updated 9/27/2004 1:14:32 AM ET 2004-09-27T05:14:32

Guests: John Edwards, Chuck Todd

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  This is the week the American war in Iraq became the top issue of the presidential campaign. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I want victory.  I want to win.  And I have a better plan to win than George Bush does. 

The president says that things are getting better in Iraq and we must just stay the same course.  Well, I disagree.  They‘re not getting better, and we need to change the course to protect our troops and to win. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My message is that we will stay the course and stand with these people so that they become free.  It is in our national interests we do so.  I believe this is a central part in the war on terror.  I believe that when we succeed in Iraq, that America will be more secure. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  This is the week an NBC News-“Wall Street Journal” poll showed President Bush leading Senator Kerry by three points, with 55 percent of those polled saying the country is worse off today than it was four years ago.  And this was the week the campaigns have agreed to four debates, and the TV commercials carpet-bombed the airwaves.  That‘s right.  We‘ve got the numbers, the inside line.  We‘re covering the horserace.  And we‘re off!

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL: “The Horserace,” your best guide to the finish line on November 2.  We‘ve asked NBC News reporters, as well as MSNBC election team people, to join us for this weekly line on the presidential election, plus key state and local races.  Our trifecta tonight, the top three political stories of the week.  From Kelly O‘Donnell, who‘s covering the Kerry campaign, and Andrea Mitchell with the inside story on how the candidates are prepping for their first debate next week.  But first let‘s begin with NBC‘s Norah O‘Donnell, who is with the president—Norah. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  This week made clear Iraq is the central issue in the campaign.  And the president took full advantage of his role as commander in chief—first, standing on the world stage before the U.N., making the case that the U.S. cannot retreat from Iraq, that it is part of the global fight in the war on terrorism. 

Then the White House carefully orchestrated this very high-profile visit by the interim Iraqi leader, Iyad Allawi.  He spoke before a joint session of the Congress, and then he was invited to the Rose Garden to address reporters.  Allawi offered a ringing endorsement of Bush‘s Iraq policy.  And in many of his comments, echoed the rhetoric that President Bush uses out on the campaign trail. 

Allawi also gave a very thinly veiled attack against the president‘s critics and perhaps even John Kerry, saying, quote, “when political leaders sound the siren of defeatism in the face of terrorism, it only encourages more violence.” 

But perhaps what was most interesting about this week, really, was that for the first time you saw Bush and Kerry almost engage in a dialogue over Iraq, frequently trading barbs back and forth, responding to one another, all of course in advance of next week‘s debate.

You know, Bush said, we should stay the course in Iraq.  Kerry said we should change the course in Iraq.  Bush once again, saying Iraq is the central front in the war on terror.  Kerry saying, no, it‘s not the central front in the war on terror, and that the president has made a mess out of Iraq. 

Also, you know, the president‘s strategists are usually pretty quiet about their strategy and their tactics and about how they feel how the race is going.  But this week, Karl Rove, who has been dubbed, of course, Bush‘s brain, boasted that there are less toss-up states in play.  He said there‘s a lot more blue territory that‘s been trending purple and red, and Rove said, quote, “we‘re forcing the battle constantly onto their turf.”  So they feel very confident now days before the debate. 

I‘m Norah O‘Donnell, Janesville, Wisconsin, for “The Horserace”—

Chris.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Norah O‘Donnell.  NBC‘s Kelly O‘Donnell is covering the Kerry campaign.  And she joins us now with her report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLY O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, the John Kerry campaign says it is fully engaged on Iraq.  Domestic issues giving way to a much sharper critique of the president‘s judgment on national security.  Senior aides say they book-ended this past week, beginning with a major speech on the war on Iraq, ending with another speech on the war on terror. 

The Kerry strategy is to try to make voters see those two concerns as distinctly different issues.  They‘re trying to have voters question the president‘s judgment and truthfulness, saying that his optimistic assessments about progress in Iraq don‘t square with facts on the ground. 

Kerry aides also say they believe they are done defending and talking about the senators‘ own vote to authorize the war.  Instead, trying to drive the debate forward to making voters hold the president accountable for a whole series of judgments he‘s made, what the Kerry campaign would call “wrong choices” about Iraq. 

John Kerry also trying to lay out some of his own points about what he would do in Iraq, and more widely on the war on terror.  And he also leveled his most stinging critique on the president‘s judgment. 

KERRY:  Well, I have news for President Bush.  Just because you can‘t do something doesn‘t mean it can‘t be done.  It can be done. 

It is not George Bush‘s style that keeps our allies from helping. 

It‘s his judgment. 

K. O‘DONNELL:  Also noteworthy, a quicker reaction time.  John Kerry held two news conferences after more than a month of not talking to his national traveling press corps.  His campaign also cranked up two new ads responding to comments and things done by the Bush campaign. 

This week is certainly marked by a stronger response, a clearer, more aggressive operation. 

