updated 9/30/2008 1:40:39 PM ET 2008-09-30T17:40:39

Guests: Darrell Issa, Gregory Meeks, Joan Walsh, Michael Smerconish, Howard Fineman, Todd Harris, Steve McMahon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The system fails with the world watching. The U.S. Congress just could not act.Let's play HARDBALL. Good evening. I'm Chris Matthews. Leading off tonight: Defeated. If you wanted evidence that Washington is broken, here it is. The Wall Street bail-out package has gone down in defeat today. The House voted 228 to 205 to reject the bill, which was worked out over the weekend. What was meant to be a 50/50 effort by Democrats and Republicans became a too-heavy lift for the Democrats, with Republicans voting 2 to 1 against. Wall Street didn't like what it saw. The Dow plunged after the vote and closed down 777 points down, which-we're going to have more on that in a moment. What a day, a bad day for politics, a bad day for America and the world. And talk about an asset turning into a liability, Sarah Palin has now become the object of ridicule, fair or not. That's a toxic situation for a candidate and has made Tina Fey's "Saturday Night Live" impressions of Governor Palin all but indistinguishable from the real thing.


TINA FEY, "SARAH PALIN": Katie, I'd like to use one of my lifelines.



FEY: I want to phone a friend.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't have any lifelines.

FEY: Well, in that case, I'm just going to have to get back to ya!



MATTHEWS: Well, not exactly that one. Anyway, it's hard to keep in focus that confident candidate who wowed Republicans at the convention in St. Paul and gave John McCain a huge boost when he needed it most.And looking ahead, who's the real Sarah Palin? And which one is going to show up at Thursday's debate with Joe Biden? We'll talk to our strategists about how they would advise Palin and Joe Biden. In the "Politics Fix" tonight, does Barack Obama still have a problem with blue collar voters? He's doing better in Southern and Western states, but he's still struggling with white voters in Northern states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. We're going to look at the new electoral map from the NBC political unit.And on the HARDBALL "Sideshow," it's not exactly a crop circle made by aliens, but how did this cornfield wind up looking like Sarah Palin? We'll have that in the HARDBALL "Sideshow."

But first, the House rejects the bail-out bill. California Republican Darrel Issa voted against the bill and New York Democratic Gregory Meeks voted for it. Congressman Issa, is this bill dead now?

REP. DARREL ISSA ®, CALIFORNIA: Well, certainly, House Republicans, after really studying the options that were available to the Bush administration, determined that, in fact, they weren't using the tools they had and that this was a bad deal for the American taxpayers, perhaps a good deal for a select group on Wall Street.

That's what caused democracy to work the right way. We voted this down. This is not a defeat for politics or anything else. This was a way of saying, in no uncertain teams, There are other options you've not allowed to be considered. Therefore, we'll vote it down until you allow these to be used and/or considered.

MATTHEWS: What about John McCain? If he had voted for it, like he said he would, would that have made him one of the bad guys, in your eyes?

ISSA: John McCain called for the firing of Chris Cox. One of the best reasons to fire Chris Cox is the refusal to deal with the problem of mark-to-market on these illiquid assets. You do that, and you put trillions of dollars back into the lending pool. Right now, that's one of the biggest problems. It's a tool that's available to, if you will, our management group of the SEC, the Fed, the FDIC and the treasury secretary, and they're not using it. They have other tools they're not using. We educated Republicans as to those tools, some of them dating back to the Reagan era, that are not being used. Matter of fact, one of the tools was passed back in the Jimmy Carter era and helped bail out the banks of that era, and it's still available. It's not being used.

MATTHEWS: Well, I'm still a little confused here. We thought that the vote was going to be about a 50/50 heavy lift for both parties, with each party contributing about half their caucuses. We looked at the tally board today and the Democrats contributed 140 votes, the Republicans only 65, about a third of your caucus. Was there a deal to go 50/50 on this or not?

ISSA: Chris, I was no on this vote a week ago, and I helped educate my members for why we needed to vote no. Quite frankly, the heavy lift was voting no. It's easy to throw the taxpayers' money at a problem, knowing it won't hurt. Seven hundred billion dollars would not have hurt this problem. It also would not have fixed this problem. So the heavy lift was protecting the taxpayers, not looking good and caring on the House floor and then going home.

MATTHEWS: So this bill is going to hurt you at home for voting against it, you're saying.

ISSA: This bill...

MATTHEWS: You said it was harder to vote against it...


ISSA: Of course it was. First of all...

MATTHEWS: Is this going to hurt you at home for voting against this thing?

ISSA: Of course -- 777 points down on the Dow, perhaps more tomorrow. Everyone's saying that everything is Congress' fault, rather than the mismanagement by the Fed and the Treasury for now countless months and years. We created this market problem at the administration level. Congress is saying it needs to be fixed. We know of tools they're not using and we want them to use it.

You know, in fairness to Hank Paulson, I don't know him well, but I know enough he's not a banker, he's comparatively a day trader. We need him to get bankers to say how you stabilize long-term assets and stop treating it like it's Goldman Sachs.

MATTHEWS: Well, here's John McCain, the Republican nominee for president, before the vote, voicing a message very clear that he thought this thing was going to pass and he was proud that he helped get it passed, a different note than you're striking right now, Congressman Issa. Here's John McCain before the vote today.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Senator Obama took a very different approach to the crisis our country faced. At first he didn't want to get involved. Then he was monitoring the situation. That's not leadership, that's watching from the sidelines.


