updated 7/30/2008 11:11:20 AM ET 2008-07-30T15:11:20

Guest: Mike Barnicle, Pete Williams, Chuck Todd, John Harwood, Pat Buchanan, Milissa Rehberger, Roger Simon, Chris Cillizza, Chrystia Freeland, Del Walters, Richard Cohen

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  A vice presidential choice.  Will we know in 24 hours?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

We‘ll bring you the latest on the Los Angeles earthquake as news warrants.  But first, it‘s time for HARDBALL.  Leading off, indicted.  It‘s not like Republicans needed anymore bad news in trying to hold on to Senate seats, but they got it anyway.  Today Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska was indicted on corruption charges after more than a year-long investigation.  What does this mean for Stevens and the Republicans, in a moment.

Also, veepstakes.  They just got a whole lot more interesting.  Today‘s “Washington Post” reported that Virginia governor Tim Kaine has told associates that he has had, quote, “very serious” talks with Barack Obama about being his running mate.  That, of course, got Washington to talking—well, there‘s something new—which in turn, got Governor Kaine talking.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA:  I haven‘t sought it.  I‘m not running for it.  I‘m not asking for it.  I‘ve never asked anything of the campaign.  I didn‘t endorse him to get anything.  I endorsed him to help him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Pretty definitive words, but not exactly a denial, either.  So who‘s on Obama‘s short list?  Who‘s on John McCain‘s short list?  We‘ll take a look at all the leading candidates.  Plus, if you were confused about how one Gallup poll could have Obama up by 8 while another had John McCain up by 4, well, so were we.  We‘ll look at all the recent polling and at the battleground states that could determine who wins in November.

Also: Did the Bush White House use Fox News to air its talking points?  Last week on HARDBALL, Scott McClellan said, yes, it did.  But wait until you hear the reaction from Bill O‘Reilly.

Also: Is that sound we just heard John McCain suggesting he might be open to raising taxes?  And is that other sound we just heard Republicans being outraged?  We‘ll have that and more in the “Politics Fix.”

And we know Dan Quayle can‘t spell—all right, maybe that‘s a little bit harsh—but can he dance?  Find out in tonight‘s HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

But first, the indictment of Senator Ted Stevens.  Pete Williams is NBC News chief justice correspondent—Pete.

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Mike, this is a very serious charge against Senator Stevens.  He is not charged with taking a bribe, he is charged with making false statements on the financial disclosure forms that all people in public office have to file—certainly, U.S. senators have to file.

And federal prosecutors today accused him of filing a series of financial disclosure statements in the last decade that failed to note that, according to federal prosecutors, he accepted a quarter million dollars‘ worth of work and materials on a house that was undergoing substantial renovation, a house that he and his wife owned in Alaska.

The prosecutors say that among the work that was done on the house was actually jacking it up one full floor to add another floor under it, and then building a wraparound deck, adding a garage with a workbench, giving him tools, giving him a gas grill, giving him other favors and plumbing and electrical wiring in this house.  And they say he failed to disclose any of it.

Now, Senator Stevens had said before that he paid for the work, and today the Justice Department says, yes,  he did pay for some of it, but that he did not pay for any of the work or materials provided by a company that has since gone out of business in Alaska, an oil field service company called VECO, run by a friend of Senator Stevens.  And that, according to the Justice Department, is what the trouble is, that he failed to report all of this material and labor that was done on the house.

BARNICLE:  Pete Williams, thanks very much for that report.  We appreciate it.

You know, gentlemen—first of all, Roger Simon is the chief political columnist for “Politico.”  Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix” for Washingtonpost.com.  And both of you have heard the expression for years, a politician who would steal a hot stove.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Now Senator Stevens—he‘s been charged—he‘s been charged with stealing a stove, a pretty good one, too.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  Gas grill.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  A gas grill.  But what impact does this have on the race?  He‘s already 3 or 4 points behind to the mayor of Anchorage, isn‘t he?  What happens here, Roger?

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM:  I think he‘s in real trouble.  I mean, if you‘re—I heard he was slightly ahead of the mayor of Anchorage, but you‘re only—if you‘re Ted Stevens and you‘re only slightly ahead, you‘re in real trouble.  I mean, The Republican brand has been so damaged already, it‘s ranking right ahead of DDT and asbestos, I think right now, in the public imagination.  They don‘t need more accusations of corruption.  Now, it‘s just an indictment, it‘s not a conviction.

BARNICLE:  Yes.

SIMON:  But it‘s going to make—you know, the magic number for the Democrats is getting to 60 in the Senate.  They thought it was impossible.  It may not be impossible anymore.

BARNICLE:  So Chris, what does the Republican National Committee do?  They got an 86-year-old incumbent under indictment.  What do they do?

CILLIZZA:  Well, right now, they don‘t say much of anything, Mike, and they sort of let Senator Stevens, hopefully, say something.  What they hope for—and I think Roger is right.  This is starting to look, at least holding this particular seat, like a triple bank shot.  Here‘s what they need to hope for.  Ted Stevens can‘t take his name off the ballot.  He would have had to do that 48 days before the primary.  The primary‘s August 26.

BARNICLE:  He can‘t take his name off the ballot?

