updated 7/19/2010 3:45:27 PM ET 2010-07-19T19:45:27

Guests: Buck Lee, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Jonathan Martin, Chris Cillizza, Dr. Thomas Heaton

Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening.  I‘m Chuck Todd, in for Chris Matthews here in Washington.  Leading off tonight: No oil in sight.  For the first time in 88 days, Gulf Coast residents woke up to what‘s got to be an amazing sight, a picture of no oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.  The cap is holding, and everyone has their fingers crossed.  We‘re going to go down to the gulf, where they‘re cautiously optimistic they‘ve finally turned the corner.
And even if the oil permanently stopped flowing, one of the biggest victims of this spill politically has been President Obama.  Tonight, the toll it‘s taken on his presidency and this question.  How can he undo that damage?
Plus: One of the great ironies of Mr. Obama‘s presidency is the more victories he achieves—stimulus, health care, education reform, Wall Street reform—the more his poll numbers seem to go down.  And besides Republicans, some of his loudest critics are on the left.  Why aren‘t progressives giving him more credit?
Also, we‘ll tell you which Democratic senator left for dead has suddenly surged ahead of his tea party foe.
And finally, all shook up.  People in Washington—we‘re used to political earthquakes, but they woke up to a real one this morning.  It was a small one, and those of us who are heavier sleepers missed it.  But it‘s a good reminder that there are a lot more fault lines in this country than you might think.  We‘re going to let you know where they are, who‘s at risk.  Bottom line, earthquakes aren‘t just for Californians anymore.
But let‘s start tonight with the latest on BP‘s efforts to seal off this oil leak for good.  Anne Thompson is, of course, NBC News‘s chief environmental affairs correspondent and maybe no longer a permanent resident of Venice, Louisiana—
TODD:  -- at this point.  But they will be giving you voting rights probably by November, and you might get a tax bill.
ANNE THOMPSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Oh, you know they‘re going to make me pay taxes!
TODD:  Absolutely.  OK, Anne, where are we?  We know they are in this testing phase to see if sealing this off is a permanent solution—and I say permanent, the solution until the relief well goes down.  Where do things stand?
THOMPSON:  Well, right now, national incident commander, retired admiral Thad Allen, just gave a briefing, Chuck.  And he essentially said what scientists and engineers are trying to figure out is what the pressure reading that they‘re getting inside that well means.  The good news is the cap is holding.  There‘s no oil going out into the gulf.  The pressure reading is at 6,700 pounds per square inch, which is sort of right in the middle of where they thought it would be after 24 hours.
Ideally, they would like it to be closer to 7,500 pounds per square inch.  So why is it sticking at this 6,700 mark?  There are two theories.  One is that because so much oil has already depleted in—has already been spilled into the gulf that there‘s actually less oil in the well than they thought, and that‘s one reason behind the lower pressure reading.
The other theory is—and this is a scary theory—that there is a leak below the sea floor.  Now, the—they have done seismic surveys.  They—they have done—they have ROVs, those remotely operated vehicles, using cameras and using sonars to see if there are any kinds of cracks in the sea floor.  They‘re trying to detect where there might be a leak.  They aren‘t finding any evidence of that.
So what they have decided to do is they‘re going to go forward with the well integrity test for another six hours, and six hours from now reassess.  But they‘re—they just don‘t know quite what they have yet.  And as I said, the good news is, at least no oil is going into the gulf.
TODD:  And Anne, what they‘re testing, though, is whether they can keep this sealed off for good, correct?  Because even worst case scenario at this point, they now have a controlled way to keep some oil flowing up to a containment system, correct?  So overall, there‘s still a lot of success here, right?
THOMPSON:  Right.  There is.  I mean, originally, this cap was designed to help move the oil up to the surface.  It wasn‘t designed to shut in the well.  They decided to try to shut in the well and do this well integrity test because they want to know what‘s going on—you know, the well is more than two miles down underneath the sea floor—what‘s going on there.  They don‘t know.  And there was concern after that top kill procedure that maybe that damaged the well.  It‘s still inconclusive.
So—but no matter what happens—if they can‘t shut in the well, they are going to go back to containing the oil, and they say they can do that fairly quickly.  The Q4000 and the Helix Producer, two of the vessels, are already at the site.  They‘ve got Discover Enterprise there, and it‘s got a cap that could go on top of this new sealing cap that exists.  So they‘ve got a lot of ways to go.  And when they do get the containment system fully up and running, it can capture up to 80,000 barrels a day, which is 20,000 barrels more than what the government thinks is flowing out, at the high end.
TODD:  Hey, Anne, have we made a technological leap here?  So for instance, you know, we‘re having this debate in the gulf about the moratorium on deepwater oil drilling.  Have they, by succeeding in some form of this, found a way to reassure the government at the end of the day that, You know what?  Now we know how to deal with this if there is another catastrophe as big as this one.  Yes or no?
THOMPSON:  You know, I think that‘s a real leap.
TODD:  That‘s a leap.  OK.
THOMPSON:  This is—yes, huge leap.  This has only worked for 24 hours, and we don‘t know how much longer it‘s going to work.  Beyond that, the biggest thing is, Chuck, is they don‘t know how to clean up the oil once it spills.
TODD:  Right.
THOMPSON:  I mean, we have—this area has dealt with this for 88 days, and it is threatening to destroy a way of life, wetlands, marine life.  I mean, the damage is extraordinary.