I‘m Kelly O‘Donnell with the Kerry campaign in Philadelphia, for “The Horserace.” 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Kelly O‘Donnell. 

The first presidential debate is Thursday night in Coral Gables, Florida.  And NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell joins us now with a report on how both candidates are preparing for it—Andrea. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, they each have sparring partners.  Judd Gregg, the New Hampshire senator, is going to be playing John Kerry to George Bush down in Crawford at their debate camp.  John Kerry will be in Wisconsin with Greg Craig, who is an old friend.  He was a Yale lawyer.  He was also the lawyer for Elian Gonzalez‘s father in that long custody dispute.  And he‘ll be doing what he‘s done before, which is to play the Republican, play George Bush.  He did it before four years ago for Al Gore.  He also did it for the previous campaign when he played Bush 41. 

So that‘s basically the sparring partners.  What they‘re doing in the Kerry campaign is very aggressively sending around tapes of George Bush winning debates against Ann Richards and also in the previous debate, of course, against Al Gore, showing that he is really a very good debater.  So each side is trying to lower expectations and spin that they really are not such a great debater, especially after the Bush campaign practically called John Kerry the Cicero of modern debaters.  So the Kerry campaign is very aggressively trying to say he‘s not really such a great debater. 

They say that their real challenge this week, coming week in the first debate, is to show that John Kerry can stand up to the president and be accepted as an alternative commander in chief.  That‘s the test that they need to pass, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Is John Kerry going to take the fight to the president? 

MITCHELL:  He‘s going to take the fight to the president, but they know that they have to be respectful.  It is the office of the presidency.  This is also a very well-liked, popular president.  One of the problem that they‘ve got is that John Kerry doesn‘t speak in soundbites.  He has been in the Senate too long, if you will.  He speaks in long, perambulating sentences, and that‘s been one of their big problems in the campaign.  They‘re trying to get him to tighten it up.  But they know they have got to play with what they‘ve got.  This is who he is.  And he‘s not someone who tells jokes very easily, but he does have a way with one-liners and he can be a little bit more informal.  So they‘re working on that. 

But they‘re also trying very hard not to be talking too much out of school, because there has been entirely too much talk from behind the scenes in the Kerry campaign, and they know that that has been a big problem, so they‘re trying to say that they‘re buttoning it down.  Not altogether, but trying to. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  The mystery looms for Thursday night. 

MITCHELL:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Andrea Mitchell. 

Coming up on “The Horserace,” NBC‘s Ron Allen scores an interview with the man who wants to replace Dick Cheney, Democratic vice presidential candidate, John Edwards.  And later, Chris Jansing from Michigan, and NBC‘s congressional correspondent Chip Reid on how Congress is getting into the battle for the White House.  You‘re watching “The Horserace” on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m Chris Matthews.  And you‘re watching MSNBC‘s newest program: HARDBALL: The Horserace.  A weekly look at this year‘s election.  NBC‘s Ron Allen scored an interview with the man who wants to replace Dick Cheney as vice president of the United States, Senator John Edwards—Ron.

RON ALLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, now that the hurricanes have blown through Florida, a storm of presidential politics is touching down in a state that both campaigns consider absolutely crucial.  John Kerry and John Edwards were just here.  A stop that included a rare joint appearance.  After a recent event here in Miami, we had the chance for a one-on-one with John Edwards. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, (D-NC) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m out there fighting every day with everything I‘ve got for my country.  What George Bush and Dick Cheney have done to this country is outrageous.  We‘ve got millions of people who lost their healthcare, millions of Americans who have lost their job, millions of American who have gone into poverty. 

ALLEN:  It seem that Dick Cheney in particular, his attacks against John Kerry, are resonating a lot more than what you are doing.  What do you think you‘re accomplishing on the campaign trail? 

EDWARDS:  What I‘m doing is making sure this administration is going to be held accountable for what they‘ve done.  I mean, they‘ve—what, the choices they have made have been devastating for this country. 

ALLEN:  What about the war?  Now, it seems that John Kerry is going to make the war one of the central arguments of the campaign now.  Taking an anti-war position. 

EDWARDS:  What this president has done is he‘s consistently said things that are just absolutely not true.  He said he had a plan.  Not true.  He said this war would pay for itself.  Not true. 

ALLEN:  Is your plan that different from the president‘s?  Because the president insists that basically, the position John Kerry is taking is essentially what he‘s called for. 

EDWARDS:  The president as on a lot of other things, he‘s dead wrong.  No. 1, we wouldn‘t be in this place, because if John Kerry had been president, he would have done what presidents have done for the last 50 years, he would have done the hard work to build coalitions so that we had support.  90 percent of the casualties are Americans.  90 percent of the costs is being borne by American taxpayers. 

ALLEN:  There‘s a new Bush ad that—it‘s called Blue Surf, I believe, and it talks about how John Kerry allegedly, his position is blowing in the wind. 

ANNOUNCER:  He bragged about voting for the $87 billion to support our troops before he voted against it. 

