updated 7/24/2008 12:25:20 PM ET 2008-07-24T16:25:20

Guests: Howard Fineman, Andrea Mitchell, Dee Dee Myers, John Harwood, Jim VandeHei, Chris Cillizza, Del Walters, Lois Romano, Jill Zuckman

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Who's the boss, the generals or our elected president? Let's find out what Barack Obama thinks.

Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews, and welcome to HARDBALL. Leading off tonight, Barack Obama makes clear who's the boss. He isn't president. He may never be president. But the Democratic nominee's making it clear that if he is, he will call the shots in war and peace. He will set the policy and determine the mission, not the generals.

The senator held the first press conference of his tour in the Middle East in Jordan and made it a point to reassert civilian command over the military.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In his role as commander on the ground, not surprisingly, he wants to retain as much flexibility as possible in terms of accomplishing that goal. And what I emphasized to him was if I were in his shoes, I'd probably feel the same way. But my job as a candidate for president and a potential commander-in-chief extends beyond Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: And that was candidate Barack Obama talking about his relationship, current-or future, rather, with General Petraeus, the field commander in Iraq.

NBC's Andrea Mitchell was at Obama's press conference in Jordan, and we'll get her take in a moment.

And with all the big shots covering Barack Obama's trip, is John McCain left home alone? Only one reporter met McCain when he landed in New Hampshire last night.

Later, a look at presidential news coverage with Dee Dee Myers and John Harwood.

So with Obama's foreign trip dominating press coverage, how does McCain break through? How about dangling a little gem like he just might be picking a running mate this week? We'll have new information on McCain's search for a VP.

Plus, our "Politics Fix" roundtable tackles Obama's trip, and yes, the search for a running mate, which apparently may be getting close. And in case you missed it, I was on the "Tonight" show with Jay Leno last night. We'll have a clip in the HARDBALL "Sideshow" tonight.

But first, Obama's in the Middle East, and NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell joins us from Amman, Jordan. And here in Washington, "Newsweek's" Howard Fineman is sitting with me.

Andrea, what I'm focusing on so far tonight is the statement by Barack Obama, Yes, General Petraeus has his purposes and needs on the ground. If I become commander-in-chief, I have to put together almost a triage. I've got to look, can we put troops in Iraq and also put enough troops in Afghanistan? Can I meet the needs of our country at home at the same time I try to achieve missions abroad? I got a bigger job than he does. I'm not taking orders from him.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: You know, I was so struck by the supreme confidence of this candidate on things military, which is not his main area of expertise. He is not at all cowed by the generals. He just came from meeting with one of the most popular generals right now, General Petraeus, and having come through Iraq and two days there, two days in Afghanistan, he remains confident that as commander-in-chief, if he is elected president, he will have to determine what are the strategic threats and interests and liabilities, economic liabilities, of the United States, and he'll determine the priorities, not the generals. Fascinating.

MATTHEWS: You know, before this trip started, I said the way to set it up-I thought his-he's on display like never before, Barack Obama, and people are looking to see how he deals with foreign leaders like Maliki, like he's going to meet with Shimon Peres, the president of Israel, the non-political leader of Israel, the head of state. He's met with the king of Jordan. But also meeting with General Petraeus, who's a lot more warmer to most Americans-we like General Petraeus, we respect his duty to his country-taking him on and saying, basically, I got to look at the big picture, General.

HOWARD FINEMAN, "NEWSWEEK," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he's taking him on and taking him by his side. I thought the pictures of the two of them together were very interesting because they looked like they were enjoying each other's company. And if Obama is going to be elected president, if he becomes president, his new best friend is going to have to be General Petraeus because together, they're going to have to figure out how to accomplish the mission that Obama is going to set for him.

And Obama-see, this is a an argument between Obama and John McCain that's both more and less than meets the eye. It's less than meets the eye because if Obama's president, he can't be precipitous about yanking those troops out there. He really-out of there. He really can't because he doesn't want the place to collapse, and he's going to rely on Petraeus to make sure that that's not so.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Andrea. The conundrum, it seems-well, let's look at Obama here again on this very point we've been discussing, the role of the elected president of the United States as commander-in-chief under our Constitution and the role of the field commander to win a war. Here's Barack Obama on General Petraeus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: In his role, I think he wants maximum flexibility to be able to do what he believes needs to be done inside of Iraq. But keep in mind, for example, one of General Petraeus's responsibilities is not to think about how could we be using some of that $10 billion a month to shore up a U.S. economy that is really hurting right now.

If I'm president of the United States, I've got to be thinking, How else could I be using that money, and should I be putting more pressure on the Iraqis to spend some of their money themselves?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Another point, Andrea, I wanted you to talk about-it's a difficult point for Barack Obama. He clearly is acknowledging implicitly that the surge has worked. We're in a position to withdraw troops now, and maybe we weren't before. How does he give credit to the situation that improved without giving credit to John McCain and to President Bush for executing the surge?