CILLIZZA:  He cannot remove his name from the primary ballot.  Now, he‘s facing five people in the primary.  I think the best case scenario—and this is new, but the best case scenario for Republicans, Stevens runs and wins the primary.  He then steps aside.  They would then be able to replace him—the Republican State Central Committee, you know, one of those bodies composed of people who are in politics forever in Alaska—would then be able to replace him with a candidate of their choosing.

That‘s a lot of ifs, and it includes the fact that Ted Stevens, who has shown absolutely no willingness to step aside, despite this ongoing investigation, that he wants to say, You know what?  I‘m done.  I‘ll do what you want me to do, then I‘ll step out of the picture.  I‘m not sure it‘s going to happen.

BARNICLE:  Well, while he works out his legal difficulties over the next few days, we‘re going to turn to the vice presidential difficulties.

SIMON:  He‘s not going to be a vice president.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  No, I don‘t think he‘s going to be the nominee.  But this morning, Governor Tim Kaine was in Washington, D.C., with his daughter.  He had an interview on radio station, I think, WTOP in Washington.  He‘s been on the front page of “The Washington Post” this morning.

Let‘s—well, here‘s today‘s “Washington Post,” the quote this morning, “Kaine has told close associates that he has had ‘very serious‘ conversations with Obama about joining the Democratic presidential ticket and has provided documents to the campaign as it combs through his background, according to several sources close to Kaine.”

So gentlemen, my question to you is, it seems that there is a certain segment of the population in this country who indicate they don‘t really know who Barack Obama is and they‘re wondering who he is and—as they mull over their choice to vote.  Why would Barack Obama choose someone who adds to those question marks, Roger?

SIMON:  Well, because he wants to win the state of Virginia.  I mean, the state of Virginia is 13 electoral votes and it‘s very important to him.  Tim Kaine is popular in the state of Virginia.  He was an early endorser of Senator Obama, and they‘re comfortable together.  I said on this show at least twice now that I think it‘s going to be the two Tims, Tim Pawlenty for the Republicans, Tim Kaine for the Democrats.

But having said that, and now it—you know, “Washington Post” having, I‘m sure, accurately reported it‘s close, I hear Evan Bayh is really close, too.  I think it‘s going to be a mirror of what Barack Obama did in the primaries, where it was all about numbers—numbers, delegates, delegates, delegates.  In this choice, it‘s going to be all about getting to 270 electoral votes.  If they are convinced Evan Bayh can get him Indiana, one of the two Great Lake states Democrats didn‘t win last time, with its 11 electoral votes, and they will win Virginia anyway, I think it‘ll be Bayh over Kaine.

BARNICLE:  Do you agree with that?

CILLIZZA:  Here‘s what I think.  I think Roger‘s right.  I think what we‘re seeing now is—there was a broad sort of vetting of every name that we heard of.  I think what we‘re seeing is a secondary vetting of the really serious candidates, and I think that‘s why you‘re starting to see things leak out like this story that my colleagues wrote yesterday about Tim Kaine.  My guess is that very serious, that last tier, is Tim Kaine, Joe Biden and Evan Bayh.

And to Roger‘s point, Barack Obama is not an ideologue who is willing to make choices without a level of pragmatism.  He‘s shown several times, once rejecting public financing—clearly, he had said he was going to stay within the system if his Republican opponent did.  He said, You know what?  I can raise a lot more money, and that‘s to my advantage.  Voting for the compromise on the domestic surveillance that included immunity for telecommunications.  The left did not like that.

He‘s shown a practicality, understanding that he‘s going to do what he needs to do to get him into the White House.  That could well be picking an Evan Bayh or a Joe Biden, who‘s not the natural fit for a fresh face.  Both Biden and Bayh have spent considerable time in Washington  But Obama‘s going to do what gets him the 270, and I think that‘s to Roger‘s point.

BARNICLE:  That would not be—I mean, you read Ryan Lizza‘s piece a couple of weeks ago in “The New Yorker” magazine, and Barack Obama is—wow, he‘s a politician.

SIMON:  Right.

BARNICLE:  He makes political decisions.

SIMON:  And you know, no one expects the second part—the number two spot on the ticket to win the race.  I mean, first of all, do no harm.  Second of all, pick a guy who can do OK or even win a debate, which is the only real role a vice president has during the campaign.  Be a good surrogate.  And you know, both have their points.

Evan Bayh, I thought in the beginning, might not get it because, look, Evan Bayh endorsed Hillary Clinton early on.  Tim Kaine endorsed Barack Obama early on, when Barack Obama was not getting a lot of endorsements.  So do you reward your friends or do you reward your enemies?  But giving it to Bayh is sort of a way to reaching out to Hillary people, saying he‘s virtually a surrogate for Hillary Clinton.  I‘ll go with Bayh and mend fences.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  One quick point about Bayh I just wanted to mention.  Like, people say, Well, he‘s boring.  Well, boring isn‘t necessarily bad when you‘re talking about the vice president.  You want him to make a whole heck of a lot of news.

BARNICLE:  Well, before we move on to John McCain‘s potential choices, I‘ll just ask you.  Is there any choice that would surprise you among the Democrats?

CILLIZZA:  Hillary Clinton.

BARNICLE:  Is there any choice that would surprise you, Roger?

SIMON:  Hagel.

