updated 7/25/2008 10:58:02 AM ET 2008-07-25T14:58:02

Guests: Steve McMahon, Todd Harris, Rep. Robert Wexler, Rep. Heather Wilson, Tom Ridge, Chaka Fattah, Bob Herbert, Ryan Lizza, Jeanne Cummings

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Ich bin Barack.  Ich liebe America.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Today in Berlin—just a minute—Senator Barack Obama—just a minute (INAUDIBLE) let‘s go to—with a crowd of over 200,000 people.  Let‘s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand.  The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand.  The walls between races and tribes natives and immigrants, Christians and Muslims and Jews cannot stand!  These now are the walls we must tear down!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  A little problem with the teleprompter there.  Meanwhile, on the home front, Senator John McCain criticized Obama for making a speech in Germany at this time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I would rather make a speech to our European friends and allies after I‘m president, but that‘s a judgment that the people of this country will make.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  While Barack Obama was on his world tour, did McCain take advantage of having America all to himself?  Presidential politics in a moment with our strategists, one Republican and one Democrat.

Bob Novak, the man known as “the prince of darkness,” said he may have gotten a bad steer that Senator John McCain is naming his vice presidential running mate this week, but clearly, McCain is narrowing down his list.  We‘ll see where he‘s headed.  We‘ll talk to one of McCain‘s friends and advisers, Tom Ridge.   Plus, we‘ll get an update from Obama supporter U.S.  Congressman Chaka Fattah.

Plus, our new NBC News poll shows that pocketbook issues rule, from gas prices to jobs.  What is Congress doing about the economy?  We‘ll get some answers from both sides of the aisle.

And battleground polls show that John McCain is gaining ground.  John McCain is gaining ground in key states like Colorado and Michigan and Wisconsin.  We‘re going to have that and our poll as part of our “Politics Fix.”

And on the HARDBALL “Sideshow” tonight, the “Big Number” is a big buy that one of the candidates is making during the Olympics.

But we begin with the strategists, former McCain spokesman Todd Harris and Democratic media strategist Steve McMahon.

Let‘s take a look at another bite from the big speech in Berlin with 200,000 people watching today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  People of Berlin, people of the world, this is our moment.  This is our time.  I know my country has not perfected itself.  At times, we‘ve struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people.  We‘ve made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.  But I also know how much I love America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Todd Harris?

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  It seemed a little self-indulgent to me to go to a foreign capital, speak in front of hundreds of thousands of Europeans, talking about, you know, the problems in this country.  But look, overall, I think it‘s been...

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  Overall, I think it‘s been...

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  ... Colombia and Mexico and Canada and given speeches there, like John McCain did?

HARRIS:  He‘s not criticizing...

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  He‘s not criticizing Americans while he‘s over there.  But I think, overall, optically it‘s been a good week for Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS:  What was it about?  Was he showing—I mean, we had a 4,000-person audience at Villanova University for John McCain.  I‘m told it was the biggest audience he got all year.  Isn‘t he simply getting—to be devil‘s advocate with you.  I know the point you‘re making.  You don‘t give victory speeches until you‘ve won.

HARRIS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  But if John McCain could get 200,000 people in Berlin, wouldn‘t he go?

HARRIS:  I‘m not (INAUDIBLE) sure, as president...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, as a candidate.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If he could get 200,000 people as a candidate, do you think he might have shown up?

HARRIS:  I don‘t think he‘s getting 200,000 people, so...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not getting 200,000 in Milwaukee, let alone Berlin!

(LAUGHTER)

HARRIS:  He‘d rather have them in Milwaukee, I guarantee you.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of this?  Let‘s take another bite here because it was quite a speech.  You have to judge for yourself, but the speech had its thrill factors, certainly, once again.  Here he was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  People of Berlin and people of the world, the scale of our challenge is great.  The road ahead will be long.  But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom.  We are a people of improbable hope with an eye towards the future, with resolve in our hearts.  Let us remember this history and answer our destiny and remake the world once again!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Steve McMahon?  Your feelings watching it?

MCMAHON:  I‘ll tell you what, it was eloquent, it was powerful, and dare I say, yes, Todd, it was presidential.

HARRIS:  Except he‘s not president.

MCMAHON:  And you know, the ironic thing here is that it was John McCain for the past several months who‘s been saying Barack Obama needs to go to Iraq, Barack Obama needs to travel around the world, Barack Obama needs to learn something about the world.  I think Senator Obama over there looked presidential.  He obviously dominated the news this week, while John McCain wandered around a grocery store and complained.  And it was a great week for Barack Obama.  It‘s the kind of week you can‘t buy, you can‘t plan, and just another bit of good fortune.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at Senator McCain, then you jump in.  Here‘s Senator McCain talking about this whole question of the speech over there with NBC‘s our own Kelly O‘Donnell.  That‘s today, by the way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLY O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Do you believe it‘s appropriate to hold a political rally of that scale in a foreign country?

MCCAIN:  I would rather speak at a rally or a gathering any place outside the United States after I‘m president of the United States, but that‘s a judgment that Senator Obama and the American people will make.

O‘DONNELL:  To you think it sends the wrong message to speak to such a huge group of Europeans?  Is Senator Obama making a mistake by doing that?