MATTHEWS: John McCain seemed to signal from the Hill that the cavalry was charging and the House Republicans should join with the charge. You guys ran the other way-went the other way. What role did John McCain play in this decision today by you? Did he encourage you to vote against this bill? Did he in any way signal that he wouldn't have voted for the bill?

ISSA: Fist of all, I didn't talk to John McCain. I was proud when he called for the firing of the SEC chairman for a good and valid reason of a problem that could be fixed that wasn't being fixed. Had I had five minutes with him-and I realize his schedule was so busy-and the leadership said, The fix is in, we'll take care of it, you don't need to talk to the rank and file, including those who had publicly said they were voting against it. But the fact is, I would have explained to him why the Reagan-era solutions, why the 1981 through '85 or '86 earnouts of both savings banks and regular FDIC-insured banks was part of the solution that wasn't being used. He already understood the problem of mark-to-market and called for that to be changed, one more tool, and he would have been able to say, Do that first and come to us or we'll give you this authority only if you agree to do the others. He wasn't given that opportunity by leadership. Certainly, the administration is saying there are no options, when, in fact, there are options.

MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Congressman Darrell Issa...

ISSA: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: ... Republican of California. Let's go to a Democrat right now, Gregory Meeks. Congressman, thank you very much for joining us tonight. You voted for the bill?


I voted for the bill.

MATTHEWS: Was it-Congressman Issa says it was a profile in courage, basically, to vote against this bill. What do you think?

MEEKS: Well, no, it's just the opposite. If you look and listen what was taking place on the Democratic side, that the overwhelming majority of calls, at least that people say were coming in, was not to vote for it because they didn't understand what it was and what it meant. But the correct thing to do was to vote for it because though none of us appreciated the way that we got here-there's a lot of blame to go here - but you know, we had a car wreck, and it was probably done by a drunk driver. And it was...

MATTHEWS: Was it an easier road for you-would it have been easier for you to vote against this bill?

MEEKS: Well, yes. It's the easier way to vote is to say that we're not going to-we're denying $700 billion to go to the market.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the role that John McCain played in this. Well, let me ask you about your candidate. Let me ask you about Barack Obama. Was he a positive force in trying to get this bill passed, or did he stand on the sidelines, monitoring the situation, as it was described by John McCain, his rival?

MEEKS: No. Barack Obama has said from the beginning that what we needed to do was to make sure Democrats and Republicans sit down and resolve this issue and it was an important thing to do and that we needed to get past this car wreck. He talked about bipartisanship. He talked about the need to get it done. It was clear where he was on the bill, unlike with John McCain, who really didn't ever say where he was on the bill or how he would have voted until the moment just before he thought it was going to be voted on one way, and he came out and (inaudible) and tried to take credit for it. It was John McCain who made this political issue. Barack Obama was not making this a political issue because it shouldn't have been a political issue. It was an issue that we should have focused on for the benefit of the people of this great country and not try to say, I'm suspending my campaign and I'm coming to Washington, and do that, and then what happened was, the talks broke down. He left. Then McCain left. Then talks resumed.

And then when he thought there was a deal, from the outside, McCain then says, Oh, it's-you know, It was a good thing to do. It's about to happen. That's not leadership, that's jumping on the bandwagon after it's happened. Barack Obama is the one that has shown leadership.

MATTHEWS: Let's take a look at Senator Obama today after the vote.

He spoke after the vote went down.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I read the other day that Senator McCain likes to gamble. He likes to roll those dice. And that's OK. I enjoy-I'm making a confession her. I enjoy a little friendly game of poker myself once in a while. But the one thing I know is this. We can't afford to gamble on four more years of the same disastrous economic policy that we've had the last eight. We can't afford to gamble on more of the same trickle-down philosophy that showers tax breaks on big corporations and the wealthiest few. We've tried that. It doesn't work!


MATTHEWS: Congressman Issa, one of your leaders, I think Congressman Boehner, John Boehner of Iowa, said today that it's up to the Democratic leadership to pass this bill. In other words, it wasn't a 50/50 proposition. He said they had to come up with most of the votes. Do you think that's fair?

ISSA: I think what's fair is that the Republican base, rightfully so, said that this was not a Republican free market solution. It was taking of assets, something we don't normally do. It was not an earn-out, but in fact, a pay-off to Wall Street.

And by the way, when-this is not a profile in courage. But remember, our leadership told us that our future, our stake, and quite frankly, in many cases, our leadership positions were based on us voting with the leadership. And many of us said, Look, we appreciate the opportunity to have been in leadership. We understand we may not be in these positions as a result of this. But this was the right thing to do.Yes, it was also a populist thing to do, but I certainly am not a populist. I care about the business-like activities. I care about getting the banking system running properly again. I believe we can do that.

And you know, I listened to Barack Obama just there talking-trying to tie in the failed policies, the failed policies. This was an opportunity to say to the administration, Your policy in real time today, the one you're proposing, is wrong, and we're going to...


ISSA: ... give you the right policy. That's what Republicans did, is we said, This solution is not the right solution, and we're proposing alternatives that you do.



MATTHEWS: ... you're a republican congressman dumping on a Republican secretary of the treasury and saying you're not going to vote for his measure...

