updated 8/14/2008 11:57:02 AM ET 2008-08-14T15:57:02

Guest: David Shuster, Andrea Mitchell, Dan Kloeffler, Maria Cardona, Josh Green, Mike Paul, Rich Masters

DAVID SHUSTER, HOST:  While Obama is away, the Clintons will play, and here they come.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, everybody.  I‘m David Shuster, filling in for Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight: Just whose convention is it anyway?  As “New York Times” columnist Maureen Dowd put it today, Hillary Clinton is busy planning for a convention, her convention?  Are the Clintons trying to upstage Barack Obama?  Are they looking at the close race and saying, I told you so?  In a moment, we‘ll talk to the reporter who got all those intriguing internal Clinton campaign e-mails.

Meanwhile, Obama has a new ad out slamming McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Economics by John McCain.  Support George Bush 95 percent of the time.  Keep spending $10 billion a month for the war in Iraq while the Iraqis sell oil for record prices.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  It‘s a tough ad, and Obama may need it because look who‘s back, the Swift Boaters.  Yes, it was right around this time four years ago that the dishonest and highly effective Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry began.  Now the man who started it all with a book about Kerry has one out attacking Obama.  Can the Swift Boaters repeat their success, or does Obama know how to fight back?

And where have we heard this before?  It‘s not the crime, it‘s the cover-up.  Each day, we seem to be learning more about what Elizabeth Edwards knew and when she knew it.  Put another way, is there more to her husband‘s extramarital affair than John Edwards has let on?

Also, we now know who the keynote speaker at the Democratic convention will be, former Virginia governor Mark Warner.  Does that mean we now who the vice presidential nominee will or won‘t be?  That and more in the “Politics Fix.”

And what happened when the conservative group Focus on the Family posted a video praying for rain on the night of Obama‘s outdoor acceptance speech in Denver?  Here‘s a hint.  It rained complaints.  That and more on the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

And we‘ve got plenty of polls to report tonight from around the country.  A new poll out of Florida shows John McCain with a 4-point lead in a state he has to win, 48 to 44.  In Pennsylvania, a must-win state for Obama, a Franklin and Marshall poll has Obama leading by 5.  A Republican poll in Wisconsin has Obama up by 5, although that state does seem to be getting a little tighter.  And the latest Pew poll shows the presidential race narrowing nationally.  The poll shows Obama with a 3-point lead, 46 to 43.  The Pew poll had Obama leading by 5 points in July and by 8 points in June.

But we‘re going to begin this hour with a story that broke this afternoon that has got the political world buzzing.  It was a story on FOX News claiming that Colin Powell, the former secretary of state, was going to be joining Barack Obama on the Wednesday night of the Denver convention, where he would endorse Obama.

NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell joins us now.  And Andrea, when I first made a call on this one to Obama‘s assistant, she said the story was false.  Then there was some reporting that suggested senior Obama people expect it to happen.  Where is this story?  What‘s the latest?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  How do I kill the buzz?

(LAUGHTER)

MITCHELL:  It‘s not true.  He‘s not going to either convention.  And I think perhaps some people inferred from the fact that Colin Powell is not going to the Republican convention that he was going to choose the Democrat, Barack Obama.  They did have a meeting on June 18.  Barack Obama came to General Powell‘s office in Alexandria, Virginia.  They met for about 45 minutes.

What General Powell is telling friends is that he wants to evaluate both candidates, see whom they choose to be their running mates, and then make a decision, after looking at their positions on policies and their running mates, whether he wants to endorse.  So no endorsement of Barack Obama.  He‘s not ruling it out, but he wants to see where both of the candidates stand on the issues and on their choice of running mates.

SHUSTER:  So in other words, there still could be an endorsement, but nothing at the convention...

MITCHELL:  Sure.

SHUSTER:  ... not even a Colin Powell appearance at either convention.

MITCHELL:  That‘s correct.  And there will not be an endorsement before the Democratic convention.

SHUSTER:  NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell.  Andrea, thanks for that update.  We appreciate the clarification.

MITCHELL:  Sure.

SHUSTER:  Now let‘s move on from somebody who‘s definitely not going to the convention to the family that will be at the Democratic convention, the Clintons.  Joining us now, Josh Green of “The Atlantic Monthly” and Maria Cardona, a senior Clinton campaign adviser.

Maria, Hillary Clinton has not ruled—has not ruled out having her name put into nomination from the convention floor.  How come?

MARIA CARDONA, CLINTON CAMPAIGN SR. ADVISER:  Actually, that is not something that the campaign is advocating right now.  So I think that that is, you know, something that has been put out there, false rumors.  It‘s not something that she‘s pushing.

SHUSTER:  But she put it out herself in some comments a week ago.  So why doesn‘t she come out and say, You know what?  I think this is a bad idea.  My advisers think it‘s a bad idea.  Therefore, it‘s not going to happen.

CARDONA:  It was a question that she was answering from one of her supporters.  That‘s it.  And right now, frankly, what‘s going on is that the Obama campaign and Senator Clinton‘s campaign are talking daily, talking about this, talking about how to move forward, to have a very unified, successful convention.  And so I think that‘s what we should expect.  I think we should take them at their word.  They‘re going to move forward to make sure that we‘re unified because our goal at the end is to make sure that we come out of this unified and strong to be able to beat John McCain in November.

SHUSTER:  Josh Green, you have a fascinating article in “Atlantic Monthly.”  Before we talk about that, thought, based on all of your reporting about the Clinton campaign, and given the fact that we know that President Clinton will speak on the Tuesday night and that Hillary Clinton will speak on the—I‘m sorry, I think I‘ve got that mixed up—on the Wednesday night—do we think that this is an effort by the Clintons to really help Barack Obama or an effort to help themselves?

