updated 9/23/2004 10:54:04 AM ET 2004-09-23T14:54:04

Guests: Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Joe Biden, Ed Rogers, Tad Devine, Michael Isikoff

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Only 41 days until election and a new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows the race this way: Bush, 48 percent; Kerry, 45 percent; Nader, 2 percent. 

And two candidates, one war.  President Bush says Iraq can be an oasis of freedom and democracy.  His opponent, Senator John Kerry, talks about a country crippled by chaos.  Is the presidential race now pivoting on the critical issue of the war in Iraq?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  A British man held hostage in Iraq pleads for his life after an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group beheaded two American civilians in just the past 48 hours.  The brother of one of those slain Americans, Jack Hensley, shared his grief and described how the horror of the war in Iraq hit home on his family. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TY HENSLEY, VICTIM‘S BROTHER:  What has happened, it will echo around the world for a day or two, but it will resonate in my family for several generations. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The terrorist group who killed Americans Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong is threatening to kill British Kenneth Bigley unless all Iraqi women are freed from jail. 

A senior Iraqi official said a decision had been made to free a high profile Iraqi female prisoner in known as Dr. Germ.  But the U.S. embassy in Iraq disputed that statement and the Iraqi prime minister said they will not negotiate with terrorists on the release of hostages. 

Rajiv Chandrasekaran is the Baghdad bureau chief for “The Washington Post.”

Rajiv, thank you for joining us.  This puts us in a bind, doesn‘t it?  We‘re always playing defense on these hostage situations. 

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, certainly.  I mean, it‘s the question of, do you negotiate?  Do you respond to these demands that are made by the captors?  And steadfastly, the U.S. government and the Iraqi interim government has said no, we‘re not going to play ball. 

But what‘s interesting here is that there appear to have been a process that was going on separate from this hostage-taking to examine the case of several high value , people associated with Iraq‘s former weapons programs and others who have been held by the U.S.-led multinational forces here.  Among them was one of the two most prominent female , Rihab Taha, this woman, Dr. Germ. 

Now, what the U.S. Embassy here says is that that whole process had been going on in a separate track and her case came up for review.  That it was decided that she should be released on bail.  That various arrangements are being made for her release.  It won‘t be imminent.  And it‘s not at all connected to the demands made by the captors here. 

MATTHEWS:  But the problem is that as long as she stays in jail, then the captors are not getting their demands met.  Isn‘t that right? 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  That‘s very true.  And that really does jeopardize the life of this British hostage who went on—it was posted on a videotape on the Internet.  His captors made a tape of him pleading with British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his life today.  A really sort of tragic moment.  But it looks like at least that the Iraqi interim government and the U.S. government aren‘t going to bow to this and accelerate the release of this woman. 

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s possible that this man will not be killed because we will release the woman for reasons other than the demands of that al Qaeda-linked group. 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Well, that‘s possible.  But the question is, will it be soon enough?  You know, what we‘re hearing is that the release may take several days.  And it‘s not at all clear whether these captors are willing to wait several days and whether the somewhat strident statements from Iraq‘s government, saying that we‘re not going to negotiate and we‘re not going to bow to these demands, even if they are on a separate track, going to release this woman.  How that will be taken by the captors, they may not react very positively to that. 

MATTHEWS:  It seems back here, Rajiv, that the people who are opposed to our occupation or our liberation of Iraq are slicing us like baloney.  Every time they want a country to pull out of the coalition, they take a couple of prisoners and threaten to kill them if that country doesn‘t withdraw.  In this case, they‘ve upped it to all the female prisoners they want released.  It seems like they just keep making one demand after another.  Is that the sense on the part of the U.S.-led coalition? 

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Well, certainly.  And sometimes those demands are sort of out of left field.  I mean, they picked up those two French journalists.  And the best they could come up with was France overturning its head scarf ban, which everybody thought here was kind of ludicrous. 

But still the French government hasn‘t bowed to that and they haven‘t released those two French journalists, but they did get some success, you know.  As you‘ll recall, they kidnapped a Filipino worker and the Philippine government subsequently pulled out its troops. 

A number of foreign contract personnel who have been kidnapped, subsequently their companies have stopped doing business here.  So there was a sense among these kidnappers, one would believe, I certainly don‘t talk to these guys, but one would assume that looking at some recent cases and that some of their demands having been met, it emboldens them to continue on with this and to make even more large and outrageous demands. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Rajiv Chandrasekaran. 

Senator Joe Biden of Delaware is the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. 

Senator Biden, this is a hellish situation.  If you‘re commander-in-chief or you‘re the chief player over there, as we are, how do we deal with this situation, this constant grabbing of people and these demands that seem to go on and on? 

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  You don‘t deal with them specifically.  You deal with them by having a plan.  You deal with them by actually training Iraqi forces, which we haven‘t done. 