ISSA: Hey, you'd better believe it!

MATTHEWS: ... and that's why this thing went down. That's why this thing went down.


MATTHEWS: The Republican Party is in disarray right now.

ISSA: Chris, you're absolutely right. We're not in disarray. We're united. The fact is that our president and our treasury secretary is wrong on this issue, and we're saying he's wrong. And the old John McCain, who I think is still John McCain, has fought this administration from time to time and has been right. We're fighting this administration right now, saying, You have tools you're not using. You have alternate ways to do it. We're not going accept a bad deal for the American taxpayer...


ISSA: ... if there's a better way to do it. And you know what? We're very united on it. You did get 2 to 1 Republicans, over the objections of a deal cut by leadership. Leadership has a reason to do...


ISSA: ... the kind of deal they did.

MATTHEWS: That's an amazing...

ISSA: We have a reason to represent the voters.

MATTHEWS: That's an amazing definition of unity, when 2 to 1, you vote against your leadership, you vote against your administration and call that unity. How can you call that unity when you brought the bill down today?

ISSA: Chris, I've watched you since long before I came to Congress. You know, when you want to talk about the revolt of those freshmen Republicans in 1995, what did we say? Those guys came in and they came in believing in the people that put them there more than they believed in their own leadership.


ISSA: I will tell you, we believe in our leadership, but if our leadership's wrong, including the president, including his cabinet, we're going to say so.

We took the time to listen to experts, we took the time to fly experts in of our own choosing. We reached a different decision.


ISSA: We came united to the floor, educated and voted against them.

MATTHEWS: OK. Strongly put. Congressman Darrell Issa of California, thank you, Congressman Meeks, both of you.

Coming up: We're going to talk more about this, but we're also going to hear about the vice presidential debate coming up this Thursday with Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. And we're also going to hear from John McCain late today. By the way, Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, has become the butt of late-night jokes after struggling in interviews. And "Saturday Night Live's" Tina Fey has become a one-woman wrecking crew.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It seems to me that when cornered, you become increasingly adorable. Is that fair to say?

FEY: I don't know. Is it?



MATTHEWS: Well, that's "Saturday Night Live." Jokes aside, some conservatives are concerned and there have been calls for Palin to leave the ticket. Is she becoming a liability or not?You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. Here's Senator John McCain live from Iowa.

MCCAIN: ... facing our economy could have a grave impact on every American worker, small business owner and family if our leaders fail to act. I share the anger and frustration that many Americans feel toward reckless and corrupt mismanagement on Wall Street and in Washington. I returned to Washington last week to work on a bipartisan rescue plan because the only plan at that time on the table lacked enough support to pass. It also lacked sufficient accountability and transparency to justify expenditure of the taxpayers' money. At the time, the concerns of all members were not being heard. My colleagues were worried about the size of the plan and the risk it posed to taxpayers. I shared those concerns, and I laid out principles that I thought must be adhered to. Those principles included responsible oversight, effective transparency, added protections for the taxpayers, and a cap on excessive salaries for executives. I also believed that the legislation should have no earmarks. I worked hard to play a constructive role in bringing everyone to the table. The plan is now significantly improved. We strengthened taxpayers' protections and oversight, and the taxpayers were on the hook for less money up front. Don't get me wrong. It isn't perfect. The fact that taxpayers could have to spend a single dollar to create stability in our economy is a decision that I do not take lightly. I was hopeful that the improved rescue plan would have had the votes needed to pass because addressing a credit crisis is of vital importance to families, small businesses and every working American, who must be assured that their assets are safe and protected and that our economy will continue to function.

Today I've spoken to the Federal chairman, Bernanke, Secretary Paulson, congressional leaders, and now it's time for all members of Congress to go back to the drawing board. I call on Congress to get back, obviously, immediately to address this crisis. Our leaders are expected to leave partisanship at the door and come to the table to solve our problems.Senator Obama and his allies in Congress infused unnecessary partisanship into the process. Now is not the time to fix the blame. It's time to fix the problem. I would hope that all our leaders, all of them, can put aside short-term political goals and do what's in the best interests of the American people. Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Well, that's, of course, John McCain out in Iowa today, campaigning, talking right there about the failure of Congress to pass the bail-out plan.This Thursday, big news coming up, Governor Sarah Palin and Senator Joe Biden face off in the vice presidential debate, which should be one hot night. One of Palin's recent interviews tells us about how she might do Thursday night.

Joining me right now is MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard and Salon's Joan Walsh. Let's take a look. Here is an excerpt from Katie Couric's interview on CBS with Governor Palin.


KATIE COURIC, "CBS EVENING NEWS": Why isn't it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle class families who are struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries, allow them to spend more and put more money into the economy, instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: That's why I say I, like every American I'm speaking with, were ill about this position that we have been put in, where it is the taxpayers looking to bail out. But ultimately, what the bail-out does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed, to help shore up our economy, helping-it's got to be all about job creation, too, shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief for Americans. And trade. We've got to see trade as opportunity, not a competitive, scary thing, but one in five jobs being created in the trade sector today. We've got to look at that as more opportunity. All those things under the umbrella of job creation, this bail-out is a part of that.