MITCHELL: Right. He gives credits not just to the troops, the extra troops and the surge and the great work that the troops have done, but also to the fact that the Sunni tribal leaders, with whom he met today, decided to come over to the other side and fight against the al Qaeda in Iraq insurgents. So he gives credit to a number of different factors, not just to the surge.

You know, it's almost analogous-when I was thinking about how Barack Obama would interact with the generals, I was thinking about Bill Clinton when I covered him in 1992. And when he was elected, he was almost in thrall to General Powell because of the draft problems. I mean, it wasn't exactly parallel. Because of all of his problems with the Vietnam war, General Powell was able to dictate a lot of terms, including "Don't ask, don't tell," a lot of policies that Bill Clinton really didn't want to go along with because he had to prove that he was OK with the generals, that they trusted him.

And I had anticipated that perhaps Barack Obama would have that same political need, but he clearly does not feel that. He feels enough confidence in his ability to stare down the generals and to feel that his judgment was the right judgment. That's what he said today, My judgment was right about this war. My judgment was right about a number of the policies. And he says that if they had listed to him two years ago and his plan for political reconciliation in Iraq, they wouldn't have needed the surge. It's a very interesting take.

MATTHEWS: To say Shakespeare, it's a tough of Harry in the night (ph) because Harry Truman is speaking here. Let's take a look at-he had to fight a much more popular general, Doug MacArthur, and assert his command.

Here's Senator Obama on the surge issue we just talked about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I am pleased that as a consequence of great effort by our troops, but also as a consequence of a shift of allegiances among the Sunni tribal leaders, as well as the decision of the Sadr militias to stand down, that we've seen a quelling of the violence. Ultimately, Whether or not we're going to have a functioning Iraq is largely going to depend on the capacity of the Iraqi people to unify themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Howard, on the political front-I mean, lives are at stake over there. Foreign policy's at stake, our security. But on the political front, Barack Obama seems to have found synchronicity with the government of Iraq, Maliki's government, about some kind of timetable that gets us out of there by 2010, two years after the election. And he seems to have found some way to reconcile the whole issue of Iraq, almost, like, what are we fighting about? It's hard-you've got to be an expert to figure out what he disagrees with McCain about.

FINEMAN: Yes, I think they're closer than they-than they're-either of them is willing to admit. I think it's-in the case of John McCain, in a sense, it's no good deed goes unpunished because it's because of the surge, which McCain advocated...

MATTHEWS: Right.

FINEMAN: ... that now Obama's in the position to say, Hey, look, Maliki and everybody else wants us to get out because the violence has been quelled.

I still don't think Obama's done a great job of turning on the surge question. He's got to acknowledge a little more...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: ... that it worked. But then he has to immediately say, as he's been saying, But that's not the point. The point is, this has to be left to the Iraqis, and we need to focus on Afghanistan, the Taliban and Pakistan, which is what Obama's been saying for the last year or two.

MATTHEWS: Let's hear John McCain now. Andrea, watch what McCain had to say now in New Hampshire, back at home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If he had had his way, we'd have been out last March, we would have never done the surge, we would never have succeeded and we would have had defeat. And my friends, that would have been a catastrophe for the United States of America. He was wrong then. He's wrong now. And he still fails to acknowledge...

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: He still fails to acknowledge that the surge succeeded. Remarkable. Remarkable. And as you know, he just received his first briefing ever from General Petraeus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, it's even worse than that. I think we have the bit somewhere, Andrea, of him saying that Barack is willing to lose a war to win an election, whereas he was willing to lose an election to win a war. That's close to challenging the guy's patriotism.

MITCHELL: Yes. It's a nice formulation from a political standpoint, but it's pretty rough, in fact. Look, John McCain took a lot of hits for defending this war, and almost, you know, lost any chance of winning the nomination. Howard's absolutely right. He took some huge risks there. And so he's right to take credit for it. And Obama has to figure out a way to articulate that.

By the way, one of the things that he is also saying is, Look, my judgment was pretty good about Iran. Look what the administration is doing now with Iran. They, you know, hammered me earlier in the primaries for saying that we should sit down with them, and now they're sitting down with them. So he's a little cocky about this.

MATTHEWS: Let's take a look at what-here's John McCain, the senator from Arizona, Republican presumptive nominee. Here he is, going after Barack about judgment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I had the courage and the judgment to say that I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Is he going to reconsider that statement? Is he going to have to take that back?

FINEMAN: No, he won't take it back.

MATTHEWS: Andrea says that's rough.

FINEMAN: It is-it is very harsh, but the problem is that it's not accurate. We're not-because, in part of-in part, because of his efforts, paradoxically...

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: ... we're not losing. Maliki says we're not losing. Even the Bush administration is beginning to talk about time horizons. Everybody but McCain is getting ready to declare victory. And McCain is going to have to decide whether he's going to call this victory with honor or not, or whether he's going to say, You know what? We've got to keep 150,000 troops there for many more years because everybody else is getting ready to say, You know what? Sir, your surge worked, let's get out of there. That's what's going on.

