updated 7/29/2008 12:45:10 PM ET 2008-07-29T16:45:10

Guest: Mike Barnicle, Pat Buchanan, Howard Fineman, Andrea Mitchell, Mark Green, Rich Masters, Ron Christie, Wayne Slater, Michelle Bernard, Jonathan Capehart

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  When a politician says he‘s not questioning his opponent‘s patriotism, you can be sure of one thing: He‘s questioning his opponent‘s patriotism.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Mike Barnicle, in for Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Leading off, Senator Barack Obama is back from his trip abroad and Senator John McCain is blasting him, saying Obama would rather lose the war to win the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m not questioning his patriotism.  I am saying that he made the decision, which was political, in order to help him get the nomination of his party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Also, what about Obama‘s trip?  He looked presidential, but did the overseas tour make him any more likely to become president?  Will he get a bounce in polls?  Some polls seem to say yes another seems to say no way.  Plus, the strategists.  We‘ll put tough questions to a couple of our favorite Democratic and Republican deep thinkers, including, Is McCain tough enough about (ph) Obama hurting or helping?  And in the “Politics Fix,” that Obama trip, was he presidential or presumptuous?

And what‘s wrong with this picture?  How did Barack Obama and Senator Larry Craig—yes, that same Senator Larry Craig—wind up on the same campaign button?  We‘ll take a look at that and more in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

But we begin with John McCain‘s attacks on Obama‘s Iraq policy.  Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst and all-around good guy.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  And before we get to the content of what Senator McCain has been saying about Senator Obama, there is a couple—there‘s a new poll out this afternoon—if we could go right to it, get it up on the screen?  It‘s a new “USA Today” Gallup poll of likely voters, and it has John McCain now beating Barack Obama by 4 points.  But the poll of registered voters has Obama ahead by 3 points.  And the Gallup daily tracking poll shows Obama beating McCain by 8 points.

Patrick, do any of these polls make any sense at this point in the campaign?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  The first one showing McCain up by 4 I think was probably heavily weighted toward Utah, quite frankly.  No, it doesn‘t make any sense.  I think Obama‘s probably up by 5 to 7 points right now.  I‘m sure he got a bump out of this trip abroad.  He had all the media attention.  McCain has never crossed the 45 line.  Obama‘s never crossed the 50 line.  I think that‘s about where it is, something like 5 points ahead right now.

BARNICLE:  And of course, you know, there‘s a lot of chatter among the political cognoscenti about just what you said, that Obama can‘t seem to crack 50 percentage points in these polls.  Why do you think that is?

BUCHANAN:  I think the—I think the jury is out on Barack Obama.  There‘s two questions that are being asked about this—about Barack Obama by folks out there.  A lot of them are Democrats, working class folks.  I think the questions are, Who is this guy, and is he one of us?  And I think Barack Obama went a ways towards answering that question with the trip to Iraq and to Afghanistan.

But to see him up there, excuse me, hot dogging it in Berlin with that John Lennon speech and all those...

BARNICLE:  What you mean?

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  Come on!~  It was mush!  It was mush.  It was something written by John Lennon in the ‘60s...

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  ... and he‘s up there delivering this at the same place where Reagan and Kennedy, at those great moments—you know, “Tear down this wall” and “Ich bin ein Berliner,” and there he is, up there with those folks...

BARNICLE:  It didn‘t give you a good feeling, all those people waving the small American flags?

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  I would have been handing them to my guys, too!

BARNICLE:  OK.  But seriously, forget the mush part.  Forget the rhetorical part.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

BARNICLE:  It obviously was of clear benefit to Barack Obama, don‘t you think?

BUCHANAN:  Oh, it‘s enormous benefit.  And you can tell the benefit by watch the other fellow‘s reaction.  McCain was supposed to be dealing with the economy in some little store.  He‘s yelling about Barack Obama.  He‘s out in front of a German restaurant and things.  They were totally reactive, the McCain folks.

I‘ll be honest, I don‘t know why Obama—and your question is a good one.  Why isn‘t Obama running 21, 25 points ahead?  Jimmy Carter was 33 ahead of Gerald Ford at this point.  And here‘s a guy who—whatever you say about Obama, he is a—you know, he is a grade A candidate.  This is Roy Hobbs.  This is Mickey Mantle, someone who is a natural as a candidate.

BARNICLE:  But McCain can‘t crack 45.

BUCHANAN:  No, he can‘t.  But I think the reason is—I think what McCain‘s got to do is—look, Obama—this election‘s Obama‘s to lose.  McCain can‘t win it, but Obama can lose it.

BARNICLE:  John McCain is getting very tough on Barack Obama.  We have one—I want you to listen to this.  This is John McCain talking about how Barack Obama is, you know, just doing things to appease the people on the left in the Democratic Party.  Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I know this, that those troops would have loved to have seen him.  And I know of no Pentagon regulation that would have prevented him from going there without the media and the press and all of the associated people.  Nothing that I know of would have kept him from visiting those wounded troops.  If I had been told by the Pentagon that I couldn‘t visit those troops and I was there and wanted to be there, I guarantee you there would have been a seismic event.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Well, that‘s Senator McCain talking about Barack Obama‘s decision not to visit the troops, the wounded troops at Landstuhl in Germany last week.  Do you think this stuff works?