BARNICLE:  Chuck Hagel.  OK.

Well, here‘s John McCain‘s apparent short list now, switching sides—

Tim Pawlenty, governor of Minnesota, Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, Rob Portman, congressman from Ohio, and Tom Ridge, former governor of Pennsylvania.

So you hear Tom Ridge being bounced around.  You hear Mitt Romney been bounced around.  And there accrues to both of them some thunder on the right of the Republican Party.  So my question to both of you—starting with you, Roger—is the Republican Party at the stage where they are more interested in ideology than they are in victory?

SIMON:  The Republican Party has always been interested in ideology, and a certain segment of the Republican Party would always prefer ideology over victory.  A certain segment would not.  Tom Ridge is a pro-choice Republican.  I don‘t see the Republican convention nominating him, or if McCain forces him down their throats, it‘s going to be just a big negative story that he doesn‘t need.  You know, I think he‘s fine on a lot of other grounds.  Pennsylvania‘s a great pick-up, would be a great pick-up.  But I don‘t see them going for him.

And I think in terms of Romney, he‘s got a problem with being a Mormon.  It wins him some votes in the West, might lose votes in the South.  But again, I think it‘s Electoral College politics.  Can Romney win him the state of Michigan?

BARNICLE:  Who has the higher degree of difficulty in picking their number two, Romney—I mean, McCain or Obama?

CILLIZZA:  I‘m going to say McCain because I think that many people in the sort of chattering class in Washington and elsewhere think that McCain has to fundamentally alter this race somehow and that there are only a few ways to do that, and the big one is pick someone who no one expects for VP.  I think that‘s why Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, still gets some attention.  My thought on that one—he‘s 37 years old.  The main attack John McCain has been using on Barack Obama is he‘s too inexperienced.  Hard to put a Jindal on the ticket.

But I think almost any of those names you put up there—and I‘ll put another one on there, John Thune from South Dakota, who I think is in the mix, as well—I‘m not sure any of them draw the amount of attention that some within the McCain world believe they need to alter the dynamic of this race.  So I don‘t know that there‘s a pick out there that actually does what needs to be done for McCain.

BARNICLE:  Last question, yes or no answer from both of you.  Does it amaze you—you mentioned chattering class—that anyone would pay attention to anything that any of us say?

CILLIZZA:  Yes, but bless them because I need the hits on my Web site.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON:  I‘m amazed I‘m even invited on to say the things.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Roger Simon, Chris Cillizza, thanks very much.

Coming up, different polls with different results.  Is it too early in the race for the numbers to tell us anything?  And Obama says the odds of him winning are very good.  Whose odds?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Ninety-eight days, just ninety-eight days until election day.  So what‘s the state of the race?  Chuck Todd is NBC News political director, and “The New York Times‘s” John Harwood is CNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent.  We‘re going to start calling you two jobs, John.  I mean, you got two jobs going there.  That‘s good.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  Sweet.  I‘ll take it.

BARNICLE:  Yes.  Gentlemen, listen to this audio of Senator Obama last night at a fund-raiser in Virginia, please.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  When we started this campaign, let‘s face it, you know, there weren‘t too many of y‘all who thought we were going to pull this off.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  This is a moment for big ideas and really trying to push the envelope, and people have responded all across the country.  We are now in a position where the odds of us winning are very good, but it is still going to be difficult.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Simple question, Chuck Todd.  Is he right?  The odds of his winning are very good?

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Yes, it‘s his—it‘s, you know, his race to win, I guess, as our pollster, Peter Hart, likes to put it.  Everything is going his way.  Any Democrat—all he has to do is grab on to the coattails of the Democratic Party and he should be able to get across the finish line.  If he does not win, he did something wrong.  He messed up in some way.  This is all in his hands.  It is his there to go get the brass ring.

In some ways, John McCain is waiting for Obama to make a mistake, needs Obama to make maybe more than one mistake.  It‘s not going to take just one stumble, it‘s going to take three or four stumbles, and then McCain can sit there to pick up the pieces.  So he is right in that it is -it is—Obama‘s there to grab first.  He‘s got sort of the head start out, of the blocks, whatever you want to call it.

BARNICLE:  Hey, John Harwood, you‘re out there.  You‘ve got your ear to the ground.  You just heard Chuck talk about John McCain playing a waiting game, waiting for John McCain to make—for Barack Obama to make a mistake.  Ninety-eight days left until election.  Is a waiting game a dangerous game to play for John McCain?

HARWOOD:  Well, I‘m not sure he has other options.  I agree with Chuck, although I would put it differently.  I think the race is about Obama.  It pivots on Obama.  And I think of it less in terms of potential mistakes than in Barack Obama providing a level of reassurance, a level of safety and comfort for some unknowable quantum (SIC) of voters out there who are holding back or awaiting judgment on him.

As Chuck said, all of the atmospherics favor the Democrats.  You‘ve got a very unpopular president after two terms of Republican control of the White House.  This is a great time to run as a Democrat.  And the question is, can Barack Obama—first African-American nominee, funny name, different kind of candidate than American voters have had to swallow, really, in past elections—can they—will that medicine go down smoothly?  That‘s the question of the election.