JOSH GREEN, “ATLANTIC MONTHLY”:  Well, I don‘t think we‘re going to know until we hear them speak and see what they have to say.  I mean, you‘ve seen from Hillary Clinton, at times, she‘s been very supportive of Obama and done the right thing as far as speaking publicly about bringing the party together.  Then at other times, as Maria mentioned, she‘s gotten a little carried away in front of supporters and said things that could be interpreted in a way as being less than fully supportive of the presumptive Democratic nominee.  So I think that‘s something we‘re going to have to wait until the convention to see.

SHUSTER:  And just clarification.  It‘s Bill Clinton Monday night, Hillary Clinton Tuesday night.  Is that what we think...

CARDONA:  (INAUDIBLE) Tuesday night, and Bill Clinton Wednesday night.

SHUSTER:  Bill Clinton Wednesday night.  OK.

GREEN:  They‘ll know by Thursday.

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  OK.  But two of the four nights dominated by the Clintons.  So—but Josh, let‘s get back—let‘s move out back a little bit and look at the Clinton campaign.  You have this intriguing article in “Atlantic Monthly,” and you‘ve got a lot of memos from inside the Clinton campaign, including one from Mark Penn, Clinton‘s top strategist.  And he wrote a memo to Hillary Clinton in March or early April, where he says of Obama, “His roots to basic American value and culture are at best limited.  I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values.”

Was that the attitude of the entire Clinton campaign or just Mark Penn?

GREEN:  I don‘t think it was the attitude of the entire Clinton campaign.  I‘m not sure it was the attitude of just Mark Penn.  I mean, there was—there was a war going on within the Clinton campaign between those who wanted to run a very aggressive, negative strategy against Obama

Penn was obviously a member of that camp—and another group of advisers that wanted to run more of a positive campaign that put Hillary Clinton forward in a better light to kind of try to counter some of the stereotypes and caricatures of her.  This is sort of a—you know, a direct memo from one side in that war.

SHUSTER:  Well, what was the purpose of you obtaining these memos or of them giving these memos to you?  Was somebody trying to rehabilitate their reputation, maybe Mark Penn, and say, You know what?  If they had followed my advice, if they had gone after Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton would be the nominee.

GREEN:  Well, I don‘t know how that rehabilitates Mark Penn‘s reputation.  But certainly, I mean, you know, Clinton advisers have a long and colorful history of feuding and rivalries and factionalism and back-stabbing going back to the White House days, when Penn and Dick Morris came in and ousted the first group.  It continued through her Senate race.  It continued throughout the presidential campaign.  And when she ran into hot water when she lost Iowa, the campaign really kind of collapsed into chaos.  And this is one of the reasons why.

SHUSTER:  Maria, his reporting does seem to paint a picture of the Clinton campaign being dysfunctional as far as decision making and these battles internally.  Was it?

CARDONA:  Well, you know what?  I mean, what the memos that Josh got are an infinitesimal number of what actually was the back-and-forth with strategy memos and other kinds of memos to talk about what happened on the campaign.  That particular memo, frankly, was not something that was discussed, not something, frankly, that Mark Penn even pushed, and to the senator‘s credit and the people around her, not a strategy that was embraced.

And the other thing I‘ll say is that what‘s interesting about Josh‘s account is that, as he talks about this account of the implosion, is when publicly she became this sort of hero warrior of the working class and she started winning more primaries, winning bigger states.  She got 18 million votes at the end of the day.  And that‘s her legacy.  And no memo and no article is going to take that away from her.  And that‘s something that she‘s going to use to help Barack Obama win.

SHUSTER:  But there were a lot of memos, there was a lot of reporting suggesting that Hillary Clinton had a difficult time making decisions and that when the decisions were left to these various factions, they went after each other.

I mean, here‘s another memo from Clinton adviser Bob Barnett to 20 campaign senior staffers.  Quote, “This circular firing squad that is occurring is unattractive, unprofessional, unconscionable and unacceptable.  I know each and every one of you to be better than this.  It must stop.  After this campaign is over, there will be plenty of time to assess blame or to claim credit.”

Doesn‘t the blame for these problems and the management failures rest with Hillary Clinton?

CARDONA:  But you know what, David?  I think the other error in taking a look at this, you know, just one picture, is that it‘s not news that this stuff happens on campaigns.  If anybody tells you that there‘s a campaign that doesn‘t have this kind of back-and-forth, that there aren‘t big egos pushing for a particular strategy and that they are actually fighting with other big egos on the campaign that have a different idea about what‘s going on, they‘re lying to you.  Every campaign goes through this.  There are other campaigns...

(CROSSTALK)

GREEN:  But the key thing about the Bob Barnett e-mail...

CARDONA:  ... that maybe keep it undercover, but...

GREEN:  ... let‘s remember, it was cc‘d to 20 advisers.  It was addressed to Hillary Clinton.  I mean, the message that Barnett was trying to get through to her was, You need to stop this, and she was never really able to.

SHUSTER:  Am I mischaracterizing your reporting when I say that it paints a picture of a dysfunctional campaign?  Is that too strong?

GREEN:  I wouldn‘t quibble with you, no.

SHUSTER:  So you believe it was dysfunctional and that Hillary Clinton had difficulty making decisions.  Why?

GREEN:  Why did she have difficulty making decisions?

SHUSTER:  Yes.