MATTHEWS: You know, I think you guys both point to-Howard, you know, it seems to me in politics, if you solve a problem, you don't get credit for it because nobody talks about it anymore.

FINEMAN: No.

MATTHEWS: If you're a Republican administration, you pounce (ph) down on inflation, inflation's not an issue in the next election. If you're a Democratic administration and you reduce unemployment, unemployment's not an issue in the next election.

Andrea, it could be that he has the Chinese curse, that Senator McCain wanted the surge to work, it worked politically, and Barack Obama's the beneficiary, not exactly the right development politically for him.

MITCHELL: No, you're right. And McCain seems to be-John McCain's trying to find a way to, first of all, focus on the economy this week and get a lot of attention on that. That would be a good sort of counter-programming against Barack Obama overseas. They know that Obama is going to get a big reception in Europe. I'm still not persuaded that that's automatically a political plus. It remains to be seen. And now Obama is heading to Jerusalem. He's in Jerusalem tonight, just left here tonight to get there. It's a 25-minute flight. So tomorrow, he dives into all of that, and you know how complicated that is.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I agree. I mean, Howard, that's my question. I was talking to some people last night in Los Angeles who really questioned whether getting a big crowd in Germany is a big plus in American politics. I mean, it'll look nice, but what does it say?

FINEMAN: Well, the positive side is he's a global phenomenon, and there are a lot of Americans who worry that we are disliked abroad and think there's an easy fix in picking Obama. That's the plus side. The down side is not clapping Germans, it's the fact that Obama sometimes comes off like he's already president.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: There's still three-and-a-half months until the election...

MATTHEWS: It's presumption.

FINEMAN: It can seem a little previous (ph). And he's got to be careful not to be acting like JFK. Don't forget, when JFK went to Berlin, as you well know, he was president of the United States.

MATTHEWS: Oh, yes.

FINEMAN: He'd been president for a couple years. He was in the middle of a huge cold war crisis and...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... isn't political, in the Tiergarten.

FINEMAN: Well, there's no such thing on this trip.

MATTHEWS: Yes. I wonder...

FINEMAN: Everything about this trip is political.

MATTHEWS: ... if it sounds even remotely partisan, I agree with everybody...

FINEMAN: Well, it won't be partisan, but it'll be deeply political.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

FINEMAN: He will say in another context, I am the change we've been waiting for. That's his phrase. That's their phrase. That's going to be his...

MATTHEWS: Well, there ain't no Berlin primary. Anyway, thank you, Andrea Mitchell, Howard Fineman. Andrea, get home safe.

Coming up: The McCain campaign is complaining that Barack Obama is getting a disproportionate amount of media coverage overseas. Do they have a case? And what can McCain do to break through and match that glitz?

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. It's hard to avoid news of Barack Obama's overseas trip, and so far, the trip has been a success by just about any measure. In a blog for "Vanity Fair," a former Clinton White House press secretary, who sits before me now, Dee Dee Myers, asked if all this attention to one candidate is fair. She joins me here, and "The New York Times's" John Harwood also joins-boy, it's nice to have you two people here.

Let me ask you this. Here's a statement. Let's all react to this-well, this will be our text. Here's the statement from "The New York Times" on the McCain op-ed, what do we call it-lollapalooza seems to be the new word. We call it-we call it in baseball a "rhubarb." The question was, Did John McCain get stiffed by "The New York Times"? After they ran a piece by Barack Obama, why did they refuse to run a piece by John McCain?

Quote, "It is standard procedure on our op-ed page"-that's the page where the columns run-"and that of other newspapers to go back and forth with an author on his or her submission. We look forward to publishing Senator McCain's views in our paper, just as we have in the past. We have published at least seven op-ed pieces by Senator McCain since '96. 'The New York Times' endorsed Senator McCain as the Republican candidate in the presidential primaries. We take his views very seriously."

Dee Dee, seven times they have ran, you know, written articles by John McCain, or written by his staff and approved by him.

DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY, "VANITY FAIR":

Right.

MATTHEWS: How can they be accused of stiffing him, if they have such a record?

MYERS: Well, I think it was very particular to the e-mail exchange between the op-ed page editor and the McCain campaign, where the tone of the e-mail came off like, Oh, gee, thanks, but no thanks. Come again another time.

And you know, clearly "The Times" has always reserved the right to edit. You know, millions of people submit op-eds to that page. It's the most powerful page in the country, arguably. And certainly, the McCain campaign has been edited in the past. I'm sure of that.

But I think there was something in the tone, where rather than saying, Oh, we would love to have Senator McCain's presence on the page this time, but let's discuss what we need to do to get there, the tone was more like, Come back next time.

MATTHEWS: What do you make of it, John? Is this a tempest in a teapot raised by the McCain people dumping this little factoid on Drudge and getting a lot of heat about it yesterday, or is there legitimate claim they're being stiffed by a liberal op-ed page?

