updated 8/30/2010 1:20:24 PM ET 2010-08-30T17:20:24

Guests: Erica Payne, Zead Ramadan, Terry Jones, Nate Silver, Jonathan

Martin, R. Clarke Cooper

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Feeling the heat.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews down in Washington. 

Leading off tonight, blowback.  The debate over that planned Islamic center near Ground Zero was always about more than a building, it‘s about the right and rightfulness of people to worship however and wherever they choose, and it has always held the potential of metastasizing into an anti-Muslim behavior. 

We‘re seeing that now in the attack by an apparently mentally ill New Yorker on a Muslim cab driver and in a Florida pastor‘s plan to burn Q‘urans on September 11.  Get it?  Burn the sacred book of a billion Muslim people.  That pastor is among our guests at the top of the show.

Democrats, meanwhile, are beginning to feel a cold November wind.  Politico reports today that Democrats are growing increasingly pessimistic about holding control of the House of Representatives, and there are even signs that their Senate majority may be in peril.  Nate Silver from Fivethirtyeight.com, a real expert, joins us tonight.

Also, what‘s Sarah Palin think of Scott Brown, the Massachusetts tea party senator?  Fact is, she thinks he‘s about as good as you can get up in Massachusetts, which, according to her, is not all that great.  That‘s in the “Sideshow.”

Plus, now that the guy who ran President George W. Bush‘s reelection campaign in 2004, Ken Mehlman, has announced he‘s gay, we wonder how much longer the GOP can carry on a jihad against gay marriage.  We‘ll get into that one tonight.

And “Let me finish” tonight by saluting Ken Mehlman, who did a brave, difficult and I think important thing in coming out today.

We start with the recent anti-Muslim behavior going on in the streets.  Eric Payne is the founder of the Agenda Project and Zead Ramadan is the president of the board of director of Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Erica, you first.  In this rhetoric out there right now, that this—apparently deranged guy went after the cab driver in New York—I‘m not going to—mental illness is an impossible thing to figure out.  But this guy obviously has heard things in the air.  The atmospherics around him led him, apparently, to do this thing.  What do you make of it, attacking with a knife, reaching up through the screen—through the glass and starting to carve on the guy‘s neck?

ERICA PAYNE, THE AGENDA PROJECT:  Right.  I mean, we‘ve really reached a point in this debate where it‘s just gone overboard.  And there was a point at which people could have came together and reached a compromise, and maybe that was the right conversation to have. 

But at this point, these political leaders need to show a significant amount more leadership than they have shown to date in really taking hold of themselves and calming down their own rhetoric so that they can serve as good examples to the rest of us out there who are trying to make sense of a world where we really (INAUDIBLE) you know, all of us to live together in a way that‘s peaceful and in harmony, and they‘re not contributing to that.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the—the business that‘s really going on here?  I‘m thinking of “Cider House Rules.”  What business are these people who in who are raising hell?  I want to go to Zead on that.  What business are people in, really, who are out raising hell about this site, a couple of blocks away from the World Trade Center?  I don‘t know if it‘s five blocks away it would have been the same thing.  Fair enough, people have attitudes about this.  We all have attitudes.  But why are people out front raising hell about this?  Why are particular—is there something to be gained here, Zead, by the screamers?

ZEAD RAMADAN, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS:  Really not.  I think it‘s—I think it‘s hate rhetoric.  I think their minds have been poisoned by organizations such as Stop the Islamization of America.  They have a guy who‘s pretty much their architect.  His name is Robert Spencer (ph).  This guy used to write for Revolutionary Books.  They‘re so far left and communist.  And now he writes for a fascist right organization that calls for, like, the expulsion of Muslims, the attacking of Muslims. 

And so he‘s really like the Jim Jones of the modern era, but he‘s poisoning people‘s minds over the Internet.  And people are reacting to this.  And he‘s falsifying information, like, This is a victory mosque.  That‘s ridiculous.  That‘s absolutely ridiculous.

MATTHEWS:  Was this a fund-raising—is this—let me ask you this.

RAMADAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Maybe you‘ll answer me.  Is this a fund-raising jag?  Are people running for office?  Is Dan Senior, for example—

RAMADAN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  -- planning a political career in New York?  I mean, I‘m always looking at the political angle, I guess, and sometimes the financial angle.  Why do people devote themselves every minute to appearing on television on an issue like this, which, let‘s face it, is a local issue in downtown New York?  It has to do with the community down there, the business district down there, how it will affect how people get along down there.  I swear, a year from now, nobody‘s going to be talking about this?

RAMADAN:  Chris—

MATTHEWS:  So who grabs (ph) the symbol?

RAMADAN:  Chris, Lazio—

MATTHEWS:  And why are they grabbing it?

RAMADAN:  Lazio has not spoken.  Rick Lazio—

MATTHEWS:  Oh, he‘s desperate.

RAMADAN:  I mean, he hasn‘t spoken about anything but this issue.  Gingrich has recently come out and said something to extent of maybe we had it wrong, it wasn‘t terrorism we should be attacking, it‘s Islam that should be our enemy.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s (INAUDIBLE)

RAMADAN:  I mean, those kinds of statements are just insane.  And this is coming from somebody who—

MATTHEWS:  He is one of the worst—

RAMADAN:  -- was reprimanded as Speaker of the House.

MATTHEWS:  -- political opportunists that‘s ever lived.

RAMADAN:  Incredible.