And even if they than—even if this cap works to some degree, I can‘t imagine that people are going to walk away from this and say, OK, problem solved.  Clearly, it‘s not.  When you‘ve got people—the only way to clean up the oil is with a shovel and carefully scraping it off the sand and you really don‘t get all of it, or using these tiny little drum skimmers—
TODD:  Right.
THOMPSON:  -- in marshes or flushing out marshes—I mean, there still is just no good way to clean up the oil once it flows—once it spills.
TODD:  All right.  Anne Thompson, I know you got to do some reporting for another news program we‘re both familiar with, so we will let you go.  Thanks so much for the update.
TODD:  Turn it around before they yell at you!  All right, thanks very much.
All right, let‘s turn to Buck Lee now.  He‘s executive director of the Santa Rosa Island authority, overseeing Pensacola Beach.  And Anne set this up pretty well, Buck.  Doesn‘t—OK, so let‘s say they‘ve turned off the spigot, essentially, and no more oil is coming.  There‘s a lot of damage that has been done.  We‘ve got actual ecological damage.  What you‘re dealing with is tourism damage, correct?
BUCK LEE, SANTA ROSA ISLAND AUTHORITY:  That‘s right.  First of all, welcome to beautiful Pensacola Beach.  You see behind me, Chuck, white sands.  The Gulf of Mexico is clear.
We need more tourism, and that‘s the message that‘s going across the United States.  They think the whole state is covered in oil.  Look at our beach.  We‘re not covered in oil.  Over three weeks ago, we were.  We had some.  We cleaned it up.
And our message is, is to BP—they say, We‘re going to make everything right, and they‘re going to pay all the hotel people the lost revenue between this year and last year.  Instead, why don‘t they say, OK, we‘ll pay half the hotel rooms, so instead of somebody paying $200 a night, they pay $99.95.  Our locals and our tourists get to come here.  The people get to keep their jobs that work at the hotels.  Then they go out and have dinner.  Those people get to make money and they keep their jobs.  And if not, they all go on unemployment and we got to pay more taxes.
TODD:  So you would like—
LEE:  -- instead of saying—go ahead.
TODD:  You‘d like to develop a partnership here, almost like a—say, OK, BP, this is how you can pay us back.  Underwrite—help discount visitors—help discount hotels for visitors down here.  And you‘d like them to advertise.  Is this the—have you taken this plan to BP?  Is somebody taking this plan, Governor Crist, somebody on your behalf?
LEE:  We‘re working as a group, working on this.  There‘s a letter that‘s already been sent to BP, and of course, the unified command.  But anyway, it makes sense.  They‘ve got to have somebody that‘s fairly intelligent working their accounting department that can look at this and say, You know what?  That makes sense.  We can save money, give everybody a good deal locally and the tourists, and they can go get a room at half price.  Then we don‘t have people on the unemployment lines.  Instead, they get to work.  And they enjoy working out here.  We have a great workforce on Pensacola Beach and they enjoy the locals and the tourists coming here.
TODD:  You talked about that you haven‘t had any oil come on the beach in a couple of weeks.  Are there any concerns—have you gotten any warnings that there are any plumes that are headed—I remember there was that big one everybody was worried about a couple weeks ago.  What is the latest that you‘ve been told by the unified command?
LEE:  OK, the last time we got hit was three-and-a-half weeks ago.  And in two days, it was semi-covered up by Mother Nature.  Tides came in and it covered up a little of it.
TODD:  Right
LEE:  We don‘t see that big red spot on the map that shows where all the oil is.  It‘s moved.  I don‘t know where it went.  Maybe the microbes ate it up.  But we don‘t see that anymore on the maps.  We do see that yellow cone of uncertainty that comes near here.
But right now, we don‘t have any oil.  There may be some sheen out there somewhere right now.  I understand we had a meeting this morning with BP and the Coast Guard, and they‘ve got a lot of vessels out there near the oil spill, cleaning it up there where it comes out.  But right now, the Gulf Coast is beautiful in our area right here.
TODD:  What do you want—yesterday—I think it was Monday, the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, basically did a tourism ad for Panama City.  Would you like to see the government doing that?  Would you like to see the president doing those things?  I asked him yesterday in an interview if he was going to vacation on the Gulf Coast.  They hadn‘t decided that.  But is that the type of things you‘d like to see the government do?
LEE:  No, no.  They can—God bless our president and everybody associated with him, but when they come, they close down traffic for three hours.
TODD:  Yes, they do, don‘t they.
LEE:  So I know they‘re having a wonderful—yes, let them have a wonderful time in Maine.  Have everybody else come on down here and not tie up traffic, OK?
LEE:  That‘s what we‘d like to see.
TODD:  I hear you.  But I‘m just saying, do you—what you‘d like to see is some sort of advertising effort, either BP or the government or both making an effort, saying, Hey, everybody‘s open for business.
LEE:  Well, the state of Florida got about $20 million, but that‘s got to be used between Pensacola Beach and all the way down almost to Clearwater, Tampa.  That‘s not enough money.  Alabama got $20 million, too, and they were able to use some of that with the Jimmy Buffet concert they did, which was great.
TODD:  Right.
LEE:  But they‘ve only got a small section of beach.  They got Orange Beach and Gulf Shores.  They‘re wonderful beaches also.  We‘re all in this together in south Alabama and northwest Florida trying to get the people to realize, Hey, we‘re open for business.
TODD:  Well, some of us are a little more biased to northwest Florida, so we‘ll—we‘ll be telling people to go to northwest Florida.  No offense to our friends over in Gulf Shores.  Buck Lee, you‘re doing a great job selling it.