JOHN HARWOOD, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think they decided, rather than engage in the back-and-forth, that they would get the PR hit by putting it out there. Look, it is standard practice for newspapers to go back and forth with authors. I've certainly been through it a million times on stuff that I've written. The question is, How different is the standard when you're talking about a nominee of a major party to be president of the United States?

I was surprised that they did not take it, especially having just run Barack Obama, but I understand their reasoning for it. And I think, when Dee Dee talks about the tone of the note, I think one particular lightning rod for the McCain campaign to seize on is the use of the word timetables, because John McCain, of course, has been resisting timetables. And some people might interpret that or spin it that "The New York Times" is telling John McCain that he needs to be for a timetable.

And I don't think that was the intent of the editor of the page. But that provides some fodder for the McCain campaign.

MYERS: But it also-the-and John is right that McCain campaign chose to put it out there as a grievance, rather than negotiate a different op-ed piece.

MATTHEWS: OK. Is this strategic? Is this part of their plan to blame the press?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I mean, every candidate, at times-the Clintons blamed the press in the primary season. Everybody seems to decide it's sometimes in their interest to blame the press.

MYERS: Right.

MATTHEWS: There's a piece in "Vanity Fair," your magazine, this week by Gail Sheehy in the new edition that says that Hillary Clinton decided way back in '98, with all the problems with Monica and everything, that there was...

MYERS: Right.

MATTHEWS: She said, you have got to blame the press. That's a strategy.

MYERS: Right. And that-that clearly was at times a strategy.

And it was-you know, it was at times a strategy in the Clinton primary campaign this spring.

MATTHEWS: I noticed. How did I notice?

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: You know, let me think. Did you come up? I don't know.

MATTHEWS: My name might have been mentioned.

MYERS: But I think that, because of the extraordinary attention paid to Senator Obama's trip right now-and he's in the midst of this extraordinary event overseas-that I think the McCain campaign just saw this was one more brick in the load. And they decided to put it out and make an issue of it.

And it has, become, I think, today and a bit yesterday, an issue. It's a legitimate question. Is the press coverage between the two candidates balanced?

(CROSSTALK)

HARWOOD: And, Chris, that's exactly the reason why this was the right time for them to do it, from their point in view, is that...

MATTHEWS: Right.

HARWOOD: ... when you have all these anchors going over there, they have-they have got to kind a way to break through the clutter and get John McCain's argument out in front of the press.

When you go after the press like this, as a Republican, you try to unite your base a little bit and rally them with this familiar argument, and also try to sort of turn around a situation where Barack Obama is getting this extraordinary coverage.

MATTHEWS: Would they have done the same thing to "The Washington Times" if the same exact thing had happened?

HARWOOD: No, because there's no juice for the Republican to go after "The Washington Times."

MYERS: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Or "The Wall Street Journal."

HARWOOD: Exactly.

But, if you go after "The New York Times," which to some conservatives sort of stands for liberal media, that is something where you may be able to get some mileage out of it.

MATTHEWS: Explain, by the way, the church/state separation between the opinion pages of a newspaper and the front page. How does it work at "The Times"?

HARWOOD: Well...

MATTHEWS: You don't deal with-you don't deal with George Shipley, the guy who puts the op-ed page together, do you?

HARWOOD: No, I don't.

And, look, at every newspaper that I have ever worked for-long time at "The Wall Street Journal," much shorter time at "The New York Times"-the opinion pages and the news pages pride themselves on separation.

So, when I was at "The Wall Street Journal," for example, we never knew when on op-ed was coming or what the fate of op-eds were. I had plenty of people send me op-eds and say could you pass these? They were rejected by the op-eds and say, could you pass this to the edit page?

Almost always, they were rejected by the op-ed page. So, my track record passing things on wasn't very good. I think the same is true at "The New York Times." The news pages were not apprised of this back and forth. That's not their job. They're trying to stay away from that.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

Dee Dee, what do you think of this whole thing? Is this going to work in the campaign? Does a grievance campaign work? Does complaining about the media day after day after day, a la Spiro Agnew, work or not?

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: It doesn't really work. It might make the media take a step back, particularly in McCain's case, because what's so ironic...

MATTHEWS: So, riding the umpire works?

MYERS: A little bit, yes, and I think particularly when people outside the campaign get involved in it, which I think is their goal. Their goal is to raise this is an issue among the people.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I think you're right. So, if a third party gets out there and saying, in all fairness, Barack has gotten too much ink, that works?

MYERS: Yes.

And it's hard to argue that he hasn't. It's been extraordinary. But the irony for McCain is that, for the last 10 years of his career, he said, the press is my base. The press has been extraordinarily generous to him. People have been-his openness has served him very well.

MATTHEWS: Right.

MYERS: And if he wants to go in this town-there was an ongoing conversation about, oh, my gosh, what's the press going to do? They have to choose between these two candidates who they treated very favorably...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We gave John McCain-and we did it with a good heart, without irony-the biggest audience he got this whole year in Villanova. We would love to do it again. We love giving him a big audience. And we will keep trying to do that.