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s saying something in this country.  Let me go back to Erica.  What‘s your belief?  Why are people seeking to devote themselves 24/7 to this issue this last couple of weeks?  They‘re out there practically building careers on this Andy Warhol experience some of them are having.  Senor‘s one.  He‘s not a bad guy, but what is he up to politically?  Tell me he‘s not up to something.

PAYNE:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  Erica.

PAYNE:  I mean, the real issue that I have with this entire theme that‘s happening is not what this wackdoodle wants to do and that wackdoodle wants to do.  And you know, any kind of individuals are going to have whatever opinion they want to have about this topic.  The question is that we—when we have elected people who are supposed to serve as leaders to the country and they are instead condoning or being silent in the face of this kind of nonsense—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PAYNE:  -- we really need to ask ourselves—you know, there is not leadership from most politicians right now, and most of them are lacking in any sort of moral architecture that is going to get us to a better place in this country.  And so we need to stop looking to politicians and push back on them and say, You are going to cease all of this, on both sides of this argument, all of you, or we are going to make sure that none of you are in any office anymore.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go back to—or Erica, let me stay with you for a second.  It seems to me that people in broadcasting—I‘ve been warned about this, learned about it over the years.  You can say something on the air that somebody out there who‘s mentally unstable will act on.  This guy in the New York cab going after that cab driver with this big knife because of something he‘s obviously heard on television, heard on cable.

PAYNE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think he reads the papers, but probably heard it in the media.  Don‘t these people that are rabble rousing—and that‘s what they‘re doing—they‘re not exactly rabble rousing the rabble, they‘re rousing the people who are unstable, apparently.

RAMADAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s going to be trouble here, and the people who are behind the trouble are the ones making the noise, I think.  Your thoughts?

PAYNE:  Well, and the people who are getting hurt are real people.  I mean, this is—this man who got hurt in the taxi drive two nights ago has four children.  I think he‘s been driving a taxicab for 20-some-odd years.  He said in one of his messages that he‘s never felt insecure in the city before, and now he does.

And you know, here two people in this exercise trying to pull us apart, and one of them is the terrorist who tried to pull us apart in the wake of what they did in 9/11.  And the best way that they can win is for us to let them succeed in that division.  And unfortunately, politicians can play right into that division and they can be politically successful as a result of it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I have to say, some of the greatest gentlemen I work with in the daytime, throughout the day, Zead, are a lot the of people who drive the cars that we‘ve been able to use at NBC.

RAMADAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And they drive the cars for a car service.  And I got to tell you, they educate me every time I get in the car.  We have the longest conversations.  And I hate to think that in this country, where a lot of them really want to assimilate and become real parents and real Americans are going to feel that somebody doesn‘t like them because of their religion.

Americans tend to like people who are religious, as a rule.  We tend to—maybe we‘re not all religious, but we tend to like people who go to church.  We tend to like people who go to synagogue because we think it says something about the way they organize their lives—

RAMADAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  -- right, generally speaking?

RAMADAN:  Absolutely.  You know—

MATTHEWS:  And I—and I wonder about this and how it‘s going to affect everything.  Your last thought, Zead.

RAMADAN:  You know, the building of mosques around the country is really a sign of the integration of the Muslim community in America.  I mean, basically, as a Muslim community with hundreds of thousands of people, and they need a place to pray, just like the Catholics and the Lutherans and the Buddhists and Taoists and the Jews.  And they just want a place to pray and worship their lord, like everyone else.  And it just seems like so much misinformation is coming down at these small communities, and people who don‘t have information are acting on this.  And it‘s unfortunate.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

PAYNE:  But I mean, this is—Chris, if I could just jump in—

MATTHEWS:  OK, you—

PAYNE:  -- with one thing.  We use the word “tolerance” constantly in this country, as though that‘s a good quality.  I have a Muslim woman who works in my office and we had a launch the other day at the beginning of Ramadan.  And she told us all about Ramadan and what was that like.  And we weren‘t “tolerating” her explanation of, you know, a cultural difference—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PAYNE:  -- we were embracing it and celebrating it.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s good to learn.

PAYNE:  And that should be the place that we need to be as a country.

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s good to learn all the time.  Thank you, Erica. 

And thank you, Zead.

PAYNE:  Thanks a lot.

RAMADAN:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Now to Pastor Terry Jones, who‘s planning to commemorate 9/11 by burning Q‘urans.  He joins us from Florida via Skape—Skype, rather.  Reverend Jones, Pastor Jones, is there anybody in America you respect enough that if they made a phone call to you, you‘d decide not to burn the Q‘urans on 9/11?  Is there anybody you respect enough that if they got on the phone with you or visited with you, sir, and spoke with you, that you would change your mind?  Because I think it‘s a terrible idea.  But your reaction to that question?

TERRY JONES, PASTOR, DOVE WORLD OUTREACH CENTER:  No, there‘s not.

MATTHEWS:  So who do you respect in America, public life?

JONES:  Well, I respect politicians who—

MATTHEWS:  No, give me a name, sir.  Give me a name of person in American life, public life, that you respect.  Or are you completely against what‘s going on in America, period?  Do you have anybody that you look up to as something like a hero today, anyone in America?  We have almost 300 million people.  Do you like or respect anyone, sir?

JONES:  I guess so.  I guess our—

MATTHEWS:  Enough to listen to them?

JONES:  -- ex-president, President Bush.

MATTHEWS:  President George W. Bush.  If George W. Bush, the former president, were to call you up now or visit with you and say, I think this is going to cause trouble in the Arab and Islamic world, I will not—I really think you shouldn‘t be burning Q‘urans in public on that day, it‘s their holy book, would you not do it?