GREEN:  Because she never settled the basic strategic dilemma in her campaign.  Do you run a positive strategy to build yourself up, or do you run a negative strategy to tear down Obama?  You can‘t do the two things at the same time.  And she sort of drifted back and forth between these two camps, and the result was the kind of schizophrenic campaign you saw, where one day she‘d be out there with her mom and she‘d be, like, one of these Hallmark Channel moms, you know, very likable, attractive person.  You know, the next day, she‘d be out attacking Barack Obama, saying, Shame on you.  There was never any clarity or never any follow-through in any of these things.  And so over time, you just wound up with this sort of blurry chaos.

SHUSTER:  And the irony, Maria, is that there was Hillary Clinton claiming, I‘ve got better leadership experience, I‘ve got more experience than Barack Obama, and yet, it was the Obama campaign that was running a very disciplined campaign and, at least based on Josh‘s reporting, the Clinton campaign was not.

CARDONA:  Well, you know, clearly, like I said before, every campaign goes through this kind of stuff.  It was unfortunate that some folks on the Clinton campaign for whatever, because it doesn‘t do anybody any good, you know, least of all...

GREEN:  (INAUDIBLE) me.

CARDONA:  ... except for you and your readership—except for maybe - it doesn‘t do anybody any good, and least of all Senator Clinton.  So you know, those people are going to have to wake up every day and try to, you know, deal with that, that they did this.

But I think the bottom line is that there are problems like this on every single campaign.  Unfortunately, this was a very small piece of what Josh got that was aired.  It doesn‘t have the reality of what the whole campaign was.  Like I said, at the very end, she became a champion and she became the voice that she needed to become.  Arguably, she might have done that too late.  But again, post-mortems will happen and they‘ll continue to happen, but Senator Clinton‘s going to try to move forward to focus on the message that she had during her campaign, and that‘s how she‘s going to help Senator Obama.

SHUSTER:  But how does it help anybody—the Democrats, women, men—how does it help anybody to move forward when there are the Clinton supporters putting into the Democratic platform language suggesting Hillary Clinton was hurt badly by sexism in the campaign, as opposed to maybe she was hurt badly by Obama running a good campaign?

CARDONA:  Well, but you know what, David?  There are a lot of women who do feel that way, whether you agree with them or not.  That is the voice of American women, and it is very important for us to make sure that those voices get heard.  And that is what the Obama campaign and Hillary Clinton‘s campaign are working on right now.  Eighteen million people voted for her, many of them women, many of them seniors, many of them Latinos who thought that she was the one who represented them.  And she‘s going to use that strength, she‘s going to use that legacy to make sure that Senator Obama is sworn in as the next president of the United States.

SHUSTER:  And Josh, real quickly, how does that message translate, then, at the Democratic convention?  And do you think that Bill Clinton speaking on Wednesday night, Hillary Clinton speaking on Tuesday night is an effective apparatus for the Democratic Party?

GREEN:  You know, I think it can be if they go in and make speeches of the sort that I‘m sure the Obama team would like them to make, something that‘s, you know, geared toward Obama, you know, very effective, focused on him and not on them, you know, and their own personal histories.  I certainly think there‘s a chance that, you know, their speeches can have the intended affect.  There hasn‘t been a lot of evidence so far to suggest that that‘s going to happen or that we should expect it to.

SHUSTER:  Josh Green with some terrific reporting in “The Atlantic” magazine and Maria Cardona, former Clinton senior adviser.  Thank you both for coming in.  We appreciate it.

CARDONA:  Thanks, David.

GREEN:  Thanks, David.

SHUSTER:  Coming up: Remember the Swift Boating of John Kerry in 2004?  Well, the man behind it appears to be after Barack Obama now.  That‘s next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The man responsible for launching the dishonest Swift Boat attacks against John Kerry four years ago, Jerome Corsi, is now taking aim at Obama in a new book called “The Obama Nation.”  Corsi told “The New York Times,” “The goal is to defeat Obama.  I don‘t want Obama in office.”  Now, he says he‘s planning to aid conservative groups that will run ads against the Democratic nominee in the fall.  Will Corsi‘s book be the Swift Boating of Obama?  How should Obama fight back?  And why hasn‘t John McCain condemned this book?

Rich Masters is a Democratic consultant  and joins us in Washington, and Mike Paul is a Republican consultant and former adviser to Rudy Giuliani and joins us in New York.

Hey, Mike...

MIKE PAUL, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT:  Yes?

SHUSTER:  ... do you condemn this book, and should John McCain?

PAUL:  I don‘t condemn the book.  One of the things that it‘s important to have in this country is a number of different voices, and this is certainly a voice.  I do think, though, if there are some areas here within the book that are inaccurate, and quite frankly, just all-out lies, then they should be condemned.  But if there‘s one thing within this book that is true, it could be very damaging to this campaign overall and the campaign...

SHUSTER:  Well, Mike, if I wrote a book about you and there were 99 percent of the things in that book were absolutely false, but I got one thing right, say your birthday, would that be fine?

PAUL:  I don‘t think that would be fine, no.  I‘m not the author of the book.  I‘m here to analyze the book.  One of the things that I think that is important, though, is for it to be looked at.  And you know, this was written by a gentleman who has had some books out before that have done very well.  How about a bigger question, David, for the American people, which is why, if this book is trash, why is it number one on “The New York Times” best-seller list?  It‘s the American people who are buying this book.

SHUSTER:  Rich?

RICH MASTERS, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT:  Well, it‘s number one on the American best-seller list because—“New York Times” best-seller list right now because you‘ve had a bunch of right-wing think tanks and groups that have already pre-purchased some of this junk.

And you know, what the other guest is saying...