MCCAIN:  Oh, look, as I say, I would rather make a speech to our European friends and allies after I‘m president, but that‘s a judgment that the people of this country will make.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, there‘s no doubt that it had something to do with Kennedy and his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech—“I am a jelly donut” speech, of course, is the joke because it was a bad translation.  But was that a mistake, to try to act like Jack Kennedy when you‘re not even president yet?

MCMAHON:  I don‘t think it was a mistake to go over there and try to act presidential, which, after all, is what Jack Kennedy was.  I mean, I think it‘s a mistake, if you will, for John McCain, just weeks literally after campaigning in Colombia and Mexico and in Canada, in other countries...

MATTHEWS:  He did give a speech in Canada, by the way.

MCMAHON:  ... and giving speeches in other countries, to be criticizing Barack Obama...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Your guy did the same thing.  He didn‘t draw 200,000 people.

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  ... after taunting Senator Obama into taking this trip...

MATTHEWS:  Tougher crowd up there!

MCMAHON:  ... after taunting Senator Obama into taking this trip, to now be critical of it is just—it just doesn‘t add up.

HARRIS:  But to the degree that this entire campaign is a referendum on Obama, I think that this week, in a lot of respects, is sort of a microcosm of the campaign...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about that.  Let‘s look at the pictures throughout this week.  We‘re looking at right now, of course, the Tiergarten, which is right near Brandenburg Gate in the distance there.  It‘s an amazing place to go, given all the horrible history, of course, of the 20th Century, but—and the fact that Germany‘s, obviously, gotten a big change in its history the last 50 years.

But take a lack the pictures of this week.  Here‘s John McCain in the golf cart this week with President Bush, senior, the older Bush, apparently going around, looking at the cheese in a supermarket later on, talking about cancer with Lance Armstrong, all good causes.  But they lack some of the pizzazz of these other pictures of Obama up in a helicopter with Petraeus, whizzing around over Barack—over Baghdad city, with Karzai, with Maliki, with the Israeli leaders like Shimon Peres and Olmert and Bibi Netanyahu and with Erekat on the West Bank and Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, all this and shooting the 40-foot hoop.  It‘s hard to say that it was a big...

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  There‘s no question that Obama won the war in terms of the optics this week.  You know, I don‘t think it was ever really even a contest.  But Chris, there are two separate...

MATTHEWS:  ... on radio?

HARRIS:  No, no.  I think he won on the substance.  There are two separate realities that are existing right now.  One is the hysteria that is surrounding the Obama trip, you know, the media in full swoon mode.  But there‘s a separate reality, which is if you look at the actual polls in battleground states, you look at the national polls, this race is a lot closer than the media is leading people to believe when they buy into all of this...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the pictures tell the story...

HARRIS:  ... Obama hysteria.

MATTHEWS:  ... or the media tells the story?  Or the medium?  Do you think it‘s the medium that‘s winning it or the media?

HARRIS:  There‘s no question the pictures are important, if not critical.  But when you start looking at the substance, you start looking at Obama refusing...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

HARRIS:  ... his obstinance...

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s my—here‘s my question—I‘m sorry.  Go ahead.

HARRIS:  ... just Obama‘s obstinance...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... not interrupt.

HARRIS:  Thank you.  His obstinance about the surge, you know, absolutely refusing—“USA Today,” their editorial page today...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know what?

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  Hold on!  Let‘s keep working on this, Chris!

MATTHEWS:  ... totally right on this one, totally right because there wouldn‘t have been the security around Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, he wouldn‘t have felt personally secure to survive an assassination attempt or anything else that might come at him if he didn‘t have this surge that cleaned up Baghdad city so he‘s safe enough to say, OK, you guys can leave in a couple years.  Would he be saying, You guys, Americans, can leave in a couple years if he was still in the situation he was in two years ago or if we had begun to pull out two years ago?

MCMAHON:  He might not have been, but the fact of the matter is, that‘s what he‘s saying now and that‘s what the American people are saying now.  That‘s what the Iraqi people are saying now.  That‘s what Democrats are saying now.  And ironically, that‘s what Senator Obama is saying now.  So John McCain...

MATTHEWS:  What is he, like the pope, if he says it one way, he‘s right, if he says it the other way, he‘s right again?

MCMAHON:  Well, you know what?  Sometimes things are working for you and sometimes they‘re not.  Clearly...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Todd, your turn.

MCMAHON:  ... Obama right now.

HARRIS:  Despite the overwhelming facts on the ground, Obama‘s unwillingness, his obstinance to change—to admit that he made the mistake reminds me not at all of JFK or of Ronald Reagan but a lot of George W. Bush.  And that‘s a lot about what people were so frustrated...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re saying the worst thing about Obama is he reminds you of the current Republican president.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What a revoltin‘ development that is!

MCMAHON:  And by the way, the mistake that ought to be admitted is the mistake of going into Iraq when there were no weapons of mass destruction.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.  Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... not working.  Let‘s take a look now at the big age break-out, because after all this—I‘m watching that crowd.  It‘s a pretty young crowd over there in Berlin today.  And I‘m looking at these numbers.  He‘s the latest breakdown in the latest polling.  Obama sweeps under 34, men and women.  McCain sweeps over 65.  The battleground, age, 35 to 64, Obama‘s still got a small lead in.