JONES:  That would not change our plans, no.

MATTHEWS:  Why not?

JONES:  Well, we have declared September 11 International Burn a Q‘uran Day because we—

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s we?  I‘m sorry.  Who‘s we?

JONES:  You got to let me finish.  We want to send a very clear—very clear message.  We want to remember those who were murdered and killed on 9/11 --

MATTHEWS:  Right.

JONES:  -- and we also want to send a very clear message to radical Islam.  We see that all over the world.  We see that all over Europe.  We want to send a clear message to them, to Muslims, that if they are in America, they are free here to worship, but they must honor and respect our Constitution.  We want to send a very clear message that we do not want sharia law and sharia courts.  That—that is what our International Burn a Q‘uran Day is about.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think the reaction will be as this goes on international television?

JONES:  Well, I hope it will send a very clear message.

MATTHEWS:  What will be the reaction?  What will be the consequence?

JONES:  (INAUDIBLE) of Islam that they should not try to do what they have done in Europe.  You see, in Europe, as Europe took a lackadaisical attitude, as Europe did not move forward, you see that as the Muslims in Europe, as they gained in population, they also begin to demand sharia law, sharia courts, which is a very violent form of punishment.  And what we hope to accomplish by the burning of the Q‘uran is to send a very clear—it is, indeed, a radical message, but a very clear radical message to Muslims, to sharia law, that that is not welcomed in America.

MATTHEWS:  Suppose the reaction is—and I can imagine it being worse, but suppose the reaction is limited to someone people in Cairo or in Amman publicly burning Christian Bibles in response to your demonstration?  What would that—would that accomplish something, those two events?

JONES:  I believe what we are doing will definitely accomplish a lot. 

I believe it will—

MATTHEWS:  No, no.  You‘re not listening to me.  If somebody reacts—somebody‘s going to react to what you do.  Do you think the reaction‘s going to be positive or negative?

JONES:  I think it‘s going to be positive.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re going to—

JONES:  Like I said, it‘s going to send a message.  I think when we are dealing with a society and with a sharia law that condones the killing and stoning of homosexuals, the stoning of adulterers, whenever they have a violent form political system and government, which they do have—we see that in Muslim-dominated countries.  We see that very clearly.  We feel that our message to reach those people must be radical.  And we feel that this message will be received as it is intended, as a warning.

MATTHEWS:  So again, even if George W. Bush were to call you up, Pastor Jones, and urge you not to commit this action, which will be televised worldwide, and could cause trouble and even death, you would continue ahead with your plan to do this?

JONES:  We are going to continue ahead, yes.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

JONES:  Yes, we feel it is that—

MATTHEWS:  Thank you for joining us, but I wish you weren‘t doing—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I wish you weren‘t doing this.  I hope you change your mind, sir, but that‘s up to you.  It‘s a free country.  I hope you change your mind.  Thank you, Pastor Terry Jones.

Coming up: Democrats are very worried about holding onto the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections this November.  How bad does it look for Democrats?  We‘re going to have an objective look about how at how the scene looks for November coming up right after this break.  If you‘re a Democrat, you should watch this coming segment to see how the situation looks right now.  If you‘re a Republican, you‘ll probably get a chuckle out of it.  It does not look good for Democrats.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Democratic congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina, a leader in the House of Representatives, says that he‘s not going to vote for Democratic Senate nominee Alvin Greene.  Clyburn cited Greene‘s recent indictment on obscenity charges as his reason.  However, Clyburn has previously alleged that Greene, who came out of nowhere to win in primary in June, may have been a GOP plant trying to derail the Democrats‘ efforts in November.

HARDBALL, right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Sixty-eight days now until the mid-term congressional elections, and the Democrats are in a mood of sudden really dark gloom.  Here‘s Politico‘s big story today.  Quote, “Top Democrats are growing markedly more pessimistic about holding the House of Representatives.  Democrats in and out of Washington say they‘re increasingly alarmed about the economic and polling data they have seen in recent weeks.  They no longer believe that jobs and housing markets will recover, or that anything resembling the White House‘s promise of a recovery summer is under way.”

So how bad is it for Democrats?  Nate Silver crunches numbers for Fivethirtyeight.com.  He‘s a smart fellow, and he—which is now part of “The New York Times” on line.  And Jonathan Martin is another smart fellow.  He‘s Politico‘s senior political reporter.

Nate, thank you for joining us.  I have a sense that the—the—almost the clock has struck midnight in terms of this situation, that, really, it looks like another ‘94 or worse, a loss of up to 50 or more seats.  Is that your sense now, looking toward November, for the Democrats?

NATE SILVER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT.COM:  I think so.  I mean, the Politico article about recovery summer, where—if the Democrats are going to regain some kind of standing with the electorate, it would probably have had to happen by now, right?  If you had a nice employment report coming out in September or October, it might not be enough of a pattern to help voters change their mind about the kind of failure of the Democrats to address the economy—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SILVER:  -- and facilitate a recovery.

MATTHEWS:  So the cake is baked.

SILVER:  I don‘t know.  I mean, you know, we could capture Osama bin Laden or—there are all kinds of wild card, as we‘ve seen this summer with the oil spill and the mosque.  But you know, the basic conditions are that it‘s going to be pretty bad for Democrats.  And the question is, will it be 30 seats bad or who knows, 60 seats bad in the House?