ALLEN:  You know that he‘s been attacked as being a flip flopper.  Why does this persist? 

EDWARDS:  It persists because George Bush is willing to say anything.  The reason they will continue saying this, and they‘ll continue saying this through the election, is they will say absolutely anything to protect their jobs. 

ALLEN:  What about the debate?  You‘re going to be taking on Vice President Cheney.  I understand you‘ve never done a one-on-one debate. 

EDWARDS:  Well, you just do the hard work of preparation and making sure that you‘re steady and you know all the facts. 

EDWARDS:  But the truth is Iraq is a mess.  And it is a mess because of two people: George Bush and Dick Cheney. 

ALLEN:  Again, there was a debate about sitting or standing.  You wanted to sit, or you wanted to stand?

EDWARDS:  I wanted to stand. 

ALLEN:  But you‘re going to be sitting.

EDWARDS:  We are going to be sitting.  He got everything he wanted, basically, in the negotiation.

ALLEN:  I‘ve pointed to a lot of people say that even though they don‘t—they dislike George Bush, they still don‘t know what John Edwards and John Kerry stand for.  And they don‘t know what they would be voting for.  The message doesn‘t seem to be resonating.

EDWARDS:  Because George Bush and Dick Cheney have been in the public eye for over 4 years now.  In fact, they largely been on the stage by themselves for 4 years. 

John Kerry and I, finally, with our convention and moving forward, have a chance to make our case to the American people.  We have 6 more weeks to do that.  There are dramatic differences between the 2 of them and the 2 of us.

ALLEN:  At this point, do you think you‘re winning?

EDWARDS:  I believe we‘re winning.  And I think we‘re going to win, yes.

ALLEN:  But the polls have you behind.

EDWARDS:  The polls have it basically as a dead heat.  I think we are basically tied in Ohio.  I think that‘s true also here in Florida, where you and I are today.  I think what will happen is, what always happens.  I mean, there are shifts in late September and October in virtually every presidential election, unless somebody has got some runaway lead.

ALLEN:  In the days ahead, the campaign trail takes Edwards almost exclusively to battleground states, like Ohio and back here to Florida.  With a lot of stops along the way in small, rural towns, trying to take advantage of Edwards‘ small town roots, as the sprint to November 2 continues.

In Miami, I am Ron Allen, NBC news for The Horserace.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Ron Allen.

A new twist in the race for president this week, press conferences.  Both President Bush and Senator Kerry started taking questions from reporters after keeping them at bay for a month.  NBC‘s Carl Quintanilla reports from the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KERRY:  I‘d like to just make a few comments first, if I may.

CARL QUINTANILLA, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  In Ohio, back in the line of fire.

KERRY:  And then I‘d be happy to answer a couple of questions.

QUINTANILLA:  John Kerry and the president ending a month long campaign trail man-hunt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Senator Kerry, do you have any response to the president‘s comments?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator Kerry, we have some questions for you.

QUINTANILLA:  This year, the only thing more tightly controlled than the message, is the messenger.  The president took 3 questions on Tuesday for the first time in a month.  Normally, their from supporters and pre-screened, those that aren‘t, can get the silent treatment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, why allow the assault weapons ban to expire without a fight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  All right guys, thank you.

QUINTANILLA:  Candidates try to forge a bond with their travelling press, but Kerry‘s been more distant since his last press conference in August, when he was challenged and admitted he‘d still support the war even knowing there were no weapons of mass destruction.

KERRY:  Yes, I would have voted for the authority.

QUINTANILLA:  The president has given fewer than half the number of campaign trail Q and A‘s as his father, because reporters questions can be tough, even hostile, and throw candidates off message.

MARTHA JOYNT KUMAR, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  In a campaign, you want to focus on the issues that you—that are important to you.  And a press conference is not the way to get there.

QUINTANILLA (on camera):  Of course, candidates do give interviews, maybe not always to traveling press, but to others who can guarantee a more friendly audience.

ANNOUNCER:  Tonight, Senator John Kerry!

QUINTANILLA (voice-over):  Like talk shows, where the issues are different.

REGIS PHILBIN, TALK SHOW HOST:  How do you stay in shape?  Do you have a routine?  Do you get to running in the morning?

KERRY:  No.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, KERRY SPOKESPERSON:  He‘s having fun.  You know, he‘s having fun doing these.  It‘s a way to break up the campaign and get your message out.

QUINTANILLA:  Both candidates are expected to stay out of the spotlight for the next several days, as they prepare for the upcoming presidential debate.  But Kerry and Bush officials insist voters won‘t blame the candidates for avoiding the media.

In fact, when told NBC news was working on this story, an unworried senior Kerry aid responded with just 3 words, go for it.

Carl Quintanilla, travelling with the Kerry campaign for the Horserace.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, the war of TV commercials is escalating.  MSNBC‘s David Shuster targets the man behind one of the most powerful independent groups making attack ads, Democratic activist Harold Ickes.  This is HARDBALL: The Horserace on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)     

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to “The Horserace.”  Voters in the swing states know the power of TV commercials in this presidential election.  Millions of dollars are being spent by the campaigns and by independent partisan groups from Swift Boats to the Saudis.  These commercials are shaping the issues, and the tone of this election.  HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster has more now with one of the key players behind the scenes. 