BARNICLE:  Well, that leads us to the questions about the polls.  Gallup has two new polls with three different results.  The “USA Today” Gallup poll of likely voters has John McCain up 4 points.  That same poll has Barack Obama up 3 points among registered voters.  And today‘s Gallup tracking poll has Barack Obama up 6 points.

Chuck, these polls are making me crazy.  I don‘t know much about them to begin with.  What‘s going on with the polls?  Should I look and believe any of them?

TODD:  Well, look, you probably shouldn‘t look at a single poll until after the first debate.  There are a lot of people that believe that, that that‘s the next time that there will be a fundamental change in the race, where voters will sit there—probably 80 or 90 million people will tune into that first debate and will get an assessment of these two guys standing next to each other or sitting next to each other—we don‘t know exactly what the format of the first one will be.  And then you‘ll get a sense.

But, you know, I wish we could do that with our poll.  I wish we could come out with three different results, because that guarantees that you‘re going to be right. 

The irony to what “USA Today”—what Gallup did—and they have two different samples, and they have one where they‘re weighting heavily with a likely-voter model, which, by the way, it‘s hard to do a likely-voter model in the summer. 

BARNICLE:  What‘s—what‘s the difference between taking a poll of likely and registered voters?

TODD:  Well, with registered voters, you obviously have one less screen. 

And, now, Gallup has a—the science to their poll in their likely-voter screen.  And they ask a series of questions.  It‘s not just one.  They don‘t just ask, hey, Mike, are you going to—are you likely—are you going to vote?  And they don‘t say, yes, sir.  OK.  You‘re a likely—they don‘t say, you‘re a likely voter.  They will ask you a couple of questions to find out.  Have you voted before?  Did you vote in the last two elections?  And then they will determine whether you‘re a likely voter. 

The problem is, in the summertime, the most likely voters these day are older voters.  And, then, if you don‘t get enough younger voters, and then you‘re weighting, and then you‘re putting in some Kabuki and some science and throwing in a little bit of salt and pepper.  And, all of a sudden, you come out with this number that may have McCain up, in a way, because he does better with older voters. 

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

TODD:  And, so, it‘s—look, it‘s silly.  Gallup is really—I‘m sure they wish their brand weren‘t on the fact that there are three different results for the same—over the same three-day period. 

BARNICLE:  Hey, John, on instinct, what do you think the percentage of respondents to these polls are who might, you know, not tell the truth to the pollsters because of Barack Obama‘s race? 

HARWOOD:  Well, there are couple different problems that we have got in polling now.  One is the one that you just mentioned, that some voters don‘t tell the truth. 

The other is lack of response rates for polling generally.  It‘s become more and more difficult.  And you have got the questions about, are you reaching the people who don‘t have land lines, who only have cell phones? 

So, there are a lot of complications.  Because there are so many polls out there, it‘s become more difficult to get accurate polling.  But I think, in answer to your earlier question, look at that NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, which is a steady-as-she-goes kind of poll.  It doesn‘t oscillate as much as a lot of the other polls, for some of the reasons that Chuck mentioned, doesn‘t look at likely voters until much later in the cycle, so that they‘re—they‘re not all, all over the map.  Some of them are pretty consistent. 

BARNICLE:  Speaking of the map, let‘s go to the battleground states. 

The state of Ohio, that‘s—that‘s a key battleground state, is it not? 

TODD:  It is.  I think what is interesting is that you have the Obama campaign trying to find a path without it.  You know, they—they—it is one of the closer contested right now, Obama slightly—I think both campaigns would say Obama slightly up.  But it is—it is key, but Obama is trying to figure out, can he win—can he get to 270 without it? 

BARNICLE:  John, you tell me about the battleground state, please, of Virginia. 

HARWOOD:  I think Virginia is very much in play.  It‘s a state that has elected both Tim Kaine governor, Jim Webb senator in the last recent election.  So, I think that is one of the things that‘s driving Tim Kaine as a factor you—in that discussion you had earlier about vice presidential nominees.

I do think comfort is a particular need for Barack Obama, for the reason I mentioned earlier, and that also boosts people like Joe Biden, and Evan Bayh, who has the potential for changing the equation slightly in Indiana.  No running mate turns a state upside down, but they can provide you a little bit of an edge in particular places.  Tom Ridge might do the same thing for John McCain in Pennsylvania.

BARNICLE:  Battleground state of Missouri, Chuck Todd, John McCain‘s up by one. 

TODD:  I feel—I have always felt Missouri is a good place for—for John McCain. 

BARNICLE:  Missouri? 

TODD:  And Missouri is a good place for Obama. 

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  And the question is, can one of them sneak over and carry the other side?

No, I have always thought of Missouri as the 290th electoral vote for

for Barack Obama, which means it‘s not going to be the one that puts him over the top.  If he is starting to get momentum on his side, Missouri will then swing over.  It—it‘s a Republican state by one or two points, slightly lean Republican.  You have to have a good Democratic night in order to win there as a Democrat. 

BARNICLE:  John Harwood?

HARWOOD:  I totally agree, Mike.  It‘s very difficult to have a scenario in which—in which Barack Obama would carry Missouri, but not carry other battlegrounds that would get him to 270 first. 

BARNICLE:  OK.  John, he‘s up by two points—Barack Obama‘s up by two points in the Colorado average by Pollster.com.  What‘s your instinct on Colorado?