Thank you, Dee Dee Myers, thank you, John Harwood, for that dissection of authority at-is it called the gray lady?

HARWOOD: Of course it's the gray lady, all the news that is fit to print, my man.

MYERS: It's all the news that is fit to print.

MATTHEWS: It's the great newspaper.

Up next, in case you missed "Leno" last night, wait until you hear what actress Kyra Sedgwick, wife of Kevin Bacon, said about moi.

Plus, a very lonely "Big Number" for John McCain tonight. This fits into this press issue, by the way.

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL, actually also the HARDBALL "Sideshow" right now.

For those who went to bed early last night, here's something I said on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" last night. And I got a response from actress Kyra Sedgwick, wife of Kevin Bacon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO")

MATTHEWS: The job of the commander in chief of this country gets elected to set the mission, and to set the right mission. And the more loyal these soldiers are, and the more willing they are to take any assignment they're given makes it all the more important that the guy or woman we put in charge of this country gives the right mission to these people.

You know, it's no excuse to say, I'm backing the troops. You have got to give the troops the right mission, so that they can win.

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Right. OK.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

LENO: You know, I...

(CROSSTALK)

KYRA SEDGWICK, ACTRESS: ... you run for president?

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Kyra.

SEDGWICK: Sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: That's a good-a good concept.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I guess that gives me one degree of separation from the White House, and, of course, from husband Kevin Bacon.

Next, making the rounds. This morning's "Boston Globe" picked up on these dueling 19 -- or 2008 images from just yesterday. Here's a photo of Senator Obama and General Petraeus taken in Iraq. There they are from the helicopter. So, where did photographers on the home front find John McCain? Riding in a golf cart. You can see him there with Bush 41 checking out the greens in Kennebunkport, Maine.

If every picture tells a story, what do these pictures say when they're side by side?

And in the Republican Senate Cloak Room, it's every member for himself, apparently. According to "The Politico," Republican leaders are so afraid of the Election Day disaster they see coming, that they have told vulnerable Republican senators that they can vote with Democrats if that will help them get reelected. That's right. Bucking the party like is A-OK as far as the leaders are concerned this year. As long as it gets you back next year, it's good to vote the way you want this year.

As Frank Sinatra used to say, whatever gets you through the night, baby.

Now for "Name That Veep."

This Northeast Democrat and West Point grad-he's an Army Ranger-would bring huge national security credentials to the Democratic ticket.

In fact, "The Wall Street Journal" writes today that this senator-quote "has helped shape the mainstream Democratic position on Iraq. And, unlike Senator Obama, he has done so with a background of personal experience."

Some little known facts, he's a big Will Ferrell fan and drives a 1991 Ford Escort. So, who is it? Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed. He's on his 12th trip to Iraq this week. He's over there with Obama.

Time now for tonight's "Big Number."

We told you earlier in the show that Barack Obama's headline-owning trip overseas may be leaving John McCain feeling a little neglected. Unfortunately, McCain's reception at the Manchester, New Hampshire, airport yesterday couldn't have helped things.

So, when McCain touched down in New Hampshire, just how many reporters were waiting for him? One, the loneliest number of them all. That's right. Just one reporter was there to greet John McCain when he got to New Hampshire, where he started this whole year this year, along with one photographer, who apparently took this shot of McCain exiting the plane. He looks a little underwhelmed with the reception.

One reporter waiting for McCain last night, that's his number one.

And that's tonight's "Big Number," uno.

Up next: Are we getting close to knowing who John McCain will pick as his vice presidential running mate? And will that steal Obama's thunder and make his choice? Will this whole happen right now? We're talking about maybe a couple days from now, according to Bob Novak, the prince of darkness. The question is, is the prince of darkness in the dark?

We will be talking about that and some other things when we get back.

More HARDBALL-coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I am Margaret Brennan with your CNBC "Market Wrap."

Stocks closed higher after a late-day rally, with financials really taking the lead, as the price of oil dropped, the Dow Jones industrial average gaining 135 points, the S&P 500 up 17, and the Nasdaq saw a nice 24-point gain.

Stocks climbed as oil fell $3.09, closing at $127.95 a barrel. That's lowest level in six weeks. Crude prices dropped as it became increasingly likely that Dolly, which has now been upgraded from a tropical storm to a hurricane, would miss oil and natural gas facilities in the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Dolly is expected to make landfall near the Texas/Mexico border tomorrow.

And Wachovia reported a much-worse-than-expected quarterly loss of $8.9 billion. The nation's fourth largest bank also announced it would cut its dividends and eliminate 6,300 jobs.

After the close of the session, Yahoo! reported quarterly earnings that missed analyst estimates. But shares are higher in the after-hour sessions.

That's it from CNBC, first in business worldwide-now back to Chris and HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Is John McCain about to pick a running mate, or is he teasing us to get some attention this week?

Chris Cillizza writes "The Fix"-I love that-for thewashingtonpost.com. And Jim VandeHei is the executive editor for "Politico," one of the hottest organs in the country right now.