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL ELECTION CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, as you know, the television commercials and the “get out the vote” efforts all require money, lots of it.  So we sat down with the most successful fundraiser and organizer the Democrats have in this election. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  His name is Harold Ickes, and he is the man who put together the Media Fund, a powerful advertising organization. 

And America Coming Together, a companion group that goes door to door. 

HAROLD ICKES, CHIEF OF STAFF, AMERICA COMING TOGETHER:  America Coming Together is the largest voter mobilization effort that I‘ve ever been associated with.  My first campaign, presidential campaign was with Gene McCarthy in 1968. 

SHUSTER:  Democratic politics runs deep in Harold Ickes.  This New York lawyer and union lobbyist was President Clinton‘s deputy chief of staff.  And Ickes‘ father served in Franklin Roosevelt‘s cabinet. 

ICKES:  It‘s really about the direction of the country.  George Bush is a radical president.  He‘s got a radical administration.  He has engaged us in a—mired us down in a swamp in Iraq.  We are less safe today than we were before 9/11. 

SHUSTER:  Two years ago, after campaign finance laws limited political party donations, it was Ickes who came up with the groups to fill the void. 

ICKES:  It took a lot of work just telling people who we were, what we were about, and why they should give. 

SHUSTER:  But in July of 2003, financiers George Soros and Peter Lewis each gave $10 million.  And the Ickes‘ machine has been building ever since.  As of this week, the Media Fund has raised and spent $45 million.  And when it come to getting Democrats to the polls...

ICKES:  America Coming Together has raised over, close to $100 million. 

SHUSTER:  That‘s right.  $100 million.  It has enabled Ickes to fill campaign managers in 15 battleground states, hire 500 fulltime staffers and pay for more than 2,000 canvassers. 

ICKES:  We‘ll be doing a lot of direct mail and a lot of telephone calls.  The final weekend, it will be a massive, massive “get out the vote” operation. 

SHUSTER:  But the Republicans have a massive and energetic operation as well.  And this week, the G.O.P. acknowledged mailing literature to voters claiming that liberals seek to ban the Bible.  It is part of an effort to energize the religious right.  Republicans and Democrats believe a few thousand votes on either side will be the difference just like it was four years ago.

ICKES:  We think it will be this close again and the side with the best on-the-ground operation will bring it home.  We think we have that. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  Harold Ickes and his Republican counterpart will find out in five weeks.  I‘m David Shuster for “The Horserace”—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  This year‘s battle for the White House is turning into a battle of the bloggers.  Which campaign is best at blogging?  No one knows more about the Internet than our state-of-the-art political strategist Joe Trippi.  Joe, who is winning this battle of the bloggers? 

JOE TRIPPI, MSNBC ANALYST:  Well, in the grassroots level, the grassroots folks in both parties understand the power of the Net better than either of the two campaigns do.  The Kerry campaign seems to be using the Net more to raise money and to—for organizational efforts.  The Bush campaign, the difference and it gives them a bigger edge, is they understand how to get a story out of the Internet, off the blogs, over the drudge report, and then on to the mainstream media.  They‘re using the Internet as a message delivery system in a lot better way than the Kerry campaign is. 

The other thing the Kerry campaign is missing is the Internet is sort of the canary in the coal mine these days.  Sort of a warning system.  If you spot something bad happening there, you‘d better start addressing it soon.  And they didn‘t do that with the Swift Boat controversy.  It was swimming all over the Net. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the spin that the bloggers might try after the debates this Thursday night?  Will they be out there saying, our guy won? 

TRIPPI:  Oh, sure.  The thing is they‘ll be making strong cases on both sides.  And the interesting thing is, I think the Bush campaign does a better job of monitoring what‘s said and then trying to fit key things, like I said, over to the drudge report or into the mainstream media.  I‘m not sure the Kerry campaign actually monitors the blogs that much in terms of using it as a message delivery system. 

MATTHEWS:  Where is most of the passion?  Left or right? 

TRIPPI:  Left.  Definitely with Democrats.  That‘s where I‘m saying— the thing that evens all this up is how strong the left is and progressives are and Democrats are on the Net in terms of the activity and energy.  Much of that stemming from the Dean campaign early on.  I think Kerry is benefiting from that and that‘s what makes it a balanced playing field on the Net right now. 

MATTHEWS:  DO the liberals and the Democratic party have more trust in the mainstream media to get their message out and conservatives feel they have to have their own means of communication?  Is that why they seem to be so good at getting out, well, certainly the attack on Dan Rather was an example of their ability to get a message out. 