HARWOOD:  Colorado is going to be competitive.  He‘s got a good opportunity to win.  But I wouldn‘t put it much better than 50/50.  He does have a solid Senate race on the ballot as well, a good candidate in Mark Udall to run with out there. 

This is a state that‘s changing.  Bill Ritter won the governorship.  Republicans—Democrats are doing better and better in the state—at the state level, legislative elections.  But I think this is not one that Barack Obama can count on.  It‘s one that it‘s—he will be helped by having his convention out in Denver. 

TODD:  Yes.  I actually think, though...

BARNICLE:  Quickly.

TODD:  ... he‘s got—Colorado‘s one of Obama‘s must-win states, if he‘s going to somehow not win either Ohio or Florida.  Suddenly, Colorado and Virginia become must-wins. 

BARNICLE:  Two guys who make everybody smarter, Chuck Todd, John Harwood.  Thanks very much, both of you.

Up next:  You will never guess which former vice president of the United States is considering being on “Dancing With the Stars.”  You wouldn‘t guess that.  Well, then maybe you could guess that.  That‘s next on the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

And it‘s time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.” 

“The Tonight Show”‘s Jay Leno wants John McCain to know he feels his pain.  Just take a look at this clip from last night.

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

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”:  You know, something happened today with a group of reporters at a John McCain rally.  They‘re there covering McCain.  Did you see what these reporters did?  I mean, it‘s very subtle, but—well, here, you be the judge. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The major point here is, Senator Obama could not have gone to Iraq, as he did, because he opposed the surge.  It was the surge...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE AND FEMALES (singing):  Obama mia, what a (INAUDIBLE) He‘s one sexy politician.  Obama mia, he‘s not John McCain, who‘s got a cranky disposition.  Obama mia, Obama mia, Obama mia, Obama mia.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Well, that‘s obviously a takeoff an ABBA, one of John McCain‘s favorite bands. 

Next, dancing with Dan Quayle?  “The Philadelphia Inquirer” picks up today on Internet buzz that Dan Quayle, the former vice president of the United States, may be in the running to appear on “Dancing With the Stars” this fall.

That‘s right.  While fellow vice presidential candidate—and Vice President Al Gore is off winning Oscars and the Nobel Peace Prize, Quayle might be doing the tango live on national TV.  As political theater, we would give Dan a 10 just for trying. 

Go get ‘em, Dan.

And party on, Denver.  Like the Golden Globes and the Oscars, at the end of the day, presidential conventions are all about the after-parties.  “The Denver Post” is reporting that the Democratic Convention‘s already got 400 scheduled parties, with acts like Earth, Wind and Fire, Sheryl Crow, and the Tempting Temptations lined up.  How‘s that for party unity?

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”

As we heard earlier, Barack Obama said last night he thinks his chances of winning in November are—quote—“very good.”  Well, let‘s take a look at what the online traders over at Dublin, Ireland-based Intrade.com have to say about that.  According to their bets, what are Barack Obama‘s chances of winning the presidency?  Sixty-three percent.  John McCain, meanwhile, is at 34 percent.  That‘s almost a 2-1 edge for Obama. 

Obama shouldn‘t get too confident, though.  As we saw in 2000 and 2004, it can all change in an instant.  Plus, this is coming out of Dublin. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  So, Obama at 63 percent to go all the way—that‘s tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  A former White House press secretary tells us that he gave talking points to some FOX News hosts.  Is that normal procedure? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Milissa Rehberger.

We‘re following breaking news out of Southern California, where officials are assessing a damage following a 5.4-magnitude earthquake there.  The U.S. Geological Survey estimates, the quake was centered 29 --

29 miles southeast of Los Angeles, near Chino Hills, in San Bernardino County.  The quake was felt from Los Angeles to San Diego, with more than 20 aftershocks reported, the largest estimated at 3.8.

There are reports of five minor injuries and people stuck in elevators.  But authorities say there‘s been no major damage, only minor infrastructure damage, including gas lines and water mains. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We see this as the direct result of the earthquake that happened this—earlier this morning.  And, so, we‘re dealing with it as a problem caused by the earthquake. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

REHBERGER:  California‘s governor activated the state‘s emergency operations center. 

We will have more on the story throughout the evening—now back to

HARDBALL. 

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

On Friday‘s show, Scott McClellan told Chris Matthews, the White House gave talking points to some FOX News hosts. 

Here‘s the exchange. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Did you see FOX television as a tool when you were in the White House, as a useful avenue for getting your message out? 

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Well, I make a distinction between the journalists and between the commentators.  Certainly, there were commentators and others, pundits, at FOX News that were helpful to the White House. 

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN:  Certainly, we got talking points...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN:  ... those people.

MATTHEWS:  Did people say, call Sean, call Bill, call whoever?  Did you do that as a regular thing?

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN:  Certainly.  Certainly.  It wasn‘t necessarily something I was doing, but it was something that we at the White House, yes, were doing and getting them talking points and making sure they knew where we were coming from. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you were giving them talking points...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN:  But I would separate the journalists.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, no, this is important. 

MCCLELLAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You were using these commentators as your spokespeople? 