You deal with them by actually going out and spending some of that $18 billion constructively which we haven‘t done.  You deal with them by bringing the U.N. in there and making—not to do any peacekeeping but to set up the electoral process which they can do and set up those 3,000 electoral—those election places so that you can actually have an election. 

Because none of this is going to change, Chris, until you actually move to the point where the folks of Iraq actually think they have a representative government that they have a stake in and they‘re willing to then try to be as much of a problem for these terrorists as we‘re trying to be.  That‘s the bottom line. 

MATTHEWS:  Can we stand up a government, no matter how many years we stay in there, how much money we spend, how many lives we lose, is strong enough to stand up to this kind of ruthless opposition that you‘re seeing from this al Qaeda-led group? 

BIDEN:  The answer is, yes, we can, because that would not be an existential threat to that government if this is what you‘re talking about.  I mean, it happens every day in Israel.  It is happening in other parts of the world. 

The idea that we‘re going to stop terrorists taking and picking up single captives and—or multiple captives and pulling this kind of stuff, only stops when in fact they don‘t have the safe havens. 

Look, what has happened now is the consequence of this administration‘s policy, we have all these “no-go zones.” What everyone is acknowledging, including Allawi, is, whether it‘s Fallujah, Samarra, or increasingly the bulk of the Sunni Triangle, is these guys, as Allawi said, external terrorists are flooding into Iraq. 

And they‘re flooding into those very zones which are “no-go zones.” They‘re sitting there, they‘re able to cook in there and cook their plots without any worry about anything happening. 

The folks in Fallujah aren‘t about to do anything about it because they‘ll get bumped off.  The folks in the Allawi government has no capacity to go in there because we didn‘t in fact do what Rumsfeld said. 

Remember back in February he said, we have trained 220,000 Iraqis.  I was on your program.  I said, that is absolute malarkey.  We have not trained them.  Then he said two Fridays ago, no, 95,000 we‘ve trained.  We haven‘t had one single Iraqi cop complete training.  Not one.  Not one.  Because of the—as Dick Lugar appropriately said, because of the incompetence of this administration in managing Iraq since Saddam‘s statue fell in that circle. 

And so if we don‘t, Chris, get to the point where we have the Iraqi people in a position where they are tired of this, there‘s no possibility, none, that we‘re going to stop this. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think people would go over there to work as contractors when there‘s apparently no way to protect them from being taken captive and beheaded? 

BIDEN:  The same reason the French Foreign Legion guys went, the money. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that‘s enough now? 

BIDEN:  I think that‘s the basic reason.  I don‘t mean they‘re mercenaries.  I mean they—and there are some who will go for idealistic reasons.  There are some who are over there like that young woman who are going over there to try to bring representative government to the Iraqi people.   

But it‘s a combination of all those things, Chris.  But I am so frustrated by this administration.  As you know, you were even nicely and quietly critical of me for my supporting this administration and trying to give them benefit of the doubt. 

I am so frustrated now for the failure—I mean, even the neocons are on this administration‘s back now, saying, you know, get a life here, what‘s your plan?

MATTHEWS:  Well, they want more soldiers.  They want more.  Let me ask you this about the dirtiness of this war.  Israel has been fighting its Arab neighbors, some of them they are still fighting with, certainly they have got problems with Syria and they have got problems with the terrorist groups coming in from Iran and other places like that, and Lebanon. 

And yet you don‘t see it quite this nasty.  You see bombs going off at bus stations.  You see the tanks going back to reciprocate.  But you don‘t see this capture of individuals and this beheading stuff.  Why is Iraq even dirtier than the Mideast? 

BIDEN:  Well, I can‘t really answer that, Chris, except to suggest that it is the easiest and most vicious way.  And they, as the reporter from Baghdad said, they have seen results from the viciousness.  In other words, when they went after the Filipino and they‘re going to lop somebody‘s head off, they go, whoa, whoa, whoa, we‘re out. 

When they go ahead and claim what they did...

BIDEN:  most vicious way and they.  As the reporter from Baghdad said, they have seen results from the viciousness. 

In other words, when they went after the Filipino and they‘re going to lop somebody‘s head off.  They go, whoa!  We‘re out.  When they go ahead and claim what they did in Spain, they say, whoa, whoa, we‘re out.  That is a serious, serious, serious mistake for the international community to make. 

But I am so frustrated by the unwillingness of this administration to listen to their own administration, listen to their friends.  And by the way, Chris, I went on a program not long ago today.  And they said, isn‘t this partisan? 

I said partisan?  Give me a break.  Have you heard one Republican senator take issue with what I‘m saying over the last five months?  I‘m saying the same thing Dick Luger was saying.  I‘m saying the same thing that Chuck Hagel is saying.  I‘m saying the same thing John McCain is saying.  It‘s the administration. 

And what do they do?  What do they do when criticism of the policy comes up instead of debating it?  They put up some ad about John Kerry windsurfing. 