PAUL:  So you‘re trying to say...

(CROSSTALK)

MASTER:  ... call Jerome Corsi a gentleman.

PAUL:  ... are right-wing...

MASTERS:  I would not call Jerome Corsi a gentleman.

PAUL:  That‘s the most ridiculous thing I‘ve ever heard of.

MASTERS:  Jerome Corsi, by the way, is that guy that called a hero of mine, Pope John Paul II—said he was a senile old pedophile.  You know, this guy should not be taken seriously.

PAUL:  Who is the buying the book, sir?

MASTERS:  And we have got to look at what James (SIC) Corsi is all about.  James Corsi is making no bones about it.  He wants to defeat Barack Obama.  And for legitimate news organizations to really give this guy any more credibility than what he deserves is—is really, really tough right now.  I mean, it‘d be almost laughable for a guy that has called Hillary Clinton, you know, a fat cow—I mean, you know, this is a guy who fundamentally has no journalistic bones in his body.  And the reason it‘s number one right now is because there are a bunch of right-wing think tanks and groups that have purchased this stuff to inflate those numbers so that we are talking about this right now.

SHUSTER:  Hey, Mike, were you out there condemning John McCain four years ago when John McCain had the audacity to condemn the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry?  John McCain was wrong in your book, then, right? 

(LAUGHTER)

PAUL:  David, I‘m not—I don‘t have a fish in this fight, my friend. 

I haven‘t backed either one of these candidates, to make it clear.  But the bottom line is, I think one of the things we need to be looking at is not the author of the book.  I think we need to be looking at the psyche of the American people as to why they‘re interested. 

And let me tell you why they‘re interested.  There‘s still a lot of doubt of this candidate by the name of Barack Obama.  There are a lot of people that are unsure.  There are a lot of people, even after they have heard it five or six times, that think, for example, he might still be associated with a different religion. 

There are people that, after hearing it five or six times...

(CROSSTALK)

MASTERS:  Which, of course, is nonsense.

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER:  Yes, but it‘s completely not true. 

But here‘s the issue.  Here‘s the issue right now.

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL:  That is their choice to think so, though.

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER:  Right.  But Charlie Back said that the McCain campaign would make a different choice. 

Here‘s what Charlie Black said a month ago.  He said—quote—“We don‘t want to talk about his patriotism and character,” referring to Barack Obama.  “We concede that he‘s a patriot and a person of good character.” 

That flies in the face of this book. 

PAUL:  Wait.  The—the John McCain campaign did not write this book.  There‘s a gentleman who wrote this book on his own. 

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL:  This isn‘t John McCain‘s book.

(CROSSTALK)

MASTERS:  They have not condemned—the McCain campaign has also, David, not condemned this book. 

They need to come out.  John McCain could be developing a Catholic problem right now.  You have got Reverend Hagee, who trashed the Catholic Church as the—you know, the great Satan.  And, then, you have got—again, McCain didn‘t say one word about that.

And now we have got this guy who, again, attacks Pope John Paul.  I mean, I think John McCain needs to come out.  He could have a Catholic problem as we go forward here, because he apparently—these folks that are speaking, you know, maybe not on his behalf, but he certainly hasn‘t disavowed this bunch—this bunch of lies that is out there.  And somebody has got to step up and say it. 

And John McCain, who is—who is an American war hero, should have the courage to do what he did four years ago, and condemn this pack of lies. 

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL:  Well, there is one thing that we agree with, which is, if there are things in this book that are absolutely untrue, and have been fully answered by Barack Obama, I do believe that the John McCain campaign should say exactly that, that it should come back—come out and condemn those things that are absolutely inaccurate. 

They would be foolish, quite frankly, not to. 

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL:  But that is still—that leaves still the important point, which no one on the show thus far has answered thus far.  Why is it that the American people are so interested?  The reason why is because there‘s a gentleman who doesn‘t have a lot of experience.  He has excellent rhetoric, who has been labeled a celebrity because he is a celebrity. 

I have seen many people going after his autograph myself.  And they are still unsure whether they want to vote for him for president.  And they‘re interested in reading this book because they want to find out for themselves if there‘s anything that‘s in it that‘s truthful. 

MASTERS:  There‘s no undecided voters who are reading this book, David.  I mean, let‘s be honest.  I mean, there weren‘t any undecided voters who read the last book. 

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL:  What, you work for Amazon and Barnes and Noble now and...

(CROSSTALK)

MASTERS:  ... Swift Boat Veterans for Truth junk. 

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL:  You‘re a book publisher now?

MASTERS:  That‘s absolutely right.  It was junk.  It‘s the same folks that buy Ann Coulter‘s screeds that come out every few years.  And it‘s the exact same folks.

The problem is here is when we are discussing this, and it does bring a question.  There are a lot of people that want to see Barack Obama.  Barack Obama wants to change this kind of nonsense in American politics. 

SHUSTER:  But then why isn‘t he speaking out on this, Rich?  There‘s a question about whether Obama is tough enough.

PAUL:  Great question.

SHUSTER:  John Kerry let these attacks go back in August four years ago.  We haven‘t heard a peep from Obama or any of his top people on this. 

MASTERS:  Well, I mean, the truth of it is, I mean, today is the first day of this news cycle.  I think that they‘re going to fight back hard.  They already are fighting back hard. 

If you look on their Web site, I mean, they‘re already detailing the lies.  Media Matters, which is a great organization, is going through this point by point.  And, already, in the first 35 pages, they found 80 absolute, blatant factual inaccuracies that would have been easily discovered. 

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL:  The Obama campaign knew that this book was coming out. 