TRIPPI:  Yes.  I think the conservatives really built this sort of delivery system over 20, 30 years.  The Democrats only starting really this cycle.  So they‘ve just got a bigger advantage.  They‘ve learned to do it.  Now they‘ve grabbed a new medium, the Internet.  I used to think during the Dean campaign, we might just be the Japanese of Pearl Harbor, waking up the sleeping giant Republicans.  And so the new medium that they needed captured and deliver.  They‘re doing it right now.  The CBS example is a good example of that. 

MATTHEWS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) consequences.  Thank you very much, Joe Trippi.  If you would like to blog, go to Hardblogger.MSNBC.com and you can visit our website for “The Horserace” by going to Horserace.MSNBC.com.

Up next, while Michigan traditionally leans Democratic, has it turned into a swing state?  Chris Jansing has a report from the Great Lakes state.  You‘re watching “The Horserace” on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL: “The Horserace,” we‘re hitting the ground in the swing state of Michigan.  Plus, what makes a Republican a Republican and a Democrat a Democrat?  “The Horserace” is coming back. 

But, first, let‘s catch up with MSNBC News. 

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with “The Horserace” on MSNBC, a look at this week‘s hottest political stories. 

Now MSNBC‘s Chris Jansing with a report from the key state of Michigan. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS JANSING, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, Chris. 

There is a fascinating political dynamic going on here.  There is a state Al Gore won in 2000 and one of the few places George Bush got virtually no postconvention bounce.  But John Kerry is spending almost no time or money here now.  And George Bush is running hard. 

(voice-over):  George W. Bush in Muskegon, in Holland, in Battle Creek.  And that‘s just one day.  In a state where no Republican has won since the first President Bush, where the governor and both senators are Democrats, why is George Bush spending so much time in Michigan? 

REP. CANDICE MILLER ®, MICHIGAN:  This is going to be an incredibly tight race. 

JANSING:  It‘s arguably an uphill fight for the president, starting with the economy. 

GOV. JENNIFER GRANHOLM (D), MICHIGAN:  The so-called recovery is perhaps somewhat of a recovery on Wall Street, but it is not on Main Street.  It‘s not in Michigan yet. 

JANSING:  Michigan has lost more than much 300,000 jobs in the past four years.  In Greenville, population 8,000, 2,700 more job will disappear when an Electrolux refrigerator plant moves to Mexico next week. 

Republican Mayor Lloyd Walker. 

(on camera):  Have you ever voted for someone who wasn‘t Republican for president? 

LLOYD WALKER ®, MAYOR OF GREENVILLE:  No. 

JANSING:  Are you thinking about it this year? 

WALKER:  I‘m thinking very seriously about it. 

JANSING (voice-over):  But the Bush-Cheney campaign points to the DuraLast roofing in Saginaw as an example of new jobs in a new economy. 

TIM HOLLINGSWORTH, MICHIGAN RESIDENT:  Last year, our business grew by about 8 percent.  And we should be on pace to meet that same number this year, if not better.

JANSING:  Another challenge for the president?  Health care and an aging Michigan population.  Every three months, a busload of senior citizens travels from the town of Howell to Canada to buy cheaper prescription drugs. 

MARK SWANSON, HOWELL SENIOR CENTER:  On average, I‘m saying that they can get a three-month supply for what they would pay for a one-month supply here in the states. 

JANSING:  And in the war in Iraq and the war on terror, a key vote will be Arab-Americans, who voted overwhelmingly for Bush in 2000. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hi, Adam?  I‘m Anowa Fah (ph).  And I‘m in the John Kerry campaign. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi.  How are you?

JANSING:  In 2004, Kerry canvassers are getting a friendly reception. 

New polls show support for Kerry at 76 percent. 

OSAMA SIBLANI, “ARAB AMERICAN NEWS”:  They believe they have been betrayed by the Bush administration. 

JANSING:  But here, too, the Bush campaign won‘t concede. 

DR. YAHYA BASHA, ARAB-AMERICANS FOR BUSH-CHENEY ‘04:  We feel John Kerry doesn‘t offer anything of value to them. 

JANSING:  So how close could Michigan object November 2? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It could be closer than four years ago. 

JANSING (on camera):  Seventeen electoral votes at stake here in Michigan.  Unlike other battleground states, there‘s not a huge voter registration push.  More than 95 percent of eligible voters are already registered—Chris.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thanks.  That‘s one of the old tricks, staying away from the other side when they know they need that state to keep.  So the Democrats lose Michigan, they‘re in big trouble. 

Now it‘s time for our weekly update on the polls with MSNBC political contributor and columnist for “Congressional Quarterly” Craig Crawford. 

Let‘s start with the NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, Craig, which shows Bush leading Kerry by three points.  What do you think that means?  Do you think they‘re that close? 

CRAIG CRAWFORD, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I do think this case is at midfield, Chris, at least Bush has crossed the 50-yard line.  There‘s no question.  He‘s on Kerry‘s turf, but close enough that Kerry can kick him back in a strong play or two.  Probably at the debates would be maybe his only opportunity to do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about Iraq.  It seems to me, if you look at the latest poll, the NBC poll, it shows that 52 percent, a clear majority, now say they don‘t think the war was worth it.  I can only expect the next six months will bring more bad headlines from Iraq.  That number will grow.  Is that the key, getting that number up to about 60 points for Kerry to win? 