By the way, Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” magazine just crashed the party.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Thank you, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  You‘ve got too many Irishmen in here.  I had to get in.

BUCHANAN:  He heard what I was saying and he came in here...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Threw his hat on the ground and sat at the table.  But Patrick, John McCain just now talking about—is this going to work again this year, do you think?

BUCHANAN:  Look, the—that again tells you what McCain‘s strategy is.  They‘ve got to push Obama out to the left, to, if you will, the old—what was perceived as anti-American, radical left, the—you know, Ho, ho, Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is going to win, that crowd in the ‘60s.  That‘s exactly what they‘re trying to do.

And frankly, they made a mistake in the Obama campaign.  They either had this scheduled as a campaign event and then the campaign couldn‘t go in he should have walked—he should have been aware that this is a problem, walked in there and seen those guys for an hour or 90 minutes and saw—he gave him an opening and he jumped on it, and they‘re tromping all over him on it.

BARNICLE:  Do you think they‘re tromping all over Barack Obama on this?

FINEMAN:  Well, they‘re trying to tromp all over him.  Ho, ho...

BARNICLE:  Do you think it‘s working?

FINEMAN:  Ho, ho, Ho Chi Minh?

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Well, we just had John Lennon...

FINEMAN:  Tippecanoe and Tyler too? I mean...

BARNICLE:  We had just had John Lennon writing the speech.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  We were picketing.  We were picketing...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  No, I think they made—I think—in an otherwise pretty smoothly run operation—let‘s face it, Obama had to pull off a big presidential-style royal progress through the Middle East and Europe.  I think he did a terrific job overall.  This they could have handled better.  What he should have done, when they saw there was a snafu, a bureaucratic trip-up of some kind, they should have said, You know, just—fine, forget the entourage.  Forget the staff.  I‘m a United States senator.  I‘m going in there without any cameras, without anything, because I want to express my concern for and appreciation for these guys—and men and women.  That‘s what he should have done.

BARNICLE:  So does this campaign behavior, and thus Barack Obama‘s behavior—does it—is it in any way similar to Barack Obama seemingly being unable to say about the surge, Hey, you know, I made a mistake on the surge.  It worked out much better than I thought it would.  Let‘s move on.  Why can‘t they do that?

FINEMAN:  Well, I—having observed Obama and covered him now for quite some time—I mean, I‘ve been up close to him a lot, not as much as some, but enough to know that he gets his back up when he‘s cross-examined or criticized.  He does.  He has a...

BARNICLE:  That‘s not a very positive thing to note about a candidate.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  No, no.  He has—he has a little bit of an arrogant streak in him.  He does.  It‘s something he has to watch.  It‘s something that‘s the flip side of the tremendous self-confidence he has.  Here‘s a guy who was in the Illinois legislature four years ago, who‘s now going around meeting heads of state on a pretty emotionally and politically equal level.  So he‘s got to have a lot of self-confidence.  Sometimes he overdoes it.

He should have said a little more emphatically that, you know, I give John McCain credit for understanding some of the military aspects of this thing, but that‘s not the whole picture.  He tried to say that, but he didn‘t bring it off quite.  He didn‘t quite bring—he‘s got half-way there.  He could have gone a little farther.  And tactically, he should have because then it would have been a home run from beginning to end on this trip.

BARNICLE:  When you were banging on the door, trying to get into the studio...

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  ... Pat and I were talking an the fact Barack Obama can‘t get above 50 percent in the polls.  Does this say anything at all at this point in time?

FINEMAN:  No.  Pat may disagree, but it‘s still July, OK?  I think it‘s still July.  I mean, there‘s a lot of time to go here.  I sort of agree with Republicans who say he should be farther out ahead at this point.  With the “right direction,” “wrong track” numbers, with Bush‘s lack of popularity, I guess Obama should be farther along.  But I don‘t think it says anything fatal or fatally flawed about Obama...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  “Newsweek” had him 15 points ahead.  Then he fell to 2, you know?  And you know, now he‘s 9 ahead...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  But even when—and you see, there‘s a problem with Obama.  And you saw it in April and May, when he‘s the nominee and he‘s running a good campaign, he‘s got all the money, he‘s putting the ads out there, he‘s campaigning well, and then Hillary is beating him badly in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, we know all the states, Kentucky.  And it says the guy can‘t close the sale.

And I think it‘s those two questions that I mentioned earlier.  People still want to know, Who is this guy, and is he one of us?  That‘s why McCain is making Obama the issue, rather than arguing about, you know, the economy, what we‘re going to do in tax cuts.