MCCLELLAN:  Well, certainly.  I mean, certainly.  I think that happens to both ways, when people go on other networks, as well, that are—that are favorable towards Democrats and so forth. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, nobody has ever...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Bill O‘Reilly begs to differ. 

Here he is on “The O‘Reilly Factor”‘s “Reality Check” segment last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”)

BILL O‘REILLY, HOST, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”:  Well, I never once received a talking point from the White House.  So, McClellan is not telling the truth about me. 

Should I be angry?  Nah.  But I have to call a lie a lie. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Well, today, Scott McClellan was on Bill O‘Reilly‘s radio show, “The Radio Factor.” 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, “THE RADIO FACTOR”)

MCCLELLAN:  The truth is, I messed up.  I was specifically not trying to single anyone out, including you. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Well, how does this stuff really work? 

I‘m joined by MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and “Salon” editor Joan Walsh. 

Patrick, I have to tell you, I agree with Bill O‘Reilly here.  I don‘t think he would take talking points from anyone. 

But you‘re a former communications director at the White House.  Now, I understand, when you were there, you would send out your stuff by pony express or something. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  But...

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, look, we have a—we have a public affairs shop that moves out all our information, the president‘s speech, what the critical points are.  And you move that material. 

But, look, I saw this down at the beach.  And Scott McClellan left the impression that these guys at FOX News, Sean, and Bill O‘Reilly, were basically taking dictation, like parrots, from the White House.  I don‘t believe that.  I think that‘s false. 

I don‘t know what they ship out from this White House.  But I don‘t believe—they are—they obviously agree with the White House on a lot of conservative issues.  Some, they don‘t agree on them.  But I think it was unfair. 

And if you heard that—I heard that nine minutes on radio today.  And O‘Reilly was angry.  And I think he was justified in being pretty angry at the impression that Scott McClellan left, which I think was false.

BARNICLE:  Joan, where are you on this? 

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SALON.COM:  Well, you know, Mike, this story, for liberals, was too good not to be true. 

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH:  It sort of conformed to all our stereotypes.  So, we enjoyed it for a while. 

But, you know, from the minute Scott was talking with Chris, he started backpedaling.  You saw him say, well, I didn‘t do it, and it wasn‘t the news guys.  It wasn‘t Brit Hume.  I‘m not sure who exactly. 

And, so, you know, it‘s rare that I would ever come to Bill O‘Reilly‘s defense, but I don‘t see any evidence at this point that they were officially disseminating points one through nine, and they were then being parroted on FOX News. 

On the other hand, you know, you have the network that bills itself as fair and balanced.  It seems anything but, especially in its commentary segments. 

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH:  So, you know, it‘s—it‘s—it‘s understandable why people wanted to believe it.  But, you know, Scott‘s looking a little bit worse for the wear today. 

BUCHANAN:  I think he is.  And I think he basically apologized to Bill O‘Reilly...

WALSH:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  ... for leaving the impression that he left there.

But, look, everybody, whether—look, speaking as—in the White House, you have got journalists coming into you all the day.  I see them around here.  They used to come in to see me in the White House.  You make the case for the president.

I have had guys call me up.  And they say, Pat, how did you defend this latest problem Reagan‘s got or Nixon‘s got?  What is your argument?

WALSH:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  And they pick up your arguments.

But this is the way people work with journalists and all the rest of it.  But the idea that these guys—“Here‘s your script for today, Barnicle; put this on the air on tonight”—you know what that is, Mike. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Yes, I do know what that is, although I never got the script. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  No, you...

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  You know, Joan, what you—what you were saying about, you know, FOX News or Bill O‘Reilly or whatever, isn‘t it a fact—I mean, people should be let in on something they already know, that guests come on these programs on this cable network and other cable networks, and the producers of the program, the host of the program, know they‘re going to get this set of views from this person and another set of views from another person. 

That‘s how it works.  And both sides are supplied with their own information, no matter how they gather it, whether someone gives it to them or whether—or whether they get it for themselves.  But they‘re coming from an individual reference point. 

WALSH:  Right, I think you have people—certainly the campaign we‘ve just been through, Mike, you know, you‘ve got clear—in the primary, you had clear Clinton surrogates; you had clear Obama surrogates.  Then you have journalists who were somewhere in between.  You and I both know, we could sit here all day on our Blackberries and we‘re getting talking points from various campaigns.  Every once in a while, you might look up at the television set and see a journalist, not you or me, certainly, parroting something that just came in from one of those press secretaries. 

Is that—are those talking points or is that, hey, this is a good point and I‘m going to be the first one to introduce it into the debate?  I think that goes on all the time.  And let the viewer beware that that‘s happening. 

BUCHANAN:  We can recognize that.  Frankly, if you‘ve been in this business, you see these folks, one of them comes in Republican, one Democrat.  And Joan‘s right.  They come from the campaigns and they‘ve got one, two, three—they use the same words and same three quick arguments.  Those are talking points.  And those are people basically putting out the propaganda line. 

But the journalists you see, I‘m sure they get that stuff in the mail and they say this look—that guy‘s got a good point there, but I think the—when you get them from both parties, you are getting propaganda, but I don‘t think they could accuse journalists of doing that not that I know of.  I certainly don‘t think they can accuse Sean or O‘Reilly of that. 

