updated 7/21/2008 10:27:07 AM ET 2008-07-21T14:27:07

Guests: Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Mike Barnicle, Willie Brown, John Feehery, Michelle Bernard, Jeff Johnson, Jonathan Capehart, Ryan Lizza, Lynn Sweet  

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  Barack Obama‘s world tour.  Can he win votes here at home with his performance overseas? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Mike Barnicle, in, tonight, for Chris Matthews. 

Welcome to HARDBALL. 

Going global.  Barack Obama‘s trip overseas is about to capture the attention of the world.  But what are the political risks, the rewards?  A recent “Washington Post” poll showed 72 percent believe John McCain knows more about international affairs than Barack Obama, who had 54 percent in that poll. 

The stakes are high.  But if Obama can come off looking like a commander in chief in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, and a statesman in Europe, how will that change the race?  We will go live to Iraq with NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell and talk about the politics of the trip with NBC News political director Chuck Todd. 

Plus, with the conventions a little more than a month away, the vice presidential race is starting to heat up.  If Obama and McCain want to pick their running mates before the Olympics, time is running out.  Check out the calendar.  We only have two more weeks in July and one week in August before the Olympics begin.  Then you get into the conventions.  The political clock is ticking.  And, in a moment, we will talk to two political strategists about who‘s in and who‘s out. 

And, as we get closer to the general election, is Obama moving to the middle?  Is a flip always a political flop?  We will dig into the senator‘s strategy later. 

And it‘s Friday, and the politics panel has the winners and losers of the week.  And, “Mamma Mia,” here we go again.  Which presidential candidate is a total ABBA fan?  We have got all the scoop on the HARDBALL “Sideshow.” 

But, first, Obama‘s trip overseas. 

NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, is with us from Baghdad, and Chuck Todd, political director for NBC News, is in Washington. 

Andrea, earlier today, you had an interview with General David Petraeus.  And I would like to play a clip of it when you asked General Petraeus about Obama‘s 16-month plan.  And here was his response to you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDING GENERAL OF THE MULTI-NATIONAL

FORCE-IRAQ:  It depends on the conditions, depends on the mission set.  It depends on the enemy.  The enemy does get a vote and is sometimes an independent variable. 

Lots of different factors, I think, that would be tied up in that.  And, you know, the dialogue on that and the amount of risk, because it eventually comes down to how much risk various options entail, that‘s the kind of discussion I think that is very important as we do look to the future. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Boy, Andrea, General Petraeus sounds like a pretty good politician in talking to you there. 

What was your sense, the larger element of risk?  What was he talking about in terms of any withdrawal plan, not just Senator Obama‘s? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  He‘s talking about anything that sets timetables.  And he‘s clearly saying that there are some risks, that, if General Petraeus were faced with a decision by a commander in chief, Barack Obama, let‘s say, hypothetically, that he might have to tell the commander in chief, look, this is not safe, that the surge has worked so far, in terms of security, they say, perhaps not so much in terms of giving the Iraqis the motivation to do things politically that they need to do. 

But, in terms of security, this place is safer.  That‘s the PowerPoint presentation that General Petraeus has now developed.  And the risk is, of course, that the situation will get worse.  And then what will they do?  It takes a long time to get troops back in there.

BARNICLE:  Andrea, have you been able to get a sense on the ground in Baghdad, and not from General Petraeus, obviously, but from the American military in general, the people you have met, the people you have spoken to thus far, what do they think of Barack Obama, candidate for president? 

MITCHELL:  I think that there are views all over the places.  And the military is so careful about staying out of politics. 

In fact, this trip, the congressional delegation, which, as you know, includes Jack Reed and Chuck Hagel, is completely separate from the rest of the trip.  Obviously, everything is going to be seen through a political prism.  But General Petraeus is absolutely adamant that the military not get involved in politics.  And so, frankly, is the U.S. ambassador, Ryan Crocker, who is a career professional, who started out, you know, many decades ago in Beirut, and was there for the carnage of the Beirut bombing.

These are people who really are following the administration line clearly.  That‘s their view.  But I don‘t know about the rank-and-file military.  I have not been out among the troops to tell you at this early stage how they feel. 

I think that there would be as many different opinions as there would be among other—you know, other types of voters, because these people have strong views.  Morale is pretty good over here...

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

MITCHELL:  ... from everything that we have been able to determine from my reporting, from my colleague Richard Engel.  People believe in the mission.  And they do see, as unhappy as many are with continued deployments and redeployments and second and third tours, they see some progress here. 