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think (INAUDIBLE) 60 now.  You know why?  Because I absolutely believe in the power of the economy.  It‘s—people can only vote yes or no.  Nobody wants to vote yes right now.  Not about personalities or even policy.  They don‘t like conditions.

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO:  Right.  And look, if the economy is bad, then folks are going to take out their anger at the party that‘s in power.  And obviously right now, that‘s the Democrats now.  Chris, Democrats do have one thing going for them, and that‘s money.  You look at where the House committees are right now, Democrats do have more cash stockpiled.  But that only matters—

SILVER:  But Chris—

MARTIN:  That only matters if we‘re talking about sort of 35 to 40 seats.  If this is sort of near 50, obviously, that‘s all moot.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at the Senate, because the Senate is where we have the real personalities.  A lot of us have been watching all these races, especially, I mean, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois.  There‘s a great race almost in—all over the country. 

Let‘s take a look at your numbers, Nate Silver.  Senate forecast, after all the smoke has cleared, 52 seats for the Democrats, 47 with the Republicans.  Right now—right now, it‘s 59 Republicans. 

MATTHEWS:  So, they lose about seven.  You say six to seven votes.  That‘s exactly where I‘m at.  What would tell you that it‘s going to be a real tsunami?  Which seats would go right now—if you were to hear certain seats were lost by the Democrats, which ones would tell you this is an absolute historic, thunderous blow out? 

SILVER:  I think Wisconsin is an interesting state for me, where you have Russ Feingold, whose approval ratings actually aren‘t that bad, but running against kind of an unknown Republican candidate who had never held elected office before. 

If he were to lose, and he voted against the bailouts, some unpopular bills, if he were to lose in Wisconsin, that would indicate that no Democrat was safe, that kind of the Scott Brown paradigm we saw almost had taken hold. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  That meant tsunami.

Let me ask you about—he suggests these races, California, Washington, Wisconsin, Illinois.  If Barbara Boxer—

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  Yes, right.

MATTHEWS: -- if she were to get beaten out there by a pro-lifer—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  In California, a pro-lifer beating her.

MARTIN:  I was going to say, Nate is right about Wisconsin.  The other I would add is California, because it‘s so darn tough for an anti-abortion Republican to get elected in California statewide.

I don‘t think it‘s happened since ‘88, when Bush 41 won that state.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

MARTIN:  So, you‘re talking about over two decades, very, very difficult.  If that happens, if California elects a Republican, you will know—

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  But keep in mind that Senator Boxer has had the luxury of running in a pretty good year for Democrats -- ‘92, ‘98 her first two times up, good Democratic years -- ‘04, Bush was not playing in California. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.  I like her.  But the fact is she‘s also been very lucky in her opponents over the years. 

MARTIN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Bruce Herschensohn got caught with the problem, Michael—she got—she has been very lucky.

MARTIN:  Exactly.  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, what would be a surprising turn?  Suppose something happens good and the Democrats get—manage to get their wind and the president gives a couple good speeches, and maybe we catch somebody bad or maybe—who knows what happens in Iran?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think we attack Iran, but anything is possible.  I have heard that theory, by the way.  Attack Iran, it will change everything.  That is what some of the hawks want us to do.

Let‘s take a look at this.  Suppose the Democrats win in Pennsylvania

-- 

SILVER:  Sure. 

MATTHEWS: -- with Sestak.  And I hope they do.  Suppose they win in Ohio, Missouri, New Hampshire.  Will that suggest to you, it seems to me from your work here, that that could be a surprisingly pretty good year for the Democrats, given all that‘s happened, Nate?

SILVER:  I mean, look, when we started out way back in 2009, it looked like Democrats might actually gain seats.  We had Republican retirements in places like New Hampshire, for example, and Ohio. 

Really, those states are much quieter than like the Kentuckys and the Floridas and the Nevada, right?  But the fact that a middle-of-the-road state like Ohio, where you have two frankly very boring, safe candidates nominated, and Democrats are losing by six or seven points, it‘s kind of what the average state looks like, deprived of all the Sharron Angles and Charlie Crists. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean those fascinating personalities Rob Portman and Fisher? 

SILVER:  Yes, really not a lot of charisma there, but that‘s the better indicator really than the cases where you have special circumstances.  And they get less attention, but those states, Missouri, where Democrats were really happy with Robin Carnahan, New Hampshire, where you have Paul Hodes, they‘re losing all those states..

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  They‘re swing states, too, Nate.   

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN:  They‘re classic swing states.

(CROSSTALK)

SILVER: -- swing states on the map, they‘re losing by five or 10 points.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s a great race to watch.  And I‘m not sure he‘s going to win.  I wouldn‘t be surprised if Sharron Angle pulled the upset of the century here, with all her sort of bizarre positions we have talked about.  But let‘s give it a break. 

Here is Harry Reid‘s commercial going after Sharron Angle.  And I think he lays out some her zanier comments.  We have also laid them out here.  Here he is taking a shot—or an interest group rather is making the shot on his behalf.  Here they are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR:  What do you call a candidate who says the way things are going, the time may be coming for Second Amendment remedies, an armed response to our government, who says a teenage rape victim should be forced to have a baby, who proposed a Scientology massage program for prisoners, and who says that Medicare and Social Security violate the Ten Commandments? 

What do you call that candidate?  Extreme.  Sharron Angle, just too extreme. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Jonathan, that is, in fact, a Harry Reid ad.  He lays it into—usually they let the third party do the attacks.  That‘s pretty strong.  And I think it‘s based on the record. 