CRAWFORD:  Well, yes, that would obviously help him a lot.  But I do think the president and his team are up to something very clever this week, Chris. 

As all of this language about—that Kerry is aiding and abetting the enemy and that the terrorists would like to see Kerry win, I think what they‘re setting up here is, as there‘s more violence on the ground in Iraq, they‘re going to blame it on Kerry.  They‘re going to say, because he attacks us, that encourages the terrorists.  If they get away with that, that‘s pretty clever. 

MATTHEWS:  Craig, Craig, can the people in Iraq understand we have to have an election and we have to have a debate and that we have to argue about this war and decide it, that that is how democracy works? 

CRAWFORD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that an exceptional notion, the fact that we‘re going to debate a war during a war?  We did it in 1944.  We did it in ‘52.  We did it in ‘68. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We have to have an election, don‘t we, to have a democracy?

CRAWFORD:  It seems to be an exceptional notion within the Bush administration. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I understand their point of view.  It‘s politics.  They‘re going to try to shut down the debate.  But do you think this election is going to become, Craig—take a second here.  I think it is the big question, at least for me. 

Is it going to be an up-or-down vote on this war in Iraq, should we have gone or not? 

CRAWFORD:  I really think it is, and not just on whether we should have gone, but how it has been handled since. 

And I just traveled with a lot of swing voters in counties outside your haunts in Pennsylvania, up there in King Of Prussia, Pennsylvania.  And I find that a lot of people, even Bush supporters, when you really start talking to them, they do have some real doubts about this war and whether it is worth and it whether it is being handled right now.  And I think it is going to come to an up-or-down vote on this war. 

The Kerry campaign is making it about that.  And I think that is where a lot of votes—and it makes sense.  We‘re in a war.  This is a wartime president.  The war is arguably unpopular with large votes—blocs of voters.  So it is bound to be a deciding factor for a lot of voters. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, if we can‘t argue about the war now, when are we going to argue about it?  It is called an election.  It is time to argue.  It‘s time to take sides. 

CRAWFORD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, I think that‘s how democracy works, when it‘s most robust. 

Anyway, thank you, Craig Crawford.

Coming up, MSNBC political contributor Ron Reagan on the difference between a Republican and a Democrat.  And he ought to know. 

But, first, veepstakes, campaign reports from Tom Llamas, covering Senator John Edwards, and Priya David with Vice President Cheney. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM LLAMAS, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Senator John Edwards declared this week that President Bush is at war with working-class America and living in a—quote—“fantasy land” when it comes to Iraq. 

(voice-over):  Taking the battle over the economy to Ohio on Tuesday, Mr. Edwards called the president‘s handling of the economy dangerous, radical, and a threat to democracy.  The democratic vice presidential nominee said any fiscal policy that favors the wealthy over the working class will corrupt the country‘s financial situation. 

The Bush-Cheney campaign fired back, calling the speech wild-eyed rhetoric from a campaign whose health campaign is a real threat to the economy.  And following his running mate Senator John Kerry‘s lead, Edwards was all over Iraq this week.  The North Carolina senator said President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have consistently misled the country over the situation in Iraq. 

Talking to voters in Iowa, Edwards said the White House is ignoring the intelligence community by downplaying their outlook of the situation in that country.  He asked the president to—quote—“come back to planet Earth.”

(on camera):  And as Senator Kerry takes some time off the campaign trail next week to prepare for the debates, Senator Edwards will carry the national message through battleground states Ohio, New Hampshire and Florida. 

Traveling with the Edwards campaign, I‘m Tom Llamas for “The Horserace”. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PRIYA DAVID, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Priya David  traveling with Vice President Cheney‘s campaign. 

The vice president has just wrapped up what has been one of the fastest and hottest weeks in the campaign so far.  The response times between the two camps has really sped up.  For example, this morning, John Kerry gave a speech on the global war on terror and Saddam Hussein and Iraq and America‘s involvement.  The vice president just a few hours later rebutted those arguments here at Warren County Fairgrounds in Missouri, Missouri, by the way, a state that the Bush campaign feels very strongly about.  The Kerry campaign seemingly has all but has conceded this state. 

You can bet that the vice president will be back here in Missouri to shore up the vote, get out the base, and make sure they come to vote for them on November 2. 

Coming up this weekend, the vice president will spend some time working on debate prep.  He‘s been working on that with representative Rob Portman.  And Rob Portman played Vice President Cheney‘s pretend opponent in the 2000 debates, practicing as Joe Lieberman.  And this time around, he‘s going to pretend to be John Edwards.  They‘ve been working on that for several months.  And that is going to be happening again this weekend. 