BARNICLE:  Well, off of that, John McCain has accused Barack Obama of opposing the troop surge to further his own political prospects.  Take a look at this, gentlemen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  When the decision had to be made whether to adapt the strategy of the surge, he said it wouldn‘t work, it would increase sectarian violence.  He said all those things that made it acceptable to the left of his party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Mark Green joins us now from New York.  He‘s another guy who just crashed the party, banging on the door, trying too get onto this program.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Mark, we welcome you.  We‘ve been...

BUCHANAN:  He‘s breathing heavily...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  ... holding down the fort for you.

BARNICLE:  And Howard Fineman is here.  Mark, do you think...

MARK GREEN, AIR AMERICA RADIO PRES.:  You don‘t need me.

BARNICLE:  No, do you think that any of the rhetoric from the McCain campaign is going to work, the—you know, Barack Obama‘s not patriotic, he‘s not as patriotic as I am, yada, yada, yada?  Is any of this going to work this year, as it worked in ‘04, off of that sound bite?

GREEN:  From Joe McCarthy to Richard Nixon to Bush 41 in flag factories, running against the guy with the funny last name, to Bush 43, it has worked.  I don‘t think it‘s going to work this year.

Look, John McCain is being dishonest and dishonorable.  He can‘t know and he doesn‘t know that Barack Obama‘s motive in opposing our entry into Iraq and the surge is purely political.  In fact, the best evidence is the opposite.  Barack Obama in 2002 was a state senator, before he was a U.S.  senator, before he was a nominee, said, Look, I‘m against this war.  It‘s going to be a bad thing to invade and occupy a country that didn‘t attack us.  So Obama is being consistent.

For McCain to impute this motive to him is pure demagoguery.  He said he was going to run a civil campaign.  He‘s now doing a full Nixon and a full Bush, questioning the patriotism of a black freshman senator who‘s going to be the nominee.  It‘s quite disgraceful.

(LAUGHTER)

GREEN:  I don‘t know why you‘re laughing.

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  ... expert in the full Nixon sitting right here.  I‘m going to take the choke chain off now.

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t think race has anything to do with it.  I do think Mark has this point.  Barack Obama, whatever you say about him, has been consistently against the war.  He didn‘t want to go in.  He didn‘t want to do the surge.  I don‘t know that it was political at all.  Maybe that had something to do with it.  But he‘s been consistent in that position.  A lot of folks were against the war.

But where McCain does have a point and should hit him on, I think, is, Look, you were prepared to walk away and lose this war.  The Iraq Study Group said we‘re going down the tubes.  It‘s a catastrophe.  I said we ought to go with the surge.  You said we ought to head out.  If we had followed you, we would now be defeated.  Now, that‘s a legitimate argument.

I would not say that Barack Obama took his initial position or surge position for political reasons.  I think he believes them.  I don‘t think he thinks Iraq is worth this war.

BARNICLE:  Does any of this, what is coming out of John McCain and his campaign -- - do you think it‘s jarring to some voters who thought McCain was—Geez, I thought he was nicer than this?  I thought he said he was going to run an honorable campaign?

FINEMAN:  Well, I...

BARNICLE:  Howard, go ahead...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Go ahead, Mark.

BARNICLE:  Go ahead, Mark.  You just showed up late.  You got the card.  Play it.

(LAUGHTER)

GREEN:  Mike, you asked what do people think now?  And we don‘t yet know.  John McCain is regarded as independent and honorable, and of course, an unquestioned POW hero.  He is risking squandering that because he‘s putting up a 40-foot jump shot.  Clearly, Obama had a great week.  McCain goaded him to go.  He went.  He‘s rising in the polls.  For him to come back with McCain as McCarthy, questioning his patriotism—McCain says, I‘m not.  But you know, you can make an anti-religious charge against Mike, Pat or me and say it‘s not religious.  It speaks for itself.

Pat is right.  It‘s a fair fight to say whether the values of going in were right or wrong—and there I think, obviously, Obama has the greater argument—or the tactic of the surge.  Obama wants withdrawal date, as does every Democrat in the Congress.  And if McCain wants to say that Biden and Bayh and Clinton and Obama are unpatriotic, that‘s a bridge too far.  He should apologize.

BUCHANAN:  That rage tells you it‘s working, though.  The rage you hear from Mr. Green tells you it‘s working.

BARNICLE:  Mark Green, thanks very much.  Full of rage.  Pat Buchanan, thanks very much.  Howard, stick around.  You‘re handcuffed to this chair for a while.  We‘re coming right back.

And coming up: By just about any measure, Barack Obama‘s overseas trip was a success, but will Obama‘s overseas trip help him win votes?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TOM BROKAW, HOST, “MEET THE PRESS”:  When you get home and Michelle says to you, Barack, what did you learn that surprised you, and did you change your mind about anything based on this entire trip?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, I didn‘t see a huge shift in the strategic policies that I‘ve laid out throughout this campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Senator Obama says his trip didn‘t spark a huge shift in how he sees things.  But will it cause a huge shift in how Americans see him?

NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell, the hardest-working human being in America, is back from traveling with Senator Obama, and “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman is still with us.  He‘s...

FINEMAN:  Just along for the ride.