Oh, here he goes. Here's Bob Novak, the prince of darkness. Is he in the dark or not? Here's what he said last night-quote-in his blog last night, I guess you call it-"Sources close to Senator John McCain's presidential campaign are suggesting he will reveal the name of his vice presidential selection this week, while Senator Obama is getting the headlines on his foreign trip. The name of McCain's running mate has not been disclosed, but Mitt Romney has led the speculation recently."

Let's go to what he says today. He has a little update on that.

Here he is-quote-"I got a suggestion from a very senior McCain aide"-so, it's not someone close to the campaign-it's a very senior McCain aide-"late yesterday afternoon that he was going to announce it this week. They didn't want it to come out the way it was going to come out, so they suggested I put it out. I then called another senior person who said, 'I can't talk about that, but wouldn't this be a terrific week to announce it?' That is, with Obama in the headlines. So, I put something on the Internet. I since have been told by certain people that this was a dodge. They were trying to get a little publicity to rain on Obama's campaign. That's pretty reprehensible if it's true, but we will find out in a few days whether what I was suggesting was true or was a scam."

Can we live with the possibility that Bob Novak let himself be used, Chris Cillizza, by someone with a partisan purpose?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: In other words, became part of a propaganda effort to get some attention for a campaign?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think we may have to.

I mean, I think what you take from that statement that Bob Novak put out today is he, himself, with 24 hours of hindsight on it, feels as though he may have been used in this situation, that he had since talked to people who said, well, that might not be absolutely right.

You know, from my reporting, which is all I can speak to-I made a round of calls last night, a round the calls today-it feels like McCain is narrowing in on a choice. I don't think McCain is going announce it this week. I think that what the McCain campaign is very much aware of is that they're being cast as constantly reacting to Barack Obama. Barack Obama acts; they react.

If Barack Obama is in Europe and they react trying to change the news by picking the V.P., I think that lessens the pick.

MATTHEWS: Let's go. I want to move up here with-we have got VandeHei. We're lucky to have the editor here, because one of your reporters has got a plan here.

Let's take a look at here. This a list, according to your

"Politico"'s Mike Allen, another great reporter, of how he sees the betting right-not the betting, what he really thinks is the order of preference let's hold that screen up there-the order of preference by the campaign and the candidate right now for V.P.

Romney in first place, Rob Portman from Ohio, with a lot of background in executive positions in second, John Thune from South Dakota, a freshman senator, who beat Tom Daschle, Tom Ridge, the former very popular governor of Pennsylvania, Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, Charlie Crist, and Eric Cantor, who is a congressman from-from, I think, Virginia.

I think a lot of those lists on that list is a joke. But let's go to the top one, Romney.

Is that-is that the-is that the real sense out there, that he is the best bet right now to be picked?

JIM VANDEHEI, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE POLITICO": It is certainly the sense among most Republicans that you're talking to.

They feel like he's the one person who can talk about the economy smartly. He's someone who can raise a tremendous amount of money. His aides have floated the number $50 million that he thinks he could bring to the table. And that's very attractive to the McCain camp.

The thing it lacks is chemistry. McCain and Romney certainly didn't like each other at all, to say the least, during the general election campaign. I doubt they have become buddies since. And you have got to have that chemistry. Any president will tell you the most important thing is, you have got to be able to work with your number two.

And, if you can't, it's going to-it would make for a miserable presidency, or an uncomfortable presidency. So, that's why I'm a little bit skeptical on the Romney thing.

To your point before, I do not think it's going to happen this week. I think they brilliantly played the media. It was a good distraction. As you guys have been talking about earlier in the program, they have had a hard time getting coverage whatsoever. This got them some coverage.

MATTHEWS: Let's take a look at what Senator McCain said in answering a question about Mitt Romney on the mark here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In reading your books, one of the things I've learned about you, among your many endearing qualities, is your capacity to forgive. I want to know if you have forgiven Mitt Romney.

MCCAIN: First of all, Mitt has been of tremendous help to my campaign. He's been on television. He does a better job for me than he did for himself. I told him, he's been great. He and the entire Romney family have been wonderful. His wife, Ann, is, as you know, a woman of enormous courage. And we're very grateful. I'm grateful. Our party is united now. We've got a lot of energizing work to do. But we are united.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: I'm looking at that, Chris and Jim, I think what the Republicans want is an attractive-I don't mean physically or cosmetically-an attractive person, woman, female, someone in the campaign apparatus, someone in the top four, spouse of a candidate who can be this alternative to Hillary. For those people who voted for Hillary in the primary and want to vote for a strong woman in some way on the Republican ticket, Cindy is a bit recessive, a little bit too in the corner. She doesn't come out and show a positive personality as much as she could, I think. Is Ann Romney a candidate for that female role on the Republican ticket to grab some of the Hillary vote?