And also, next week, the vice president will be cutting short his week of campaigning to head back to Wyoming and practice on debate prep coming up before October 5, which is when that debate will be. 

I‘m Priya David for “The Horserace.”

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, MSNBC political contributor Ron Reagan on the difference between a Republican and a Democrat when “The Horserace” returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL: “The Horserace.” 

John Kerry recently shook up his campaign by adding several Clinton advisers to his team.  Meanwhile, Bush has brought back longtime confidante Karen Hughes.  What are the differences between Democrats and Republicans in running their national campaign? 

Ron Reagan joins me to talk about the differences in campaign culture. 

Well, is one of the differences, Ron, sticking to the message? 

RON REAGAN, NBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes. 

You have to say, the Republicans have much better message discipline.  From the top, from Karl Rove all the way down to College Republicans, if you listen to talk radio.  And they‘ll often have a show they get a College Republican and a College Democrat on and they‘ll ask them both questions.  And the College Democrat usually acts as if he is answering off the top of his head and he is giving you just his own personal take on things. 

The College Republican often is not, sounds like he got the memo from the White House press office that morning.  He has got the talking points down.  It is astonishing.  It is impressive in its way, if a little scary. 

MATTHEWS:  How are they organized differently? 

REAGAN:  Well, the Republicans tend to be much more hierarchical, of course.  There‘s a clear chain of command. 

The Democrats—and this was true under Clinton, but somehow it worked better.  The Democrats have a more clubby atmosphere.  Everybody kind of gets in the room and they shoot the bull and they all kind of wrestle with various ideas and strategies.  What Clinton had that this campaign, the Kerry campaign, is just developing now, is a war room. 

And they had a guy who is the exception that proves the rule about Democrats.  They had Jim Carville, who as Republican as a Democrat can get when it comes to junkyard dog tactics. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about this values thing.  I do hear Republicans use the term values a lot, abortion rights, things like that.  And then you hear Democrats say they‘re issue-oriented.  What‘s the difference? 

REAGAN:  Well, you know, values is a code word for all sorts of things.  It depends on where you‘re using the word. 

What it really means is, you can‘t trust the Democrats.  They‘re elitist liberals.  They don‘t have your best interests at heart.  They‘re kind of squishy.  Look, the message for the Bush campaign is very simple, when you cut through everything, when you cut through all the rhetoric about the war on terror and everything else.  And it is basically, John Kerry is a wussy. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

REAGAN:  That‘s what it comes down to.  John Kerry is a wussy.  And that‘s a very simple message. 

The Democrats want to talk about issues.  They want to talk about nuance.  They want to get into it.  They actually think this is a war of ideas.  The Republicans have a very different idea about campaigns in that regard. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, thank you very much, Ron Reagan. 

REAGAN:  Sure. 

MATTHEWS:  Now NBC congressional correspondent Chip Reid with a report on how Congress gets into the battle for the White House—Chip. 

CHIP REID, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, hi, Chris. 

You know, covering Congress during a presidential campaign is a little bit like covering an echo chamber.  Whatever the message of the day is out there on the campaign trail, you can bet it is going to be reverberating right here. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Now we‘ll hear from the speaker. 

REID (voice-over):  Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert waded into the presidential campaign this week. 

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  There are those in Iraq, namely the al Qaeda, that would like to influence the outcome of our election. 

REID:  At a fund-raiser in Illinois, he waded even deeper, telling reporters that al Qaeda could operate better with John Kerry in the White House.  It is no coincidence that Hastert‘s remarks are an almost exact replica of recent statements by Vice President Dick Cheney.  It is the congressional echo effect, a tried-and-true method of using Congress to increase the volume of a presidential campaign‘s message. 

Of course, Democrats in Congress coordinate with their presidential campaign, too.  For example, Senator John Edwards was the first to attack Hastert for his remarks. 

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Joined the fear-mongering choir. 

REID:  Accusing him of stooping to the politics of fear, but it didn‘t take long for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to join the chorus. 

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER:  There‘s nothing but a record of failure.  Republicans are sinking further into the politics of fear. 

REID:  Another example, when CBS and Dan Rather used suspect documents to question President Bush‘s record in the Air National Guard, the Bush campaign pounce, and soon after, so did House Republican Whip Roy Blunt and 38 other Republicans who signed a letter accusing CBS of becoming part of a campaign to deceive the public and defame the president. 

And when President Bush accuses John Kerry of flip-flopping...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My opponent has more different positions on the Iraq issue than all his colleagues in the Senate combined. 

REID:  The congressional ditto isn‘t far behind. 

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL ®, KENTUCKY:  This is a man who flip-flops like a fish on the deck of a boat back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. 

REID:  When John Kerry campaigning in Florida this week ridiculed President Bush‘s plans for Social Security, the message was quickly repeated by Senate Democrats. 

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER:  There is no Social Security recipient that can live on half of what they‘re making today. 

REID:  And when Kerry criticized Bush on education, the reiteration was fast and loud. 