BARNICLE:  He will not go home.  He barged in here.  He just will not leave.

Andrea, that clip, Tom Brokaw, Barack Obama yesterday on “Meet the Press,” Did you learn anything, Barack Obama, when you went—you know, his wife‘s supposedly asking him the question—I would like to ask you, did you learn anything about Barack Obama, watching him, observing him on this trip?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Yes.  He is a great performer.  He is very agile.  He has tremendous stamina.  All of the above.  He can look and act presidential, which was the test, the bar that he needed to make.  He had a little bit of a moment—a moment or two where he was too presidential.  He might have been a little more deferential to Sarkozy in Paris, even the French president didn‘t want that or demand that.  He was trying to ride on Obama‘s coattails, really, the popularity of Obama in Paris.

But he could have been a little less forthcoming because there was a moment or two—there were moments or two where perhaps it was a little bit too much, if you will.

BARNICLE:  You mean on the Obama campaign part?

MITCHELL:  On the Obama campaign part.

BARNICLE:  Yes?

MITCHELL:  Too much like a tour of a president, when he is—he had to say, I‘m not a president, I‘m just a candidate, but that almost seemed a little bit disingenuous because he did seem like a touring head of state.

BARNICLE:  You know, that gets us to the point that you raised when Pat was here, before we threw Pat off the set. 

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  Why throw Pat off the set?

FINEMAN:  We‘re waiting for the hook.

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  You know, the—the danger, you know, the arrogance factor, the smugness factor that, you know, is at the edge of every campaign, I would imagine, but it‘s seemingly coming closer to crashing through the door of this campaign, what about that in terms of the voters‘ mind‘s eye? 

FINEMAN:  Well, I think, to some extent, he‘s argued that he‘s the embodiment of the answer to our problems, that he, personally, that his very being is in a way the testament to the change that we need in America. 

Don‘t forget, one of their slogans is, we are the change we have been waiting for.  And he said in that speech in Berlin that Andrea was at, he said, this is our moment.  This is our time.  And I think there—wasn‘t there a circular stage around the victory column?  So, it looked like U2 there for a minute going around the circular stage at the Super Bowl.  I mean, again, the guy is incredibly confident and gifted. 

And we need confidence in this country at this point, but we also—he‘s got to be careful not to seem like he isn‘t listening and that he isn‘t talking about people‘s concerns.  In the end, as one Republican strategist said to me, it‘s not about Obama in the end.  It‘s about the voters.  And I think that‘s why he‘s hustling back here this week to talk about the economy from Monday through Friday. 

MITCHELL:  There are two things that only slightly verged on trouble areas for him.  One was his explanation for the surge, his continued opposition to it. 

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MITCHELL:  I wouldn‘t have changed my vote.  Yet, why are things safer?  And he has a rather complex answer to why things are safer.  He credits, you know, the Maliki government going against the Shia militia and the Sunni tribal leaders going against al Qaeda. 

But you could also argue that those things would not have happened if American security and troop presence hasn‘t made it more possible for those those leaders to do what they did.  So, that‘s a little bit treacherous waters. 

And the other thing is, did he make a bad call in deciding not to go to Ramstein?  He had every right to go to Ramstein...

BARNICLE:  To visit the...

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  ... to visit the troops in Landstuhl.

He had already been to visit the troops in Iraq without cameras, without an entourage.  And he got, I think—his people, rather, got so backed off by warnings from the Pentagon, now, be please careful, and don‘t bring your military aide, because he‘s now a political aide.  The Pentagon was way too aggressive probably in that. 

And they got so nervous, oh, well, this is going to look political, and they were damned if they did or damned if they didn‘t.  They...

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  Let me just finish one—just one point.

FINEMAN:  I‘m sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  There was never any intention—let me be absolutely clear about this.  The press was never going to go.  The entourage was never going to go.  There was never an intention to make this political.

But by tacking it on to the tail end of a political—the political leg of the trip, they opened themselves up, they feared, to the criticism.  And, if they had gone, they would have been criticized.  And not going, they were criticized.

And the McCain commercial on this subject is completely wrong, factually wrong. 

BARNICLE:  Well, let‘s watch the commercial.  And tell us where it‘s wrong.  Here‘s the new John McCain ad about this topic. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR:  He voted against funding our troops.  And, now, he made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops.  It seems the Pentagon wouldn‘t allow him to bring cameras. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Well, the wasn‘t the entire ad, but it was enough to give you an idea of it. Here‘s Chuck Hagel, senator from Nebraska, his take—he‘s a Republican—on that John McCain ad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FACE THE NATION”)

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS:  Do you think that ad was appropriate? 

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA:  I do not think it was appropriate. 

SCHIEFFER:  You do not? 

HAGEL:  I do not. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MITCHELL:  Well, first of all, the picture, the image that they use of him playing basketball is with the troops shot by a—an Army cameraman.  That was DOD footage that the—the Pentagon shot of him in Kuwait shooting hoops—and a three-pointer, I might add. 

BARNICLE:  Yes.  Swish. 