CILLIZZA: I I'll let Jim get at it too. One quick thing, Chris, is reporting that I have done backs that up. There's a sentiment among many in the McCain inner circle that they would like to pick a woman. There isn't an obvious woman. The names mentioned, Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, probably not going to happen. Carly Fiorina, a major surrogate for McCain, but a businesswoman whose backgrounds-

MATTHEWS: Hardly the working class hero.

CILLIZZA: Right. So I do think that logic does make some sense. Remember, McCain was quite blatant about the fact that he was going directly after these disaffected woman and he needs to in the same way that Obama is changing this map in place like Colorado, maybe North Carolina, maybe Virginia; McCain needs to figure out a way to change the map. He can't lose women by 15 points and win the general election.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Jim Vandehei. His wife, Ann, as you know, a woman of enormous courage. Signaling her out for showcases-I don't want to jump too far, but I think I'm right here. I think they want a strong female presence on their ticket even if it's a married partner, a marriage partner.

VANDEHEI: That's possible, Chris. It's pretty hard for me to think a candidate is going to win or lose because they have a very attractive spouse to the number two on the ticket. I just don't think that's how it works. He's got to figure out, like Chris said, trying to figure out a way to change the map a little bit. I think we put a little emphasis on how much the number two can actually bring to the ticket. There are those occasions where you can take a candidate at number two and have some help in a state.

That's why Rob Portman is somebody who, if you talk to Washington Republicans, here in DC, they love the guy. He's squeaky clean. He's from Ohio. He's got a lot of executive experience. He worked in the White House, worked in the leadership over here. It probably won't be him, but he is certainly the flavor of the month if you're talking to the Washington insiders.

MATTHEWS: I'm thinking maybe because-I'm thinking the northeast part of the map, Pennsylvania, Ohio, states like that. They have to get those Hillary voters to make the jump to the Republican side, people who have traditionally voted Democrat who like the Clintons, both Clintons, voted for them twice, maybe voted for Kerry and Gore even, are thinking of voting for the Republicans because they're so angry about the way Hillary Clinton ended the campaign or didn't win, I should say. Chris, what do you think? Last thought here. They need a strong woman on the platform?

CILLIZZA: I'll give you another option to speak to those Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio rural voters, Tom Ridge. I think that's why he continues in this, for two reasons. One, popular former governor, head of the homeland security government, shores McCain up on national security, where he's already strong, doubles down on that. The other thing is Tom Ridge and John McCain are close friends. John McCain is not somebody-

Jim touched on this. John McCain is somebody who is good at faking it. If he doesn't like you, it's very clear.

MATTHEWS: You can argue that Tom Ridge has earned it. He's a combat veteran. He fought in the war. He's taken on responsibilities like homeland security that are not winners.

CILLIZZA: He and McCain came to Congress the period. They are personal friends.

MATTHEWS: Dick Cheney doesn't like a lot of his votes in Congress on the MX and other things. It's the reason he didn't get the vice presidency and Cheney got it. Remember who was in charge of picking VPs back then, Cheney, funny thing. Anyway, thank you, Chris Cillizza, thank you Jim Vandehei.

Up next, Barack Obama reasserts, catch this, Harry Truman like civilian command over the military. Will voters start to see him more as the commander in chief because he went over there and asserted himself? Has he shown that he's got the chops? That was the question I put a week ago. It's not how he's liked by General Petraeus. He doesn't want a pat on the back from the general. He wants to show he could be the commander in chief. Did he do it? Has he done? The politics fix is next. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix. Tonight's round table, Jill Zuckman, who sits before me, from the "Chicago Tribune," my friend Lois Romano, who has always got the big front page story, and Del Waters of Ebony Jet, formally of Channel 7, a colleague of Kathleen Matthews in the old days.

Let's take a look at Barack Obama today essentially asserting that he, as president, would be the real commander in chief, not some general named Petraeus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: In his role as commander on the ground, not surprisingly, he wants to retain as much flexibility as possible in terms of accomplishing that goal. And what I emphasized to him was, you know, if I were in his shoes, I would probably feel the same way. But my job as a candidate for president and a potential commander in chief extends beyond Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You know, for months, now, it's been like Simon says in this country. Every time the president says something, he says General Petraeus says, General Petraeus says. If he doesn't say it, it doesn't count. Here's a guy acting like-maybe won't be by November, depends on the results of this election-acting like Harry Truman, saying you elect the commander in chief. He sets the mission. The best soldiers carry out the mission the best they can. You don't go to the soldiers and ask what the mission should be.

JILL ZUCKMAN, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": That's exactly right, Chris. Voters are not going to have any question in their mind. If they vote for Obama, they know what they're going to get. He's been extremely consistent over a couple of years now about what he wants, which is to bring the troops home, regardless of what things have been like there. What's ironic is that he's over there in a period of relative calm that is I think thanks to Senator McCain and the surge.

MATTHEWS: How is this going to sell, Dell Waters, with the American voter, to see a civilian who hasn't been tested as commander in chief testing his chops, saying, I know how to deal with Petraeus; watch me.