LEE:  Thank you.
TODD:  You‘re selling it as well as anybody.  Maybe BP ought to underwrite you doing some TV ads for them, rather than talking about themselves these days.  Thanks very much.
LEE:  I do not want to be associated with them, but thank you anyhow.
TODD:  OK, fair enough!  You‘re not alone these days.
TODD:  Coming up, the oil spill in the gulf has dominated the news this summer.  How has it affected President Obama‘s agenda?  I can tell you his team believes it has.  And how has it undermined the confidence of voters?  That‘s ahead.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
TODD:  West Virginia governor Joe Manchin has named a successor to the late senator Robert Byrd, at least temporarily.  Former Manchin aide Carte Goodwin will fill the seat until a special election can be held in November.  The 36-year-old Goodwin served as Manchin‘s general counsel from 2005 to 2009, and he‘ll be sworn in on Tuesday.  It‘s widely expected that Manchin himself will run for the Senate seat in November‘s special election.  The Democrats need that vote, though, to extend unemployment benefits, which they also think they‘ll get Tuesday.
We‘ll be right back.
TODD:  All right, welcome back to HARDBALL.  President Obama today talked about the temporary cap on the gulf oil spill.  He sounded, as they say in Washington, cautiously optimistic.  Let‘s take a listen.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Here‘s the good news that I think everybody needs to understand.  Even if it turns out that we can‘t maintain this cap and completely shut off the flow of oil, what the new cap allows us to do is to essentially attach many more containment mechanisms so that we‘re able to take more oil up to the surface, put it on ships, and it won‘t be spilling into the gulf.
TODD:  All right, day 88.  How much has this crisis hurt the president‘s agenda and his own credibility?  NBC‘s David Gregory, of course, the moderator of “MEET THE PRESS.”  And David, I want to start with something else the president said because it‘s—he brought up an issue that a lot of his aides have brought up.  Let‘s take a listen to what he said.
OBAMA:  Well, I think it‘s important that we don‘t get ahead of ourselves here.  You know, one of the problems with having this camera down there is, is that when the oil stops gushing, everybody feels like we‘re done.  And we‘re not.
TODD:  One of the problems with having this camera down there—one of the problems.  That camera—
TODD:  -- has probably done more damage to President Obama, whether he liked it or not, politically than anything else that they‘ve had over the last six months.
GREGORY:  You know, because, ultimately, if a president in Washington overall are judged by whether you‘re solving the problem, if you have to look at this thing every day and it‘s a live picture of the problem unfolding—it‘s not even like a hurricane.  It‘s not—
TODD:  -- it was meant to embarrass BP.
GREGORY:  That‘s exactly right.  And Ed Markey was the one who pushed for that, Democrat of Massachusetts, and thought it was important to really hold BP accountable.  The problem is it created all these issues about to what extent the administration was able to really control BP.
I mean, all this point about how this plays now—you still have a huge problem.  I mean, the president spoke with such great specific detail.  The public is not focused on that.  When does the oil stop flowing?  And then we can concentrate on the environmental damage.  And then you can factor in how much money it‘s going to cost to rebuild that region that still hasn‘t been rebuilt after Katrina.  So the problems don‘t get any better, unfortunately.
TODD:  You know, a lot of aides will tell you that before—April 20th is when this—the Deepwater Horizon exploded.  I think it was March 11th or 12th, he signed health care.  They had that pretty good jobs report coming in.  I think it was on—the jobs—the end-of-the-month jobs report coming in from February to March.  And they really thought they were turning a corner.  This oil thing—and it stopped everything dead, didn‘t it.
GREGORY:  Well, it did.  I mean, it focused on the limits of what government can do.  There were probably some deficiencies there in how the president communicated about it, some things that were done—but overall, this was a just a really hard thing.  And you had Republicans like Haley Barbour not criticizing the president, saying he‘d done a pretty good job.  And there‘s political posturing going on on all sides.  The reality is, when the economy is in the shape it‘s in—
TODD:  Right.
GREGORY:  -- that‘s the bottom line.  And so everything else is sort of seen through that prism.  And so you deal with an intractable problem like this that only points up the limits of what government can do, it also refocuses, you know, people‘s frustrations on other areas.
TODD:  But it just did another thing, which was simply—it was a—it was—you hate to call it a distraction, but—
GREGORY:  Right.
TODD:  -- they were trying to make—trying to turn—make the turn on the economy.  They‘ve been trying to make the turn on some other things.  And they couldn‘t even—they would talk about it, but we were covering the oil spill.
GREGORY:  Well—right.  And you know, the president wants to have a singular focus on jobs.  You can‘t do that when he‘s surging up forces in Afghanistan, when he‘s dealing with health care reform, financial regulation.  I mean, there‘s too many other things going on.  So having a singular focus is not something that he‘s been able to do.
And then you get something like this that he can‘t just swoop in and affect in a way that makes him necessarily look good.  There‘s no looking good here.  There just isn‘t—
TODD:  Right.
GREGORY:  -- because the problem is too big and too unwieldy, and it‘s going to take too much time.  And it‘s going to be a major problem even when the—when the press and public is not really keenly focused on it.
TODD:  Is there something about this incident, though, that you think they learned from in a positive, and they‘re sort of taking it forward?  It does seem like they learned something on the McChrystal incident.  But have you sensed anything that they sort of at least get how they need to handle one of these (INAUDIBLE)
GREGORY:  I—you know, I think, you know, in a lot of these incidents, it becomes some communications lessons, but frankly, that‘s kind of small in the scheme of things. 