And they recently had a ceremony with, you know, more than 1,000 people re-upping.  So, they‘re seeing signs of strength here in the military and signs of improvement, they say, in the Iraqi military.  But I haven‘t been here long enough to really give you an expert analysis on that. 

BARNICLE:  Chuck Todd, off of Andrea‘s observation about Baghdad, at least Baghdad, and largely anecdotal evidence about the rest of Iraq, Fallujah and places like that, becoming much safer, certainly much safer than the country was a year ago, the coverage of this surge, it—it seems somewhat to be tilted toward Barack Obama‘s assertion that Iraq isn‘t the war we should be fighting, and, yet, on the ground, as Andrea just reported, troop morale is high.  The city is safer.  Does this benefit John McCain at all? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, it could. 

I thought it was interesting, in what General Petraeus said, is, one of the things he said in that interview with Andrea was about, well, it depends on the mission.  And I think you‘re starting to see signs—and it was in a way that Andrea just presented of her talks with the military—that they realize, hey, there might be a new commander in chief that comes to town, and he may have a different mission in mind, and that, you know, these guys are usually mission guys first. 

They‘re going to—you know, what the commander in chief says, then they‘re going to do their best to give them the advice to carry out those orders.  So, I thought that that was an interesting way that he, like you said, very much a politician, almost, in the way he answered that question. 

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

TODD:  But I would say this.  If—look, obviously, McCain feels vindicated.  And he‘s going—he‘s been trying to claim victory for this surge.  He does it in a new ad today that attacks Barack Obama.  You‘re going to hear it.  You hear it more and more from the campaign.  So, I believe they believe—they think it‘s a benefit to them. 

The problem they have got is, the public acknowledges that things are getting getter in Iraq.  And, at the same time, they still believe it was a mistake. 

BARNICLE:  Well, we‘re going to show that ad that you just mentioned, Chuck, later on in this program. 

But off of your observation of mission, changing missions, new commander in chief, no matter what happens, after this election, the White House, today, issued a statement.  And it‘s kind of interesting, the language.  We‘re going to put a graphic up.  And I will read the graphic. 

White House spokesman Dana Perino issued the statement today that said, President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki—quote—“agreed that improving conditions should allow for the agreements now under negotiation to include a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals—such as the resumption of Iraqi security control in their cities and provinces and the further reduction of U.S. combat forces from Iraq.”

Chuck Todd, a general time horizon.  So, everybody seems to be on board now with some sort of vague or defined withdrawal plan, depending on who you‘re talking about, I mean, time horizon.

TODD:  Well, that‘s right.  And it goes—right.

And it goes to what you said.  On one hand, this—what appears to be a successful surge is something that John McCain feels like he can claim victory for.  Hearing this new phrase, time horizon, which certainly sounds like as if they just wanted to come up with anything that wasn‘t the word timetable, and be able to say, well, it‘s not the same thing as a timetable, it‘s a horizon, so it‘s a little vaguer, but it‘s same idea, then, suddenly, I think the Obama people feel like, hey, see, we told you that this—we can start doing this. 

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

TODD:  So, it‘s almost as if there‘s a little something for everybody.  I tell you, I know a lot of Obama supporters believe this is no coincidence that here, as Obama‘s going over to Iraq and Afghanistan, all of a sudden, you have got talks about McCain wanting to do a military surge in Afghanistan, which is what Obama wants to do.  You have talks now, the administration saying, hey, it‘s time to have a time horizon. 

I think General Petraeus used that phrase as well, I believe, in the interview with—with Andrea.  And, so, all of a sudden, they say, hey, this not a coincidence.  This seems very well timed with Obama‘s trip. 

BARNICLE:  So, now we have got the semantics of withdrawal, apparently. 

Andrea, have you had an opportunity to observe or talk with any Iraqi officials and how they feel about the Obama candidacy and the presidential election here in general? 

MITCHELL:  Well, the Iraqi officials are really behind this push for some kind of new language from the White House, because Prime Minister Maliki said he wanted them out by the end of the year.  He wanted withdrawal. 

Rubaie, the national security official, the security adviser here, told us in an interview that they—the U.S. troops should be out.  There‘s a lot of domestic political pressure on Prime Minister Maliki.  And, so, the U.S. officials were saying, well, here‘s just saying that for domestic political conception, to satisfy his critics, because the U.S.  presence is such a big footprint here. 

But it really is in response to Maliki and the pressure they‘re feeling, that the U.S. is feeling, from the Iraqis, that they had to come up with some new language and try to finesse it.  And time horizon is the same kind of fuzzy word that Condi Rice used to try to come up with what she said was a timeline for the Palestinians to get some progress with the Israelis. 