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL:  The Obama campaign knew that this book was coming out. 

(CROSSTALK)

MASTERS:  ... which is, they said he was sitting in Reverend Wright‘s church when he was in Florida.  He can‘t be in two places at one time.

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL:  They had on opportunity for weeks before this came out now to start doing exactly the things that Media Matters is doing.  They knew this book was coming out.  You asked an excellent question, David.  Why haven‘t they been on top of it?  They‘re losing an opportunity. 

MASTERS:  They are on top it. 

PAUL:  They‘re not on top of it.  They should be on this program talking about it right now. 

(CROSSTALK)

MASTERS:  They‘re absolutely on top of it.

PAUL:  They knew this book was coming out several weeks before.  Over a month before, they know when a book like this is coming out.  That‘s absolute nonsense.

(CROSSTALK)

MASTERS:  Why should Barack Obama, who‘s trying to change our politics, he‘s trying to lift our country up, why should someone like that have to respond to a screed, a pack of lies from... 

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL:  Let me answer that question for you, sir.

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL:  Let me answer that question for you. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER:  Let me answer it.  The answer is that, at a certain point, he has to respond.  Otherwise, these charges stick. 

PAUL:  Exactly. 

SHUSTER:  And unless he gets another narrative out there, that‘s going to be a big problem. 

PAUL:  Crisis P.R. 101.

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER:  In any case...

MASTERS:  Well, I‘m going to be out here talking about it.

SHUSTER:  All right.  And I‘m sure we‘re going to be talking about this some more. 

In any case, Rich Masters in D.C., Rich, thank you very much.

MASTERS:  Thank you. 

SHUSTER:  And Mike Paul up in New York, Mike, thank you.  We appreciate it. 

PAUL:  Thanks, David. 

SHUSTER:  Up next:  Which candidate won the bobblehead election?  We have got the answer next in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  And Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.” 

First up: divine intervention in Denver?  Here‘s a very special ‘08 prayer from conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Would it be wrong if we asked people to pray for rain, say, the evening of August 28, right here at Mile High Stadium in Denver?  If God decides that rain of biblical proportions would be a good and proper meteorological condition for that evening, we will see it, and we will say that it is good. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Apparently, praying for an Obama speech disaster was a bit not so good for some.  “The Rocky Mountain News” reports, Focus on the Family pulled the ad this week after receiving complaints from members. 

Next: burying the hatchet.  Just a few years ago, former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed was caught up in the Jack Abramoff lobbyist scandal.  John McCain led a Senate investigation into the scandal, rips the characters involved, and bragged about the people who were going to jail.

Well, it looks like John McCain is now singing a different tune, at least about Ralph Reed.  Reed is now part of McCain‘s Victory 2008 fund-raising team.  And Reed recently sent out an e-mail soliciting donations for McCain. 

Yes, if you want a politician to forgive and forget, help them collect some campaign cash. 

And who says politics and sports don‘t mix?  Minor league baseball fans in six cities line up to take part in this year‘s bobble election 2008.  What does that mean?  Well, fans were forced to choose between a McCain or an Obama bobblehead doll, with each pick representing a vote for their favorite presidential candidate. 

So, what was the final tally?  The Obama Bobblehead nearly trounced McCain 54 percent to 46 percent, not exactly a home run, but a win is a win, even in AA.

And, in case you were wondering, George Clooney did not have relations with that candidate.  The actor is so miffed at reports he‘s been offering policy advice to Barack Obama through text messages and phone calls that Clooney put out this statement saying: “I have never texted or e-mailed Senator Obama.  And I will offer a million dollars to anyone who could prove otherwise.”

Hey, George, here‘s a better idea.  Promise never to participate in another movie as bad as 1997‘s “Batman and Robin.”

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Joe Lieberman may caucus with Democrats, but we all know that his heart is with Republican John McCain this election.  The thing is, that move has put relationships with Senate Democrats on the committee chairmanship they gave him on the line.  So, Senator Lieberman wants to show he‘s willing to make nice with a big fat check. 

Yes, he is learning something from Ralph Reed.  According to “Politico,” much did Senator Lieberman recently donate to Senate Democrats?  One hundred thousand dollars.  He may have endorsed a Republican for president, but he knows that, in Congress, money makes the heart grow fonder.  Lieberman‘s $100,000 olive branch—tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next:  Has John Edwards told the whole truth about his affair? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DAN KLOEFFLER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Dan Kloeffler.  Here‘s what‘s happening.

Georgia accused Russia of violating a cease-fire in their six-day-old conflict, as Russian tanks rolled towards a key city in central Georgia and towards Georgia‘s capital.  Russian forces reportedly retreated, and there was no fighting. 

Meantime, President Bush ordered an airlift of U.S. humanitarian aid to Georgia.  He‘s also sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Georgia‘s capital. 

Authorities say a gunman burst into Arkansas Democratic Party headquarters in Little Rock and shot part chairman Bill Gwatney several times.  He died hours later.  Officials say the suspected gunman was shot and killed when he opened fire on police following a 30-mile chase.  Police say they don‘t know his motive. 

And, on the presidential campaign trail, Cindy McCain was sporting something new today, a sling.  The McCain campaign says that she was treated for a minor sprain after someone shook her hand a little too vigorously at a campaign event in Michigan.  A spokeswoman says that she has had previous surgeries for carpal tunnel syndrome.  The handshake aggravated that condition. 

Now let‘s go back to HARDBALL. 

SHUSTER:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The list of questions about John Edwards‘ affair seems to be growing.  Now Elizabeth Edwards is on the cover of “People” magazine.  What‘s next? 