TODD:  Yes. 
GREGORY:  This is a much bigger issue about where we get our energy from, the idea of offshore drilling, our other sources of energy. 
And, look, the ability to seize a moment like this and do something big with it, if they‘re going to do an energy bill that is now just a compromise bill in the wake of all this, you wonder, I mean, where is the political capital?  Where is the political momentum?  Is it to be found anywhere if you can‘t take a crisis like this and turn it into something really important for the country?
That‘s the difficulty I think the administration finds itself in, with the backdrop on the economy, doing something big in other areas, whether it‘s health care, even financial regulation. 
TODD:  Right. 
GREGORY:  If there‘s no jobs out there, it becomes difficult to then—to lift all the boats. 
TODD:  I want to turn to politics.
Robert Gibbs on “Meet the Press” on Sunday seemed to start a firestorm.  It was almost as if he woke up a bunch of House Democrats that didn‘t know they were in trouble—
GREGORY:  Right. 
TODD:  -- how the reaction went on.  But it did seem to sort of clarify things.  And it gave Republicans momentum at a time that was very important to them financially.  They‘re coming on this week. 
GREGORY:  Well, it‘s an important moment.  Look, when the president‘s spokesman says, we have weakness, we‘re taking water on board, which is what he is saying—now, he can say that it‘s common knowledge.  And that may have been the case here in Washington. 
The reality is, the House is up for grabs.  As you have pointed out on “First Read” this week, it‘s up for grabs.  Again, there‘s lots of reasons for that.  This debate continues on Sunday with all the campaign committee chairmen to look at, just what are the conditions?  How are they different from other wave elections?  And how is the president framing this debate in such a way that can maybe mitigate some of the damage that‘s coming Democrats‘ way? 
TODD:  You know, in an interview I had with him yesterday, he seemed to hesitate on this issue of calling it a referendum on himself.  On one hand, he gets that his policies are on the ballot.  On the other hand, he doesn‘t call it a referendum.
But do Democrats actually want it at some point to be a referendum if they—just simply to enthuse their base? 
GREGORY:  I think they have got to. 
You go back to 1994 and what hurt Democrats was the chaos theory that Democrats couldn‘t get anything done.  Well, the president has gotten some things, some big things done.  And even if Democrats want to swim away from the president, they can‘t get away fast enough.  They are all hitched together here.  They need to go out and try to campaign on some measure of accomplishment, on the economy and on some other areas. 
The difficulty is, are people going to buy what they‘re selling, given how—what people are experiencing, if they‘re out of work, whether they think the stimulus has had much impact?  And some of the tension, as you know, is Democrats who feel like, look, the president is concerned about 2012.
TODD:  Right. 
GREGORY:  He‘s positioning himself for 2012, and he doesn‘t really care about us. 
TODD:  They took tough votes—tough votes for him.  They didn‘t take tough votes for—
GREGORY:  Right.  And the irony is, of course—and Republicans know this—be careful what you wish for.  Should they get the House majority back now, it probably hurts them in 2012. 
GREGORY:  Yes, they will acknowledge they don‘t really have a message to turn the economy around or a plan to turn the economy around right now. 
TODD:  All right, Cornyn, Menendez, Van Hollen, and Pete Sessions. 
GREGORY:  That‘s right. 
TODD:  We have not seen Pete Sessions.  This is his national TV debut.
GREGORY:  Yes.  It should be interesting to get them all together and really keep this debate going.
TODD:  I‘m fired up.  Sounds good. 
TODD:  Thank you, David Gregory. 
As you saw, this Sunday, catch it.  It‘s a political junky‘s dream.
All right, up next: Democratic Senate candidate, one that is not getting a lot of help from the president or any members of the party.  Alvin Greene of South Carolina, though, is getting his wish.  He got his own action figure, sort of.  We will explain next on the “Sideshow.”
TODD:  All right, back to HARDBALL, and it‘s time for the “Sideshow.” 
First, dreams can come true, at least if you‘re Alvin Greene.  You remember him.  He‘s South Carolina‘s come-out-of-nowhere Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate.  Well, he said earlier this month one way the state‘s economy could be boosted, of course, would be selling Alvin Greene action figures, natch.
Well, a minor league baseball team has taken the idea to heart.  The Charleston RiverDogs took their Mr. Liberty figure and pasted over it a head shot of the would-be senator.  Greene this afternoon tweeted a special thanks to the team because they plan out—to hand out these figurines at a game this Saturday.
In a related note, Greene just announced his fund-raising total for winning the primary.  Since winning the primary, his haul, about $1,000.  For a little bit of perspective, Republican Senator Jim DeMint has $3.5 million on hand.  Not sure how well that‘s going to go, but you know never with minor league baseball. 
Moving over to Georgia, there‘s a seven-way race for the Republican governor‘s nomination.  The current front-runner, at least to get into the runoff, State Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.  And who is he?  Well, apparently, at least as a—a comedy writer, he‘s coming across as a birther.  Check it out.
JOHN OXENDINE ®, GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE:  You know, there‘s a similarity between God and Barack Obama.  Neither one of them actually have a birth certificate. 
OXENDINE:  But the difference is, God does not think he‘s Barack Obama. 