This is basically using diplomatic terms to fuzz up the fact that there‘s no agreement between Maliki and the White House as to when the U.S.  should get out. 

BARNICLE:  Andrea, we only have a few seconds left here, but drawing upon another one of your strengths, the diplomatic channels involved here, any—what is the discussion, the feeling on the ground there in Iraq about the American approach, now, to Iran? 

MITCHELL:  Very, very supportive of that.  The Iraqis are next-door neighbors to Iran, yes, longtime enemies, but Maliki has connections in Iran.  Iranian officials come here. 

There is, in fact, a long dormant channel of U.S./Iraqi/Iranian talks on military and security issues here in Baghdad.  So, there‘s a lot of support for that.  And, in fact, General Petraeus, on Iran, said today that he can see a time—and so did Ambassador Crocker—they talked about ties, cultural ties between the two. 

Obviously, the Shia in Iran and the Shia in Iraq are different, but they have very strong connections.  And they‘re a strong political power there, majority power.  So, there‘s real movement there.  I think that that may be what comes out of the talks in the next couple of days. 

BARNICLE:  Andrea Mitchell, hardest working reporter in the business, from Baghdad, thank you very much. 

Chuck Todd, who works sort of hard some of the time from Washington...

TODD:  Well, stay safe, Andrea.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  That‘s absolutely correct. 

Thanks very much, both of you. 

MITCHELL:  Thanks, guys.

BARNICLE:  Coming up:  The clock is ticking.  When will Barack Obama and John McCain name their running mates?  We will run through the top contenders on both sides next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Coming up:  Is Obama moving to the middle, or was he there all along? 

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Has anyone else noticed how much time Senator Barack Obama has been spending in the gym lately, you know, running around the track, or whatever, figuring out who might be his vice presidential pick?  Well, we‘re going to talk about that.

And what about Senator John McCain?  Is he getting closer to picking his vice president? 

Joining us now, Republican strategist John Feehery, and former Mayor of San Francisco Willie Brown, a guy with some of the best political antenna in the country. 

So, Mayor, let‘s start with you.  I‘m going to ask you a simple question, and John will react to it.  What do you think Barack Obama needs in his vice presidential candidate? 

WILLIE BROWN (D), FORMER MAYOR OF SAN FRANCISCO:  He needs what Lyndon Johnson brought to the ticket for John F. Kennedy.  He needs someone who can bring him one of those red states. 

BARNICLE:  Pete—John.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I agree. 

I think—and he also needs someone who can bring him some heft and some experience and some foreign policy experience, especially.  But I also agree with the mayor that he needs that kind of candidate. 

BARNICLE:  What kind of a candidate does California want to see on this ticket for both—for both guys, for Barack Obama and John McCain, Mayor Brown? 

BROWN:  California wishes to see someone on Obama‘s ticket who will guarantee that we win this thing as Democrats.  California would love to see Hillary Clinton.  That certainly would put the necessity of a red state pretty much out the window, and you could win with the traditional Democratic states.  I don‘t think that will happen with Obama.

But I do think somebody like Jim Webb or Sam Nunn or Joe Biden, you have got a host of quality candidates that could bring that balance to the Obama ticket which would satisfy Californians. 

BARNICLE:  You know, one of the long shots in this is a former vice president, Al Gore.

And, earlier today—I believe earlier today—he had an interview with NBC‘s Anne Thompson.  We‘re going to play a clip of that for you, gentlemen. 

Take a look at this, Al Gore and Anne Thompson. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”) 

ANNE THOMPSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  There‘s some talk that, perhaps, Senator Obama would turn to you and say, Mr. Former Vice President, would you like to be my running mate again?  Would you do that? 

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, I have imposed a personal term limit of two terms as V.P. 

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON:  So, that‘s a no? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Well, yes, John, what do you think, Al Gore on the ticket?  Do you think that‘s going to happen?  Do you think there‘s any shot of that happening? 

FEEHERY:  Been there, done that, no way. 

Al Gore said it there.  No way.  And with his speech yesterday where he promised sharply higher energy prices for everybody in the next 10 years, no way.  Ain‘t going to happen. 

BARNICLE:  So, John, I‘m going to ask you the same question I asked Mayor Brown at the outset here.  What does John McCain need in a vice presidential candidate?

FEEHERY:  I think he needs someone who‘s got some youth, some good experience, and actually someone who will bring some regional stability to or regional geographic—gets a big state for him. 

I think he also needs someone who help him with the economy.  And John McCain needs someone who can, you know, help talk to the American people about their economic anxieties and how he‘s going to fix it.  And, so, that kind of leads to someone like a Mitt Romney, I think. 