MATTHEWS: Joan Walsh, what did you think when you heard that the fist time, that response to Katie Couric's question about the bail-out plan?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: I thought she absolutely did not understand what was in the bail-out. And you know, Katie's point was, we could spend the $700 billion that way, but instead, we're spending it the way we are on the bail-out. And Sarah Palin just ran with it as though, in fact, it was going to do something about health reform and it was going to create jobs. It was a complete disconnect. And for a lot of people, you know, Tina Fey got a lot of laughs with her answer to that question on "Saturday Night." A lot of people didn't realize it was practically verbatim from Sarah Palin. So that was a terrible answer. I would say the worst answer of all, arguably-there were many bad answers-was the answer she gave about democracy and what happens when democracy doesn't go the way we want it to, using the example of Hamas in Gaza. She seemed to have no-no idea whatsoever that, you know, we're not happy or the American government isn't happy with the election, the democratic election of Hamas. She couldn't really grapple with the fact that sometimes democracy in some Islamic countries elects people who are not necessarily on our side. Ahmadinejad is a great example as well. So she has no working knowledge of how democracy, which is wonderful, we all support it, can actually work against us or against our perceived interests in these other countries. She seems to have no idea about that. That was terrifying to me.

MATTHEWS: Well, and before we take a look at the parody by Tina Fey, who's wonderful, of course, let's go-stay with the real thing here. What do you make of this, Michelle? Because the question is, can she think on a big level to be vice president?

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, no. It's an enormously important question. There's a disconnect, but I have a hard time believing that the Sarah Palin who we saw do an interview with Katie Couric-and I admit it was an abysmal interview, at least many parts of it were, but I can't believe it is the same Sarah Palin that we saw give the address that I personally witnessed in St. Paul during the Republican Convention. There is something.

WALSH: But why, Michelle?

BERNARD: . terrible that is going on here because the speech that she gave does not indicate that it's the same woman that we saw last week. That's why.

WALSH: But it was a speech. It was a teleprompter.

BERNARD: Joan-Joan, I think that.

WALSH: . rather than questions.

BERNARD: . John McCain's handlers-I think John McCain's handlers need to let Sarah Palin be Sarah Palin. Let us see what she does in this debate on Thursday, and let the American public decide whether or not they can trust her.


WALSH: Oh, God-God forbid.

BERNARD: . in the event that McCain is elected. She is going to have to demonstrate.

MATTHEWS: Yes, are you concerned at all that she's being more or less home-schooled by some of the ideologues around the president, people like Randy Scheunemann, teaching her things in this sort of vacuum? I mean, most of us learn things where there's argument, there are different points of view, we sort of come up with our own thinking...

WALSH: There is context.

MATTHEWS: There is context. Are you afraid at all that she's getting drilled like for an exam.

BERNARD: Absolutely. I think.

MATTHEWS: . that may not be a real thought process on her part? It's simply really good rote memory, which a lot of us have had to do over our lives. There's nothing wrong with it. But in this case, is it an appropriate way to get ready for a vice presidential debate?

BERNARD: No. I think that what is happening here is that Sarah Palin has been sort of cocooned by certain of her handlers. They're throwing talking points at her. If you looked at what she said to Katie Couric, it was gibberish. It was as if she was spouting out all of the talking points that she someone memorized.


MATTHEWS: I've been there, by the way. You know what we get-what it's called, give the answers you know regardless of the question.

BERNARD: Yes. You know, somebody has said to her, here are three talking points. Just stick with them no matter what. Let her be Sarah Palin.

MATTHEWS: I'm more worried about the deeper consequence here that when she says the people of Pakistan want freedom, well, I don't know that. I guess you have to find that out by polling or going over there and talking to people. But these statements of ideological commitment that seem to be picked up in briefings rather than in life. Anyway, let's take-have some fun here. By the way, this is not the real thing, this is not. This is "Saturday Night Live," the brilliant Tina Fey doing an imitation of-and Amy Poehler, of course, in the role of Katie Couric, imitating what we've been watching in real life.


AMY POEHLER, "KATIE COURIC": Senator McCain shut down his campaign this week in order to deal with the economic crisis. What's your opinion of this potential $700 billion bailout?

TINA FEY, "SARAH PALIN": Like every American I'm speaking with, we are ill about this. We're saying, hey, why bail out Fannie and Freddie and not me? But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those that are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy to help-it has got to be all about job creation, too. Also, too, shoring up our economy and putting Fannie and Freddie back on the right track. And so health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending because Barack Obama, you know, yes.You know, we have got to accompany tax reduction and tax relief for Americans also having a dollar value meal at restaurants. That's going to help. But one in five jobs being created today under the umbrella of job creation, that, you know, also.


MATTHEWS: Well, "Saturday Night Live" has done me a few times. It hurts. But you saw it, Joan. I mean, is that a fair rendition of her character and IQ, or is that a parody? Or what is it?

WALSH: It crossed over into parody with the dollar meal. She did not say anything about dollar meals, Chris. So that wasn't fair. But, you know, it was a little bit too close for comfort. There were whole sentences that were lifted from what she actually said. You know, she is really making Dan Quayle look like Colin Powell. And I think that there has got to be a lot of concern.

MATTHEWS: OK. Will the debate-Gwen Ifill is at the top of our business, at the top of the profession of broadcast journalism. Will she have the job-this is a tough question. And I would say I think I know the answer, but I'll let-hear what you two think, does she have the job of vetting this candidate or simply to treat her like any other candidate, ask her wide open questions and expose her to the same kind of inquiries anyone else, or should she try to expose some of the things that Katie Couric was able to expose?