WALSH:  There‘s no evidence right now. 

BUCHANAN:  He wouldn‘t be at 2.8 million or whatever the double he is at. 

BARNICLE:  He‘s not taking talking points from—he‘s not taking it from Roger Ailes.  He‘s not taking them from anyone. 

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.  I think the guy wouldn‘t have the ratings he does, have the audience he does if he‘s spouting the party line. 

BARNICLE:  Did you have any go-to guys when you were the communications director in the media? 

BUCHANAN:  In the Nixon White House I had two, and I won‘t tell you who they were. 

WALSH:  Come on, Pat.  All these years later. 

BUCHANAN:  Put it in the memoirs. 

BARNICLE:  Joan, I‘ll get them from him and I‘ll tell you. 

WALSH:  All right, Mike, thank you.

BARNICLE:  Joan Walsh, Pat Buchanan, thanks very much. 

Up next, the politics fix.  Is John McCain reneging on his pledge not to raise taxes.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  Come on, tell me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back.  It‘s time for the politics fix with our round table.  Chrystia Freeland is with the U.S. “Financial Times.”  Del Walters is with “Ebony Jet Magazine.”  He‘s also got a new book out called “The Race.”  Our old friend Richard Cohen is a “Washington Post” columnist.  I would like all three of you to listen to a clip.  This is what Barack Obama said at a fund-raiser yesterday, if you could listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  When we started this campaign, let‘s face it, there weren‘t of you all that thought we were going to win.

This was a moment for big ideas and really trying to push the envelope.  People have responded all across the country.  We are now in a position where the odds of us winning are very good, but it is still going to be difficult.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  So that was Barack Obama last evening.  And Richard Cohen this morning in the “Washington Post,” the kicker in your column is describing Barack Obama a near perfect political package.  I‘m still not sure though what‘s in it.  That‘s according to you, Richard Cohen, let‘s start there.  Richard, you start with, you know, the degree of difficulty that I think some Americans are having in trying to figure out exactly who Barack Obama is. 

RICHARD COHEN, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, you know, I mean the fact of the matter is he‘s a politician who appeared on the national scene just yesterday.  So there are lots of people who don‘t know and are not familiar with the record.  The record, itself, is extremely thin.  There‘s a lot to admire.  Obviously, as I said, he‘s a perfect political package.  He does everything well.  I mean, I don‘t know anything that the guy can‘t do.  But he hasn‘t been around that long. 

So you look at—you look at the crucial incidents in his life—You can look at John McCain and say P.O.W.  You can see where he has bucked his party on certain issues.  You know he‘s a man of integrity, usually, extraordinarily so for a politician.  Then you say about Barack Obama, well, well he‘s hope, he‘s promise.  It‘s all sort of on the come.  I‘m not sure it‘s there.  I think Americans are still uncomfortable, still trying to figure out who is this guy?  They‘re trying to get comfortable with him.  I think that will come. 

BARNICLE:  Go ahead. 

DEL WALTERS, EBONY.COM:  I was going to say, if I can chime in on that, I think one of the things that bothers me about this particular topic and this particular subject is that in order to get to where Barack Obama is right now, he had to be above the curve.  He had to be beyond the pail.  And coming from the African-American community, one of the things that I‘m fascinated about are that people are saying that what happened at that fund-raiser was arrogant.  There‘s a saying in the African-American community that is “what is viewed on a white man as being confident, as being self-assured, in the black community is viewed as arrogant.”  I think the question that has to be asked is: what would fund-raisers or people there are actually sitting there want to hear from Barack Obama? 

Would they want him to say that, you know, I really think we‘re going to lose.  I want your money anyway and that we don‘t stand a chance.  I think we have to be realistic when we say that Barack Obama, they have set the bar higher for now.  The man drew 250,000 people in Germany.  How big of a bar do you have to have?  Then they say, well, it‘s a good speech.  We studied history.  History is full of great speeches.  I think we have to be realistic sometimes that when it comes to African-American candidates, there is a moving bar that we always set a little higher, a little higher, a little higher. 

BARNICLE:  Chrystia, do you go along with that? 

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, “THE FINANCIAL TIMES”:  To a certain extent.  I think we have to realize with Barack Obama, as we had to realize with Hillary Clinton, that even at an unconscious level our biases, our preconceptions about race and gender definitely shape the way we respond to candidates.  Particularly as people who are commenting on it, we should really, really be aware of it. 

What I think is interesting about the position that Barack Obama is in right now is he faces a very delicate political calculus.  On the one hand, as Richard said, he does have to define himself a little bit more for the American people.  The simple fact that he hasn‘t been on the political stage for that long means he has to tell people a little bit more about who he is. 

On the other hand, he‘s also a politician and he has a general election he wants to win.  And this notion of politicians who are effective having this capacity to be all things to all people is not wrong.  So, to a certain extent, I think there‘s a little bit of jostling between what journalists want and what politicians want.  And Barack Obama will be trying right now to be as general, to be appeal to as broad a group of people as he can.  What we are going to be doing is saying, we want to pin you down on some issues.  That‘s going to be a tension that we see. 