MATTHEWS:  I got you.  Let me ask you.  Do you think the president reads his own national intelligence estimates?  It doesn‘t sound like he‘s speaking the language of his own spooks, because they‘re telling him,  we‘re facing civil war over there, and he‘s singing nursery rhymes.  Who is right?  His intelligence people, or him?

BIDEN:  Did you hear what he said yesterday?  I found it mind-blowing.  He‘s sitting there in a photo op with Allawi.  He‘s asked by somebody about the national intelligence estimate.  And he says of his own CIA, his people advising him, he says, they‘re guessing. 

Now what an interesting message to send around the world, while at the same time, we want the world to believe what‘s true, that Iran is about to get a nuclear weapon.  That North Korea has increased their nuclear capacity 400 percent. 

MATTHEWS:  But the president isn‘t suggesting that he has some sort of supernatural ability to tell what‘s going on over there beyond the ability of his own intelligence people.  How could he have a knowledge...

BIDEN:  He can‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  ...beyond those of the people he‘s getting reporting to? 

BIDEN:  This is pure politics. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get back.  I want to talk to you about the politics.  I think the Democrats are losing this battle over Iraq politically.  Not just over the issue, but how they handle it.  And I want to talk to Senator Joe Biden, ranking Democrat on foreign relations when we come back. 

And later, new campaign commercials from both sides of the presidential race.

And a news NBC/Wall Street Journal poll says the contest, write this down, Bush 48, Kerry 45.  It‘s that close.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Senator Joe Biden, a ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Senator, in a the speech at NYU on Monday, Senator Kerry took a clear position on the war in Iraq.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  President Bush tell us that he would do everything all over again the same way.  How can he possibly be serious?  Is he really saying to America, that if we know there was no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to al Qaeda, the United States should have invaded Iraq?  My answer, resoundingly, no.  Because a commander-in-chief‘s first responsibility is to make a wise and responsible decision to keep America safe. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What‘s your answer, Senator Biden?  Knowing what we know now, should we have gone to war?  Yes or no.  He said the answer is no. 

BIDEN:  The answer is no.  But Chris, you were one of the few guys that were incredibly skeptical about their ability to go to take to us war.  I‘ve sat on your program.  I have got to admit, I did not even fathom how incompetent they could be.  It never crossed my mind that the president would use the authority we gave him in such an incompetent way in the face of serious bipartisan expert opinion that said, Chalabi was the wrong horse to ride.  That said we would not be greeted as liberators.  That said we needed many more troops, et cetera. 

I have to tell you, I have been supportive of this effort.  I am amazed at the incompetence.  I was on your program before we went to war as chairman of this committee pointing out the oil industry said there was not enough oil here.  I mean, I never, never, never thought this would be—that we would be here. 

Now what I also thought, though, I did think that the president needed the authority to enforce the international rules of the road.  To be able to use the pressure of the Congress supporting him to get the U.N. to stand up and get the international community to respond.  But my gosh!

MATTHEWS:  Well, Senator, when Dan Rather screws up, you turn the channel.  I want to ask what the American people get to do this election?  John McCain was on last night.  John McCain was on last night.  He would not say that.  John McCain said last night, if you like this war in Iraq and you think the president did the right thing, I should say, vote for the president.  If you don‘t like the war with Iraq and you think he made a complete blunder, don‘t vote against him.  Stand back and measure his overall war on terrorism program beginning with how well he stood in the rumble three days after 9/11. 

He won‘t even give people the out, McCain, Senator McCain, of voting against this president if you think his major foreign policy decision was wrong.  Isn‘t there an opportunity—you guys have the vote in the Senate.  You all got to vote.  When do the American people get to vote on this damn war?  When do they get to say yes or no?

BIDEN:  They‘re going to get to vote on November 2.  And if they think the president went in and told them the truth, if they think the president, after going in, managed this war well, vote for him by all means. 

But if you think he misled you, if you think as he said, misunderstood what he was going to have and then mismanaged it.  Then you should vote no, for Lord‘s sake. 

I mean look—one other thing, Chris, the president said the central front on the war on terror is Baghdad.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BIDEN:  Now you want to be judged, Mr. President, on how well you‘re doing your war on terror based on what you said?  Fine.  Let‘s judge you.  How well are things going?  Your CIA says they‘re not going well.  Your major intellectual engines up here in the United States Senate on the Republican side, the acknowledged experts on foreign policy say it‘s not going very well. 

I mean, this is ridiculous.

MATTHEWS:  Do you have confidence that your colleague John Kerry can deal with the situation that exists in Iraq should he win with election? 

BIDEN:  No.  Either is he, because he doesn‘t know what he‘s going to be left with.  Let me explain what I mean by that. 

He can deal with it better than Bush could possibly deal with it, but who knows what Bush will leave him?  That‘s why he said in his speech repeatedly, Mr. President, do the following four things.  And implied—and I said to the public, if you do them Mr. President, I will support you.  What‘s the president‘s response?  I‘m doing everything John Kerry recommended.  Malarkey, Malarkey.  Here he was up at the United Nations...