MATTHEWS: Michelle first.

BERNARD: I think she needs to be treated like you would treat any other question. It's not her job to vet her or have a gotcha moment and then all we're going to hear from conservatives is that.

MATTHEWS: So no information questions?

BERNARD: No, I'm not saying no information questions, but treat her the way you would treat any other candidate. Why would you treat her differently?

MATTHEWS: I'm asking. That's why.

BERNARD: No, treat her like any other candidate.

MATTHEWS: Your thought, Joan. Does she require some sort of vetting here as a newcomer?

WALSH: No, I really don't think she does. I agree with Michelle on this one. I think that the basic questions that Gwen would ask two qualified people for vice president are going to show up just how unqualified Sarah Palin is. So I think she does the country a service by sticking to roughly what her set of questions would be and then listening to what the answers are. And I think they're going to be very disturbing.

MATTHEWS: Well, we'll be talking about that throughout the days that follow before Thursday night. I think Thursday night is going to get one of the big audiences in vice presidential debate history.

WALSH: Absolutely, absolutely.

MATTHEWS: First woman and Joe Biden, the whole routine. Lots of frailties on both parts there. Anyway, Michelle Bernard, thank you, Joan Walsh. Up next, the "HARDBALL Sideshow." And don't forget, this Thursday night, as I said, at 9:00 p.m. here on MSNBC, the vice presidential debate between Democrat Joe Biden, Republican Sarah Palin, live from Washington University, one of the great universities in St. Louis, Missouri. And it's going to be on here, right on MSNBC. You're watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Now it's my privilege to say a word about that great movie actor who I watched for more years than I can remember, Paul Newman. He died Friday night. He has been a star forever. I loved him in the beginning when he did great old movies like "Somebody up There Likes Me," playing middleweight champion Rocky Graziano. That was the original "Rocky" movie.

And the "Young Philadelphians," and "From the Terrance," that John O'Hara story, on through all of those great years as "The Hustler" and "Butch Cassidy," to his performance in "The Verdict." I'd like to leave you with something from way back before Paul Newman was cool. Here he was with Pier Angeli in "Somebody up There Likes Me."


PAUL NEWMAN, ACTOR: I want to be losing a punch in his right hand, too. It has got to happen. But it don't make no difference because what I want they can't take away from me in no ring. You know, I've been lucky. Somebody up there likes me.

PIER ANGELI, ACTOR: Somebody down here, too.


MATTHEWS: Well, that's for sure. I saw that movie, by the way, in Harare, Zimbabwe, about a hundred years ago. We'll be right back.



MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Since her nomination for vice president, Sarah Palin of Alaska has only done a few select news interviews. And she has been the target of TV comedy skits, of course, and late-night monologues. But this Thursday it's for real, in St. Louis, voters get a chance to see her up close and personal debating Democratic candidate Joe Biden. So how are both candidates preparing for that big night? Let's turn to our strategists. This is for real, guys. I have got two corner men here, they know their business: Todd Harris on the Republican side, I want to see a bucket in your hand, a towel over your shoulder; Steve McMahon, you're going in there, you have got Sarah Palin, all right?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I'm sorry, Todd. He has got Sarah Palin.

MATTHEWS: No, no, no, no. It's good to have the bar low.

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, if you lower expectations any more-right, exactly.

MATTHEWS: She's the new kid on the block, the new person on the national stage, no Washington experience. OK. She's up against Gwen Ifill as well, the moderator, who is going to ask some serious questions. How does she prepare?

HARRIS: I would say she needs to do two things. Number one, don't pretend to be something you're not. This whole idea that she's an expert on all things foreign policy because of where Alaska is geographically, it just doesn't hold a lot of water with average people.

But what does is for her to go in and say, you know what? I'm the mother of five kids, my oldest son going off to war. I have a child with special needs. I have a daughter who is going to be a young mother. I understand the challenges, the needs of working people in this country better than my opponent does. And the second thing she needs to do is literally reach through the TV and grab those working Americans. Forget about Joe Biden sitting there. Forget about Gwen Ifill and the lights and the cameras and make that personal connection with the voters. Pretend she's sitting in the living room. And she can do that.

MATTHEWS: While I'm on that question, suppose Gwen Ifill is as tough as Jim Lehrer, and she will be, and says, answer my question. I'm not asking you how many kids you have. I'm asking what are we going to do about the dollar and its shrinkage? How do you stop the dollar from shrinking? A particular question, which I don't know the answer to. What does she do when she's confounded, when she's hit with a real hard question like that?

HARRIS: Well, she's going to have to be able to say.

MATTHEWS: Say, I don't know?

HARRIS: No, she's going to have to be able to answer.

MATTHEWS: Oh, well, maybe she-who does know?

HARRIS: Well, I mean, that's the good thing about that question, is that the answer is so subjective. But she's going to have to have a good answer.

MATTHEWS: No, it's a tough question.

HARRIS: It's very tough.

MATTHEWS: . but presidents are confronted with that all of the time.

HARRIS: That's right.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to this. Let me just try you on reaction today. Suppose you're Joe Biden and you've got all of your homework done, and he will. And he confronts-and this woman comes on. And he knows politics, and she's winning the audience.