TODD:  It‘s one thing to tell the joke.  And we actually have heard some folks like Joe Biden and others make some funny birth certificate jokes.  It‘s another, though, when you‘re running for governor these days.  Not sure if you want to be caught doing that.  We will see.  Stay tuned for Georgia primary results this Tuesday.  Definitely going to be a run-off.
And now time for the HARDBALL “Big Number.” 
Mayor Mike Bloomberg‘s campaign just filed its final spending report from 2009.  Well, it turns out the New York billionaire spent $109 million on that actually very narrow election win year last year.  But that‘s not tonight‘s “Big Number.”
How much total over three mayoral elections has Mike Bloomberg now spent?  Ready for this? -- $268 million.  Even in Washington, even in Congress, they would say that three-quarters-of-a-billion dollars—or one-quarter-of-a-billion dollars was a lot of money.  We shall see.  It‘s a spare-no-expense “Big Number” tonight—Michael Bloomberg.  And just imagine if he runs for president. 
All right, coming up:  From the stimulus, to health care, to Wall Street reform, President Obama has a string of huge policy achievements.  But he‘s having trouble turning his legislative victories into political capital.  Why does Obama seem to go backwards with some of these major accomplishments?  We‘re going to get into that next. 
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  
HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Hampton Pearson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks plunging today on some disappointing earnings and economic reports.  The Dow Jones industrial tumbling 261 points.  The S&P 500 falling 31 points.  And the Nasdaq taking the worst of it, diving 70 points, a decline of more than 3 percent. 
Earnings from GE, Bank of America and Citigroup all coming in better than expected, but revenues were weak across the board, evidence of a still-struggling economy.  GE shares sinking 4.5 percent today.  Bank of America plunging a whopping 9 percent, and Citigroup shares down 6.25 percent. 
Meanwhile, Dell shares tumbling more than 4 percent as it nears a settlement with the SEC over misleading accounting practices. 
And in economic news, a dramatic reversal in consumer sentiment, now at its lowest level in 11 months, this even as everyday prices fell a tenth-of-a-point.  So, inflation remains in check.  The possibility of deflation, however, is a growing concern. 
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to HARDBALL. 
TODD:  Well, welcome back to HARDBALL. 
Well, with health care and the stimulus in the books already, financial reform awaiting his signature, big moves on education reform, President Obama has four big legislative wins, at least as far as they‘re counting, in his first 18 months on the job.  
But is it helping him at all, or is it making things worse for him politically? 
“Newsweek” Jonathan Alter is an MSNBC political analyst.  And Katrina Vanden Heuvel is the editor and publisher of “The Nation.”
And, before I get started—and, Katrina, I want to go to you first.  But I want to play something.  I asked President Obama this yesterday in the interview, if he feels frustrated by this issue that these legislative victories aren‘t translating to political capital.  Take a listen. 
TODD:  That must be frustrating.  You‘ve had an enormous amount of legislative victories.  It is comparable to any president in history.  It has not translated into political capital with the public.
Is it—honestly, are you frustrated by that? 
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You know, I‘m not frustrated, because we were in such a deep hole that, even if we got three-quarters of the way up out of the hole, even if I know we‘re going in the right direction, people are still feeling, things are tough.
TODD:  You think it‘s all economy?  You think it‘s almost all—
OBAMA:  I do. 
TODD:  Katrina, there‘s a couple of theories to this.  One is what the president and the White House begin, that bad economy and nobody is going to think anybody is going well and that any of these ideas are good.  Another theory with some progressives on the left—and you and I have talked about this—is—
TODD:  -- that, you know what, these achievements were B-minus as far as progressives were concerned, and that there are not—that‘s why, say, the base isn‘t as excited about him.  Fair?
VANDEN HEUVEL:  I think the economy, the grim economy for millions of Americans, colors the picture.
Let‘s not forget that the Republicans are ready to build up our deficit to give tax cuts to the richest, but won‘t extend unemployment benefits for millions of Americans. 
But I also think, Chuck, that what we‘re seeing is, we‘re seeing comprehensive, but compromised legislation, significant major achievements, also disappointments, compromised by entrenched corporate interests in Washington. 
And a lot of Americans don‘t see that picture.  And I think, for progressives, we understand that it takes more than one election, that we need to fix on systemic change to a system that is corroded by corporate money.  Got compromised Democrats, too, but it‘s a long haul. 
And I think the president is right to say—let‘s not forget that Reagan was a few points below where President Obama was now before his midterms. 
TODD:  Right. 
VANDEN HEUVEL:  President Clinton around the same place.  So, I think it‘s way too early for this funk about how it‘s going to be a big sweep-out for the Democrats.  There is an anti-incumbent mood in this country. 
But the Republicans are so off-the-grid, clueless, craven, and cowardly when it comes to understanding where millions of Americans are on financial reform, on health care, on the need for jobs. 
TODD:  Jonathan, you know, you have probably heard from the same folks I have heard from on the White House about this issue of these victories haven‘t translated into anything, the president himself saying it‘s the economy. 
But there is a frustration in the White House that they don‘t have more support from the progressive base of the party for some of these victories.  They feel like, hey, we have stuck our neck out.  And why aren‘t you rallying more to the defense?  What else are you reporting on that front? 
JONATHAN ALTER, NBC NEWS CONTRIBUTING CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think that‘s true.  There‘s this sense that the Democratic base doesn‘t understand a lot of the realities of politics. 
Any legislation is a compromise.  There‘s no such thing as the pure piece of legislation.  And Social Security in 1935, liberals hated it at the time because it hardly covered any seniors in the first piece of legislation.