With us now, NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell and “The Washington Post”‘s Lois Romano. 

Lois, the cover story, these quotes, what is Elizabeth Edwards trying to do? 

LOIS ROMANO, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, what is very interesting are, the main sources of that story are her brother and her very best friend in the entire world.  So, the one thing we know is that she authorized the story. 

And I think two things are going on.  One is that she didn‘t want to be thought of as an enabler or someone who was complicit in the lie.  And I think she also wanted to, for her children, kind of get her self-respect out there, and say that she wasn‘t putting up with this, that she‘s staying for the kids, because she is incurably ill. 

SHUSTER:  Andrea, there‘s every indication now that the timeline that John Edwards seemed to articulate last Friday night is not accurate, that, in fact, the affair started sooner, ended later.  What do we know about all of that? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, we have acquaintances of Rielle Hunter saying that it started earlier. 

And now we have some indications, first of all, that he was disingenuous, to say the least, when he said, I told my wife everything in 2006.      

He told her at the end, the very end of 2006, New Year‘s Eve.  He told her after the train had already left the station.  He had declared his intention to run for the White House on December 28.  And, so, they were in the process of rolling out this announcement.  How do you pull that back? 

And we would have all asked, well, why are you canceling your planned announcement?  So, Elizabeth Edwards is clearly, through this “People” magazine story, and others who have spoken to her, letting people know, it‘s not that she let him announce for the White House knowing about this affair, that, in fact, she had to drag it out of him.  She had to confront him, and that he told her slowly, as her friends told “People.”

SHUSTER:  What does that mean, telling her slowly?  Does it mean a series of rolling disclosures?  Does it mean, well, I had an affair, but it was minor; then it was, well, here‘s everything that, I mean...

MITCHELL:  It think it probably means that she must have heard something from the road, and confronted him, and maybe he said that there was something going on, but didn‘t concede all of it, but did not finally tell her until the very last day of 2006, hardly the full admission that he suggested he was making when he sat down with ABC last Friday. 

SHUSTER:  Well, there‘s this issue of paternity.  Rielle Hunter says that she doesn‘t want to take a paternity test.  Could that change?  And what might—what—what are people thinking, in terms of, will we ever found out the paternity?  Will Rielle Hunter ever decide, maybe I should get a paternity test? 

ROMANO:  Well, my money is on “The National Enquirer” on paternity.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANO:  I‘m not sure she is ever going to change her mind.  I think she‘s genuinely trying to protect the kid.  But I don‘t think “The National Enquirer” will rest until—until we know who the parents are. 

And I—you know, I fully believe they‘re throwing a lot of money around to try to get DNA samples to find that out. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER:  ... money to her, saying we will give you X...

ROMANO:  Well, I don‘t know about to her, but, you know, people around her maybe.  I mean, it‘s unclear where she—where she is on that. 

You know, sources close to her say that she really just wants this to go away, that she really is hounded, that she‘s changed her name several times, you know, to which we say, well, you know, part of the problem is him.  If we could get the story straight, then everybody would leave her alone, because we are really interested in him, and not her. 

SHUSTER:  Now, the big question, I know, for a lot of people is, why did Elizabeth Edwards move forward after she heard this news, both with the presidential campaign, signing off, but also simply staying with John Edwards?

The—“People” magazine has an interesting excerpt, some quotes.  It says: “There was anguish—excruciating anguish—for her”—Elizabeth -“in dealing with this.” 

Elizabeth‘s best friend, Hargrave McElroy, tells “People” in its new issue: “‘Elizabeth, 59, faced an agonizing choice:  Do I kick him out, or do we have a 30-year marriage that can be rebuilt?‘ says McElroy.  ‘The fact that she suffers from a terminal disease, one that could rob of her children from her mother weighed heavily in her decision.  She couldn‘t say, well, maybe we will work through this for years, or maybe we should separate for two years,‘ adds Elizabeth‘s—adds Elizabeth‘s best friend. 

‘The cancer forced her to choose whether to move forward.‘”

MITCHELL:  I think that‘s so understandable and so painful and tragic on every level. 

But what some political people—and certainly people involved in the Edwards campaign—would say is, she learned, certainly learned by the end of 2006, New Year‘s Eve, whatever day, of the extent of what was going on. 

Now, “The National Enquirer” claims that it resumed in 2007.  We have no confirmation of that, so I can‘t attest to that.  But, in March, she had a recurrence of her cancer.  There was every reason for her and her husband to say, we‘re not now going to pursue the presidency.  And instead, they both proceeded.  She was a full partner in that.  They took the children on the road.  They home-schooled they kids.  And even at the time, people questioned, perhaps inappropriately because it was their decision to make -it‘s their life, lives—whether that was a wise use of whatever time she has left.  But they made the decision. 

And certainly at that time, it would have been understandable if she had said because of my illness, we‘re dropping out of this race.  But that wasn‘t her choice. 

ROMANO:  Also, you know, keep in mind that the Enquirer had a piece of this last October-November.  And Edwards told a huge lie, insisted on it, it‘s not true, it‘s false.  He lied to his campaign manager.  And at that point, Elizabeth did know he was lying.  So there were any number of places, the illness, the confrontation, where they could have rolled it back and made a choice.  But they didn‘t. 

SHUSTER:  Explain the significance of this story now, why there‘s such interest, other than the titillation, that would explain why political journals especially are so—

MITCHELL:  There were lies during the campaign.  This was a full-fledged campaign that was covered intensively.  You have people like David Bonyer, his former campaign manager, saying that he and others feel betrayed.  They were lied to.  They certainly were asking questions when the Enquirer first came out with these stories last fall, and they were flat out lied to. 

