updated 10/4/2004 10:58:10 AM ET 2004-10-04T14:58:10

Guests: Chuck Todd, Peter Hart

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  This is the week of the first presidential debate, and it changed things. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  In Iraq, we saw a threat, and we realized that after September the 11th, we must take threats seriously before they fully materialize. 

Saddam Hussein now sits in a prison cell.  America and the world are safer for it. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I believe that when you know something is going wrong, you make it right.  That‘s what I learned in Vietnam.  When I came back from that war, I saw that it was wrong.  Some people don‘t like the fact that I stood up to say no.  But I did, and that‘s what I did with that vote.  And I‘m going to lead those troops to victory. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  This was also the week, one month before election day, that voters in over half the states in America started casting their absentee ballots for president.  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 political guide to the presidential finish line now just 30 days away.  NBC reporters have joined the HARDBALL election team to give us the weekly line on the presidential election.  Plus, key state and local races.  Our trifecta tonight, the top three political stories of the week.  From Carl Quintanilla, who is traveling with the Kerry campaign.  Andrea Mitchell, with the post-debate analysis.  But first, NBC White House correspondent David Gregory—David. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  With the public still digesting the first debate of this campaign, the president was back on the campaign trail and on the attack today in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  Bush advisers said Senator Kerry was the one who missed an opportunity last night to resolve the conflicts in his positions over the war.  The president picked up that line today in front of a spirited crowd here in Pennsylvania, saying that there were just more confusing contradictions from his opponent last night on the war.  Specifically, he picked up on a point that Senator Kerry said that the war was a mistake, and then when asked specifically whether soldiers were dying for a mistake, that Senator Kerry said, no, they were not. 

The president said today, you can‘t have it both ways.  And he‘s going to hammer home on this theme of contradictions from Senator Kerry, which the Bush White House still believes is his greatest vulnerability and the president‘s greatest strength. 

They deflected questions about whether it was more or less a middling performance by the president, saying that he stuck to his core convictions, he spoke from the~ heart, and Senator Kerry may have been a good debater but he still didn‘t resolve some key question which go to the fundamental question in this race, which is who do you trust to lead the war on terrorism? 

Bush advisers did concede that the president will probably take stock of his performance over the next few days and begin to assess what he might do differently in the next debate, which is focused on domestic issues, including the economy.  Look for the president to be back on the trail, of course, next week, beginning to make that transition in his message.  As he gets ready for that next debate on domestic issues, which a lot of people might think are actually playing to Senator Kerry‘s strengths. 

I‘m David Gregory with “The Horserace.”  Now back to you. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Gregory, from Billy Joel country. 

NBC‘s Carl Quintanilla is covering the Kerry campaign in Tampa—

Carl.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARL QUINTANILLA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, you won‘t get any nuanced positions from the Kerry campaign this week.  They‘re using words like “clear victory,” calling the president “distracted” and “rambling” in his performance on Thursday, and Kerry now even mocking the president in his rallies, making fun of the way he appeared to stammer behind the podium on Thursday night. 

The Kerry campaign had told us that spin would not determine the winner of this debate.  They said the nation was so consumed with issues that were so serious that Americans wouldn‘t worry about who was looking at his watch or who was sighing too much. 

But given that, despite that, really, Democrats are still working very hard to, as they put it, make sure this isn‘t snatched away from them.  The Democratic National Committee working hard, remembering that back in 2000, it was Gore who appeared to have won the debate the day after.  It wasn‘t until several—a couple of days later that the title really fell to Bush among the mass media. 

Looking ahead, Kerry is going to actually start pivoting away from Iraq and to more domestic issues—stem cell research, jobs and the economy, health care, Medicare, issues that are more comfortable to Democrats, and we‘ve actually had some pollsters tell us that they believe Iraq is not an issue that is going to make up people‘s minds.  People have basically decided where they stand and no more debate is going to change any swing voters. 

Of course, the danger for Kerry, he is going to be called a tax-and-spend liberal, a fan of big government.  But at least, Chris, Democrats say with Thursday night‘s performance that we now have some kind of a race on our hands. 

In Tampa, I‘m Carl Quintanilla for “The Horserace.”  Back to you, Chris.

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Carl Quintanilla.

NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell joins now with some post-debate analysis. 