MATTHEWS:  How is Delaware going to go in this election, Senator?

BIDEN:  Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much.  Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.  When we come back with eight days to go before the first presidential debate, both candidates are firing new rounds in the advertisement war.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Forty-one days to go until the election.  And don‘t count on one campaign to give you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but about the other campaign.  HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster joins us now with more—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL ELECTION CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, the television ad war continues to be brutal even as President Bush was trying to improve his standing among women today and John Kerry was aiming at seniors by scaring them with mischaracterizations about the president‘s plans. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER (voice-over):  Today John Kerry tried to focus on Social Security. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I will never privatize Social Security.  Ever. 

SHUSTER:  And President Bush talked about education. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There‘s an achievement gap in America that is closing. 

SHUSTER:  But in their paid media, their television commercials, the negative attacks are more misleading, albeit more creative than ever. 

AD ANNOUNCER:  Kerry voted for the Iraq war.  Opposed it.  Supported it.  And now opposes it again.  He bragged about voting for the $87 billion to support our troops before he voted against it.  He voted for education reform and now opposes it.  He claims he‘s against increasing Medicare premiums but voted five times to do so. 

SHUSTER:  Actually, Kerry voted to maintain the same premium formula that‘s been in place for decades.  And the five votes the ad refers to were for appropriations bills, three of them supported by nearly every Republican.  Still, the Kerry campaign worried about the entertaining effectiveness of the new ad as it pertains to Kerry on Iraq, responded late today with this. 

AD ANNOUNCER:  One thousand U.S. casualties.  Two Americans beheaded just this week.  The Pentagon admits terrorists are pouring into Iraq.  In the face of the Iraq quagmire, George Bush‘s answer is to run a juvenile and tasteless attack ad.  John Kerry has a plan for success.

SHUSTER:  Meanwhile, Kerry attacking President Bush over Medicare. 

AD ANNOUNCER:  The Bush health care record:  health insurance costs up 64 percent, Medicare premiums up by 56 percent.  The Bush health care plan:  raise insurance premiums for four out of five small businesses.  Over a million more Americans would lose their insurance coverage. 

SHUSTER:  While it‘s true health insurance costs and premiums are up, experts dispute that the Bush plan would raise premiums or force a million Americans to lose coverage.  But accuracy has been tossed aside by both campaigns in their television commercials and in their comments about each other.  President Bush this week was with the Iraqi prime minister. 

BUSH:  We agree that the world is better off with Saddam Hussein sitting in a prison cell.  That stands in stark contrast to the statement my opponent made yesterday when he said that the world was better off with Saddam in power. 

SHUSTER:  Actually, here‘s what John Kerry said. 

KERRY:  Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who deserves his own special place in hell.  But that was not, that was not in and of itself a reason to go to war. 

(APPLAUSE)

KERRY:  The satisfaction that we take in his downfall does not hide this fact: we have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  As the campaigns trade shouts over their speeches and their ads, some independent groups are in the fray as well.  The anti-Kerry Swift Boat Veterans For Truth has a new ad coming out.  And the anti-Bush Texans For Truth, they‘re demanding that the president release more Guard records before the next debate—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Why do they want the records for both sides? 

SHUSTER:  Why does the anti...

MATTHEWS:  Both sides.  Bush wants Kerry‘s record, Kerry wants Bush‘s...

SHUSTER:  These are two groups, Chris, who believe that they can still score points by arguing over Vietnam. The anti-Bush group believes that there‘s something else that‘s there on his Guard records.  The anti-Kerry group simply is infuriated by his post-Vietnam activities.  They don‘t want him to be president. 

MATTHEWS:  Unbelievable.  Back to the future.  Thank you, David Shuster.  Up next, a new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll has the presidential race neck and neck with Bush at 48, Kerry at 45 percent.  Tad Devine of the Kerry campaign and Republican consultant Ed Rogers will be here when we return.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, a new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows the presidential race now next in neck.  Which candidate will take control in next week‘s debate?  We‘ll hear from both sides. 

But, first, let‘s check in with the MSNBC News Desk. 

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Tad Devine is a senior campaign adviser with the Kerry-Edwards campaign. 

Thanks for joining us, Tad.

TAD DEVINE, SENIOR JOHN KERRY CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  Good to be with you. 

MATTHEWS:  Ed Rogers is back as well.  He is a Republican consultant who was an aide to President Herbert Walker Bush, in other words, Bush Sr. 

Let‘s take a look at the latest poll.  It‘s the new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, fresh out.  President Bush leads Senator Kerry 48 to 45.

Ed Rogers, your assessment.  That‘s within the margin of error, just narrowly.

ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT:  Yes, I will respect that poll.  It is probably about right.  It is going to be a close race.  It is going to go right down to the wire. 

And Bush having a marginal lead, Bush doing pretty well in some of the competitive battleground states, I think that‘s probably about where the race stands. 