Why is age, generation, so important?  Is it about ethnicity?  Is it about having the first black president?  What makes that age break-out so dramatic?  I‘ve seen it at 55, I‘ve seen it at 65, the break point.  In other words, I‘ll say if we have an election tomorrow morning and only people under 50 are going to be allowed to vote, Barack wins in a sweep.  If I said only people over 50, John McCain wins in a sweep.  How do you explain that to a European?

HARRIS:  I don‘t think...

MATTHEWS:  How do you explain that to a foreigner?

HARRIS:  I don‘t think it has as much to do with race as the fact that older people tend to be more conservative than younger voters.  And one of the real questions that surrounds this election, one of the reasons why I think it‘s so difficult to figure out turn-out models is because every four years, younger voters get energized and they tend to skew left.  The open question is...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that‘s a good picture for the younger voters, that one there?

HARRIS:  The question is how many of them...

MATTHEWS:  Sunrise or sunset...

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  How many of them actually turn out on election day.

MCMAHON:  Well, you know what?

HARRIS:  That‘s the big question.

MATTHEWS:  That is a great question.

MCMAHON:  That is a good question.  The problem with national polls—and you‘re going to get to this later in the show—is that they oversample big states like California and New York and Illinois, states where Senator Obama has a huge lead.  And then, you know, you‘re trying to do a model where you‘re figuring out how many young people are going to show up.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MCMAHON:  And young people notoriously don‘t show up.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go back to the optics, as you call it.  I call them the pictures, without getting too sophisticated.  This looked like the music to this week should have been from—“Fiddler on the Roof”—

“Sunrise, Sunset.”  Thank you, Todd Harris.  You know that song.  It‘s very pointed (ph).  Todd Harris, Steve McMahon.

Coming up: Polls show Obama voters are far more excited to vote for their guy than McCain voters are excited to vote for their guy.  But Obama is still not way ahead in the polls.  That is interesting.  The polls are practically even right now nationwide.  What‘s that about?  They‘re within the margin of error.  What‘s that about?  And are Democrats poised to win big in Congress, even if they lose the White House?  We‘re going to ask two U.S. congresspeople from each side of the aisle.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m joined right now by U.S.  Congressman Robert Wexler, a Democrat of Florida.  He‘s an Obama supporter and author of the great new book, “Fire-Breathing Liberal.”  And U.S.  Congresswoman Heather Wilson of New Mexico.  She‘s a McCain supporter, obviously, from New Mexico.

Let me ask you both, starting with you, Robert.  What is your effect in your district and in Florida of this speech by Barack Obama before 200,000 people in Berlin today?

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA:  I think it has an excellent effect, both in terms of establishing Senator Obama as an effective commander-in-chief, a persuasive potential president.  I also think his visit to Israel is extremely important in my district because Senator Obama got to establish himself yet again as a staunch supporter of the security of the state of Israel.  And when Bibi Netanyahu comes out of a meeting with Senator Obama and says, We agree on the need to thwart Iran‘s nuclear program, in my district, that‘s a home run.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s always impressive to have a Democrat embraced by Bibi Netanyahu, isn‘t it.

WEXLER:  Well, in my district, I believe very deeply in the security of the state of Israel.  Bibi Netanyahu—I don‘t agree with him on everything, but in terms of thwarting Iran‘s nuclear program, Bibi Netanyahu‘s been a excellent spokesman.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

WEXLER:  And Senator Obama now has those credentials even in Israel.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s interesting that both of them could be the next head of government in each country.

Let‘s take a look at—Congresswoman, I want you to respond to what you see right now.  Here‘s Barack Obama today in Berlin.  Let‘s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand.  The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand.  The walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christians and Muslims and Jews cannot stand.  These are the walls we must tear down!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman Wilson, what do you make of those remarks by Barack Obama today?

REP. HEATHER WILSON ®, NEW MEXICO:  Barack Obama has always had a—you know, a great charismatic style, but the substance has never been there, and his inexperience is one of the things that troubles a lot of people.  Saying something like, There‘s a wall between the United States and Europe?  I mean, we‘ve been allies with western Germany and with Germany as a whole since the end of the Second World War.  NATO is one of our strongest alliances.  And so what‘s he talking about?  What‘s the substance...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s talking about...

WILSON:  ... behind that?  And I think one of the things...

MATTHEWS:  ... the fact that Europeans—Europeans hate George Bush.

(CROSSTALK)

WILSON:  ... reassure Americans that the mistakes that he made with respect to Middle East policy because of his experience, maybe they shouldn‘t be concerned about that.  He went there because of his inexperience, to try to give himself some kind of patina of credibility.

WEXLER:  Chris?

MATTHEWS:  Are you saying that the United States has had a good relationship with Europe in the last seven years?

WILSON:  Absolutely, yes.  The U.S. relationship with NATO, with the U.K.  Our relationship with the United Kingdom has never been closer, and that‘s been spurred by common mutual interests.  I used to serve at NATO when there were 16 NATO countries and we were facing the former Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact.  We had very close relationships with our Western European allies, and I think that continues with Angela Merkel or with President Sarkozy or with the Brits—I think very close relationships.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Wexler, do you agree with that, that the Europeans...