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  College tuition has gone up 35 percent in the new calculations. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

REID:  So there you have it, Chris.  It is the congressional echo effect, making sure that whatever is being said out there on the campaign trail gets repeated again and again right here in Congress—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  God, they sound like Stepford husbands. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Chip Reid.

REID:  You bet.

MATTHEWS:  Coming up next on “The Horserace” five of the most competitive congressional races in the country with Chuck Todd from “The Hotline.

And don‘t forget, check out our brand new horserace Web site.  Log on to HORSERACE.MSNBC.com. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back on “The Horserace” with Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of “The Hotline” with five of the hottest congressional races in the country, all deep in the heart of Texas.  And one of the most competitive House races in the country, between incumbent Democrat Max Sandlin and Republican challenger Louie Gohmert in Texas‘ 1st Congressional District.

Gohmert is running a TV ad that refers to Dan Rather and that document controversy.  Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

LOUIE GOHMERT ®, TEXAS CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m Louie Gohmert and I approved this message. 

NARRATOR:  Seen Max Sandlin‘s negative ads?  They have got more holes than a CBS News story by Dan Rather.  Sandlin says he‘ll protect American jobs, but voted five times to give China most-favored-nation trade status.  Sandlin even voted against tax relief for families and small businesses, tax relief that creates new jobs. 

Max Sandlin, against tax cuts, a liberal record, a negative campaign. 

No wonder he supports John Kerry. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Chuck, that‘s kind of a smarmy ad, wasn‘t it? 

(LAUGHTER)

CHUCK TODD, EDITOR IN CHIEF, “THE HOTLINE”:  It was pretty rough. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It had that sort of curled voice you really don‘t like in those ads like that. 

TODD:  And he even supports John Kerry.  How dare he.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  That Democrat.  Can you believe it? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what about—is Rather such a bad guy down in Texas

·         he is a Texan—that they can pound somebody with him?

TODD:  I think it is more of a—look, Bush is very popular in every one of these districts, particularly that one.  I think this is a little bit of a test.  Democrat Max Sandlin seems to be ahead in his race a little bit.  So, obviously, any time you see an ad like that from an opponent, you know that opponent is behind.  That is just what happens. 

So I think it is a little bit of a laboratory thing going on.  If this thing works, if they start seeing numbers turn, don‘t be surprised if you‘re going to see that ad not just in these other Texas races, which are just very hot, but maybe in some other of these House races. 

Look, you don‘t have much time to break through in a House race.  You need something outlandish like this.  And this is breaking through for this guy. 

MATTHEWS:  Will they do the same thing to Marty Frost down there and Charlie Stenholm? 

TODD:  Well, I‘ll tell you, Frost and Stenholm, they‘re running against other incumbent Republicans.  Frost is running against Pete Sessions, another member of Congress, Republican member.  Stenholm is running against freshman member Randy Neugebauer. 

The Frost thing, that‘s more of a, sort of a pseudo-campaign that also has Tom DeLay in the shadows.  Tom DeLay, he orchestrated this whole re-redistricting of Texas to make it sort of—the House map make more sense as far as the Republican makeup of the state is concern.  But he did it two years after you‘re supposed to do it.  So there‘s been some real hard feelings. 

The Frost stuff in particular, Tom DeLay will not consider what did he a success if Martin Frost wins reelection.

MATTHEWS:  When you go to vote for Congress, you oftentimes vote for the person you know who the man or woman is because they‘ve been there a while.  They do tend to stay there a long time in Congress. 

And then you have to go and vote for the party.  Are the Republicans going to succeed in nationalizing the election and getting more and more people to go into that voting booth and forgetting the name of the person, voting party?

TODD:  Look, I think there‘s a little bit of coattails that they‘re searching for.  The president, just this week, he‘s starting—he is running ads that are co-paid for by the RNC and the president that talk about—and leaders in Congress that talk about—he‘s trying—he always said he doesn‘t want a lonely victory, particularly in Texas. 

The president is expected to run up the score a little bit.  And if he does, he‘s going to knock off five Democratic incumbent members of Congress, possibly as many as five.  And that would be a big deal. 

MATTHEWS:  If John Kerry squeaks in and wins this election, he may find himself with a pretty strong Republican and opposition in the House, right?

TODD:  I think, you know, we‘ll see.  It depends. 

If Kerry can win and win by a couple of points, you know, a lot of the House—battles for the House outside of Texas are taking place in the purple states, Chris, and in some of the blue states, actually. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

TODD:  So there‘s a chance that, if Kerry can do well, he can bring a few seats with him, but he can‘t bring the majority.  Kerry will definitely be facing a very hostile Congress if he wins. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Chuck Todd.

And thank you all for watching “The Horserace.”  Catch us again Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern and Sunday at noon this weekend. 

Join us again Monday night for my interview with Ted Kennedy on HARDBALL.  And don‘t miss our special debate coverage starting next Wednesday night live from the University of Miami. 

I‘m Chris Matthews.  And this is MSNBC. 

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

END   

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