MATTHEWS:  How about after such a terrible August?  Why is Kerry still in the race? 

ROGERS:  Because he‘s the Democrat.  The Democrat base starts at about what Kerry is at right now in this country that‘s divided

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  About 45 percent. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  Give or take.  If Ed Rogers were the Democrat nominee, I would be getting the same vote as Kerry right now.  He‘s not driving any votes on his own.  Voters are not connecting with him.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go right now. 

It‘s 48-45, Tad.  Do you think that‘s a pro-Kerry 45 or just an anti-Bush?  Or doesn‘t it matter to you? 

DEVINE:  Well, I think it is becoming increasingly pro-Kerry.  I agree with Ed, the first part of what Ed said.  I think the race is about two or three points right now.

I think it is close.  I think the support for Kerry is growing.  I think the problem with the president is, 47-48, that‘s his vote.  And he cannot move it.  And he is increasingly getting in a more and more difficult place.  An incumbent president who is under 50, at two points under 50 this late in the game, he is in deep, deep trouble. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, couldn‘t that be because the country is simply 50/50 politically now, left and right, Republican, Democrat?  We‘re just about an evenly divided country now.  And isn‘t that what the president will face in any election or any Republican would face? 

DEVINE:  Well, I think it is different, Chris, for an incumbent president.  People have made up their mind about George Bush.  And he can‘t get over 50 percent.  He can‘t get more than 50 percent of the people in this country thinking the nation is headed in the right direction.  He can‘t get his job approval up into the mid-50s, the safe zone.  And that‘s the president‘s problem. 

People know who George Bush is and they know they want a new president. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do women now support—we have a new number here, the breakdown between men and women, Ed.  Bush is doing well among men, by 52-42.

ROGERS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  The usual.  That started with Reagan.  Republicans do well among men.

ROGERS:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  And, on the other side, it is a narrow advantage.  In fact, it‘s not even beyond the margin of error.  But it‘s 45-48 Bush to Kerry.  Kerry is ahead among women.  Why? 

ROGERS:  Well, traditionally, there is a gender gap and it is more men support Republicans than support Democrats.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why you win elections.

ROGERS:  That‘s why we win. 

MATTHEWS:  Even though there are less men than women.

ROGERS:  The fact that it is as close as it is, it is probably women feeling like Bush is a better, stronger commander in chief, more resolute and tougher on terrorists than Kerry would be. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you get back the gender gap, Tad? 

DEVINE:  By talking about issues, Chris. 

I think women are deeply concern about the war in Iraq, the fact that we‘re spending $200 billion there right now and we need that money here at home for health care, for other domestic priorities.  I think they‘re very upset with the president‘s lack of focus on issues like health care, like job creation.  So I think if John Kerry talks about these issues, as he will in the days and weeks ahead, I think women voters are likely to return to where they were in the last election, which is a 10- or 12-point advantage for Republicans—for the Democrats.

MATTHEWS:  So you don‘t think he‘s going to be able to sustain the argument that by going to Iraq, he makes it safer for them, for children?

DEVINE:  No. 

I think, to the contrary, I think people are realizing that Iraq is in chaos right now, that the president‘s involvement with Iraq has in fact hurt us in fighting the war on terror.  That‘s what‘s hurting Bush with women right now, I think, and it is hurting him badly. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  This week, Kerry has made a big strategic bet on that.  He has moved to the left.  He looks more like George McGovern than he does Bill Clinton at this point in terms of being the anti-war candidate. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did you have to go back and do that? 

ROGERS:  Well, because it‘s a proper analogy.  I think it makes sense.

MATTHEWS:  How is a proper analogy, to go after McGovern, to call him McGovern? 

ROGERS:  Now you have a truly anti-war candidate who thinks that‘s the place for him to be. 

And, in Kerry‘s case, he‘s probably finally getting back to sincerity.  His war position has been contorted and contrived over the last several months.  In his 20-year record in the Senate, ever since he entered the Senate, he‘s been an anti-war, pacifist, blame-America first, sort of typical liberal. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How is he a pacifist if he went and fought in Vietnam?  I don‘t get the wordage. 

ROGERS:  Well, which was honorable service.  But having said that, he...

MATTHEWS:  Well, was he a pacifist when he was shooting at the V.C.? 

ROGERS:  No.  And he should get credit.

MATTHEWS:  Why do you say he was a pacifist? 

ROGERS:  I‘ll tell you why, because, ever since then, he has had a typical, stereotypical liberal 20-year record in the Senate.  If we had his way, I really believe, if he would have had his way, I really believe that if his position would have carried the day, we would still have a Soviet Union. 

MATTHEWS:  Why would that be the case? 

ROGERS:  Because he voted against every weapon system that broke their back.  He voted against every sort of tough, sort of take-the-fight-to-the-Soviets initiatives, from the Contras, to weapons systems, to treaties with the Soviet Union.  And he is what he is.  He is a classic liberal.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Which of the votes were decisive in failing to bring down the Soviet Union? 