So, this is always going to be a problem with the base, but it‘s not all the base‘s fault.  The administration has not done a good enough job of framing its message in memorable terms. 
Even just yesterday, when he went out after he won on financial regulation, what‘s the takeaway?  What‘s the sound bite, if you will, that comes out of that, that people can sink their teeth into?  He‘s only said one memorable thing politically this whole year, which is, you know, they drove—they, the Republicans, drove us into a ditch.  Don‘t give them back the keys. 
ALTER:  That‘s a good line.  If he can keep saying that kind of thing and focus it as a choice, Chuck, as a choice, he can make some progress. 
VANDEN HEUVEL:  You have got to dramatize the choice. 
And Jonathan and I were talking the other day.  It‘s Barton, Boehner and Blunt. 
ALTER:  Right. 
VANDEN HEUVEL:  I mean, these are people who go to Wall Street to sell the party to Wall Street, who stand on the side of insurance companies, who don‘t want legislation so women get equal pay, who don‘t want to regulate the financial companies. 
There are two other words I would add I think President Obama could speak to millions of Americans: Elizabeth Warren.  Elizabeth Warren should hedge this consumer protection financial agency that is at the heart at the—
ALTER:  Yes, I agree.
VANDEN HEUVEL:  -- best of a comprehensive, but flawed financial regulation. 
ALTER:  It‘s not clear she‘s going to be.
VANDEN HEUVEL:  And this is going to be a base fight, because if Geithner, who is secretary of the treasury, overtakes the—says, Elizabeth Warren, no, you‘re not, there‘s going to be a fight inside this administration.
VANDEN HEUVEL:  And Elizabeth Warren is someone who stands on the side of families, not bankers.
ALTER:  Unless they put in Sheila Bair.
ALTER:  But there‘s talk of people even like William Donaldson, who is a former head of the SEC. 
TODD:  Right. 
ALTER:  If it‘s somebody who is not Bair or Warren, I agree there‘s going to be a fight on Capitol Hill from progressives.  And if they do nominate Warren, there will also be a fight from conservatives, but that‘s a fight the White House should welcome. 
VANDEN HEUVEL:  Right.  Exactly. 
TODD:  I want to ask you both this sort of bigger-picture question about President Obama. 
Katrina, let me start with you.  Do you believe the president is a progressive, or more of a pragmatist, centrist, out of the Bill Clinton mold?  What do you see?
VANDEN HEUVEL:  I—you know, I have always believed that, as progressives, we should be as pragmatic, tough, cold-eyed as President Obama is about us progressives. 
I think he‘s a centrist progressive governing at a time when there is an opportunity to be a real progressive, to assert the role of government for the common good, and not as protector of corporate interest.
But I think he‘s a pragmatist.  And by the way, Roosevelt, who so many progressive progressives herald, as we should, as a beacon of progressivism, was all about persistent pragmatic experimentation, which Jon knows well.  And I think that‘s who Obama is at heart.
ALTER:  I agree.
TODD:  Here‘s—Jonathan, I want—I want you to comment on something.  Here‘s more of President Obama with me yesterday on this topic.
TODD:  You talk about a choice election this fall.
TODD:  Are you prepared for the fact that now that means your policy is a referendum on you and your policy, and that the voters may say, “You know what, we‘re putting the Republicans in charge”?  What does that tell you?  What message does that tell you?
OBAMA:  Well, first of all we have a long ways before the election, number one.
TODD:  You disagree with Robert Gibbs‘ assessment?
OBAMA:  Number two—
TODD:  Enough seats in place?
OBAMA:  Number two, we got—number two, this is going to be a choice between the policies that got us into this mess and my policies that are getting us out of this mess.  And I think, if you look at the vast majority of Americans, even those who are dissatisfied with the pace of progress, they‘ll say that the policies that got us into this mess, we can‘t go back to.
TODD:  Now, Jonathan, I play that because you just brought up something about his messaging.  And there was something I believe it was in that political piece which got debated about the White House.
But there was somebody that made a point in there that it‘s interesting to compare President Clinton and President Obama.  President Clinton made centrist decisions but talked like a populist.  President Obama, a little more populist in his legislative agenda, but does his best to speak like a centrist.  And that maybe that is why he‘s struggled to fire up the Democratic base.
ALTER:  You know, I don‘t think that Clinton really did talk that much as a populist.  He just sounded folksy because, you know, he‘s Clinton and he‘s from Arkansas.  And, you know, Obama has talked about fat cats on Wall Street, and he really cuffed around the insurance companies.
But I think it goes back again to this question of his disdain for sound bites.  He thinks it‘s somehow beneath him in some way to use catch phrases and slogans that linger in the mind.  There‘s a cognitive dissonance, to use a fancy phrase.  In other words, a gap between what the American people believe and the action that they might take in bringing the Republicans back.
There was a poll that came out, 60 percent are against repealing health care.  When John Boehner said yesterday he wants to repeal this regulatory reform, nobody agrees with him in the country, except a tiny, tiny group of Republicans.  So, the Democrats have the country behind him on the issues.
TODD:  Right.
ALTER:  They need to crystallize those.  That‘s political blocking and tackling that they‘re not doing.
TODD:  Katrina, my apologies.  We‘ll have to continue our conversation on Twitter.
VANDEN HEUVEL:  Thank you.  That‘s OK.
TODD:  We‘ll do that.
VANDEN HEUVEL:  We‘ll do that.
TODD:  You should follow Katrina on Twitter.  She‘s pretty prolific.