Andrea, what did John Kerry accomplish Thursday night? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, he looked presidential.  He appeared on the stage with the president of the United States, and he didn‘t look small.  In fact, physically he‘s larger.  He appeared sober, serious, but—and not terribly engaging, there may be sort of a personality gap there—but he was serious and challenging to the president, and by many accounts, bested him on debating points, particularly on Iraq and terror. 

MATTHEWS:  I saw a poll just afterwards that said he won on the issue of who was the most clear in their presentation.  But doesn‘t it come down to who is going to look better in the match-up, on who are you going to vote for in a couple of days when those other polls come out? 

MITCHELL:  Yeah, I think that we really don‘t know until some polls, some head to head polls come out in a few days.  And very often, the initial reactions as to who won or lost these debates really are wrong.  That people‘s impressions may turn on things that so-called media experts don‘t really take into account. 

Perhaps the president‘s very heartfelt comments about the comforting a widow of someone who died in Iraq, which may seem to some critics a little trite, a little contrived, perhaps a little bit awkwardly phrased, really was heartfelt.  I spoke to some people in the airport before flying home today who thought that that was the most important important thing that impressed them.  So individual voters will respond differently.  Let‘s take a look, let‘s take a deep breath, and wait until we see those match-ups. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there any appreciation of why the president, who is very popular in the country, obviously, chose to play defense on Thursday night? 

MITCHELL:  Well, he seemed uncertain.  And certainly, didn‘t seem to be as fully prepared as Senator Kerry was.  And ironically, I was talking to one very prominent Republican today, who said that the Jim Baker insistence on the time clock and the lights and all of that, and the buzzers, which didn‘t (UNINTELLIGIBLE) go off because apparently they were very loud and scary, but that insistence on the format actually helped Kerry, because it gave him an outline.  It gave him the structure with which to frame the two-minute responses. 

And maybe it would have been better, said this Republican, if Baker had just let him ramble, because then he would have kind of hung himself, and clearly George Bush seemed not only impatient at times, but he didn‘t seem to fill the time that he was allotted.  He seemed to be sort of kind of projecting why am I here and do I have to really keep talking. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Andrea Mitchell, with the debate analysis.

Coming up, President Bush wants to be the first Republican since Ronald Reagan to win the state of Wisconsin.  MSNBC‘s Chris Jansing takes a look at what‘s put a traditionally liberal state in play this year. 

Plus, Ron Reagan reports from Miami to see how people down there responded to Thursday‘s presidential debate. 

And don‘t forget this Sunday at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, join me and Tom Brokaw for “Picking our Presidents, Secrets of the Great Debates.”  We‘ll have all the great moments and behind the scenes scoop from past presidential debates.  It‘s must-see TV for you political junkies out there, like me.  You‘re watching “The Racehorse”—“The Horserace” on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to “The Horserace.” 

Wisconsin has not voted for a Republican in a presidential election since Ronald Reagan back in 1984.  Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore all won the Badger State, but this year polls show President Bush leading John Kerry there. 

MSNBC‘s Chris Jansing has the latest from battleground Wisconsin. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It‘s Octoberfest in Appleton, Wisconsin, and that means beer, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), polka and politics.  People showing their support for their presidential candidate of their choice. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Vote for Bush 2004. 

CHARLES GARNIER:  Frankly, the Republicans feel they own this street. 

And they usually act like it.  So we‘re trying to change that. 

JANSING:  Al Gore took this state in 2000 by less than 6,000 votes.  But George Bush won here in the Fox Valley, and Republicans think he can do it again. 

REP. MARK GREEN ®, WISCONSIN:  This is blue collar conservative country.  We watch Packer games on Sundays.  We hunt in the fall, we snow mobile in the winter.  I think the candidate that represents those values, the candidate who wins.  I think that‘s George Bush. 

JANSING:  It‘s the economy with an unemployment rate lower than the national average that makes Wisconsin one of Bush‘s most promising blue states.  Mid-States Aluminum in Fandulac (ph) has hired 74 new employees in the past year. 

KARL JERDE, MID-STATES ALUMINUM CORP.:  The Bush administration is a very pro-business administration.  We have benefited directly from the tax cuts. 

JANSING:  Among the battleground states, Wisconsin relies most heavily on manufacturing.  And 69,000 of those jobs have been lost here since January 2001. 

LT. GOV. BARBARA LAWTON (D), WISCONSIN:  The hardest hit sector is the manufacturing industry, and that is part of our history.  We‘re the No. 1 paper making state in the nation. 

JANSING:  Much of the political focus remains on the state‘s No. 1 industry, dairy.  Wisconsin leads the nation in cheese production. 