ROGERS:  There was no single vote to bring down the Soviet Union. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Where would the Soviet Union have changed their mind?

ROGERS:  It was a 30-year battle. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Tad, do you have a thought in here.  It‘s hard to connect Kerry‘s voting record with the decision of Mikhail Gorbachev to recognize the Soviet Union system was kaput.  I don‘t get the connection, but let‘s go.

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  He didn‘t recognize it for 20 years. 

DEVINE:  Every weapon system that Ed is talking about right now is systems that Dick Cheney tried to eliminate as secretary of defense, OK?  There arguments are preposterous. 

ROGERS:  Name one, one.  Name one.

(CROSSTALK)

DEVINE:  Let me tell you the connection between George McGovern and John Kerry.  They were both distinguished veterans of a foreign war, OK?

And that‘s where the connection ends in terms of the policy and military orientation.  John Kerry believes we need to strengthen the military.  John Kerry believes if we‘re going to win the war on terror, it is because America leads strong alliances in the world.  And the president believes that America should turn its back on the world.  And that has made us less secure.  And that‘s the difference. 

MATTHEWS:  We had John McCain on last night.  And he made the point—I asked him, if you support this war on Iraq, should you vote for the president?  And he said yes.  And then I said, if you oppose the war in Iraq, should you vote against the president?  He wouldn‘t say yes. 

He said, oh, in that case, you should step back and look at the overall approach to the war on terrorism.  Why doesn‘t your party allow the American people to vote on this war in this election? 

ROGERS:  I don‘t voting on the war necessarily is a bad thing. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why is McCain saying don‘t vote against this president if you‘re against this war?

ROGERS:  Well, I can‘t speak for Senator McCain. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you a person who is opposed to this war should vote against the president?

ROGERS:  I think they‘re more likely to. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, should they?  Talk to them right now. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  A person out there who opposes this war and thinks it was the wrong way to go, should they vote for Kerry? 

ROGERS:  Hey, if they think what has happened here so far, if they think removing Saddam Hussein, if they think trying bring democracy to Iraq was a bad thing, sure, vote against Bush.  That‘s a fair observation. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you accept that choice, Tad?  Do you accept the choice that if you‘re for the war, vote for the president, if you‘re against the president, vote for Kerry?  Keep it simple.  Give the people a chance to vote on this.

DEVINE:  I think it is getting more and more simple. 

I think here‘s the problem with the president and Iraq.  The president said Iraq was a catastrophic success.  He was half right.  It is a catastrophic failure, all right?  His policy is an incredible failure.  I think John Kerry is just being the loyal soldier that he is.  He is someone who obviously supports the president.  But I think he‘s telling truth when he says there‘s a big difference between what‘s going on in Iraq today and what should be going on in Iraq. 

(CROSSTALK)

DEVINE:  John McCain and other Republicans have stood up and told the truth.  And we salute them for it.

MATTHEWS:  Tad, if the world is out there watching—suppose you‘re a kid, a middle-of-the-road kid trying to decide whether to go to grad school or whatever Cairo or anywhere, Afghanistan or Egypt, anywhere.  And this kid is watching the newspapers and he sees that President Bush is reelected.  Is it fair for him to decide the American people went along with the president on the war? 

DEVINE:  Well, I hope not. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If it happens. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Wouldn‘t he be right to say, I guess the American people liked the decision to go into Iraq?  And if he sees that the president loses, is it fair for him to read the paper and say I guess the American people didn‘t back the president on that war in Iraq? 

DEVINE:  Chris, I don‘t know if it‘s fair or not, but I think that‘s the reality of what might happen.  Unfortunately, respect for America in the world has been hurt because of the policies of George Bush. 

(CROSSTALK)

DEVINE:  And we are not stronger today because George Bush has turned his back on the rest of the world. 

ROGERS:  I don‘t think the election is just a referendum on any one single issue. 

MATTHEWS:  Why not?  Why don‘t you want it to be?

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  But I think that‘s a fair observation.  I don‘t disagree with the observation that that kid could make. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the world.  Let‘s talk about the world.  Do you think the world will view a victory by George Bush as an American salute to his war policy? 

ROGERS:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  Why are you hesitating here? 

ROGERS:  Well, because I‘m trying

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you afraid that some anti-war people—you‘re hoping that some anti-war people will back Bush.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m trying to reflect on the world‘s opinion.  And I‘m not necessarily qualified to do that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes, you are.  Everybody knows what is going on in the world right now.  It‘s pretty transparent.

ROGERS:  And I have an opinion, for what it is worth. 

MATTHEWS:  What is your opinion? 

ROGERS:  If President Bush is elected, I think the world will see that a tough, more resolute position on the war on terror has won in America. 

MATTHEWS:  And that would be good for America? 

ROGERS:  Yes.  I think so.  Yes, it would be great.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Tad.

DEVINE:  Chris, the polling on this is very clear. 