WEXLER:  No.

MATTHEWS:  ... have liked the Bush administration?  I haven‘t seen that love affair at all.

WEXLER:  No.  I would respectfully differ.  Trans-Atlantic relations have suffered greatly under the Bush administration.  And what does that mean for Americans?  What it means is we were not effective in engaging a coalition of countries to participate with us in the Iraq war, the tragedy of the Iraq war.  This president, unfortunately...

(CROSSTALK)

WEXLER:  Excuse me!

WILSON:  ... Brits are fighting and dying alongside...

WEXLER:  Excuse me!  This president...

WILSON:  ... of American troops in Iraq.

WEXLER:  Yes, and I applaud...

WILSON:  The Canadians, the Germans, the British were there in Afghanistan...

WEXLER:  Excuse me!

WILSON:  ... and you know that.

WEXLER:  Yes.  This president has been ineffective in convincing our allies to send more troops to Afghanistan, the fight we need to win.  But let me tell you where Senator Obama...

WILSON:  The Germans are increasing by a thousand troops this year, Robert.

WEXLER:  Where Senator Obama...

WILSON:  And if Barack is so effective, did he convince Angela Merkel today...

WEXLER:  You know what?

WILSON:  ... to reduce the restrictions on the German forces there?

WEXLER:  Excuse me!

WILSON:  Perhaps...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  One at a time. 

WEXLER:  Yes.  You know what? 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Wexler for a minute—just finish up.  And then let Congresswoman Wilson respond. 

WEXLER:  Yes. 

The allegation is, Senator Obama is not effective.  Yet, it is his view in Iraq that is now the prevailing view that the prime minister of Iraq has—has endorsed.  It is Senator Obama‘s view that has been endorsed by the Bush administration, in concept, in Iran by engaging in diplomacy. 

It‘s his view, in terms of adding troops in Afghanistan, that‘s winning the day.  So, it‘s Senator Obama, before he‘s even president, that is affecting policy in such a great way. 

MATTHEWS:  Congresswoman, go ahead.

WILSON:  Robert, it‘s amazing that you can skew things that far. 

Senator Obama has been dead wrong when it comes to the policy in Iraq.  He opposed the surge.  And he is now in a situation where he‘s trying to deny that the surge was successful.  I don‘t think that‘s particularly presidential. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Congresswoman, about the attitude of President Bush toward Europe. 

Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, used to mock Europe as old Europe.  This country was encouraged for years to make one fun of anything European.  French fries were replaced by the term freedom fries.  There was a kind of an American chauvinism against Europe in the early years of the Bush administration.  Do you decry that period?  Do you deny it? 

WILSON:  The U.S. relationship with France has always been something of a, you know, allies of a kind.  And that‘s existed for close to 40 years, Chris. 

I think that our—our relationship with our Western Europe allies and with the Brits—I mean, look at intelligence cooperation.  Our intelligence cooperation with the British post 9/11 is closer than it has ever been in American history. 

MATTHEWS:  But the French, the Germans, and so many other countries in Europe did not support our war in Iraq. 

WILSON:  We have British troops with us in Iraq.  There‘s no question that there were differences on policy.  But to say that, somehow, there‘s a wall in NATO that‘s running somewhere down the Atlantic shows Senator Obama‘s inexperience when it comes to understanding where we are. 

And you see that on a number of other things.  I mean, look at his platform.  He has these kind of message-tested, poll-tested things, like we should—Barack Obama will make sure we take and he will negotiate with the Russians to take our ICBMs off hair-trigger alert.  It‘s a great idea.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WILSON:  It was done 20 years ago.

He seems to be unaware of American history.  And that‘s inexperience, which causes people some real concern about whether he‘s ready for the Oval Office. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to—let me go to—let me go to Robert Wexler.

Why is Barack Obama barely outside the margin of error in the national polling right now if everything‘s going his way in terms of economics and all the issues?  They all seem to be saying change.  And, yet, when you look at all the polling, including today‘s Gallup poll, two-point difference, four-point average difference in all the national polls.

Why is he being—is it ethnicity?  Is it race?  What‘s holding him back from exploiting the desire for change in this country?

WEXLER:  Well, Senator Obama‘s in an excellent position in the polls. 

Chris, in your own NBC poll, he was up six.  If he were to win the election by six, that would be an electoral landslide.  He‘s ahead in the most recent polls in Florida.  He‘s been consistently ahead in Ohio.  He‘s ahead in Michigan, in New Jersey.  I believe he was up in Indiana, in Virginia.  Colorado, he‘s doing great, Nevada, New Mexico.

In all the important states, plus some others, Senator Obama‘s doing far better than Democrats have done in a very long time. 

But let me just go back to one point, Chris.  When was the last time we saw American flags being displayed proudly throughout Europe?  All Americans ought to take pride in that fact that Europeans are yearning for stronger transatlantic relations.  And that will enhance our security.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, U.S. Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida, U.S. Congresswoman Heather Wilson, Republican of New Mexico. 

WEXLER:  Thank you. 