She's just-seduced the audience. They love her. She's the mother of five. She has taken a lot of heat from the big shots in town, in Washington and New York. They like her. What does Joe Biden do confronted with that strategy?

MCMAHON: Well, I think the first thing he has to do is basically take the fight to John McCain, because at the end of the day...

MATTHEWS: And ignore her nice story, her life?

MCMAHON: Pretty much ignore her nice story. I would-if I were Joe Biden, I would do a number of things. Number one, I would not be mean to her and I would not be condescending. And I would not try to.

MATTHEWS: But go after McCain.

MCMAHON: . be a smarty pants. Number two.

MATTHEWS: Stick it to McCain.

MCMAHON: . I would go after McCain at every single opportunity, and make this race-frame this race the way it needs to be framed for the public. And number three, to the degree possible, I'd keep my answers short and I'd let Sarah Palin talk for as long as possible. Because the one thing that she seems to not like is silence. And she fills the silence sometimes with words and she gets nervous. And I kind of feel bad for her in one sense because, you know, she gets service and she keeps talking, as she did in that clip.

MATTHEWS: We all do.

MCMAHON: We all do.

MATTHEWS: I want to try to be fair. Because that's an old interrogator's trick is create a lot of time...

MCMAHON: It is an old-Katie Couric, when she did that interview, I don't know you notice, but she sat there and she waited and she waited and she waited and she didn't break Sarah Palin up. She didn't give her an opportunity to rescue herself.

MATTHEWS: OK. I know what was happening, Rick Kaplan was in her ear saying, savor it, savor it, pull back, pull back, because he has done that with me. He has done that with me.


MATTHEWS: Wait, give her time, give her (INAUDIBLE).

HARRIS: It's important, you know, when you grade these things, though, these debates don't happen in a vacuum. There's not one person who is judged up against themselves. And so Steve is absolutely right, because I think that she will be judged based on what she does. Biden will be judged the complete opposite. He will win or lose not based on what he says but what he doesn't say.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me try this back over you again. So everybody gets this again. Let's do a little remedial here. You say don't try to keep up with Gwen, who knows enormous amounts of material. Don't keep up with Joe Biden. They're the Washington experts. So yield that field to them. And I go back to you again with the same question, if they try to yield that-if she clearly pulls the number you're suggesting that she pull, what will you do? Will you jump in there as Joe Biden and say, well, I've got an answer to that last question and let me tell you what we did in 1983, or 19 -- or does that make you the old guy? Or is that-in other words, does showing your expertise make you look arrogant and condescending?

MCMAHON: I think an interesting tactic for Senator Biden might be to answer questions like that and then say, I'd be interested to know what Governor Palin thinks and just stop. Because then Governor Palin is going to have to answer or not answer based on what she thinks. And she might not be prepared for it.

MATTHEWS: What would do then? What would you recommend she do if he confronts her with, tell me how you'd reduce the size-or strengthen the dollar? Something serious.

HARRIS: Well, she ignores the question and talks directly to the voters, which is, you know, what I would-that would be my final piece of corner man advice to her. You know, whatever they throw out, remember, this is not-Gwen Ifill and Joe Biden is not your audience. Your audience is the voters out on the country.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let's talk about that. Back to you, who is the audience for this? Is it cognoscenti? Is it Dan Balz of The Washington Post? Is it somebody from there-Elisabeth Bumiller of The Times? Is it somebody who is going to write that big story the next day? Is it the audience watching at that time who either falls love with one of these two people or doesn't? Or who is it?

MCMAHON: It's the audience at home.

MATTHEWS: The live audience?

MCMAHON: You could see that in the debate on Friday night, because every-a lot of people think that the McCain campaign did a pretty good job with the spin, if you read the transcript of the debate, it looks like John McCain had a much better performance than he did. Remember, we talked last week about turning down the sound and watching how somebody looks in the debate? Barack Obama looked really good. He looked presidential. He looked confident. John McCain looked angry and mean and grouchy.

MATTHEWS: OK, you take a turn at this. How did they do on Friday night?

HARRIS: I think it was basically a wash. I don't think that in 10, 20 years anybody is going to be talking about what happened on Friday night. I think McCain gets points for being more on the offense. I think Obama gets some points for holding his own.

MATTHEWS: I agree he was on offense, and I thought he dominated the first 45 minutes with all this about ear marks. Was he too angry, too troll-like? He doesn't like that word, but troll comes to mind. He never looked at his opponent the whole night.

HARRIS: I don't know why he didn't look at him, but I thought --

MATTHEWS: I'm looking at you. I'm looking at you. You guys are the best. Thank you, Steve and Todd. That was very honest and very useful. I hope they're watching. Well, I hope they're not. I want to see a crazy night. Steve McMahon, Todd Harris-

Up next, where does the race stand right now? Chuck Todd, our expert, is coming in here on the latest shifts in the electoral college map, and where Obama has work to do in the northern industrial states. Boy, it's interesting. The whole country is not moving in the same direction. It's very interesting how we're weaving on this thing. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Today's Gallup tracking poll has Barack Obama leading nationwide by eight points now, same as yesterday. And today's Diagio Hotline tracking poll has Barack up five. We have a bit of a trend going in his direction. NBC News political director Chuck Todd, however, explains the latest on the map and how it isn't that simple. Chuck?