We‘ve seen recent polling of foreign countries.  Overwhelmingly—and it‘s our NATO allies, too, And other countries very important to this nation.  People don‘t want the president to come back into power.  And there‘s a simple reason why.  They know that George Bush has turned his back on his allies and the rest of the world. 

And they know that George Bush has a policy on unilateralism and that the United States will invade other countries, despite the interests of other nations.  We need to return to a world where the United States leads strong alliances of nations.  And that‘s the difference.  John Kerry will lead those alliances.  George Bush has and will turn his back on them.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s come back. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  When we come back, I want Ed to talk about what kind of a course correction people want, because our polling today shows people want some kind of a course correction in a second Bush term.

We‘re back with Tad Devine and Ed Rogers when we come back.

And don‘t forget, sign up for HARDBALL‘s daily e-mail briefing.  Just log on to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, a preview of the debates between President Bush and Senator Kerry, which will begin a week from tomorrow.

HARDBALL back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Tad Devine of the Kerry campaign and Ed Rogers, who is speaking for the president.

Let me ask you, Ed, about this new poll that just came out, NBC/”Wall Street Journal.”  It says, if there is a second Bush term...

ROGERS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  They would like the term to be just like -- 9 percent would say just like the first term, just do it again, the same thing you were doing.  

ROGERS:  Nobody is for more of the same. 

MATTHEWS:  Thirty-one percent say minor modifications.  And 58 percent say major changes.  What does that mean to you, that the people want Bush back—maybe they do.  It is 50/50 roughly.  But they want major changes if he comes back. 

ROGERS:  People always want progress.  People know we have got serious problems.  Bush is on there on the campaign trail saying it every day.  So put me in the 58 percentile—in the 58 percentile as well.  Sure, we could have a lot of changes. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you read this, Tad? 

DEVINE:  I read it as a stunning indictment of the president of the United States. 

Chris, listen, one out of 10 people who say they want a continuation of these policies.  This nation desperately wants to go in a new direction.  And John Kerry is speaking to that right now, a new direction in Iraq, a new direction domestically in terms of job and health care.  I think the president is in deep trouble.  And underneath the surface of the horse race is a disaster for President Bush. 

ROGERS:  If what Tad said were true, Kerry would be doing a lot better.  But he‘s not. 

(CROSSTALK)

DEVINE:  ... Election Day.  That‘s when these voters decide.

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve hear nonpartisan people say that.  We‘re in for a big shakeup and it is going to go all the way to Kerry.  And he‘s going to win by almost 10 points.  I‘ve heard that argument by a smart person today. 

But let me ask you this.  What is going to have to happen in that debate next week to make that happen? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What is your guy going to have to do to show the country he is the change, he is the dramatic difference from the guy we have now?

DEVINE:  I think he‘s going to have to speak powerfully to the issues. 

The president wanted the first debate to be on foreign policy.  That‘s something they insisted on.  That‘s because the president knows foreign policy is his strong suit.  And John Kerry is prepared to debate him.  He has a very different view of the world than the president does.  So I think John Kerry has got to demonstrate his capacity to be president.  He‘s got to show he can go toe to toe with George Bush.

Let‘s face it.  George Bush won the election four years ago in the debates.  So people know Bush is a good debater.  And I think John Kerry has got to show he has a different vision for where he wants to take America and the world. 

MATTHEWS:  What happens if the president coldcocks him and says, John Kerry, standing right next to me here, would rather that Saddam Hussein were still running Iraq. 

DEVINE:  Listen, Chris, we‘ll leave the sound bites to John Kerry in the debate.  But I‘ll tell you, we welcome that exchange, because it‘s very clear that the president wants to go around and he can get away with that in those invitation-only meetings that he does all the time, where, if you disagree with him, you get dragged out by your hair, OK?

Now, in the debate, he‘s going to have stand there with John Kerry.  And we‘ll see what the answer is.  And I look forward to hearing directly from John Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  Who wins the debate next week, Ed?

ROGERS:  I think the debates are set up very good for President Bush.  The left, starting with Senator Kerry himself, are very invested with the notion that Bush isn‘t up to the Kerry mental challenge.  Well, we‘ll see.  We‘ll see how it goes along. 

MATTHEWS:  You like that, don‘t you?

ROGERS:  I feel good about it. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  The left is invested, but Kerry is very smart.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s the country lawyer that takes on the big city guy, right?  You like that, Ed, don‘t you?

ROGERS:  I like that a lot. 

MATTHEWS:  I know you do. 

Anyway, thank you, Tad.  Thank you, Ed Rogers.  Thank you, Tad Devine.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, an ironic twist in that CBS story.  “Newsweek”‘s Michael Isikoff reports “60 Minutes” bumped a report about how the administration was duped, the administration was duped by forged documents purporting to show that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger.  We‘re back to that old story.