MARTIN:  Right.  And she‘s an oppo guy‘s dream.  Sharron Angle has got a lot of fodder.

MATTHEWS:  What is an oppo guy?

MARTIN:  A research—

MATTHEWS:  Opposition research guy.

MARTIN:  A research director, the guy that is down at the library courthouse digging up all the information about the candidates.

Sharron Angle has got a lot of vulnerabilities.  She‘s never sort of been at this level of national politics.  But she has got two things going for her.  First, the state of Nevada right now is in a terrible economic situation.  And, secondly, she‘s running against Harry Reid, who is very unpopular in that state. 

This is perhaps the best test, though, Chris, of what kind of year we‘re in.  If Angle can pull this off, given all of her baggage, then we sure as heck know it‘s going to be a great night for Republicans.

MATTHEWS:  Nate, in all fairness—

SILVER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS: -- when a candidate who has been an incumbent for a long time and people are tired of tells you, you can‘t vote for his opponent because there is something is wrong with them, you‘re basically telling the voter they don‘t have a choice. 

I think voters rear up against that and say, oh, yes?  I don‘t have a choice?  I will put her in there no matter how crazy she is, because I want change. 

Could that happen? 

SILVER:  You‘re in a real kind of rock vs. hard place in Nevada, where, ordinarily, people who have approval ratings as bad as Harry Reid‘s don‘t get elected.  But, ordinarily, candidates like Sharron Angle don‘t get elected either.  There‘s a—you can vote for none of the above in Nevada, actually.  That‘s maybe a dark horse, where people just get fed up and..

MATTHEWS:  But who wins? 

SILVER:  I don‘t know.  If none of the above got the plurality, I don‘t know what would happen. 

But we have that race actually going to Angle right now very slightly. 

We think there‘s a little too much gravity against Harry Reid. 

(CROSSTALK)

SILVER:  The fact that it‘s so close in some ways speaks to how poor a candidate she is, because ordinarily he was losing to Tarkanian, people like that, by 10, 12 points.

MARTIN:  Pretty badly.

SILVER:  Yes. 

MARTIN:  I think the question in Nevada, Chris, is, is what does Angle do for the next 70 days?  If she can stay on a message, drive a message against Reid, keep the focus on Reid and away from her, she‘s got a pretty good shot.  If she keeps making these gaffes, though, it‘s going to be a lot tougher for her. 

MATTHEWS:  This is fascinating.

I think, guys, Nate and Jonathan, that the hard thing for a voter to do who is a good Democrat is to go in that voting booth and say yes, because it isn‘t a good time right now.  The president has great values.  He‘s a smart guy.  He‘s done a lot of important things that had to be done. 

But he hasn‘t quite connected with the average middle-of-the-road voter, the working guy out there, working woman.  He hasn‘t made that connection.  And maybe he never will.  But that seems to be a problem that people are recognizing across the board. 

Anyway, thank you, Nate Silver. 

Thank you, Jonathan Martin.

Nate, I know you‘re smart, because I agree with everything you say. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Sarah Palin aims a warning shot at Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, only in the sense that she says, well, he‘s as good as they can do up there, up in liberal Massachusetts.  Anyway, that‘s in the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.” 

Well, we have watched Sarah Palin launch a crusade this whole year against moderate Republicans.  But what about Bay State Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown?  Would she support a primary challenge to him in 2012?  Well, here‘s her answer last night on FOX News. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS)

DAVID ASMAN, FBN HOST:  By the way, is Scott Brown on notice?  He‘s gone along with the Pelosi-Reid message for the past couple of votes.

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  Well, you know, take into consideration, though, that that‘s Massachusetts, and perhaps they‘re not going to look for such a hard-core constitutional conservative there, and they‘re going to put up with Scott Brown and some of the antics here.

But up here in Alaska and so many places across the U.S., where we have a pioneering, independent spirit, and we have an expectation that our representatives in D.C. will respect the will of the people and the intelligence of the people, well, up here, we wouldn‘t stand for that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Well, Brown voted for the Wall Street reform bill.  I guess that‘s FOX News‘ notion of the Pelosi-Reid message.  I wonder who writes this stuff for these anchor people. 

Anyway, next: a tough break for New Jersey.  This week, the state lost out on a big Race to the Top education grant because of an error on its application form.  The New Jersey Departments of Education submitted the wrong budgetary data to the federal government on one page of a 1,000-page form. 

Governor Chris Christie, however, passed the buck to the Obama administration, saying that, when they discovered the mistake, they should have called or else checked the state‘s Web site.  That‘s his defense., passing the buck, Chris Christie.  Sounds a little lame to me, which brings us tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

New Jersey, again, apparently lost out on a lot of loot from that clerical error of theirs.  How much did they lose?  How much did New Jersey taxpayers lose?  Four hundred million dollars.  That will teach you to check your work.  As Ross Perot used to say, measure twice, cut once.  Chris Christie‘s team logs a $400 million mistake—tonight‘s unbelievably “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Ken Mehlman, former chief of the Republican National Committee and President Bush‘s top campaign manager in 2004, says he‘s gay.  So, how much longer can the GOP be seen as hostile to the gay community?

When HARDBALL returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Ken Mehlman—we all know him—served as campaign manager for President Bush in 2004.  He got hi reelected and later served as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Well, last night, he said publicly for the first time that he‘s gay. 

And here‘s part of what he told “The Atlantic.