Wisconsin has lost half its dairy farms in the last two decades.  Joel Narges raises dairy cows on the same farm that‘s been in his family for four generations.  He fears the farm won‘t be around to pass onto his children. 

JOEL NARGES, FARMER:  I have the track record of President Bush with the trade agreements and the non-implementation of some of the 2002 farm bills as evidence that we‘re not going to get it from him. 

JANSING:  In a state that hasn‘t voted for a Republican for president since 1984, Wisconsin is in the must-win column for both camps. 

REP. RON KIND (D), WISCONSIN:  There‘s not a county, there‘s not a ward in the state that we‘re ceding.  It will be close in Wisconsin, as it will in other parts of the country. 

JANSING:  And proof that this state is so important, John Kerry chose to spend his crucial pre-debate days here. 

I‘m Chris Jansing for “The Horserace.” 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Onto another key swing state, or perhaps the swing state, Florida.  MSNBC‘s Ron Reagan is in Miami to talk about how Thursday night‘s debate is playing in the press down there.  Ron, which way is it going? 

RON REAGAN, MSNBC ANALYST:  Well, I think most people are having to admit that Kerry came out on top, although, you know, I talked to a few people in the press, and while they‘re willing to admit in private that Kerry was really the clear winner, publicly they‘re a little more, I guess, they‘re just being even-handed and trying to kind of, you know, even things out a little and make it more even-Steven for Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you about the buzz lines coming from the spinsters.  All that thing last night down in the spin room must have gone for at least an hour after the debate.  Did that have any influence on the sort of the verdict of last night‘s event?

REAGAN:  The fact that we‘re now calling this the spin room I think tips people off that what we‘re getting is, you know, a heavily biased presentation for both sides, really.  But you‘ll notice that when the Bush folks came into the spin room, the smiles on their faces looked pretty thin and pretty tight.  And the Kerry people were practically doing a jig on their way into the room. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s interesting how some people can act, Ron, and some people can‘t act.  Ralph Reid can‘t act.  Karen Hughes can.  Karen Hughes was ebullient last night on behalf of President Bush, even though most people thought he didn‘t do as well as they had hoped. 

REAGAN:  Well, you know, repressing your true emotions can be dangerous.  I would be worried that Karen Hughes is building up an ulcer, because she couldn‘t have been happy with last night.  She couldn‘t have been. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s look forward to Tuesday night.  We have got the vice presidential debate with an unusually attractive Democratic candidate up against a very solid Republican incumbent.  How is this, the slight win or a substantial win, I might say, for John Kerry, how is that going to put pressure on the candidates Tuesday night? 

REAGAN:  Well, I think it will put additional pressure on Cheney.  Cheney was sort of the favorite going in.  I mean, I know John Edwards has better hair and all that.  But the Bush people, the Bush-Cheney people, have won the battle of the rules, so they‘re going to do it sitting down.  Which is a big disadvantage for Edwards.  He loves to be on his feet.  He loves to be able to move around. 

But there is extra pressure on Cheney now to really redress the balance a little bit and pick up the slack that Bush left in last night‘s debate.  So we‘ll see how he responds there.

Edwards, you know, he‘s got a tough road to hoe, though.  He has got to go after Cheney, but he‘s got to do it in a respectful way.  You know, he can‘t look like an ankle-biter out there. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, anyway, it‘s hard to be the hero of a courtroom drama when you‘re sitting down at a drink table in what looks like a men‘s club with Hamilton Burger.  Anyway, thank you very much, Ron Reagan. 

REAGAN:  You bet.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, David Shuster sorts fact from fiction in Thursday‘s presidential debate, and Joe Trippi on what the political Web sites are saying about that debate.  They‘re saying a lot.  You‘re watching “The Horserace” on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to “The Horserace.”  One of the more interesting ways you can evaluate a debate is by the numbers, the numbers cited to make a point, the numbers that were wrong, or even the number of times a candidate hit a key buzzword or phrase.  HARDBALL elections correspondent David Shuster has done the accounting on this week‘s debate. 

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL ELECTIONS CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, it was a debate that revealed key themes, crucial buzzwords, and a few assertions that were factually inaccurate. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER (voice-over):  By the numbers, John Kerry and President Bush got some of them wrong. 

BUSH:  Actually, we‘ve increased funding for—for dealing with nuclear proliferation.  About 35 percent since I‘ve been the president. 