BARNICLE:  All right, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. 

McCain/Romney out in California. 

Mayor Brown, what are people paying for gasoline in the Bay Area now?

BROWN:  Almost $5 a gallon, and they are displeased every step of the way.  I would not want to be on the ballot either as a Republican or a Democrat trying to explain that horror experience. 

BARNICLE:  This morning, on “The Today Show,” the aforementioned Mitt Romney, who seems to be rising in favorability among Republicans for that second slot on the ticket, he was on “The Today Show” this morning.  Let‘s listen to Mitt Romney. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”) 

MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  Have you had open and frank discussions with Senator McCain about the possibility of being his running mate? 

MITT ROMNEY ®, FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR:  No, I sure haven‘t.

And I‘m not going to get in the process that he‘s going through.  That should go to his campaign.  But I can tell you, the American people vote for the president.  The vice president is an add-on. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Mayor Brown...

BROWN:  Yes. 

BARNICLE:  ... Republicans in California, Northern California, your particular area of expertise, is there any shot at all, no matter who‘s on the ticket? 

BROWN:  I think, no, not at all.  As a matter of fact, I think Barack Obama is so far ahead in California, the Republicans are going to treat California as if it shouldn‘t be allowed to vote on Election Day. 

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN:  I also think Mr. McCain needs exactly what John says.  He needs somebody who‘s youthful, who‘s quick on their feet, who represents freshness, who represents a change and a contrast to the Bush administration.  Mitt Romney does none of the above.

BARNICLE:  Hey, John, why is it that you rarely hear the name Tom Ridge with John McCain?  Big state, Pennsylvania, very popular there.  Why do you never hear about him?

FEEHERY:  Well, you do hear about him in some circles.  He‘s obviously a very close friend of Senator McCain‘s.  I think the big reason why is because he‘s pro-choice, and I think that kind of eliminates him with most conservative Republicans, who are pro-life, to be quite candid with you.

BARNICLE:  Mayor Brown, do you have a favorite for vice president?  Do you have a personal favorite?

BROWN:  No, I do not.  Except I think Hillary Clinton should be on the ticket because I think that would guarantee a win.  But I will be supportive of whomever Senator Obama selects because I think, after all, as John said and as Mitt Romney said, people vote for the guy for president, they do not vote for the second in command.

BARNICLE:  That‘s true.  Mayor Brown, you know, you‘re always right on spot, you know?  And I know that it‘s 2:30 out there and you‘re going to go to North Beach and have a nice lunch, and I wish I were with you.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN:  You‘re tracking me.  You are tracking me!

(LAUGHTER)

FEEHERY:  All right, Mike.

BARNICLE:  John Feehery, Willie Brown, thanks very much.

Up next, the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”  Which presidential candidate says he‘s a huge fan of the musical group Abba?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That carousel‘s always the highlight of my week.  Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”  Well, we weren‘t the only one to pick up on Obama‘s intense workout habits.  Check out this clip from “Late Night‘s” Conan O‘Brien.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONAN O‘BRIEN, HOST, “LATE NIGHT”:  Barack Obama‘s trying to stay in shape, I guess.  He‘s campaigning so hard that he wants to stay in shape.  So reporters assigned to Barack Obama say that this whole week, Obama has been working out like crazy at a gym.  He‘s also been playing hours of basketball.  Yes.  Yes, meanwhile, John McCain has joined a group of mall walkers.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  You can‘t miss with the McCain age jokes just yet!  I‘m telling you, that‘s the truth.

Next, talk about throwing stones from glass houses.  This week, President Bush slammed Democrats in Congress for failing to get anything done.  Well, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a message for him.  Are you kidding?  Here‘s Pelosi responding to the president on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Well, you know, God bless him, bless his heart, the president of the United States, a total failure, losing all credibility with the American people on the economy, on the war, on energy, you name the subject.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Any time someone says “Bless his heart” before speaking, they‘re going to slam the guy.  Speaker Pelosi sees a changing of the guard and she‘s not holding anything back.

Now with Barack out of the country, it could be a good time for John McCain to squeeze in a summer movie this weekend.  So would this tough former military guy go for the action-packed new Batman flick?  Don‘t bet on it.  Our guess, John McCain will be checking out the Abba musical, “Mamma Mia!”  That‘s right, little known fact, Senator McCain has admitted to reporters he‘s a huge fan of the ‘70s Swedish music group, which brings us to our favorite John McCain campaign theme.  Check this out.

Thankfully, you could barely hear it because that was Abba‘s “Take a Chance on Me,” exactly what McCain‘s telling those swing voters.