MITCHELL:  So, when he went to see the injured troops in the Green Zone, he did not bring a camera.  There was no Pentagon camera.  He did not even confirm to those of us covering by—covering that he had gone.  I had to find out that he had gone through other sources, military sources. 

I mean, the fact is that he was never planning to take the press corps.  The press corps was going to be on the tarmac, locked up on the airplane while he went off by himself.

The only issue was whether he could bring a political aide, who was a retired military—retired Air Force general.

BARNICLE:  So, Howard, let‘s twin these two elements.

The—the Obama campaign, their reluctance to visit the troops because of what Andrea just reported, and the Obama campaign‘s either reluctance or inability to fashion a statement about the surge that would indicate Obama felt the surge worked better than he thought it would, you know, a year or two ago. 

The question is, how much of these campaigns today, both campaigns, McCain‘s and Obama‘s campaign, think about what we do here every day, this 24-hour cable beast, that we‘re going to grab at any aspect, any word of a campaign, and hammer it for a day or two, and they‘re worried about that as well?

FINEMAN:  Oh, I think—I think it influences everything they do, because Obama‘s challenge is—here was to go through a gaffe-less tour of the Middle East and Europe.

And looking at the big picture, he pretty much did so. 

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  I mean, as I was saying before, this was a guy in the state legislature a few years ago.  He steps out onto the world stage, does very well everywhere he goes, tells General Petraeus, thanks for your advise, but, if I become commander in chief, it will be up to me.  That took a certain amount of brass to do that. 

BARNICLE:  Yes.  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  He meets on an equal level, at least, with the leaders of France, Germany, and Britain.  In the big picture, I think he did what this trip required, which was to show that he could operate on a world stage. 

The surge thing is a measure, as I see it, of his hubris sometimes.  It would not ruin his campaign to admit that the military aspects of the surge worked somewhat better than he thought they did, because his big-picture argument is, yes, maybe the surge worked, but we should have never been there to begin with. 

I mean, he‘s losing sight of the main point, which is—which was that he had the judgment in 2002 -- that‘s his argument—to know that we shouldn‘t have gone there in the first place. 

And it is hard to argue that the world and America are safer now than they were in 2003.  If McCain wants to argue that, let him do it.  It‘s a difficult argument to make, and, by the way, one that most of the American people don‘t agree with.  Most of the American people do not think that we are safer than we were in 2003. 

MITCHELL:  Interestingly, McCain is also unable, unwilling to admit any error of judgment in the original decision. 

(CROSSTALK)  

MITCHELL:  You have got these two candidates more our less stuck in their positions.

But you have got—by any measure, you have got to say that Barack Obama going to the Middle East with all that he had to accomplish, particularly not so much with the troops, but in Israel, with all those different factions, and the visit to the Palestinians, and his own challenge to get over suspicions that some Jewish voters have of him, he did very, very well.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  And it‘s a good thing he didn‘t go crazy with that secret message in the wall. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Because it hit the Israeli papers within an hour. 

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  How offensive is that?

BARNICLE:  Oh, it was terribly offensive.

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  ... goes and pulls what is supposed to be a private message out of the wall.

BARNICLE:  A prayer.

MITCHELL:  A prayer. 

FINEMAN:  Luckily, it was a very touching thing that he wrote. 

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  And, by the way, very good thing that he was overheard talking to the British conservative leader about.  He didn‘t say anything off the wall there either.

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  By the way, did you notice what the reference is?  When he said that he‘s been told by people who have been in the Oval Office that you need to carve out chunks of time a day, that‘s the Bill Clinton line.  You need to have time to think and to read.  Clearly, that‘s where it came from. 

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  Let‘s hope he makes better use of his time. 

(LAUGHTER)

MITCHELL:  Oh, guys, I walked right into that.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Andrea Mitchell, Howard Fineman, thanks very much. 

Up next—right up next, get a first look at “W.,” Oliver Stone‘s upcoming movie about the president. 

Sorry, Andrea.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.” 

Here‘s an instant collector‘s item for you.  These Democratic campaign buttons were supposed to show Idaho Senate candidate Larry LaRocco with Senator Obama.  But, well, they put the wrong guy from Ohio, the other Ohio Larry—that‘s right.  There he is—current Republican Senator Larry Craig pictured next to the Democratic nominee for president.

Senator Craig, is, of course, not seeking reelection, after his embarrassing arrest last year in an airport bathroom sex sting.  That‘s probably the last campaign button he will ever be on. 

Next, it‘s an ‘08 yard sale.  Hillary Clinton closed her campaign headquarters last month, and she offered up some of the memorabilia from her history-making campaign—for a price.  According to “The New York Post,” the Clinton campaign closed up shop and sold $2,123 in PalmPilots and bar code scanners to New Hampshire Democrats, $230 worth of office chairs to a Washington nightclub.

And here‘s the kicker.  Former Clinton staffers had to pay $45 just to keep their cell phones.  The campaign netted a grand total of $42,000 from their going-out-of-business sale.  That‘s unfortunately a drop in the bucket, though, when you‘re millions of dollars in debt.