Jonathan, you need to get better at it.  You‘re just not as good at Twitter.
All right.  Jonathan Alter and Katrina Vanden Heuvel—
ALTER:  OK, I will.  I‘ll work on it.
VANDEN HEUVEL:  Thank you.
TODD: -- thank you both for this conversation.
All right.  Up next: Mitt Romney is getting lots of money.  Sarah Palin is getting lots of attention.  With two years and four months until Election Day, 2012, but more importantly, about 15 months until the Iowa caucuses, which Republican presidential contenders are showing the most real strength?
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
TODD:  Well, get this: Harry Reid apparently has opened up a seventh-point lead over Republican challenger Sharron Angle in Nevada.  A new “Las Vegas Review Journal”/Mason-Dixon poll has Reid at 44 percent and Angle at 37 percent.  It‘s the best Reid has done in the Mason-Dixon poll this year.  In fact, just last month, Angle held a slight edge over the majority leader.
Now, Reid is under 50 percent, that‘s never a good thing for an incumbent.  However, he doesn‘t need 50 percent.  Why?  Because Nevada has something called none of these candidates.  And let me tell you, in a year like this—none of these candidates, people ought to change their name to “none of these candidates.”
Anyway, we‘ll be right back.
TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.
It‘s never too early to talk about the 2012 presidential election.  And the big action will be on the Republican side next year.
We‘re going to size up some of the potential candidates with Chris Cillizza.  He‘s managing editor of Postpolitics.com and “The Washington Post.”  And Jonathan Martin, he‘s senior reporter for “Politico.”
Gentlemen, both of you wrote heavily this week about these financial reports that we heard from all these Republican presidential candidates.  We seemed to learn something.
Jonathan, you wrote a piece on ups and downs, pluses and minuses.  Let‘s start with Mitt Romney.  He showed himself to be the front runner, didn‘t he?
JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO:  Yes.  And I think why, in the traditional standards, he is—as far as money, as far as organization, and as far as having done it before.
Keep in mind, the Republican Party has for years nominated the guy whose turn it is.  And that is, I think Romney heading into 2012.  He‘s got unmatched context along the sort of national finance committee.
TODD:  And he got new context came in that sort of gravitating to him.
MARTIN:  Right.
TODD:  I notice.  Yes.
MARTIN:  He‘s signing up folks both in Washington and New York, Chuck, who were for other candidates in the race.  He‘s been very aggressive about meeting with folks that supported, you know, John McCain last time, Rudy last time.  Also, he‘s done it before.
That means a lot in politics.  He knows sort of the mistakes that he made the last time.  That said, he‘s got some real challenges, namely authenticity.
TODD:  Right.
MARTIN:  And his policy, but also in his personal approach—can he overcome that sort of flip-flop narrative?  Also, health care—he passed a health care bill in his home state.
TODD:  Right.
MARTIN:  It looks a lot like President Obama‘s health care bill.
TODD:  How does he get around that?
TODD:  All right.  If he‘s the tortoise in the race, Mitt Romney—the hare is clearly in this badly done analogy, Sarah Palin?
TODD:  No, but Sarah Palin is the hare.
TODD:  Is she really running—did you get the sense that she was more likely to be running now than she did a month ago?
CILLIZZA:  I feel like, Chuck, honestly, and Jonathan and I have talked about this, I feel like one day, I think no.  The next day, I think yes.  I mean, I really go back and forth.  And I also think that unlike Romney and some of the other people we‘re going to talk about where you can grade her on kind of the traditional way that people go about—
TODD:  She‘ll never do this traditionally.
CILLIZZA:  She‘s not going to do that.
TODD:  Yes.
CILLIZZA:  Now, here‘s what I would say.  I think the best—
TODD:  Didn‘t Rudy Giuliani try to be non-traditional?
CILLIZZA:  Yes, look what that got him.
CILLIZZA:  I think—I think what, one thing to latch onto, the mama grizzly thing.  She‘s done very well it.  Mock it or not mock it, Karen Handel looks she‘s going to be very strong in the race next week.
TODD:  Get in that runoff.
CILLIZZA:  Nikki Haley, Carly Fiorina.  She‘s building a group of people and more importantly, a theme or message that if she decides to run, she could.  Clearly, there‘s a lot of energy.  Clearly, there‘s a lot of money for her.  But, as always, the problem with her: can she harness it in a meaningful way?
TODD:  Is she disciplined enough?  Right.
CILLIZZA:  And, does she have the team around her to discipline?  We know that‘s not the case yet.
TODD:  I believe it was on Monday.  Newt Gingrich in Iowa said, “I‘ve never been more serious about running than I have been now.”  What are some of the pluses and minuses?
MARTIN:  In an “A.P.” interview, by the way.  So, it was very explicit.
TODD:  He did it on purpose.
MARTIN:  He knew what he was doing.  He‘s trying to (INAUDIBLE) the message out there.
TODD:  He‘s not selling books anymore.
MARTIN:  (INAUDIBLE) to the National Press Corps.
Exactly.  This is not about books.  This is not about facts hits.  This is not about speaking fees.  I‘m really in it this time.
His date hasn‘t changed, Chuck.  It‘s February or March of next year he‘s going to decide this thing.  So, I think that‘s what to look for.
When it comes to Newt, (INAUDIBLE) if he starts releasing county a county lists of supporters, you know, who‘s signing up, who‘s for him.  If he‘s doing that kind of thing, we‘ll know it‘s the real deal.