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”  The Obama campaign isn‘t handing out tickets just yet for next month‘s convention-palooza in Denver, but that hasn‘t stopped people from trying to snatch up spots for Obama‘s acceptance speech, now at Invesco Field.  So in the 11 days since the Obama camp announced the speech‘s location, just how many ticket requests have flooded Colorado‘s Democratic Party?  Nine thousand.  Yes, that‘s more than 800 people per day asking for tickets.  You‘ve got to feel sorry for the intern manning those phones, 9,000 ticket requests for Obama‘s nomination speech -just 66,000 seats to go.  Get there quickly -- 66,000, tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next: Some hard-core Democrats have been giving Barack Obama grief, saying he‘s moving too far to the middle.  But hasn‘t he always been there?  We‘ll take a closer look at where Obama really stands.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET WRAP)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Barack Obama has been criticized in some circles and applauded in others for what‘s been called his move to the center since winning the Democratic nomination.  Andy Borowitz spoofed the left-wing outrage in a blog posting headlined, “Liberal bloggers accuse Obama of trying to win election.”  It begins, “The liberal blogosphere was aflame today with accusations that Senator Barack Obama is trying to win the 2008 presidential election.”  Horrors.

But is he really moving to the center?  Joining us now, “The New Yorker‘s” Ryan Lizza and “The Chicago Sun-Times‘s” Lynn Sweet.

Ryan, this week‘s “New Yorker”—and by the way, folks out there get over the cover and read the book because Ryan‘s piece, along with Lynn‘s work, goes to the question of, Who is Barack Obama?

It‘s a fascinating, terrific piece of reporting, Ryan, and I would ask you...

RYAN LIZZA, “THE NEW YORKER”:  Thanks a lot, Mike.

BARNICLE:  It portrays Barack Obama for a decade swimming, floating amongst the ward healers and the Eddie Burkes and the aldermen in Chicago, Illinois, a tough, tough crew, the Chicago crew.  Tell me about Barack Obama because reading the piece, it occurred to me that one of the things hat people don‘t know about him is, shockingly enough, he is a really skillful politician.

LIZZA:  Absolutely.  And look, we should all know that by now.  This is not a guy who was born on stage at the Democratic convention in 2004, when we all sort of took notice of him.  He didn‘t get to where he is by just showing up.  It took a lot of hard work and mastering the game of politics.

And you know, it‘s sort a political achievement, Mike, that we were even having a conversation about that.  Most politicians, when they get to this point in their life, everyone recognizes they‘re a politician.  But one of Obama‘s great skills has been to sort of elude that definition, and I don‘t think it takes anything away from the guy to point this out.

Chicago‘s a tough town.  He got there and he didn‘t know anyone.  And by the time he left, he was the most important Democrat in the country.  So the story that I wrote is the story of that journey, the story of what it was like when he got there in 1991 after Harvard law school.  And I take readers through the campaigns that he ran and the kind of politician he was.  So that‘s the piece.

BARNICLE:  Lynn, off of what Ryan has just told us and off of his piece of reporting and your reporting—and you‘ve described, I think, Barack Obama as—let me see, where is it—“ruthlessly cautious.”  How is it—how do we explain the fact that this media saturation that we all know surrounds us, that we still today know so little about Barack Obama, his political past, the fact that he was able to negotiate his way to where he is today in Illinois?  We know so very little about it.  How has this happened?

LYNN SWEET, “CHICAGO SUN-TIMES”:  Well, Ryan Lizza‘s piece is terrific, and I gave it a shout-out in my blog because it does get to this point.  A lot of people were content to, in a sense—a lot of reporters -just to write the same story over and over again and not look deeper.  You know, certainly to the people from Chicago, they know that it is—

Chicago is—by the way, for the people out there might not know, there are many Democratic factions.  And what is remarkable is that Obama came from this super-liberal district, and he did not come up through any of the usual factions.  Chicago is a city where “nobody wants nobody nobody sent,” and he sent himself.  And that‘s part of the story.

And why people don‘t know it partly is, is that Obama has been very, very good at creating a storyline, a narrative, and the—the—many reporters just never had a chance, didn‘t have a desire to do it.  I know now that there are many people coming to the city looking deeper.  You know, Ryan was one of them who made many trips here to try and just learn more, not just the part of the story Obama wants to tell, but the whole story.

BARNICLE:  Ryan...

LIZZA:  Can I say—yes.  Go ahead.

