if you need it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was a time of uncertainty, hope, and change, the Summer of Love.  Half a world away, another kind of love of country.  John McCain, shot down, bayoneted, tortured.  Offered early release, he said no.  He‘d sworn an oath.  Home, he turned to public service.  His philosophy, before party, polls and self, America.  A maverick, John McCain tackled campaign reform, military reform, spending reform.  He took on presidents, partisans, and popular opinion.  He believes our world is dangerous, Our economy in shambles.

John McCain doesn‘t always tell us what we hope to hear.  Beautiful words cannot make our lives better, but a man who has always put his country and her people before self, before politics can.  Don‘t hope for a better life, vote for one.  McCain.

MCCAIN:  I‘m John McCain and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  I love that ad, because I happen to believe on instinct that a lot of Americans, part of their vote for president is based on emotion.  That raises the emotion on behalf of John McCain. 

PAUL:  That‘s a strong emotion that‘s coming not only from John McCain‘s experience, but quite frankly, again, it‘s not him saying it about himself.  The reason why I said thank you is I think the average American is saying the same thing, which is this is a man—there are a lot of other areas that I disagree with him.  He has earned this respect as being an American hero.  We need to have more focus like that focus that we have in other areas. 

MCMAHON:  I‘m just going to say this: that is a great ad.  Mark McKinnon, if you‘re out there, if you‘re watching, that is a great ad.  I kind of got the impression it was an ad they made expecting to run against Hillary Clinton.  Barack Obama, of course, during the Summer of Love was probably about five years old.  It‘s a great ad.  It‘s a beautiful ad.  And it tells a nice story.  Hats off to the McCain campaign on that one. 

BARNICLE:  Yes, absolutely.  It‘s the best ad we‘ve shown tonight. 

PAUL:  He‘s got to get more like that.

BARNICLE:  All right, Mike Paul, Steve McMahon.  

MCMAHON:  The Obama ad is the best ad we‘ve seen tonight. 

BARNICLE:  Thanks very much.  You can go back on your cell phone, now, Steve. 

Up next, Americans think John McCain makes for a better commander in chief than Barack Obama.  Can Obama change their mind with his upcoming overseas trip?  The politics fix is straight ahead.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Tonight‘s round table, Maria Teresa Peterson of Voto Latino, social commentator Nancy Giles, and still the managing editor of the “Chicago Tribune,” Jim Warren.  Jim, let‘s start with you.  John McCain, here‘s what he had to say about Barack Obama‘s planned visit to Iraq and Afghanistan.  . 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I know that Senator Obama is going to Iraq.  I was very interested that he articulated and announced his policies and approach to Iraq before he went, not after.  Remarkable.  I‘ve been on a lot of trips around the world, usually at your expense, but I usually issue my policy statements when I get back. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  So, Jim Warren, I mean, you know him well.  You‘ve covered him for years.  Barack Obama, is this trip to the Middle East, to war zones as well as to other countries around the world, is this a trip taking Barack Obama further towards the middle of American politics, more than anything else? 

JIM WARREN, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  I think his history suggests that that‘s where he feels the most comfortable.  First of all, as far as McCain‘s comments, which I think are almost too slick by half, the fact is a lot of folks in public life, including Senator McCain, have very pronounced views on a lot of foreign areas where they‘ve never been, whether it‘s North Korea, Iran, maybe in some cases the Soviet Union.  That‘s not precluded them from being quite opinionated. 

In the case of this, I think there‘s a little bit of risk, particularly given the sense that a lot may have of him potentially being a little bit naive, a little bit wet behind the ears when it comes to foreign policy.  If he makes some gaffe, some stupid historical analogy, confuses the Shiites with the Sunnis, you name it, that will play into a perception some folks have of not ready for prime time. 

At the same time, if you have a few nice photo ops and he looks kind of serious and somber, that will play into the notion of him having a certain gravitas that people worry about.  Again, whatever he does, McCain is going to be attacking him.  If things go smoothly, they‘re going to say, oh, my gosh, just some stupid fly-over.  What the heck was that all about?  How can you think you‘re going to go over for five minutes and come back an expert? 

BARNICLE:  Nancy, to some extent, he is playing in John McCain‘s field here. 