DEL WALTERS, EBONY JET: I think the problem if you're John McCain and you're watching the scenes that have been playing out over seas, the Americans are finally being greeted in Iraq as liberators. The problem is they are the Americans getting off the planes with Barack Obama. I think if you look at the polls, and the polls indicate that the majority of Americans want us out of Iraq, when Barack Obama arrives there and says that he's going to be the commander in chief, if elected, and calling the shots, not the generals on the ground, that might be exactly what the Americans want to hear.

MATTHEWS: Lois Romano, not every country that has been saved by us has been appreciative or grateful. I remember reading in one of the books that the day the American troops and the French Army, the second army, marched into Paris and liberated the city, some people were still sunbathing along the Seine that day with their towels. They thought what's happen in politics today. I'm not really paying attention. You're city's being liberated from the Nazis. You don't even stop and say hi to the soldiers. Could it be the Iraqi people aren't grateful to General Petraeus. They aren't grateful to John McCain and George Bush?

LOIS ROMANO, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I'm not sure about that. I think, basically, Obama is coming in at an enormously good time for himself. Things are stable on the ground and it's time for everybody to leave. I think he got enormously a good luck when Maliki supported him. Look, Chris, he has total command of the world stage now. It's really extraordinary.

I would just say this, the bar for him was not very high. Only 25 percent of the country saw him as commander in chief. He didn't have to go very far and I'd say that he hit a home run.

MATTHEWS: You know, he looks like he belongs over there. He walks over like-he's never been there before, and he walks over like it's his high school reunion.

ZUCKMAN: He looks like he owns the place. All the images we've seen on video, the photographs that have come back, these are all great pictures for him to show the American people. Like Lois said, there's a recent poll, it showed Senator McCain 30 points ahead of Obama when it came to would this person be a good commander in chief. It will be interesting to see if they start asking voters that question again after this trip, whether he's narrowed the gap.

MATTHEWS: These are going to be great TV commercials, every one of these pictures with the kids, with the young troops. I'm getting old now. I call the young troops kids. Those young soldiers, black and white, with those delighted faces. We'll be right back with more. I'll pick up with you when we get back, Lois. We'll be right back with the politics fix. Let's fight about who's going to be VP. You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We're back with the politics fix. I want these top journalists to start bobbing for apples right now. It's not-but I want you to bob for apples. My pal Lois, I've got to do this to you, because you know you don't want me to do it for you. Who's going to be the Republican running mate with John McCain?

ROMANO: I don't know. That's a very good question. I think McCain, obviously, has to look for somebody that doesn't have gray hair.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

ROMANO: You all were talking about the idea he would pick somebody to shore up his national security credentials. I just disagree. I think he's going to find somebody that can shore up his domestic credentials.

MATTHEWS: I agree with that. I think McCain has the foreign policy chops.

ROMANO: Right. I like Rob Portman. I think he probably is looking for a woman, but I'm not sure there is one out there for him. Now you have, also, the governor of Florida who got engaged. He's getting himself a wife, so he would be a good candidate.

MATTHEWS: You are so funny. You think that's how it works? Get married and you're ready to go. Just get the pie in the oven. Let's go to Jill on that right in front of me, you want to get a little close? Rob Portman, I think, is probably the safest bet, but I don't think he brings him anything. He's only going to win Ohio. He's going to win Ohio anyway probably.

ZUCKMAN: I don't think anybody knows who Rob Portman is outside the beltway.

MATTHEWS: He is economics. He's OMB director, special trade rep. He has the chops in turns of the jobs he's had. I tell you, one day of press, max.

ZUCKMAN: Yes, it's not very exciting. Not a very exciting choice.

MATTHEWS: Let me see if I can get excitement out of Del Waters. Del, whose-we'll go to the other guy in a minute. John McCain because he looks like he's raring to go here. Is he going to pick a guy he apparently doesn't like, Mitt Romney, who will give him perhaps Michigan and a shot at Pennsylvania.

WALTERS: I think he has to pick Mitt Romney for two reasons, and I think both of your panelists have hit on those two reasons. He faces two problems, that being age and then he has that quote about the economy that haunts, where he says I don't know that much about the economy. Mitt Romney gives him that youthful, vigorous vice president. The problem is, they almost look too contrasting next to each other. I think he has to go with Mitt Romney for two reasons, the age and the business experience.

MATTHEWS: And number two, his brother Jeb really likes Mitt Romney and Florida is one of the states that is potentially a battleground state. I think Michigan is served up by Romney. I think they win with Romney in Michigan. Then they have to go to Pennsylvania and try to win there, and hold Ohio. That seems to be the geography, right Jill?

ZUCKMAN: Right. Anybody who doubts that McCain and Romney could ever be together because they didn't get along during the primaries is not-

MATTHEWS: I think we've narrowed it down, ladies and gentlemen-

ROMANO: I don't think he's going to do Romney.

MATTHEWS: I don't think we've narrowed it down. You jumped me. I was going to give you full credit. Either Romney or Portman we've narrowed it to. Thank you, Jill Zuckman, Lois Romano, Del Walters. 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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