BARNICLE:  Clearly, I mean, Barack Obama has political elbows that he‘s willing to throw.  I want to ask you about one fellow.  It might be a metaphor for Obama‘s politics, for the way he handles himself internally in the politics that people rarely see behind closed doors.  A young state senator named Will Burns (ph), who was fairly close to Obama, I guess, off of your piece.  He ran for the state Senate, and Obama didn‘t endorse him.  Why didn‘t he endorse him?

LIZZA:  Well, you know, I didn‘t actually put this in the piece because this is disputed by some, and Lynn can probably speak to this, as well.  One theory is that Jesse Jackson had a candidate in that primary, and Obama didn‘t want to cross Jesse Jackson—Jesse Jackson, Jr.—didn‘t want to cross Jesse Jackson, Jr.

And you know, look, Will Burns was a long-time loyal soldier for Obama, and it really surprised a lot of people in Chicago politics that Obama didn‘t stick his neck out for Burns.  They‘re fine now.  Will Burns actually works for the campaign, so you know, that‘s in the—that is in the past.  They‘ve tried to patched things up.  Anyway, go ahead, Lynn.

SWEET:  But it is kind of—if people want to know, How does Senator Obama operate and why I say he‘s cautious—and please forgive me, Senator Obama or his staff, if you‘re listening—calculating with a capital C.  But remember, he‘s successful.  It‘s working.  He might be president.

There was a big race for a local office called Cook County board president.  One of the candidates fit almost an Obama-like profile—idealistic, good government, reform, very close, in business with David Axelrod.  Senator Obama would not even endorse him and went with the candidate that is the hack, who won, and the son of the guy who was the president of the county board, you know, which is kind of the tribal world that—in the political environment that exists here.

And in a case like that, people who thought they knew Senator Obama might have been surprised.  Those of us who understood how these alliances worked understood this is the environment he came out of, that you shouldn‘t ever assume anything based on, necessarily, a profile.  You have to get below that and find out where other calculations might go into who you support and why.  And that man, right now, who didn‘t become president, is working in the Obama campaign, too, with David Axelrod.

BARNICLE:  So let me ask the both of you off of your reporting, Lynn, Ryan off of your terrific piece in this week‘s “New Yorker”—and again, get over the cover and buy the book and read the piece, folks.  Two words occurred to me in reading Ryan‘s piece and two words occur to me in listening to you, Lynn, who‘s covered Barack Obama for years.  Am I wrong in saying that, despite the terrific smile and the warmth he brings to the campaign trail, that there‘s a cold and calculating aspect to Barack Obama the politician?  Ryan, you first.

SWEET:  Oh, my God!

LIZZA:  Yes, I think...

SWEET:  ... you make it sound so tough, though.  I mean, that is true

OK, Ryan, go ahead.

LIZZA:  No, I was just going to say, I remember Obama once in an interview said something like he‘s constantly trying to balance a hard head with a big heart, you know?  And I think we see a lot of the big heart in his campaign themes and his speeches.  And what I was trying to capture in this piece, and which is certainly present in his entire political biography, was the hard head, the guy who has to make an occasionally ruthless decision.  And I don‘t necessarily mean ruthless in a pejorative way.  I mean...

BARNICLE:  No, there‘s nothing wrong with that.

LIZZA:  ... in the way that every politician who has gotten where he is has had to make those kinds of decisions.  And if he didn‘t, he probably wouldn‘t be a good candidate, and he certainly wouldn‘t be a good president. I don‘t think knowing this about Obama takes all that much away from him.  I do think it might demystify him a little bit and that‘s important. 

SWEET:  So ruthless is the new nice; is that it, Ryan? 

LIZZA:  Well—

BARNICLE:  He‘s running for president. 

LIZZA:  Exactly.  The reaction to the piece—a lot of liberals have written me letters and say, thank god this is what Obama‘s like.  Finally, I want a Democrat who knows how to win.  So the reaction has been complicated.   

BARNICLE:  Ryan, before we get out of here, could you close us out with the kicker to your piece, the story about Obama walking towards Faneuil hall in 2004, towards the convention. 

LIZZA:  Yes, Marty Nesbitt, one of Obama‘s best friends and a really wonderful guy, tells this story where they‘re at the convention.  It‘s the day of the big speech that we all remember.  And he says, you know, Barack, you‘re like—you know, you‘re like Tiger Woods at the Masters.  You‘re a rock star here.  Obama kind of calmly and coolly says, if you think it‘s bad today, wait until you see what it‘s like tomorrow.  Marty says, why?  He goes, my speech is pretty good. 

BARNICLE:  He was right there.  Ryan Lizza, Lynn Sweet, thanks very much. 