And so you have a very public man.  And this is a couple who made their marriage, their life, their family, the storyline of much of their politics.  They invited the press along when they celebrated their wedding anniversary, even last year, after Elizabeth Edwards knew about it.  They had a recommitment of their marriage.  They redid their vows last July 2007.      

In June 2007, he accepted the father of the year award.  That video of his acceptance speech is still up on his website.  So he has certainly made their private life and their marriage and their family very much a part of his politics. 

SHUSTER:  NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell and the “Washington Post‘s” Lois Romano, thank you both.  We appreciate it.  Up next, it‘s our HARDBALL panel with the politics fix.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Tonight‘s round table, Jill Zuckman of the “Chicago Tribune,” and Ron Brownstein of the “National Journal.”  Sorry.  What are we to make of Mark Warner‘s going to speak on Tuesday night at the Democratic convention.  He‘s a Senate candidate.  Does this automatically eliminate Tim Kaine as the vice presidential candidate? 

RON BROWNSTEIN, “THE NATIONAL JOURNAL”:  I don‘t know.  It seems to eliminate Mark Warner, right.  It‘s funny.  I mean, Mark Warner is in a very strong position, basically a shoe in for a Senate seat in Virginia.  But boy, you wonder if he‘s wondering whether he would have been the perfect number two for either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama himself.  I think in many ways more attractive than Tim Kaine would have been. 

JILL ZUCKMAN, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  I think that‘s right, Ron, except that he so firmly took himself out of the presidential campaign earlier on, made it clear he wanted none of that world.  I think he eliminated himself as a possibility a long time ago.  I think the fact that he‘s speaking says again how much the Obama campaign wants to play to win in Virginia. 

SHUSTER:  But wouldn‘t that suggest then the possibility that, OK, let‘s make a play for Virginia by having Warner on Tuesday night and then now that we have already talked about Virginia, hey here‘s the Virginia guy, the governor. 

ZUCKMAN:  Or we can view Tim Kaine‘s name as a trial balloon that went out a couple of weeks ago and landed somewhere off in a field and we don‘t know where it is now. 

BROWNSTEIN:  If we‘re going to start crossing people off based on who is speaking, the list is going to get small.  I mean there is—I know the Obama people have put out the word that, look, these are separate processes.  One is not necessarily dispositive of the other.  So we‘ll have to see.  But Mark Warner is a very attractive political figure.  He‘s going to come almost certainly into the Senate next year and be an important voice for the Democrats.  Like Jill says, he does provide a way to reach out to Virginia. 

In the end, Barack Obama is going to have to win Virginia by himself. 

SHUSTER:  One of the reason that this story, which has now proven not to be true, that Colin Powell was going to speak on Wednesday night, and again the reporting is he‘s not going to speak on the Wednesday night—but one of the things that gave it fuel was the Democrats have identified Wednesday night‘s theme as securing America‘s future.  Now wouldn‘t that suggest that the vice presidential nominee would either be a veteran or have military affairs experience? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well—

ZUCKMAN:  You‘re reading tea leaves. 

BROWNSTEIN:  We‘re all looking for tea leaves.  Yes, it would seem to imply that, but I‘m guessing you cannot read too much into that.  If he wants to go in another direction, I‘m sure he‘ll find a way to fit it in.  But if you‘re talking about someone like Evan Bayh or Joe Biden and you‘re looking at that, you‘re probably feeling a little better. 

SHUSTER:  Joe Biden is sort of driving our staff crazy, because he‘s a guy, as you know, who is usually easy to put on television or get a quote from, and he has essentially not uttered a peep.  The theory is, wait a second, maybe this is all part of an effort to raise attention of the vice presidential process, and then, hey, let‘s pick the guy with all this foreign affairs experience. 

ZUCKMAN:  Maybe he‘s out there prepping.  They‘re working on his lines for the announcement.  It‘s hard to know.  I think Senator Obama himself said you will know it when I tell you.  They‘re going to text everybody when Senator Obama chooses his running mate.  And I don‘t think we‘re going to know before then, as much as we try to parse it out. 

BROWNSTEIN:  It‘s a tough week, you know, inside a presidential campaign.  It‘s probably the biggest decision within your control during the course of the campaign, and it is not unusual at the end of the campaign for the nominee to have a certain amount of buyers remorse about who they pick.  I mean, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman after the fact, John Kerry and John Edwards after the fact.  I don‘t think either one was as enthusiastic about the pick after the election as they were on the day they made it.  There‘s a certain amount of tension here as you‘re looking at these choices.  There‘s no real way of measuring. 

Polls are only of limited help, because none of these figures are so well known you‘re going to dramatically surge in polls.  The nominee is really out there alone on a limb at the end, making this choice about who they feel comfortable with.  They‘ve got to live with it, potentially, for eight years. 

SHUSTER:  Clearly, John McCain was not comfortable with something he had said about Tom Ridge a couple of days ago that seemed to rule out the possibility that he would pick Ridge, and then there is this interview that he gave to Steven Hayes of the “Weekly Standard,” in which McCain said, I think that the pro-life position is one of the aspects or fundamentals of the Republican party.  And I also feel that—and I‘m not trying to equivocate here—that Americans want us to work together.  Tom Ridge is one of the great leaders and he happens to be pro-choice.  And I don‘t think that would necessarily rule Tom Ridge out.” 