And dishing on “W.”  Filmmaker Oliver Stone has got a new George W.  Bush movie coming out.  And it looks like the sitting U.S. president will be getting some of that special Oliver Stone treatment that we have come to expect. 

Just take a look at this fictional exchange between Bush 41 and Bush 43 from the newly released trailer. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “W.”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  You didn‘t exactly finish up with flying colors in the Air National Guard, junior.  What are you cut out for?  Partying, chasing tail, driving drunk?  Who do you think you are?  A Kennedy?  You‘re a Bush.  Act like one. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  I love that guy who plays Bush 41.  October surprise, perhaps, right?

The film will be coming to a theater near you just one month before the election. 

Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Last month, John McCain made a big-time reversal, announcing his support for offshore oil drilling.  Well, the jury is still out on whether his decision will help him in small-town America.  But there is one crowd that‘s cheering the move with their wallets. 

That‘s right, the U.S. oil industry.  So, just how much did energy executives and employees donate to John McCain in June? -- $1.1 million.  That‘s more than five times what McCain got from the same crowd back in May before he announced his support for offshore oil drilling -- $1.1 from big oil, that‘s tonight “Big Number.”

Up next, the HARDBALL strategists handicap the campaign. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks fall back into bear market territory following concerns about the latest round of bank failures.  That put pressure on the Dow, which closed 239 points lower on the day, the S&P 500 lower by 24, and the Nasdaq seeing a 46-point drop. 

Another drag on stocks?  Oil prices.  They rose more than $1 on supply concerns, settling above $124 a barrel, this after Nigerian militants attacked an oil pipeline there. 

Toyota lowers its global target for auto sales.  The Japanese automaker blames the faltering U.S. economy for the change, but expects strong sales in emerging markets to help offset some of those losses. 

And the White House says that the sagging economy will leave the next president with a nearly $490 billion federal deficit.  That figure does not include war spending. 

And consumer electronics retailer Best Buy is expanding.  The nation‘s biggest electronic retailer plans to sell musical instruments at as many as 85 stores nationwide. 

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

HARDBALL. 

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Barack Obama and John McCain are both training their sights on the economy, today the issue polls show concerns Americans the most.  That‘s the economy.  So, with 99 days to Election Day, what can the candidates do to convince voters that they should be president? 

Giving that kind of advice is a job for the strategists. 

So, I‘m joined now by the strategists, former Bush adviser Ron Christie and Democratic strategist Rich Masters. 

Gentlemen, Barack Obama has been pictured running around town here in Washington, D.C., today, going from one law firm to another, on the vice presidential selection process.  What‘s the timing of this?  What‘s the most optimum timing for both of these people, Barack Obama and John McCain? 

RON CHRISTIE, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BUSH:  Well, if I‘m Senator McCain, what Senator McCain needs to do right now, Mike, is to try to find some way to break through the news cycle.  It‘s been suffocating with Senator Obama. 

So, if I‘m John McCain, I would look to the end of the Democratic Convention or up to even the first week of the Republican convention, so he can get some sort of momentum and a buzz that his candidacy has not had thus far. 

If you‘re Barack Obama, he‘s got the entire media eating out of his hand right now.  If I‘m Senator Obama, I would try to do it before the Olympics.  It starts on August 8th.  A lot of Americans are going to be tuning into that two-week period of time.  I would select my candidate right before the Olympics, go on vacation, and have my VP surrogate out campaigning while Senator Obama is on vacation. 

BARNICLE:  Rich Masters, John McCain calls you tonight and say, Rich, what do you think I should do here?  What do you think I should do, tomorrow, next week, Sunday, at the convention?  What do you tell him?

MASTER:  Exactly what I would tell him is that you‘re about a week too late.  Ron was right on the money, there‘s no question that Barack Obama had an amazing week last week.  And the one thing that could have reversed some of the positive coverage Obama was getting coming out of Europe would have been a shocking announcements of a vice presidential candidate.  And word inside the McCain campaign is that he‘s ready to do it at a minutes notice.  So I don‘t understand why they were a day late and a dollar short. 

If John McCain were to call me, I‘d say get it out now.  Let‘s get it out quickly, this week, while there‘s a lull in this, so that you can capture that news cycle.  I would say to Barack Obama, again, the sooner you get it out, the better it is.  I would say that this week before the Olympics begin would be a great opportunity for him to do it, leading into the convention, also.  I mean, Barack Obama, when he makes the announcement, it‘s going to be huge.  So I think a rollout session going into the Denver conventions, also, would be extremely popular for him to do, Mike. 

BARNICLE:  Well, there‘s been no lull in the rhetoric.  John McCain has made no secret he believes Barack Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.  That‘s a quote in a new ad that criticizes Obama for not visiting troops in Germany.  Will this work with voters?  Rich just heard—he said shame on him. 