Up next, the politics fix.  What are the biggest risks facing Barack Obama on his world tour?  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back, and it‘s time for the politics fix.  Our round table, MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard, BET correspondent Jeff Johnson, and Jonathan Capehart of the “Washington Post.”  Jonathan, you‘re right in front of me, so let‘s start with you.  OK?  There seems to be the semantics of withdrawal occurring on all fronts.  The White House, today, issued a statement talking about creating a “general time horizon” for American withdrawal from Iraq.  What does that mean to you, when you hear “general time horizon” coming from the White House? 

JONATHAN CAPEHART, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, that says to me that they‘re looking at a potential date when troops will start withdrawing from Iraq, with agreement from the Iraqi government, not just a unilateral departure by the United States.  But there‘s a second part of that statement that I found even more interesting.  And that was aspirational goals.  And it was a year ago—a year ago, June 1st, I believe, or maybe even May 31st, when the president announced the formation of the major economies meeting, the parallel tract of major emitters around the world, that would negotiate their own caps on greenhouse gases.  But they weren‘t going to be hard and fast mandated caps.  They were going to be aspirational goals.  When I hear aspirational goals my eyes cross. 

BARNICLE:  Jeff, I‘ve got to tell you, when I hear the phrase aspirational goals, I think of, like, college brochures that they send out to prospective students, course descriptions.  But the general time horizon, aspirational goals, Barack Obama began this campaign by talking about a time period of 16 months withdrawal from Iraq.  John McCain attacked him, said, you know, he wants to surrender.  But it seems now to some that all of this is coming on to the same page.  The Bush White House, John McCain‘s moved a bit and Barack Obama is standing there still talking about a general time horizon.  Are we seeing everybody getting to the same point? 

JEFF JOHNSON, BET:  Well, I think everybody‘s trying to get to the same point.  I mean, clearly there‘s no coincidence that the Bush administration is using this—this terminology sound more like a movie title to me than it does a strategy.  And on the front end of Barack Obama‘s trip, clearly there‘s no coincidence, but everybody‘s packing to move to the same place. 

BARNICLE:  Hey, Michelle, I would like you and Jeff and Jonathan, as well, to watch this John McCain ad today.  It was released today.  New ad and it‘s the first time, I think, that I‘ve seen where John McCain‘s campaign has taken a whack at Barack Obama on stuff like Iraq.  So let‘s take a peek at this ad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan.  He hasn‘t been to Iraq in years.  He voted against funding our troops; positions that helped him win his nomination.  Now Obama is changing to help himself become president. 

John McCain has always supported our troops and the surge that‘s working.  McCain, country first. 

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  So, Michelle, Barack Obama soon to be in Iraq, I guess, at any moment.  John McCain having been to Iraq several times.  Does this ad do anything for you? 

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it‘s interesting because if you take a look at it, they don‘t—this ad doesn‘t start with Iraq.  It starts with Afghanistan.  Earlier this week, Barack Obama gave a major foreign policy speech on Iraq and Afghanistan.  He really changed the terms of the debate from Iraq to Afghanistan.  He laid out his strategy about getting our troops out of Iraq within a certain time period and moving them into Afghanistan.  He really, this week, started focusing on fighting al Qaeda and fighting the Taliban and really finishing the work the country started after 9/11. 

I think John McCain unleashed this ad this week and starts talking about Afghanistan, and he‘s trying to pivot the conversation back to Iraq this week, because polls this week—I think there was a “Washington Post”/ABC poll that shows a majority of Americans feel John McCain is better suited as commander and chief and they trust him when we deal with issues such as Iraq and Iran.  I think that‘s why we‘re seeing today‘s ad.

It doesn‘t do much for me, but I would assume there are people who will really be taken, especially by the last part of the ad that says John McCain, country first; this is for America.  Exactly.   

CAPEHART:  Mike, that line, country first, rang some bells with me.  But I also think that—Michelle is absolutely right.  The second part to what she says is this is coming, as you mentioned before, just before he goes to Iraq.  Senator McCain had been whacking Senator Obama for weeks about having this position on the war, but not having gone to Iraq in 800 something days, 900 something days.  For this ad to come out now and the whacking they gave him for giving a speech on Iraq policy before going over and talking to the generals, I think it‘s all part of a concerted effort by the McCain campaign and by the Republicans to muddy up Senator Obama before he even sets foot on the ground there. 

BARNICLE:  Jeff, what would you figure Barack Obama has to do in Iraq and Afghanistan to narrow the gap, 72 percent, whatever the number was John McCain stronger on foreign affairs, 52 percent for Barack Obama. 