Quote: “I can‘t change the fact that I wasn‘t in this place personally when I was in politics, and I genuinely regret that.  It was very hard, personally, what I did—what I do regret and think a lot about is that one of the things I talked a lot about in politics was how I tried to expand the party into neighborhoods where the message wasn‘t always heard.  I didn‘t do this in the gay community at all.”

We‘re joined right now by R. Clarke Cooper, who is the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans and previously worked for the Bush administration for eight years. 

Well, what‘s thank our—Clarke, thanks for joining us. 

What is your general view?  Is this a good thing and a bad thing or just a good thing, a good thing that he‘s coming out, a bad thing that when he had power he didn‘t help it for the cause, if you will?

R. CLARKE COOPER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS:  Thank you, Chris. 

It‘s a good thing.  On a macro, it‘s a good thing.  I can‘t speak as to Ken‘s timeline.  I know, in my personal timeline, in my personal struggle, the crucible I went through—I was working for Governor Jeb Bush at the time, and I didn‘t come to my own personal reconciliation until the beginning of the first term of the Bush-Cheney administration.

It‘s different for everybody.  And before anybody comes out, there‘s that own internal reconciliation before one is ready to speak publicly to family, friends, colleagues and peers. 

So, obviously Ken has reached that point now.  I commend him for that.  I look forward to the future with his work, his capital, his Rolodex to help in advocacy. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COOPER:  And he—as you said, he regrets where he was at a different time. 

As far as I see it, he‘s a force multiplier for helping us get reconciliation within the Republican Party, getting us back to basics, back to core conservative values that everybody can agree on, and moving forward for equality and fighting discrimination. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I get it.  Stick to economics and security issues. 

Let‘s take a look.

Here‘s Ken Mehlman was back on “Meet the Press” with Tim Russert just six years ago.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

TIM RUSSERT, HOST:  Will the president continue to push for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage? 

KEN MEHLMAN, FORMER CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE:  The president strongly believes that marriage in this country ought to be between a man and a woman.  He also believes that it‘s something that ought to be decided by the people. 

RUSSERT:  Do you believe homosexuality is a choice? 

MEHLMAN:  I don‘t know the answer to that question.  I don‘t think it matters to the fundamental question here because, at bottom, this president believes in non-discrimination.  He believes in equal treatment.  He believes in respect for all. 

He also believes, separate and apart from that question, that the fundamental question of marriage ought to be defined the way it‘s been defined for more than 200 years of our nation‘s history, which is by the people‘s representative at the state legislatures.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that, Clarke, that performance, because it was a performance?  What do you make of it?  Here‘s a guy hiding his own identity, his orientation, saying the president, the president, he, he, he, and never once voicing any personal view, even though he‘s campaign manager and then later chairman of the party. 

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER:  OK.

Well, Chris, your question is based on the presumption that, at that time, at that specific time, Ken had come to reconciliation with himself.  He may still have been in denial at that point.  I don‘t know.  I‘m not going to speak for him. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COOPER:  But the point is he is where he is—where he is now.  And he‘s actually reached the point of actually speaking out in favor of equality.  So—and you mentioned, the president.  I mean, look, right now, you have Dick Cheney and Laura Bush who are way ahead of President Obama and Secretary Clinton.

President Obama, the current president, has said he‘s against marriage equality.  And so, I contrast that with—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but Dick Cheney is not running for anything anymore.  And Laura Bush never was.  So, you know, there‘s a difference between a politician and a non-politician.  We just saw the difference with Ken Mehlman when he was a politician and now when he‘s not.  He speaks the truth when he‘s not a politician.

But don‘t we need people to speak the truth when they are?  Isn‘t that when we need leaders when they are leaders?  Just a thought.

COOPER:  Sure.  No one is going to argue that people should speak the truth at any point, regardless of their official capacity or status or not.

There were many Republicans in the Bush-Cheney administration that were out.  I happen to be one of them.  And we were—we were voice within the administration for equality.  There‘s—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

COOPER:  -- there are many that you‘ve had on the program.  And since then, through them we had allies and we continue to have allies.

I mean, there‘s a number of folks out there who are speaking with me for equality.  Margaret Hoover.  She was in the administration with us.  Ambassador Mark Wallace, his wife Nicole Wallace.  We have a number of friends of allies out there.

So, this is not a surprise that there are Republicans who are for equality.  But I do challenge you that this is not—really shouldn‘t be seen as a partisan issue.  It‘s a civil right issue.

MATTHEWS:  No, no.  Not at all.  Look, you‘re missing my point.

On Capitol Hill right now, I worked there for years.  Now, how many people do you think there are on Capitol Hill, gay men and women, who work for Republicans, who are never able to say anything about their own personal orientation?  How many, thousands, hundreds?

I bet—my hunch is there‘s an awful lot of people.  Look, I believe

I don‘t think orientation has anything to do with party label.  I mean, maybe you choose to be a Democrat or whatever because you think you‘re more liberal if you determine that you‘re gay.

           

But you have to answer that question.  Aren‘t there lots and lots and lots of Republican staffers up on the Hill right now who are gay who can‘t really say that?

COOPER:  Not so much as there was in the past.  I mean, see, like you, I was on the Hill, I wasn‘t a congressman, of course.  I was—I was just a lowly staffer.

MATTHEWS:  Neither was I.  I was a staffer.  I wasn‘t a lowly staffer. 

But go ahead.  Neither were you.  But go ahead.