WILSON:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  What world leader wouldn‘t resist a message from the next president of the United States?  That‘s next on the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

It‘s time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

OK, brace yourself.  On the eve of today‘s big Berlin speech, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was with Barack Obama and caught this whopper of a question from a reporter.  Would she like to have the next president of the United States give her—catch this—a massage? 

“That‘s not really up to me,” she answered, “but I wouldn‘t resist.”

Wouldn‘t resist, huh?  Well, that query referred to his cringe-worthy moment at a recent G8 meeting when President Bush started giving the chancellor that infamous—there it is—back rub. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I think he was just so happy he didn‘t have Gerhard Schroeder still sticking it to us. 

And, sometimes, a newspaper lead says it all.  Take a look at this first sentence of a story in a local Mississippi newspaper today—quote -

“Before he died Wednesday evening, death row inmate Dale Leo Bishop apologized to the victim‘s family, thanked America, and urged people, those who oppose capital punishment, to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama.”

What more can you say?  Political endorsement followed by lethal injection—too sad for words. 

Time now for “Name That Veep.” 

In his high-profile Bush administration positions, this former U.S.  congressman built up his economic resume, an area that is admittedly not McCain‘s strong suit.  He hails from the battleground state of Ohio and is considered one of the young up-and-coming stars of the embattled Republican Party. 

So, who is it?  Former Ohio Congressman Rob Portman, who also served as OMB director and U.S. special trade rep.  He met with Senator McCain today.  Looks like his economic know-how could still get him on the ticket. 

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

We have seen this past week that the ‘08 election is a true battle for face time.  Maybe that‘s why the Obama fund-raising machine is looking to flex a little ad muscle at the biggest sports event around, the Olympic—the Olympics in Beijing. 

That‘s a very unusual and costly move in presidential politics, so much so that the McCain—the Obama campaign is shelling out so much for the national ads during next month‘s Olympic Games.  Five million dollars they‘re spending for a slew of ads on NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC, among others. 

That‘s right.  The Obama campaign is betting on gold next month, $5 million to reach the Olympic fans—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Who should John McCain pick as his V.P. running mate?  How about our next guest coming here right now, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge?  We will ask Governor Ridge and fellow Pennsylvanian, U.S.  Congressman Chaka Fattah whether the Keystone State is the key to this election.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  (AUDIO GAP) small fuel-efficient vehicles—Ford shares down almost 15 percent today. 

And first-time jobless claims soared by a much-larger-than-expected 34,000 last week, climbing to the highest level in almost three years.  And oil prices rose, after hitting a seven-week low.  Crude gained $1.05, closing at $125.49 a barrel.

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

HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

With just two weeks now until the Olympics begin, and politics takes a slowdown, Senators McCain and Obama have little time to grab headlines by announcing their running mates, of course.  Who is it going to be?

Could it be this man in front of me now you see on camera, Republican Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania, the former U.S. secretary of homeland security?

You have been the man who‘s gone into the breach for this administration and for this country.  You took the responsibility to defend us against enemy attack.  You succeeded.  You did a great job.  You were a combat veteran who fought in Vietnam.  You went to Harvard on a scholarship.  You‘re a working guy from a working background, working-class background, who has succeeded in American life.  You‘re a great man. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re a great man.  Why are you not going to be on the ticket with—with John McCain?  He‘s a guy like you.

TOM RIDGE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF:  Yes. 

Well, you know, first of all, I think it‘s very flattering, because of my longtime relationship with my friend John McCain, just the notion that your name is being spun out there.  And, actually, I have had a few people come on shows and say, hey, not a bad choice. 

But I don‘t know if I have been vetted.  I certainly have had—not had a conversation with my friend about it.  So, we will just see what transpires over the next couple weeks.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you would have gotten it back in 2000, I‘m told.  You were already to get it, except Cheney boxed you out.  Cheney wanted the job.  He was head of the selection committee.  He said he‘s—he‘s mad at you for voting against him on the M.X. and some other systems when he was defense chief, right?  And he was mad at you.  And he raised the flag that you were—you were against putting people in jail for having an abortion, and, therefore, you shouldn‘t be on the ticket. 

Do you think—do you think there‘s somebody else there blackballing you now? 

RIDGE:  No, I think...

MATTHEWS:  This is HARDBALL. 

RIDGE:  This is a—it‘s a HARDBALL question to answer.  And I‘m not thinking about 2000.  I‘m about—thinking about John in 2008. 

I think there are a lot of issues that are important to John.  I think chemistry is important to John, who he would work with...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, then, Mitt Romney can‘t possibly be on the list.

RIDGE:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  How can you talk chemistry? 

RIDGE:  We will have to see what happens.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He doesn‘t like the guy. 

RIDGE:  Well, who knows.  I don‘t know that for a fact. 

(CROSSTALK)

RIDGE:  I have not—I have not talked to my friend of 25 years about this element within his campaign at all.  We talk about economic policy, foreign policy, Iraq, Iran, things of that sort.

MATTHEWS:  Have you been vetted at all?   

RIDGE:  I have no idea.

MATTHEWS:  Has anyone checked your papers, asked you to turn over anything yet?

RIDGE:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Nothing?

RIDGE:  Nothing.

MATTHEWS:  No action?

RIDGE:  No action.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s talk about geography and why you are, to me, an important figure in this election. 