JOHNSON:  Going is the first step.  The fact that he‘s going to be on the ground meeting with General Petraeus, that fact that he‘s going to, in some way, shape or form, be able to say with a great deal of certainty what his strategy is after coming back, I think that is step number one.  I think people are really looking to see him on the ground.  They know this is going to be a tremendous photo-opportunity. 

But even more than that, for him to be able to have real conversation with those generals on the ground, those leaders on the ground, and to be able to come back with a firm strategy, based on what McCain has criticized him on, which is on the ground intelligence, he‘s going to win points just for that. 

BERNARD:  Mike, If I could just add, when Barack Obama makes it trip and he goes to Iraq and Afghanistan, this is a tremendous opportunity for him.  There‘s also a lot of danger.  If you look at the opportunity side of it, if he goes, if he looks presidential, if does not make any gaffes—and he absolutely cannot do so—he puts—if he‘s able to get off Scott-free and not make any mistakes, he will be able to put himself in a position where you can do a compare and contrast.  We‘ll probably see an Obama ad coming out shortly after his trip, where we see Senator Lieberman sort of whispering in Senator McCain‘s ear the difference between a Shia and a Sunni. 

That being said, Barack Obama absolutely cannot make that kind of mistake.  If he does, it could be a fatal blow to his campaign. 

BARNICLE:  Michelle, when you‘re talking about the danger inherent in this trip, you‘re talking verbal danger?  You‘re talking about Barack Obama thinks he‘s in Poland or something when he‘s in Baghdad. 

BERNARD:  Exactly.  If thinks that Czechoslovakia still exists, that‘s a big problem for Barack Obama. 

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  On Friday‘s, Chris usually has a segment to close the show on winners and losers of the week.  I don‘t want to stack the deck you guys.  I want your independent opinions here.  I‘m going to play you this sound bite from President Bush on Tuesday about the economy.  Here‘s the president. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think the system basically is sound.  I truly do.  I understand there‘s a lot of nervousness.  And the economy is growing.  Productivity is high.  Trade is up.  People are working.  It‘s not as good as we‘d like.  But to the extent that we find weakness, we‘ll move. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Jeff, what do you think, winner or loser? 

JOHNSON:  Loser.  You can tell when somebody spends too much time around Halliburton employees.  Clearly, this is—I‘ll leave it at that. 

L.

BARNICLE:  Michelle, you know, you listen to the president of the United States and it‘s not one of these clips that Letterman plays, the great presidential speeches, and you—at least I do—I wonder, the isolation factor in the White House has got to be enormous. 

BERNARD:  I think this is probably even more than an isolation factor.  I think that the president‘s advisers have probably told him that if you tell the American public that things aren‘t really as bad as they appear to be, eventually that sentiment will take hold.  The problem with the president‘s statement this week, particularly in an election year, is that it really does some damage to the McCain campaign, falling on the heels of Phil Gramm‘s statement last week that we are a nation of whiners.  We‘re talking about hundreds of Starbucks closing, the problem with Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, all of this on the heels of Bear Sterns imploding earlier this year. 

Most Americans have no confidence whatsoever in the economy.  You cannot tell a nation that‘s feeling this economic pain that things really are better than you think they are.  It hurts the Republican image at a time when John McCain is really battling in a close battle for the presidency. 

BARNICLE:  I‘m not going to let you answer that.  I know you‘re going to say loser.  In the two minutes we have left, I would be interested in your assessment, the three of you, your assessment of the infamous “New Yorker” cover.  If we have a shot, we could put it up.  There it is.  What‘s your assessment of that?

CAPEHART:  I think the “New Yorker” cover was a very clever attempt at trying to put all the negative things that are out there about the Obamas in one place to show the absurdity.  The only problem is it did not work.  Once you get outside the confines of Manhattan, the joke goes away, by and large, I think. 

BARNICLE:  Jeff, your 15 second take on it? 

JOHNSON:  I thought it was a brilliant take at satire.  I think that too often we can be a little bit too sensitive.  I think that‘s what happened with this cover.  I thought it was a big win for the Obama campaign, because I think it put a lot of those stereotypes in front of people who had not been talking about them for some time. 

BARNICLE:  Michelle, your 15 second take on it? 

BERNARD:  I find the cover absolutely repulsive, but based on your word and the fact that Ryan wrote the article that goes with it, I will actually go online and read the article.  I think the information contained in the magazine is probably fascinating. 

BARNICLE:  Spectacular piece of reporting. 

BERNARD:  I will absolutely read it.

BARNICLE:  Michelle Bernard, Jeff Johnson and Jonathan Capehart. 

Chris Matthews will be back Monday at 5:00, 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. 

Right now, 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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