COOPER:  All right.  Well, fair enough.  But as you know—I mean, you were on the Hill.  I was on the Hill.  We were there at different times.  I was there in the ‘90s with (INAUDIBLE) from Florida.  He was a big Republican advocate for equality.

And I could tell you, yes, back then—back in the mid-‘90s, there are a number of us, including myself, who were still struggling with what it meant to be gay and reconciling within our own selves.  However, times have changed.  There is a general cultural shift that we‘re all benefitting from.

I can tell you in my lobbying for Log Cabin Republicans, just—let‘s use “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” repeal for example.  Just this year, and I came on board this summer when meeting with staff and meeting with members, I would say 99 percent of the time, and not only staff that were—I‘m not talking about their orientation.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

COOPER:  I‘m just saying in general, their response was: well, of course, we should repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”

MATTHEWS:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER:  -- staffer now.

MATTHEWS:  I guess it is.  But, you know, times are changing.  One thing is people are changing on service, too, in the military dramatically.

Let me tell you, I‘ve spoken on Log Cabin before.  Any time you guys want to speak, you let me know.  I‘d love to come again.  Thank you.

COOPER:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  R. Clarke Cooper of the Log Cabin Republicans.

Up next: the strategists are playing HARDBALL tonight.  We‘re going to ask them about strategy for the midterms.  If you‘re a Democrat, how do you win this time?  I‘m going to hit that with Steve McMahon.  Toughest question I‘ve ever put to him: How does a Democrat win in 2010?  That‘s now.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich‘s next trial is set now for early January, a judge announced today.  But he will stand alone as a defendant this time after prosecutors have dismissed all charges against his brother.  Wow.  Rob is off.

Federal prosecutors said their decision was based on Robert Blagojevich‘s less central role on allegedly scheming to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama‘s old Senate seat and to pressure people for campaign donations.

Jurors deadlocked last week on all but one of 23 charges against Blagojevich himself and four charges against his brother.  Both denied any wrongdoing.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.

All indicators point right now to a very tough midterm for Democrat candidates.  But what can they do to turn it around?  Let‘s find out.

Let‘s look at bullish side of the Democratic situation with Steve McMahon.  He‘s a Democratic strategist and a bull.

And Todd Harris is here.  He‘s bullish for the Republicans.

Let me ask you a question, Steve, and maybe you have to give it away right now, but give it away.  You‘re working in the (INAUDIBLE).  You got a towel over your shoulder, your holding a bucket, your boxer is in the ring.  He‘s going into the sixth or seventh round in this campaign.  He‘s taken a beaten.

What do you tell him to do to win?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, I think Democratic candidates who are in tough races have to do three things.  The first thing is: they have—they have to remember what Tip O‘Neill said, that all politics is local and focus on what they‘ve done for the community and for individuals in the community.

You know, health care reform may not be popular.  But seniors today have a donut hole that‘s closed and they‘re not going to have to pay the same amount for medicine than they would have had to pay before.  People can‘t be denied insurance because of preexisting conditions.  So, all those things remain popular.

The second thing they‘ve got to do is demonstrate independence from the party leaders in Washington because that is—that is a good way to get independent and moderate voters.

And the third thing is: they need to make the Republicans who are more conservative this year than ever before either defend or walk away from the positions that their base gets so excited about.  So, cultural issues.  You talked a moment ago about gay rights and gay reform.  On cultural issues, whether it‘s immigration reform, the mosque, gay rights and gay marriage, the conservative elements of the Republican Party are not as tolerant and are being seen that way as many independents and moderate voters and they‘re the ones who are going to decide this election.

MATTHEWS:  Let me take the third point you raise because I find it fascinating.  I know that Tip O‘Neill line.  It‘s always good to go local.

But can you force a—suppose you have a Republican candidate without naming the name and I walked in as your Democratic opponent and say, you‘ve got a bunch of wackos in your party, with crazy ideas.  They want to use guns to fight the Congress and all that.  Force your candidate to choose between the wackos that is 10 percent of his vote, and the 10 percent in the middle he‘s trying to get, middle of the guys they say in Philly.  Force him to choose or her to choose.

What do you guys do in defense?

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  If we had a candidate that was dumb enough to take the bait, then they probably deserve to lose.  The fact is, that our candidates are going to be, should be, need to be and I think will be 100 percent focused on the fact that jobs haven‘t been created and the economy hasn‘t turned around.

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to answer the question?

MCMAHON:  He‘s not going to answer the question.  He‘s not going to answer the question.

HARRIS:  Exactly.  And if they‘re smart, they‘ll turn it around and say, look, I don‘t—you know, you can ask me these questions all day long.  Why won‘t you answer for the fact that we‘re not creating jobs in this economy despite the fact that the Obama administration is spending us into a hole?

Go ahead, Steve.

MCMAHON:  A lot of candidates, Todd, are Tea Party candidates.  And so, they believe, for instance, that Social Security is a usurpation of the federal government over the people.  They think Medicare is something that is illegal and unconstitutional.  They should have to defend those things.

Sharron Angle is in a race right now with Harry Reid.  And Harry Reid, God love him, is probably going to beat her because she‘s so extreme.

And there are three or four other examples like that in the Senate this year that give Democrats a very, very good shot at either holding or gaining seats.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s an argument.  But let me ask you—so you can play dodge ball, right?  How do you run up the score?  I‘m going to ask you positively.  How do you run up the score in a tough race?

HARRIS:  Well, you remind voters that there are two candidates in the race and only one of them is going to challenge the direction that the Obama administration—

MATTHEWS:  So, you‘re going negative?