I have, from an inside source at a very high level in the Republican campaign, the following information.  They expect they probably are going to have a hard time carrying Iowa this time—they got it last time—of all the states they carried, the red states.  This time, they know they to pick up New Hampshire, with four electoral votes, which they have a good shot at, because McCain won there big.  And he‘s likable up there.  They like him, live free or die types up there.

Number two, Michigan, which is in complete disorder economically and politically, that state is in hell right now politically, and Pennsylvania.  They need to run that streak, because—and also hold Ohio and Florida, because they figure Barack is out there running around with states like Colorado, North Dakota even, and Montana, and maybe picking up New Mexico, maybe picking up Nevada, maybe picking up Virginia, you know, even Georgia. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  These are the notions they have. 

And the Republicans believe those notions could come true.  So, they have got to hold or grab or poach, if you will, some of the old Democratic blue states.  You know what I‘m saying?  You‘re smiling.  But you are—

Pennsylvania is target zero.  This is—this is the exact place where the Republicans need to exploit the opportunity, where Hillary did well and Barack did badly. 

RIDGE:  Well, I think John is going to prevail in Pennsylvania regardless of who his running mate might be.  There are a lot of reasons for that.

One, they will see a lot of John, because he understands the importance of the state.  A lot of the Reagan Democrats and independent-thinking who I think appreciate his—his independence.  They know he‘s conservative, but they know he‘s an independent thinker.  There are a lot of—there are a lot of veterans.  And, certainly, there‘s a great appeal to veterans. 

And there‘s a lot of people up there who have been going to church and appreciate their firearms, and don‘t buy into the psychobabble that the reason they go to church and they collect guns and they‘re hunters is because of some economic downturn. 

So, I think there‘s lot of opportunity... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You mean you were baptized before you heard the latest economic news? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I was. 

RIDGE:  Well, I think...

MATTHEWS:  When I was about three weeks old, the priest didn‘t say, did you hear the latest GNP numbers?  Are you sure you want to become a Catholic? 

(LAUGHTER)

RIDGE:  I...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  I think that was ridiculous. 

RIDGE:  John—John is going to do very well in Pennsylvania.  He has the ability to attract those groups.  Plus, he has the, I think, appeal to the collar counties outside of Philadelphia. 

But Philadelphia is going to be tough.  And the Democrats have done a wonderful job during the past four or five months at registering more Democrats.  They have a million...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I know.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Bucks and Montgomery are both up now.  They‘re Democratic counties now. 

RIDGE:  They are.  But they have a history of being very independent, some of those Democrats, particularly in the northeast and the southwest.  And the collar counties, which has always been difficult, certainly were difficult for President Bush, this is a different campaign running against a different candidate.  And I think John has great appeal to them.

MATTHEWS:  If you were a—if you were Barack Obama, if you can imagine that, would you put Hillary Clinton on the ticket to carry the old states, like Pennsylvania, Ohio, et cetera, Michigan?  Would you risk that, just for political reasons, not love? 

RIDGE:  I‘m not sure I‘m going to give him any advice. 

(LAUGHTER)

RIDGE:  What...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We have got...

(CROSSTALK)

RIDGE:  I‘m not going to give him any advice. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Would you accept the vice presidency if it were offered? 

RIDGE:  I‘m going to have that proper conversation with John one way or the other, and we will let you know. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you come back and report? 

(LAUGHTER)

RIDGE:  I will be happy to report.  I‘m not sure I‘m going to break it here, though.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Governor Tom Ridge, a man who could be a change-changer in this business.

Let‘s go right now to U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah.  He‘s a Philadelphia Democrat, a Pennsylvania congressman.  He supports Barack Obama and has done so since the very beginning of time, I believe. 

Haven‘t you? 

REP. CHAKA FATTAH (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Right before they started voting in Iowa. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you‘re...

(CROSSTALK)

FATTAH:  I had a premonition.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you.  When you heard the governor speak from the other party about one of the key states in this election, do you buy that Pennsylvania is in play as one of the states the Republicans could poach, if they did a good job, from the Dems? 

FATTAH:  I think this is an election where so many states are going to be in play that they may lose that they won in past elections, that they may have to take a run at Pennsylvania, and they‘re going to have to do a lot of work there.  John McCain was there yesterday.  He was at the Performing Arts Center in Wilkes Barre.  Unfortunately, he couldn‘t fill the hall.  I think they need to do some work, and they are going to have to be able to win votes on McCain‘s vision an the future, and not just criticizing Senator Obama.  That‘s not going to carry today in Pennsylvania. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you put it together?  John McCain drew a small crowd, a less than capacity crowd in Wilkes Barre, and Barack Obama drew 200,000 people in Germany today.  Do the results from Deutschland have much impact or is that just foreign news? 

FATTAH:  No, I think that what we know is that part of the job description is who can lead our country, but can also build strong allies for us, because we can‘t go alone in this world.  We have to have allies.  I think what Senator Obama was showing today is that he‘s someone who can reach out to our traditional allies in Europe and bring them back into the fold. 

But I think that Senator McCain has got a case to make.  I just think he spent far too much time and is being misguided and is spending his time being a critic of Senator Obama.  It‘s not worthy of Senator McCain.  He should offer his own vision, and I think we can have a great contest. 