TODD:  All right.  The fourth guy, the guy I think you nicknamed “Teapot” at the end of the day.
CILLIZZA:  Can I get credit for that?  I‘m taking credit for that.
MARTIN:  Game changer.
TODD:  Tim Pawlenty, governor of Minnesota—this is a guy that is plotting, right?  He is just going about doing what everybody—what you‘re supposed to do in the manual that says—
CILLIZZA:  He‘s the anti-Palin.  In that, I mentioned Palin doesn‘t follow traditional rules.  What Pawlenty is doing is following every traditional rule; he‘s the Mitt Romney circa 2008.  In 2007, 2006, Mitt Romney went everywhere, every Lincoln Day dinner, every Iowa event.
TODD:  And that‘s Pawlenty this time.
CILLIZZA:  That‘s Tim Pawlenty.  The question—the question: is there some bear there?  And we don‘t know the answer to that yet.  Nice guy.  Great story.
CILLIZZA: First person in his family to go to college.  You know, middle class roots.  The Wal-Mart Republican, the Sam‘s Club Republican.  Good story—but does he get people excite?
TODD:  All right.  I‘m going to quickly—wildcards in here it: Haley Barbour, do you sense that he‘s actually trying to at least leave himself the option of running?
MARTIN:  Absolutely.
MARTIN:  Definitely thinking about it.  If he ever would do it, this is now the opportunity.  He is anti-Obama in every possible way.  His upside is considerable.  Huge contact as far as grassroots and finance.  His downside just as big.
MARTIN:  He looks and sounds like a Deep South.
TODD:  He really hurts both Romney and Newt ironically.
CILLIZZA:  He‘s the insider‘s choice in a lot of ways.  This is a guy that all the consultants, all the people—everybody knows Haley.
MARTIN:  There‘s a huge space right now to be a mainstream conservative/Romney alternative.  Who fills that space?  Is it T-Paw?  Is it Barbour?  Is it Mitch?
TODD:  I was just going to say, Mitch Daniels, the other wildcard here.
CILLIZZA:  Again, another anti-Obama, doesn‘t look, sound like Obama, short guy, bureaucrat, place that up.  Could do it?  Sure.  But the problem with him—I don‘t know if he wants to get out there and retail campaign for two years.  That‘s not been he‘s—that‘s not been what he enjoys doing.
TODD:  It‘s fascinating.  The field is going to start gelling faster than we realize.
Chris Cillizza, Jonathan Martin, I‘ll see you both at the 8:01 for pork chop.
MARTIN:  In Des Moines.
TODD:  All right.  When we return, a rare thing happened this morning here in Washington, D.C.  No, it wasn‘t Republicans and Democrats doing—did all of a sudden getting together and putting all their differences aside.  There was an earthquake here in the nation‘s capital, an actual one, geological earthquake.  Well, we‘re going to more on this D.C. quake next and find out if your city is next.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
TODD:  Well, the Washington, D.C. area was hit by an earthquake, believe it or not this morning, and not the political kind we‘re used to.  I know that cliche is getting old for folks.  But it was a fairly mild one.  Earthquakes are still pretty unusual in this part of the country, so where are these fault lines around the country and is there one near you?
So, we called in Dr. Thomas Heaton.  He is with the earthquake engineering research lab at the California Institute of Technology and he joins us now.
All right.  Dr. Heaton, I know most of your work is usually on the west coast.  We know that everybody from Seattle to San Diego is always mindful of the fear of earthquakes.  A new phenomenon here east of the Mississippi—how risky is this on the, quote, “eastern half of the country”?
DR. THOMAS HEATON, GEOPHYSICS & CIVIL ENGINEERING PROFESSOR:  Well, roughly 10 percent the rate of earthquakes in the eastern U.S. as opposed to the western U.S.  So, you don‘t get a lot of the earthquakes in the eastern U.S., especially in the 20th and 21st centuries.
If you go back awhile, you‘ll find there were some really important earthquakes in the eastern United States in the 19th century especially.  Even New York got into the act with a magnitude 5.5 earthquake in the 1800s.  But there have been some very large earthquakes in the eastern U.S., but nothing in any living person‘s memory.
TODD:  And is there anything to—there‘s still nothing about an earthquake that can tell you, let you to predict that—oh, boy, a bigger one is coming.  There‘s no—we yet don‘t have a pattern here, correctly, when you see a tremor, this means something?
HEATON:  Well, of course, there‘s always a bigger one coming, but in terms of being able to tell when it‘s going to happen, we have no idea.  And we do try to look for patterns, but I think the more we look, the more we realize it‘s very hard to see any repeatable pattern.
TODD:  So, outside of—we know the corridor on the west coast big, you know, from Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles.  Another big area I‘ve always heard of that people don‘t talk about much is St. Louis.  So, very quickly, tell us about that fault.
HEATON:  Well, I don‘t think we know much about the fault except for the fact that there were three very large earthquakes, two in 1811, and a third one in 1812.  And then there was another magnitude 6 ½ earthquake in the 1890s.  Those earthquakes still have aftershocks today.
So, we can use the aftershocks from those earthquakes even almost 200 years ago to map where the faults were.  The big debate is whether we‘ll have another large one on those faults.  And to be honest, I don‘t think any of us know.
TODD:  All right.  Well, Dr. Thomas Heaton—a lot of us here in Washington, D.C. getting a education on earthquakes and faults.  So, I appreciate you participating in that today.  Thanks very much.
All right.  Well, that‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.
Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.