WALTERS:  Mike, here is the problem with that scenario, which is that we are saying that the voters are voting for change this campaign cycle, this election cycle and Barack Obama is the candidate of change, which means they don‘t want somebody that has been in Washington for a long period of time.  They want somebody that is different, somebody that is new, somebody that is fresh.  So then when we give them somebody that is new and fresh and different, we start saying, well he has not been in Washington long enough to be effective as a politician.  The voters can‘t have it both ways.  I think that‘s what we are going to see play out this fall. 

BARNICLE:  Maybe it‘s us who can‘t have it both ways.  I want to get back to this before we get to John McCain and something he said about taxes when we come.  The round table is going to stick with us for more of the politics fix.  You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We are back with the round table for more politics, more of the politics fix.  Richard Cohen, off of a few of the comments made in the last segment, especially from Del, this whole arrogance label thing that people are trying to pin on Barack Obama, I personally am kind of sick of it.  But today in Washington, D.C., Obama met with the head of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke.  He met with secretary of the treasury.  And he met with the prime minister of Pakistan.  I am sure the bloggers will be going crazy, some of them, on the arrogance factor.  Isn‘t this more about a guy just filling a vacuum? 

COHEN:  A lot of it is.  I don‘t see it as arrogance.  I just see it as a guy who is very comfortable in his skin and very comfortable in his role.  Earlier, when he said he was likely to win the election, I think it seems just an absolute statement of the truth.  He is the favorite.  He is ahead right now.  He is likely to win the election.  If he gave a different answer, you would say that was political hedging. 

When Barack Obama is asked a question, I play a game—with all politicians, I try to provide the answer before they do.  Usually, they start by saying, that‘s a good question and they say, I don‘t think the American people—Barack Obama doesn‘t do that.  More often than not, he crosses me up, because he is still fresh and he is still thinking on his feet.  And he is not into canned answers.  That‘s very refreshing. 

BARNICLE:  Let‘s flip over to John McCain.  Let‘s take a look at what John McCain said on “This Week” about Social Security tax increases. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, “THIS WEEK”:  Pay roll tax increases are on the table as well? 

MCCAIN:  There is nothing that‘s off the table.  I have my positions, and I will articulate them.  But nothing is off the table.  I don‘t want tax increases.  Of course, I would like to have young Americans have some of their money put into an account with their name on it.  But that doesn‘t mean that anything is off the table. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Chrystia, Pat Toomy, the president for the Club For Growth wrote an open letter to McCain after that statement, reading “this statement was particularly shocking, because you have been adamant in your opposition to raising taxes under any circumstances.  Your comments yesterday send American taxpayers and businesses a mixed message about where you stand on this issue.  We hope you will clarify where you stand on this important issue and reaffirm your commitment to eschew all tax increases.” 

Can any sane politician, Chrystia, make inanimate, set in stone statement, given the fact that we are a country at war with an energy crisis, about never raising any tax under any circumstances? 

FREELAND:  I would it would be extremely imprudent.  I would add to you point about war and energy the fact that the American government is in the red.  This is a very, very dire economic situation the United States is facing right now.  We see more bills coming in every day.  We‘ve had Fannie and Freddie.  We don‘t know how many regional banks the government is going to end up bailing out.  Remember the Savings and Loan crisis.  I think that John McCain, perhaps, made the mistake of political candor in saying he can‘t take anything off the table.  That is absolutely true and we should also remember that the first President Bush did not fair very well when he made that absolutely firm, clear campaign pledge not to raise taxes. 

So, you know, I think that in a way, the biggest problem John McCain is facing in this campaign is the hard right of his own party, which is trying to pin him into positions that are not really very realistic right now. 

BARNICLE:  So, Del, does this go to the core in one sense of the Obama campaign?  He is a new guy.  He is new on the scene.  He has run a new, fresh campaign.  Does he do the old-fashioned thing and go at John McCain flip-flopping on taxes, or does he just let the Republican party, you know, discombobulate itself? 

WALTERS:  I think what you are going to see is you are going to see the Republican right in meltdown mode over this.  It is one thing to be impeached by the words of your opponent in a primary, in this case Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama.  It‘s another thing to be impeached by your own words.  How many times have we heard John McCain saying, that guy is going to raise your taxes, I won‘t.  Now, all they have to do is play that clip that you just played, where they hear John McCain saying one thing and then turning around and saying another thing.  I think this is the worst type of flip-flop, because, to go back to the last election, it‘s the economy.  That‘s the one thing everybody is going to be talking about, how do I fill up my gas tank and how do I keep a roof over the top of my head. 

BARNICLE:  Richard Cohen, tell me whether or not you had the same feeling I had when I listened to that clip.  You and I are old enough.  We have been in a million states, a million campaigns.  I kept hearing the John McCain of 2000 when I heard just that clip, the real John McCain.  What did you hear? 

COHEN:  I had the same feeling that every once in awhile John McCain just can‘t contain himself when he says the truth.  This is the truth.  The United States has something like 37 trillion—trillion—trillion dollars in unfunded Medicaid obligations.  We have got to do something here.  The Club for Growth is the club for growth of deficits.  Either we are going to raise taxes or we‘re going to lower entitlement.  Something has to be done.  McCain is facing that. 

BARNICLE:  Richard Cohen, thanks very much.  Chrystia Freeland, Del Walters, thanks very much.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now, it‘s time for RACE FORE 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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