MATTHEWS:  What are the Democrats going to do about taxes?  Are they going to repeal the Bush tax cuts or leave them the way they are or what? 

FATTAH:  No, we‘re going to let them go out of existence as they‘re scheduled to do, and use those dollars that are in the top one percent to start to deal with some of the deficits that we‘re running up.  We‘ve got a nine trillion dollar deaf deficit.  We‘ve got to get these troops out of Iraq where we‘re spending two billion dollars a week, and 10 billion a month and start to deal with our crisis at home. 

We have a real economic crisis in the country.  We saw it in the market today.  We see it in terms of all of the challenges that we face around energy.  Senator Obama says that he wants to invest those dollars here at home, rather than 10 billion a month in Iraq.  They‘re making money off of what we‘re paying at the pump.  Let the Iraqis deal with the reconstruction of their own country.  They‘ve got 60 billion dollars in the bank that they didn‘t expect.  We should not have to foot the bill to build schools there while our schools here crumble. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania. 

Up next, 200,000 people turn out for Barack Obama in Berlin.  Will those German crowds sway voters over here in the USA?  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Now, the politics fix.  Tonight‘s round table, Bob Herbert of the “New York Times,” Jeanne Cummings of Politico and Ryan Lizza of the “New Yorker.”  We‘ve got an all star team here.  I want to start in the order I presented you.  Bob Herbert, today‘s speech, is it up there with the I am a jelly donut speech of 1963? 

BOB HERBERT, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  No, I‘m not going to put it quite that high.  I thought it was an impressive speech.  Obviously, it was an impressive turnout.  It remains to be seen what the political effect will be back home.  I thought that Barack had a terrific early part of the week when he was in Iraq and Afghanistan and visiting the troops and that sort of thing went extremely well for him.  I think—I think the message could be mixed on the latter part of the week. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he was seen, today, spiking the ball like in the NFL?  A little too much hot dog?  I loved the speech in many ways because it was about American values.  In the political sense, was it the right time for him to give this speech? 

HERBERT:  I‘m not so sure the speech itself was the problem.  But sort of this whole event, there‘s a danger of it being perceived, I think, as a little bit over the top.  And, yes, right, may be spiking the ball in the end zone a little bit.  I think Obama has to be careful—I don‘t know if he‘s crossed any lines yet.  But I think he has to be careful about the hubris factor. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Jeanne on that.  I think it was John Stewart who said he acts like he‘s already on the coin.  Is he too far ahead of his political career all of a sudden?  I like the humility part of this speech, where he said America hasn‘t been perfect.  I think that‘s what George W.  Bush promised us, humility in foreign policy.  It‘s a lot more winning than arrogance.  I thought that part was fine.  How about the timing?  Was he too presumptuous to give a speech as a world leader when he‘s not one yet, or may never be one? 

JEANNE CUMMINGS, POLITICO:  I think you used the right word, that he could be accused of being presumptuous.  The hard part for him is, OK, you are going to give a speech; so do you give a bad one, so you don‘t look presumptuous?  It‘s a bad box to be caught in.  Of course, we all know he can give inspirational speeches.  He gave yet another one there in Berlin.  We have come to expect that kind of level of oratory from him.  And so this speech, itself, you know, was quite good. 

I don‘t know that in Barack Obama‘s book, whether it will be his best of or not.  I also think he didn‘t have much choice but to go out there and try to knock it out of the park. 

MATTHEWS:  Ryan, I was so impressed that so many Germans know English well enough to seem to appreciate each word.  There wasn‘t a simultaneous translation going on.  That was a crowd of 200,000, most of them seemed to get the American—they knew what he was talking about as he was saying it. 

RYAN LIZZA, “THE NEW YORKER”:  Let‘s be honest, they don‘t know a lot about Barack Obama.  He could have been speaking Portuguese and they would have been cheering and waving flags.  I don‘t think it was one of his greatest speeches.  I don‘t think there was a single line we‘ll remember from this speech in years to come.  There was no, Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall.  There was no ich bin ein Berliner.  It was a little bit—

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at it.  Let him respond.  Let me do your review in a minute.  Here‘s Barack Obama in a crowd, talking about America‘s struggle around the world and how we‘re not perfect but we strive for perfection at great cost and sacrifice.  Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I know my country has not perfected itself.  At times, we have struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people.  We‘ve made our share of mistakes.  And there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.  But I also know how much I love America.  I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived at great cost and great sacrifice to form a more perfect union, to seek with other nations a more hopeful world. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)  

MATTHEWS:  President Bush did say at a time—a lot of us were impressed when he said let‘s have some humility in foreign policy.  And then, of course, 9/11 got in the way of all of that, rightly or wrongly. 

LIZZA:  What was great about the speech was not any single in what he said.  It was that 200,000 Germans came with American flags and cheered this guy. 

MATTHEWS:  Cheering us.

LIZZA:  That‘s what was significant about this.  The last time George W. Bush went to Germany that didn‘t happen.  To the extent that the American people care about what others think of us in the world—and I think this is an election where they do care about that—this was an important reminder to people that you now have a candidate who is going to change the opinion of our country. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob Herbert, when we were growing up, it was always said that British and Germans like to be respected.  But Americans like to be liked.  Do you think this picture of people waving American flags in Europe is a positive sign for Americans? 