(CROSS TALK)

CHRISTIE:  Hang on just a second.  Senator Obama has been anointed by the media.  He‘s the golden one.  No one really wants to criticize him.  No one wants to touch him.  If you look at Senator Obama—

(CROSS TALK)

CHRISTIE:  Hang on a second.  If you look at what Senator Obama has said, he has said that he wanted the troops to come home by March of 2008.  If we had followed Senator Obama‘s strategy, Mike, we would not have had the surge.  We have not had the political stability we have in Iraq.  And in fact, we would have lost the war over there and lost the stability that we‘ve put so much of our blood --  

MASTERS:  If we had followed Barack Obama, we wouldn‘t be in Iraq in the first place.  If we followed Barack Obama‘s leadership, we wouldn‘t have been in Iraq in the first place.  So let‘s be really clear about that.

(CROSS TALK)

CHRISTIE:  That wasn‘t the question.  That wasn‘t the question.  Let me finish my point here.  Senator McCain came out and said that Senator Obama is willing to, for political purposes, lose this war and win on the politic.  And if you look at only what—

MASTERS:  Shame no him.

CHRISTIE:  -- not only the politics of what Senator McCain has said, but look at what Obama said.  Obama wanted to pull the troops out.  You can‘t have it both ways.  That‘s where I think people are criticizing.  That‘s why I think Senator Obama is in the middle of the pack.  Of course I believe that.  People don‘t know who this 46-year-old is.  Very little experience, who doesn‘t understand the war. 

MASTERS:  Thanks, Mike.  Listen, I would take his judgment on Iraq any single day over John McCain, who with lock step with Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and George W. Bush—went lock step straight into Iraq, just on a promise, without asking any of the tough questions that needed to be asked.  So I would absolutely take Barack Obama‘s judgment, as it pertains to Iraq.

And by the way, exactly what Barack Obama and Democrats have been talking about for a long time; there needs to be political reconciliation in Iraq.  It‘s not going to be a military solution.  Barack Obama, Democrats have been saying that for a long time. 

And shame on John McCain.  Listen, here‘s a guy who said he wanted to run above board.  Now he‘s saying Barack Obama‘s position is all about politics.  I expected more from John McCain and I expect more out of Barack Obama‘s campaign. 

CHRISTIE:  Let‘s not start on the shame on John McCain, because I can say shame on Barack Obama.  Senator Obama said that he was going to bring change to Washington.  He was going to bring public financing.  He was going to be the candidate of change.  No, he‘s not, because he‘s the first candidate since 1976 who has not selected public financing. 

If you look at whey people are not going to Senator Obama‘s candidacy, and I know Mike wants to get to this—

MASTERS:  They are going.

CHRISTIE:  It‘s because you have someone who‘s 46-years-old, who is very relatively inexperienced, who‘s right in the middle of the polls.  I think people don‘t trust his vision or his leadership. 

BARNICLE:  Ron Christie, thanks very much.  Rich Masters, thanks very much. 

Up next, it‘s the HARDBALL panel with the politics fix.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Tonight‘s round table, MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard, Wayne Slater of the “Dallas Morning News” and Jonathan Capehart of the “Washington Post.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have had a new “USA Today”/Gallup poll of likely voters, has John McCain now beating Barack Obama by four point.  But the poll of registered voters has Obama ahead by three points.  And the Gallup daily tracking shows Obama beating John McCain by eight points.  Michelle, do you think these polls mean anything at all? 

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think it‘s too far out to tell.  We‘ve still got to go until November.  It‘s interesting, this the poll we‘ve seen where John McCain is ahead.  And the caveat is with likely voters.  The big question is, what are likely voters?  Are we talking about some of the demographic that we looked during the season, and these being voters that are in the Midwest, voters who are in Appalachian states, low income voters, middle income voters, high income voters?  That‘s the big question.  I‘d be really interested in seeing—

BARNICLE:  If you‘re asking me, I don‘t know. 

JONATHAN CAPEHART, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I mean, there‘s a difference between registered and likely.  And these are the folks who are motivated to actually go to the polls.  So if I were the Obama campaign, just looking at this one poll—and, remember, polls are snap shots in time.  That does not mean that the race is going to turn on this one poll.  But it does say that the folks who are enthusiastic about voting right now are the ones who are giving Senator McCain the edge.  He‘s got to get those registered—Senator Barack Obama has those registered voters into the likely voter category. 

BARNICLE:  Hey, Wayne, whenever these polls are released, and they‘re released on almost an hourly basis now, there are always two things that are pointed out.  One is Barack Obama seems unable, thus far, to crack 50 percent in the polls.  Yet John McCain seems unable, thus far, to crack 45 in the polls.  What do you make of that? 

WAYNE SLATER, “DALLAS MORNING NEWS”:  Let me say something that might be a little counter-intuitive.  That‘s that here you have a poll that shows John McCain ahead, as Michelle said, the first time of any poll that we‘ve seen in the campaign.  But I really think it‘s not good news for John McCain.  Not bad news to be ahead, but not good news.  Basically, people know who John McCain is.  He hasn‘t made the sale.  He can‘t go above 45, at least so far. 