ZUCKMAN:  And yet, Senator McCain has said on many, many occasions, on the bus, on the plane to the reporters that cover him, that he did not believe that the Republican party would tolerate a pro-choice running mate.  It may be that he didn‘t want to insult Tom Ridge or that he wanted to, you know, give Tom Ridge his props.  But I think at the end of the day he‘s going to pick someone who is pro-life. 

SHUSTER:  That would suggest that Joe Lieberman is also not on the list, as well. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Cue Colorado Springs.  I think you probably would have to be a nominee in a stronger position intrinsically yourself with the base of the party in order to take the risk of reaching out as far as Ridge or Joe Lieberman.  That would be political logic.  John McCain does have a history of, at times, defying political logic.  I don‘t think we can completely rule it out.  But I agree with Jill.  His position with the right is still tenuous enough, even though they are animated and they‘re getting themselves worked up in an anti-Obama energy.  There‘s really not a lot of energy on the right for McCain himself.  This would obviously put more pressure on that relationship. 

SHUSTER:  Ron Brownstein and Jill Zuckman are staying with us.  We will be right back with more of the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Back with more of the politics fix.  If you have been watching any of the Olympics, you‘ve seen some great sporting events and a lot of campaign ads.  In fact, there‘s one that Barack Obama has just released today in 16 states, in which he tries to tie John McCain to George Bush, the problems in Iraq, oil, and bad priorities.  Here is the ad, watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘m Barack Obama and I approve this message. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Economics by John McCain: support George Bush 95 percent of the time, keep spending 10 billion dollars a month for the war in Iraq, while the Iraqis sell oil for record prices, giving Iraq a 79 billion dollar oil surplus and hurting our economy. 

Barack Obama‘s plan: end the war responsibly, better schools, no more tax breaks for oil companies.  Barack Obama, the middle class first. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The middle class first.  Jill Zuckman, is that a good slogan? 

ZUCKMAN:  Well, it makes it very clear.  There are more middle class people, I would say, who are voters who he needs to reach than probably low, low income.  Ron, correct me if I‘m wrong.  I think these are the people that he is trying to reach.  So, yes, I mean, it worked pretty nicely for Bill Clinton in ‘92.  And I liked the way that he brought together the Iraq war and the economy.  The economy‘s the number one issue and he‘s saying, hey, if we just wrap this thing up, then maybe there will be some more money for the rest of you. 

BROWNSTEIN:  The fundamental tug of war, as in all presidential campaigns, is about what this election is going to be about.  John McCain, as is made clear over the last month, wants the election primarily to be a referendum on whether Barack Obama is ready to be president, and to have the focus in voters‘ minds be do you or do you not want Barack Obama as president. 

As this ad shows, for Obama, it‘s a very different frame that he‘s trying to build around the election.  He wants the election to be a referendum on whether you want to continue in the direction that President Bush has set out for the country.  Now, at a time when voters, by two to one in a Pew Poll, for instance today, say McCain is more qualified to be president than Obama, you can understand why McCain wants that frame.  When 80 percent of Americans say the country is on the wrong track and George Bush‘s approval rating is down near 30 percent, you can understand why Obama wants that frame. 

Before we get to issues or personal strengths, I think the fundamental competition between them is, what is this election going to be about, especially in the minds of swing voters.  You see in their most recent ads the bets that each one is laying down on where they want that to come out. 

SHUSTER:  It‘s in jarring fashion, because when you‘re sitting there, watching the Olympics and being inspired by all these athletes, and a negative ad comes up—and they‘ve been pretty harsh on the McCain side, at least the rotation he has in the ads—it certainly stands out.  But isn‘t there a downside to it, as well? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes, I think there is.  I think John McCain has had a brand of being someone who kind of transcends—in his career has been willing to break beyond traditional party labels, not always politics as usual, willing to work with the other party, a different kind of politician, a maverick.  Democrats have obviously been challenging that on the policy side.  But now McCain‘s campaign itself has made a calculated decision to take the risk of significantly effacing that on kind of the style and tactics side. 

Yes, the harshness of the attack that McCain has leveled against Obama in the last month is very much a departure from kind of identity that McCain had with many voters going into this campaign.  And even people like John Weaver, who was his chief strategist early in 2000 and early in 2007, has said publicly that there is a real risk to McCain, especially with swing voters, in the way he‘s conducting this campaign. 

ZUCKMAN:  Yet, you can‘t argue with the polls you‘re seeing now, because McCain has really closed the gap with Obama.  This Pew Poll shows them awfully close now, and shows McCain really way ahead with voters who believe that he can solve problems for America, that he has the leadership skills to be president. 

SHUSTER:  It may be more loaded, but in a weird sort of way, it‘s almost more effective when there‘s John McCain saying, I‘ll put country first and there‘s Barack Obama saying, I‘ll stand for the middle class.  I‘ll put the middle class first.  Explain the significance. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Like I said, what McCain is saying goes back to his—in this environment, a Republican cannot win the way George Bush did in 2004, by mobilizing the base.  Republican party identification has been weakened so much in Bush‘s second term.  The only way for McCain to win is by attracting more Democrats to him than Obama peals off among Republicans and winning independents.  One of the ways you do expand beyond your base is by emphasizing your willingness to work across party lines. 

But again, there is kind of a mixed message here, because country first, I‘m willing to work across party lines, but also having, I think most people would agree, a harsher tone towards Obama than vice versa.  Obama‘s challenge is what it was, I think largely, in the primary.  He has to reach non-college white voters, who have been dubious at him all the way through. 

By the way, you look—

SHUSTER:  Ron, we got to go.  Ron Brownstein, thank you very much.  Jill Zuckman, thank you very much.  I‘m David Shuster.  Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of HARDBALL.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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