HERBERT:  I think the images are extremely positive.  I agree that a lot of voters are concerned about the way the U.S. is perceived around the world.  My only hedge here is, if you‘re thinking in terms of the coverage this week of Obama‘s trip and the political affect back home, I think the early part of the week was substantially better for Obama than maybe the latter part of the week. 

I frankly don‘t think—I know McCain and the McCain people have been complaining all week about the press coverage and the so-called or alleged adulation and all of that kind of stuff.  Frankly, I don‘t think McCain had all that bad of a week, although not because of anything he particularly did.  He was sniping at Obama.  At times, he even seemed to be a bit churlish.  But then, when you look at the polls, as they start popping out towards the end of the week, if anything, things have tightened a little bit. 

MATTHEWS:  Jeanne Cummings, when we come back, I want to ask you to start the discussion about these very close poll numbers in a lot of states that Barack had been targeting, like Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, states where it‘s right down to even right now.  We‘ll be right back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  This election has gotten suddenly close, very close.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table for more politics fix.  Let‘s take a look at these brand new poll numbers.  I want Jeanne Cummings to start.  In Colorado, John McCain has a two-point lead.  Back in June, Obama had a five-point lead.  Look at that.  McCain‘s up by two there, interesting stuff.

Let‘s take a look at Michigan and another state, tight as a drum.  Michigan a two-point spread for Obama, but it was six points.  Look at this in Minnesota, another state that gets overlooked sometimes, a two-point spread.  Obama had been up by 17 points there.  What is going on, Jeanne?  This election, while all the cameras have been on Europe and on the Middle East, back home here, McCain is catching up? 

CUMMINGS:  Certainly, I think if I were in Barack Obama‘s camp, the Michigan and Minnesota numbers will be particularly disturbing.  He‘s got to win those two states if he‘s going to win the presidency.  And perhaps the polls indicate that he‘s not been attentive enough and maybe the trip is ill-timed.  Clearly he has time to make up ground.  You add to that fact that Obama has been spending time in North Dakota and other states where he‘s trying to stretch the map.  Maybe he should be spending a lot more time in these base states that he must have before he can build the base—the number of electoral college votes he needs to then flip a few others to take it. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob Herbert, that brings back the old argument, is he better off picking Hillary as his running mates, winning those old Democratic states—I know—Pennsylvania, Michigan, perhaps winning Ohio, winning those old blue states, winning it the usual way, and not trying to do this open field running of picking up North Dakota and Virginia. 

HERBERT:  One, I completely agree that he needs to focus on those states that any Democrat has to win to win the White House.  Whether putting Hillary on the ticket means he wins those states, I don‘t know.  Here‘s where I think they may have strayed in the Obama campaign, which has been brilliant much of this year.  He‘s out there going toe to toe with John McCain on the war and foreign policy issues, which is McCain‘s terrain.  Now, I understand that he wanted to establish his commander in chief bona fides, but I don‘t think that‘s a battle he can win.  You know, you need to discuss those issues, but the real issue in this campaign, between now and November, what‘s going to win the White House for Obama, if he wins it, is the economy. 

He needs to be strong there.  He needs to be compelling.  He needs to make news on that issue.  And those are the—and that‘s the issue that would be important in these crucial battleground states. 

MATTHEWS:  So why isn‘t he croaking McCain on the economy, sticking it to him every minute of the day? 

HERBERT:  That‘s what I would be doing.

LIZZA:  When he comes back, I‘m sure that‘s exactly what he‘s going to do.  What was his one weakness, the only thing where he matches up unequally against McCain, where he‘s been losing, is on foreign policy and his readiness to be commander in chief.  That‘s why he took this trip.  And I guarantee you those numbers will move after this trip. 

On the polls, I‘m not sure that this is bad news for Obama.  Michigan and Minnesota aside, he‘s go to win those and being as tight as it there must be a little worrying.  But look at the polls.  John McCain can‘t get out of the low 40s. 

MATTHEWS:  He can‘t get out of the mid-40s.

LIZZA:  He‘s essentially the incumbent in the race.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s the question: the average poll number, the Real Clear Politics average is four points.  That‘s it, after all of the hoopla. 

LIZZA:  If you‘re essentially the incumbent in the race, being under 50 percent is a big problem.  Obama is the new guy.  People are getting to know him.  John McCain is the known quantity in the race.  The fact that he can‘t get over 50 percent for as long as he‘s been around in politics is a lot more worrying than Obama‘s numbers. 

HERBERT:  Can I make a point here? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, Bob. 

HERBERT:  A couple things about these polls—

MATTHEWS:  We got to go in a second. 

HERBERT:  Obama should be 15 or 20 -- a Democrat should be 15 or 20 percent ahead in the polls at this stage of the race.  And the second thing is I don‘t trust these polls.  I think Obama‘s numbers are a little bit lower than the polls show, and I think McCain‘s numbers are a little higher. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s my fear too.  Looking at it, I think these polls aren‘t as accurate as we‘d like to think they are.  Bob Herbert, thank you.  Jeanne Cummings and Ryan Lizza.  Right now, it‘s time for the 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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