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It isn't. Here's where we were before, quickly, on the map. We had 233 for Obama, 227, just seven battleground states. The thing that's interesting this month with our map is watch the numbers change here. This is the map this week. While both numbers went down, it's McCain's that dramatically went down.

Here's what we moved to toss up from the McCain column, North Carolina, Florida, Indiana. These are three states, two of which haven't been in a battleground, frankly, in 20, 30 years, in the case of North Carolina. These are states that have just-Obama is actually leading in a couple of polls in all three of those states. There's still more polls that show McCain ahead. That's an expansion of the battleground. Then we moved Pennsylvania into toss-up. Obama's lead is just not big enough. He's not finishing the job. In fact, you do see sort of a trend here, which is Obama with these industrial Midwest states, this northern tier-I should New Hampshire to that-then you have Obama in these southern and western states. In these northern tier states, the reason Obama seems to be not closing the deal in Michigan, his Ohio number doesn't match his national number, older white Democrats, they haven't, quote unquote, come home to him yet. Meanwhile, in the south, he's seeing-because these are in the growth states, places like Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and then in the west, Colorado, Nevada-these are places that have had booming populations, newer voters, younger voters. They've got some minority populations that if there's a surge in turnout growing there-he can change the map here.

We may see-here's the thing, we have 11 toss-up states now; four of them are states that weren't in the battleground before. Obama did change the map. Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, if you get 25 percent of your battleground states are new, I would argue that's a way of changing the map.

MATTHEWS: Howard, you and I have studied these maps for so many years. I wonder whether we're seeing a shift in the map that will carry in November, where the old traditional Democratic states, Michigan, Pennsylvania may be off this year. One or two may go Republican. Yet, the Republicans will lose states they've counted on, North Carolina or whatever, or even Florida.

HOWARD FINEMAN, "NEWSWEEK": Well, as Chuck said, the older white Democratic voters are hesitating about Obama, but, as I read the map as he lays it out there, I think some younger white sort of Democrats or middle of the roaders, who may have voted Republican a time or two, are becoming attracted to Obama in states like Virginia and maybe in Florida and North Carolina. So they're balancing out. I think the way that the current economic situation plays into the electoral college map is those reluctant white Democrats in the north may have their reluctance overcome by the economic situation at hand.

MATTHEWS: Michael Smerconish, my friend up in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia especially-Michael, when does the economy become such a cutting negative issue for the incumbent party that even people who are culturally conservative, who have a problem with Barack Obama as a bit too remote for them-they say, damn it. I've got to have change. I'm going with him.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: When it stops being the stuff of MSNBC and CNBC and the market that they can hardly understand and really hits them in their own pocketbook. That has yet to happen. I listen to Chuck's analysis and I agree with it. I tend to focus on the word older, as opposed to the word white. Because I sense, Chris, that there's a real generational divide going on in this state. I can tell you this: if I'm kind to Barack Obama in the course of my radio show, I'm not hearing from the conservatives. I'm hearing from my own parents, who will call me immediately after the show and they'll say, you're not being fair to John McCain. I hear this from a lot of friends, that they have a fundamental disagreement with their own parents.

MATTHEWS: I think we saw that from the beginning, Howard, right? Let me go to Chuck. Do you have any numbers on that, Chuck? I've seen numbers that say if this election were only being conducted among people under 45, Barack would be up 16. If over 65, he's down by 17.

TODD: No. We've seen big trends like that. It's a gap that is huge in places like-think about it. This these are older states. These are states with shrinking populations. When you're a shrinking population state, you're an older state. Florida is the only state out here, Florida and Nevada, that are both states that are growing in population and getting older too, because you have retiree there.

For the most part, these states in the south, Mid-Atlantic and out West are growth states. They are getting younger. And it's these older, less growth states-the interesting thing here is I want to show you something, Chris. You can now get McCain, with the way these battleground states-he can carry Ohio. He can carry Florida. You can give him Michigan.

MATTHEWS: I love this.

TODD: OK? You throw this other stuff over here, Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, and Pennsylvania in the Democratic column, New Hampshire. Look, he's already at 276, Nevada, Colorado. We're sitting here, McCain can win these slow growth states. Give him Wisconsin, you've still got Obama at 290. Give him Indiana, back to McCain, you've still got Obama 279. Now, even Pennsylvania and that's a problem. He still has to win one of these-he has to win some of these northern tier states. He doesn't have to win them all.

MATTHEWS: Not to go back to what Barack said about bitterness and all that and guns, but is it an economic fact that states that have been overlooked, in some sense, by this boom-North Carolina is booming. Florida is booming, young state in many ways, middle part of the state. Do they feel not only economic sense of being betrayed or overlooked by the modern economy, but they're just not in the greatest mood in the world?

FINEMAN: No, they're in a bad mood and they were overlooked by this go-go economy. These aren't the places where the banks, by the way, went crazy over mortgage backed securities. The people in these states, including the bankers in these states, are saying wait a minute. We have to bail out these fancy guys on Wall Street? We did it the old-fashioned way and we're getting punished. There is a lot of resentment. A lot of the negative phone calls about this bailout bill came from those states.


MATTHEWS: We'll be right back with Chuck Todd, Howard Fineman, Michael Smerconish and some Biblical parables. You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: We're back with Chuck Todd, Howard Fineman and Michael Smerconish. What a mix. Michael, today on the radio, were people thinking this was going to pass when you're talking to people out there?