HARRIS:  No, it‘s not.  It doesn‘t have to be negative.  Look, take, you know, my client, full disclosure, Marco Rubio.  Marco has unveiled more policy proposals than probably any other candidate running for United States Senate in the country.  And on every single one, he says, I‘m the only candidate in this race who you can trust to go to Washington and challenge the direction—

MATTHEWS:  Are you on the clock right now?

HARRIS:  I should be.  Right.  I got to bill this.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘ll probably be sending him a tape of the show to get paid for.

MCMAHON:  Todd‘s always on the clock.

HARRIS:  Hold on.  The only candidate in this race regardless of whether Marco or anyone else.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Why are you guys anti-Islamic?  Why Republicans are anti-Islamic?

HARRIS:  We‘re not anti-Islamic.  That‘s absurd.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  No.  To say we‘re anti-Islamic—look, 70 percent of the American people don‘t think that that mosque should there be.

MATTHEWS:  No.  Forget the mosque, you guys are anti-Islamic.

HARRIS:  No, I think that‘s absurd.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got a new Pew Poll out that says 54 percent of Republicans don‘t like Islam.  Don‘t like Islam.

HARRIS:  Look, I think it‘s absurd.

MATTHEWS:  You say the poll‘s wrong?

HARRIS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Or you disagree with the majority of Republicans—which is it?

HARRIS:  I don‘t think that Republicans are anti-Islamic.

MATTHEWS:  So, this is the first poll we don‘t believe in.  Of all the polls we show that‘s the one you should ignore.

HARRIS:  Believe me, I ignore a lot of them.  I don‘t—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You mean that poll, it means (INAUDIBLE).

HARRIS:  I don‘t—I didn‘t see what the numbers were.

MATTHEWS:  Put the numbers back up.  This guy has a problem focusing here.  Take a look at numbers.  Tell me what you think of them -- 54 percent of Republicans don‘t like Islam.  Don‘t like it.

HARRIS:  I fundamentally reject it.

MATTHEWS:  You reject the Pew Poll?

HARRIS:  I—the Republican Party is not anti-Islam.  The Republican Party obviously—

MATTHEWS:  You can give me the other word, sure, but you‘re denying that poll?

HARRIS:  I deny—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go, let me go—the same tough question to you, Steve.  A little turn.  How do you guys deal with the mosque issue with 70 percent of the people don‘t agree with the president on that?  They don‘t want the mosque built, the Islamic center built anywhere near the World Trade Center.

MCMAHON:  I actually don‘t think it‘s that difficult.  I think it‘s inappropriate to build it there, but I also believe that people have a constitutional right and the zoning laws permit it and they shouldn‘t be treated any differently.  And I would ask my Republican opponent, Todd or anybody else, what is it that you‘re going to do to stop it and why is it that their constitutional rights aren‘t as important as yours?  Is it because they‘re Muslim or is it for some other reason?

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  What are the Republicans going to do, Todd, besides complaining about it which all of them are doing?  What are they going to do to stop it and are they willing the strict constructionists in the Republican Party willing to amend the Constitution?

MATTHEWS:  Let him answer.

HARRIS:  Steve masterfully created a straw man here.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, the mosque is your issue.  You guys raised the issue.

HARRIS:  No, no, President Obama, Chris, raised the issue.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s on defense.  Come on, you guys.

HARRIS:  Barack Obama brought up.

MATTHEWS:  You start the fire then you call the fire department.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Steve McMahon.  Thank you, Todd Harris.  Good luck, Steve, you‘re in a nice place.  He‘s here with me.

We‘re going to have some thoughts about the GOP Ken Mehlman.  What a story in the pursuit of happiness.  A top Republican says he‘s gay.  When is the Republican Party going to stop going after gays?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me finish tonight with a story of Ken Mehlman.

Ken was campaign manager for President George W. Bush‘s re-election campaign of 2004, who was also chairman of the Republican National Committee.  What brings him back into the news is his public acknowledgement that he‘s gay.

Quote, “What I will try do is persuade people when have I conversations with them, that it is consistent with our party‘s philosophy, whether it‘s the principle of individual freedom or limited government or encouraging adults who love each other and who want to make a lifelong commitment to each other to get married.”  Wow.

Gay marriage was a decisive issue in that 2004 presidential campaign in Ohio.  A ballot initiative opposed to gay marriage drove a significant portion of the electorate to vote for President Bush over Senator John Kerry.  Had this issue of same-sex marriage not been put on the forefront of that statewide attention in Ohio, it is fair to say that Kerry would have won Ohio and the presidential election.

The issue is hardly going away.  Quote, “Because our children‘s future is best preserved within the traditional understanding of marriage,” it says in the most recent Republican platform.  “We call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage as a union of a man and a woman.  Children in homes without fathers are more likely to commit a crime, drop out of school, become violent, become teen parents, use illegal drugs, become mired in poverty, or have emotional or behavioral problems.”  Wow.

I think Ken Mehlman‘s statement of his own orientation will help here.  There are many, many workers in the Republican Party who are gay.  They work for a party that has enforced a “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy, just like the one required in the U.S. military.

What is odd here is that in the military, you‘re not supposed to act under your politics.  And the political party, that‘s what you‘re supposed to do.

Here‘s to Ken Mehlman.  As it says in the New Testament, “The truth shall set you free.”  And one more time, let‘s hear it for the American Declaration of Independence.  You know that part about life, liberty, and, oh, yes, the pursuit of happiness being an unalienable right.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.”

           

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