And don‘t forget, you can keep up with the presidential race on HardBlogger, our election blog Web site.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  In an ironic twist, CBS News postponed a “60 Minutes” story about how the Bush administration was duped by forged documents on Iraq‘s efforts to buy uranium from Niger in order to air their piece about President Bush‘s National Guard record.  The authenticity of the National Guard documents are now in dispute. 

“Newsweek” Mike Isikoff broke this story. 

Mike, you broke this story about bill—what was his last name? 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”:  Burkett. 

MATTHEWS:  Bill Burkett having a role in giving those documents over to CBS. 

Now, let me ask you about this story that they bumped.  What were they about to report during that segment on “60 Minutes”? 

ISIKOFF:  There had been a team of CBS producers and associated reporters who had been working for six months on an exhaustive investigation of those forged documents that the Bush administration relied on at least in part to make its claims that Iraq was seeking to purchase uranium from Africa.  This is the famous 16 words that got entered into the president‘s State of the Union speech that the White House later acknowledged never should have been in there. 

There has been a great mystery about where those forged documents came from.  We do know that they came from an Italian journalist in Rome who got them from a previously mysterious Mr. X, who had provided them to her.  The FBI has been investigating this case.  So CBS had been working on it for six months.  They were all about to air a story about how the U.S. government got snookered by forged documents when, at the last moment, CBS executives bumped it to report another story that it looks like relied on forged documents themselves. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to the beginning here chronologically.  One of the reasons a lot of people supported President Bush when he called for an attack and occupation of Iraq was the fear that they had nuclear weapons and could potentially use them against us or anyone else, especially us, of course. 

And then it turned out they had the information because of attempt by, supposed attempt by Saddam Hussein to buy this uranium from Africa.  How did this mechanically happen?  How did the information, false information, bogus information, about this attempted sale—or sale from Niger by Iraq get into the hands of the president‘s speechwriters? 

ISIKOFF:  Well, actually, this is the subject now of a FBI investigation that has been going on for a year.  And one of the things we reported on our terror watch column today on the “Newsweek” Web site is that that investigation has made precious little progress. 

In fact, the FBI has not even interviewed the Italian businessman, broker, the Mr. X who provided Elisabetta Burba, the Italian journalist, with the fraudulent documents as of today.  And the FBI confirmed this to me today.  The individual, Mr. X, has been publicly identified in the European press.  We identify him today in our terror watch column, a man by the name of Rocco Martino, who has had longstanding relationships with two and perhaps three foreign intelligence agencies, raising the question about whether those fraudulent documents were planted and supplied to the U.S. government as part of a disinformation campaign by a foreign intelligence agency. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the effect was to help race us toward war.  Why would the administration foot-drag?  Are they trying to cover up the fact that they were dupes, in fact they were perhaps willing dupes of this kind of misinformation to make their case for war? 

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  There are two principal theories at foot about how these documents came to be and how they got circulated. 

One theory is that Mr. Martino has had relationships with SISMI, which is the Italian military intelligence agency.  The Italian government, as you know, the government of Silvio Berlusconi, has been a strong backer of President Bush‘s stand on Iraq, was supportive of the war.  And so that theory might suggest that the documents were planted by supporters of the war in order to bolster the administration‘s case. 

But it turns out, as we also report today, that Mr. Martino also has had relationships with French intelligence agencies.  And, of course, France was on the other side of the Iraq war debate.  And so the alternative theory is that these documents were planted by the French or circulated by the French for the purpose of embarrassing the United States government and the government of Tony Blair because they were such crude forgeries that they could be easily discovered and that they would help undermine the case for war. 

MATTHEWS:  But, in effect, they helped make the case for war.  And, in fact, the nuclear piece, Mike—I hope you agree—was for many people the key reason to support the war.  They could live with the fact that Saddam had chemical and biological, because that would not be so terrible.

ISIKOFF:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  But the idea he had nuclear weapons hit our button and we went to war. 

ISIKOFF:  Absolutely.  It was the single most powerful charge that the administration made.  You remember the president‘s famous words in Cincinnati about he didn‘t want the smoking gun to come in the form of a mushroom cloud. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Oh, I know.

ISIKOFF:  That was the specter of a nuclear bomb.

MATTHEWS:  I think Dick Cheney had it written on his forehead.  Cheney said it so many times and so convincingly that people to this day still believe it. 

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  Right.

But just coming back to what I‘m talking about here, these fraudulent documents did play a role.  They weren‘t the sum and total of the administration‘s case. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ISIKOFF:  There was other evidence that it was pointing to, but they were part of the case. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Michael Isikoff of “Newsweek.” 

Tonight at 9:00, it‘s a HARDBALL extra edition and a HARDBALL-“Newsweek” special report: “Under God: Bush, Kerry, and the Faith Factor,” my interview with Senator John McCain. 

And join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  And on Friday, don‘t forget, HARDBALL: THE HORSERACE, our weekly roundup of all the polls, speeches, and inside thinking in this week‘s campaigning.

Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.

END   

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