SMERCONISH: People thought it was going to pass. But you know, conservative talk radio has been really stoking the fire against it. So maybe I shouldn't be surprised. What you hear, the mantra is that it is socialism. In one word, that's what they're being fed. Many are buying into it. And I think they put pressure on the House Republicans and caused this to collapse.

MATTHEWS: I think that makes sense. Howard, it seems to me-we had Darrell Issa on earlier in the show. He said the Republican party is united. It's not really. The establishment Republican party, the leadership, were for this. They thought something had to be done. The rank and file split two to one against it.

FINEMAN: The people who voted against this in the Republican party-that's the Republican party that grew up since the days of Ronald Reagan.

MATTHEWS: The real party.

FINEMAN: That's the new Republican party. That's not the Wall Street Republican party. That's not the Rockefeller Republican party. These guys believe this stuff. They believe it is socialism. And I-

MATTHEWS: Who picked Paulson?

FINEMAN: Well, that is a very good point. I think George Bush was to someone who could reassure the markets, reassure the street. George Bush grew up in that other world, by the way. He knows about that other world. His dad and his grand father were in it.

MATTHEWS: Chuck, if this thing goes down and we have two weeks of hell-and I mean hell. We are losing almost a thousand points a day on the Dow here now. Does this-I shouldn't even ask. It is important than politics. What's going to happen politically? Who gets blamed?

TODD: Right now, look at the no votes. Anybody in a tough re-election fight --

MATTHEWS: In both parties.

TODD: -- in both parties, didn't matter. Both Udall brothers running for the U.S. Senate voted against this thing. OK, so this-

MATTHEWS: It's the safe vote.

TODD: That's right. It was the safe vote to vote no if you're running for reelection, and you think you remotely have-

MATTHEWS: If it passes. But what about if it fails?

TODD: All of a sudden, these guys are going to wish they went back in a time machine and might be able to wish they cast that vote differently. There are two guys that I could find that really seemed like a true profile in courage. One is a Las Vegas Congressman, Congressman John Porter, who is in a tough fight, might end up losing, a really tough fight. He voted for this thing.

MATTHEWS: A D or an R?

TODD: He's a Republican. And Jim Marshall in Georgia, rural district there, always in a tough race, and another one this year. He admitted before this thing --

MATTHEWS: Mike, it's a hard road to defend, isn't it, even if it's right?

SMERCONISH: The tit for tat that played itself out today, this afternoon, I thought was embarrassing. The status quo loses. Do you perceive the status quo to be the administration, the party of the Republicans or the House and Senate, the party of the Democrats? That's the issue.


FINEMAN: I was just going to say, it is up to the leadership in a situation like this, both Democratic and Republican leadership, to sort out the people who should be allowed to vote no from the people they absolutely need to pass the bill. And I don't think that happened here. I don't think Nancy Pelosi was shrewd about it, number one. And the Republicans were a complete mess. So what happened was people voted against it, halfway expecting or hoping that it would pass. And now in a situation where it has failed.

MATTHEWS: This is Washington talk. Excuse me, Michael. The way it works on the Hill is you get 20 about members of your party. You corral them. You make them stand at the leadership table and you only release them when you don't need their vote. So you never fail. You say, you can't leave until we have the requisite number of votes. What happened to the Republican table that they ended up two to one against?

FINEMAN: Each side was counting on the other to help supply the votes that would be necessary to put the thing just over the top. Pelosi put it out there without knowing for sure she had the votes. The Republicans went in not having properly whipped their side to know exactly what they had.

TODD: They both made promises. The Democrats said, we think we can do 130 to 140. They came up with 140. They did live up to it. The Republicans said they could do 70 to 80 and they didn't get to 70.

MATTHEWS: Tomorrow morning on radio, the people are going to be mad.

Who are they going to be maddest at?

SMERCONISH: The core constituency is going to be mad at the Democrats. This is being spun in such a partisan way. I'm not going to let that play itself out. I think there's culpability to go around, fully round circle?

MATTHEWS: I wonder whether either side has lost. It is easy to be a maverick, as you all know. You and I are mavericks. I'm a maverick. Michael is. You guys are journalists, pure and simple. I'm a maverick. I love to raise hell. I'm a totaler. You're a totaler. It is easy to be one. The hardest thing is to be the male or female leader who has to bring in the majority of people behind them. That's the hard part.

FINEMAN: Can I also say, though, the White House-nobody made this easier. The bill kept changing by the minute. People didn't have time to read the bill. It was sold improperly to begin with.


MATTHEWS: Here's a group of kids that were smart on this than anyone. On Friday night, when we're down there in Oxford, Mississippi, a group of young college kids, including my daughter Caroline, who I did admit was mine because I'm so proud of her-she said don't mention I'm your daughter, dad. But there she is. Of course she's my daughter. Can't you tell I love her? Anyway, those kids are worried about the big debt that is going to be put on those soldiers by things like this 700 billion dollars. They're worried about it. Thank you, Chuck Todd, Howard Fineman, Michael Smerconish. Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. Don't forget, this Thursday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, the vice-presidential debate, Joe Biden against Palin. You have to watch it here. Live from Washington University in St. Louis. Right now it's time of RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE with David Gregory.

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