NANCY GILES, SOCIAL COMMENTATOR:  Yes.  Based on what Jim just said, what‘s funny is that a lot of people accused McCain himself of doing a very similar kind of flyover, the time he went to the marketplace and he was surrounded by guys in flak jackets and helicopters were protecting him, and he declared that everything was fine, and people were like, not really. 

I feel like Barack Obama would be damned if he went and damned if he didn‘t go.  It makes much more sense to go, to see what‘s going on, and, as Jim also mentioned, it Will be a chance for him to look presidential, frankly, because images and perceptions do matter. 

BARNICLE:  Maria, talking about images and perceptions, as Nancy just raised—and there‘s still in many people‘s minds, the image of John McCain‘s—one of his trips to Iraq, where he was surrounded by five Blackhawk helicopters overhead, declaring the public markets in Baghdad safer than ever, when, in fact, they weren‘t.  This is, is it not, a case of, in the media terms, the rich getting richer.  Barack Obama is going to receive massive coverage.  Three network anchors going on this trip, three prime time interviews with Barack Obama from foreign destinations.  This is practically a no lose for him, is it not? 

MARIA TERESA PETERSEN, VOTO LATINO:  Well, I think he‘s going to be under very close scrutiny.  I think right now what the McCain camp is really frustrated with is that they had the same opportunity to have the media follow him back in March, and they basically closed it off to the media.  I think that‘s part of their regret there. 

And additionally, I think one of the reasons Barack is doing this now, in the middle of July, versus, say, September or October, he knows that the majority of the American public isn‘t really paying attention.  So if there are gaffes, there are goofs, he‘s going to do it in a time when most folks are worrying much more about the economy and when folks aren‘t really thinking about—outside the belt way, they‘re not really thinking about the presidential, believe it or not. 

BARNICLE:  Jim, the “Washington Post”/ABC Poll earlier this week, who would make the best commander in chief, Obama 48 percent, John McCain a resounding 72 percent.  I‘m sure you saw the numbers.  Do you think trips like this move the meter at all for Barack Obama? 

WARREN:  Yes, again, they can move the meter certainly if he makes some big rhetorical gaffe, makes some historical allusion that makes no sense to Vietnam or something like that and people call him on it, and folks say, well, maybe not ready for prime time.  The commander in chief stuff is, on one hand, very predictable, given McCain‘s past, that he would score a higher.  But at the same time, it opens McCain up to the obvious Obama counterattack about, hey, where did all that experience get the guy when it came time on the vote for going into Iraq?  So it doesn‘t necessarily mean that the past is prologue when it comes to the past informing forming one and resulting in good solid judgment when you‘ve got to have a big vote like that. 

BARNICLE:  The Rumsfeld experience there.  We‘re going to be back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back with the round table.  We only have about a minute here.  I‘m sorry to do this to you, panel.  Here‘s a simple question: Barack Obama, Iraq, Afghanistan, what does he have to do to make this trip a winner?  Jim Warren? 

WARREN:  Don‘t make any rhetorical goof and look very serious and attentive when you‘re anywhere near any important general or world leader. 

BARNICLE:  That‘s what you just looked like, Jimmy.  You looked very serious and attentive right there.  Maria Teresa, what does he have to do? 

PETERSEN:  I think it has to be a fact-finding mission.  That‘s how he has to keep his stance.  Keep his opinions to himself and say it‘s exploratory and better to understand the real situation on the ground. 

GILES:  I agree with Maria and Jim.  I think he‘s got to listen.  He‘s got to look strong and presidential and not make a mistake.  Not make any of McCain‘s prior mistakes, like confusing the Shia and Shia, like I am doing. 

BARNICLE:  The Shia and Sunni. 

GILES:  Shia and Sunni, yes.  Barack, don‘t do that, don‘t do what I just did.  And he won‘t. 

BARNICLE:  Jim Warren, Maria Teresa Petersen, Nancy Giles, thanks very much all of you.  We appreciate it. 

Today in Washington, Tony Snow was buried.  Tony was a newspaper guy who became a TV guy and became the best presidential press secretary in decades.  But he was more than that.  He was a genuinely good guy, a husband and a father.  And he was a man who taught us all how to live with cancer and to die with dignity.  Tony Snow—and President Bush gave a eulogy today at his funeral—was 53 years of age. 

Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE with David Gregory.

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

END   

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