Barack Obama is still largely unknown, in the larger sense of things, and he hasn‘t completely made the sale, but I think the opportunity for growth is there with Barack Obama.  To go back to the cliche that we‘ve heard again and again, this is Barack Obama‘s race to lose, a referendum on his race.  If he stays ahead in other polls, I think he wins. 

BARNICLE:  Over the past few days, John McCain and the McCain campaign have been hammering Barack Obama on the issue of the troop surge working more than Obama indicated he thought it would work, on not visiting the troops in Germany.  Yesterday, on “Meet the Press,” Barack Obama hit back at John McCain.  Let‘s take a look at this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  John McCain‘s essential focus has been on the tactical issue of sending more troops.  He‘s made his entire approach to foreign policy rest on that support of Bush‘s decision to send more troops in.  We can have a whole range of arguments about past decisions; the decision to go into Iraq in the first place and whether that was a good strategic decision, where we have spent a trillion dollars, at least, by the time this thing is over, lost thousands of lives, in pursuit of goals that John McCain supported that turned out to be false. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Wayne, what‘s your sense of how things are playing out in Texas, down there, with regard to the issue of the surge?  Is it an issue that‘s on people‘s minds when McCain brings it up?  Or are they more concerned with their mortgages and gas prices? 

SLATER:  I think it is on some people‘s mind.  I think this is a conservative state, a red states, likely a John McCain state.  They care about it.  The problem with this surge argument is it‘s kind of murky.  I don‘t think Barack Obama did himself any good with his answer, which seems to be something of a mix.  But when the real world—the thing that people care about, as you just suggested, back here in Texas is the price of a gallon gasoline.  It takes a lot of gas to go from Houston to Dallas and from Austin to El Paso. 

The economy, homes—the economy here in Texas is better than places like California and Florida.  It‘s still a concern.  And I think the surge issue is seen largely as a political squabble.  And ultimately the decision will be made on the economy and other issues that are closer to the pocketbooks of Texas voters. 

BARNICLE:  Michelle, the surge thing, I can‘t follow the language of both candidates on the surge. 

BERNARD:  I read where someone commented that the McCain/Obama arguments on the surge really now should be called a Mc-Bama argument, because both of them are almost saying the exact same things.  This is really right now—it‘s becoming an argument that is not a winner for John McCain, simply because we‘ve had the prime minister of Iraq come out and basically endorse Senator Obama‘s troop withdrawal plan.  Senator McCain needs a positive message going forward.  He seems to be working defensively and it‘s not helping his campaign at all. 

BARNICLE:  The White House isn‘t helping him either.  We‘ll be back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  There‘s a new ad that John McCain has put out.  Here it is, his latest ad, slamming Obama for not visiting wounded troops in Germany.  Take a look at this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Barack Obama never held a single Senate hearing on Afghanistan.  He hadn‘t been to Iraq in years.  He voted against funding our troops.  And now he made time to go to the gym, but canceled a visit with wounded troops.  It seems the Pentagon wouldn‘t allow him to bring camera‘s. 

John McCain is always there for our troops.  McCain, country first. 

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Wayne, what does that do for you?  Think that ad works? 

SLATER:  I think it does.  I think there‘s an old adage in politics, if you‘re explaining, you‘re losing.  This ad is fairly elegant.  It‘s fairly simple.  Let the other guy explain that it‘s largely wrong.  I think it works. 

BARNICLE:  Michelle? 

BERNARD:  The part of the ad where he ends with country first is the best part of the ad.  Negative ads don‘t work on me personally.  I would assume that there‘s some study they‘ve looked at that shows that some people in the American public are going to believe this and are going to decide to vote for John McCain on the basis of this ad.  That being said, I think it‘s undignified and I think it is not the type of campaign that John McCain promised the American public he was going to be running.   

CAPEHART:  I agree with both of them.  But also, I would add that it seems desperate to me for Senator McCain to make that last point in the ad, that Senator Obama went to the gym instead of visiting injured soldiers in Germany, when we all know, and it‘s been reported, that Senator Obama went to visit troops when he was in Afghanistan, when he was in Iraq; and from what I understand, correct me if I‘m wrong, he went to visit injured troops in Iraq.  It‘s not that Senator Obama didn‘t go because—

BERNARD:  Went to shoot hoops. 

CAPEHART:  Or he didn‘t want cameras to come along.  This is a damned if you do, damned if you don‘t situation that he‘s in. 

BARNICLE:  Wayne, off what you said, a lot of people will say, geez, this is John McCain changing his image.  But I don‘t think it is, do you? 

SLATER:  No, I think he‘s a tough guy.  I think he‘s pointing out something that‘s fairly elegant and simple.  Again, even if it‘s wrong, Barack Obama was never—as Andrea said—was never going to take cameras in there.  Let the other guy explain that. 

BARNICLE:  Got to go, Wayne. 

SLATER:  This is the tough John McCain that we know about.

BARNICLE:  Wayne Slater, Michelle Bernard, Jonathan Capehart, thanks very much.  Join us again tomorrow for more HARDBALL at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern.  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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