SHUSTER:  Actually, the president‘s first budget proposed a 13 percent cut.  The increases since then were added by Congress. 

Regarding the Iraq war...

KERRY:  $200 billion that could have been used for health care, for schools, for construction, for prescription drugs for seniors.  And it‘s in Iraq. 

SHUSTER:  But only $120 billion has been spent so far.  Kerry gets his figure by adding money expected to be asked for next year. 

KERRY:  Right now the president is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to research bunker-busting nuclear weapons. 

SHUSTER:  No.  The budget for research on that weapon is less than $35 million.  On the coalition in Iraq...

BUSH:  And now there‘s 30 nations involved, standing side by side with our American troops. 

SHUSTER:  Actually, there were 30.  But half a dozen recently withdrew their troops. 

KERRY:  This president has made, I regret to say, a colossal error of judgment.  And judgment is what we look for in the president of the United States of America. 

SHUSTER:  Senator Kerry used the word “judgment” six times, but he hit “alliances” eight times, and “plan” 20. 

KERRY:  I have a better plan for homeland security.  I have a better plan to be able to fight the war on terror, by strengthening our military. 

SHUSTER:  For President Bush, the key words were “strong,” which he hit 13 times, and “mixed messages or signals,” nine. 

BUSH:  You cannot lead if you send mixed messages.  Mixed messages send the wrong signals to our troops. 

SHUSTER:  But the word of the night for President Bush was “free.”  He mentioned “free” or “freedom” 37 times. 

BUSH:  We‘re pursuing a strategy of freedom around the world, because I understand free nations will reject terror.

SHUSTER:  There was one other number that both campaigns were watching.  The number of times the red light flashed.  It happened just once, to President Bush. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  In the end, President Bush and Senator Kerry faced a total of 17 questions, including seven about Iraq.  And by the numbers, the television viewing audience was larger than the first debate four years ago, attracting more than 55 million people. 

I‘m David Shuster for “The Horserace”—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.  MSNBC analysts and Hardblogger Joe Trippi joins me now to talk about how the Internet world reacted to the first Bush-Kerry debate.  Joe, what was different this time?  

JOE TRIPPI, MSNBC ANALYST:  A lot of things were different.  First, how the campaign blogs handled it.  The Bush campaign sent out something like 40 separate rapid responses through their blog to 5,000 conservative Web sites and other weblogs last night, all during the debate. 

On the Kerry side, they sent out four or five, at an e-mail at the end of the thing.  So you got to give the Bush campaign kudos for the way they were rapidly responding across the Internet. 

What‘s amazing, though, is the effect the debate actually had.  I mean, on the Internet, blog after blog on the Kerry side of things is just on fire.  I mean, you should see it, in the hundreds of thousands, millions of people, that are voting on the online polls since—including MSNBC—since the debate.  And just sort of almost ambivalence on conservative blogs.  In fact, InstaPundit, who comes from that side, said he didn‘t see it that way, but his InstaWife thought George Bush won the debate handily.  So you see this sort of more enthusiasm on the Democratic side, which was waning in recent days coming up to the debate. 

MATTHEWS:  I was overwhelmed when I heard late last night, right after the debate, that within like the first half-hour, maybe it was an hour after the debate was over, a quarter of a million people hit the Hardblogger Web site, with their votes on who they thought won.  It was about 70 percent I must say in those early minutes for John Kerry. 

Tell me about that.  The impact of those voting Web sites, like the one we have at Hardblogger. 

TRIPPI:  Well, Hardblogger, after Thursday‘s debate, it was—you‘re right, on Thursday night‘s debate, it was 200,000 votes within minutes.  It‘s going to be in the millions.  I mean, several million will have voted on our site. 

What‘s amazing about it is I think it‘s more a gauge of the energy that came out of the debate.  I think it‘s 69 percent think Kerry won, to 29, 31 percent think Bush won. 

What I think it says, because it is not scientific—but what it does say is it really is a measurement of the energy that got unleashed by John Kerry in that debate.  You can now see it percolating all over the Web. 

MATTHEWS:  How much of this is flackery, just people in a partisan fashion simply saying what they planned to say ahead of time, my guy won?

TRIPPI:  Well, you know, the polls still have this a very tight race.  So I think if that‘s what was going on, you know, if it was just people sort of reconfirming what they already—who they already supported, you would see a much tighter vote on the Web for George Bush.  That‘s not happening.  And I think that speaks a lot about, like I said, the energy that John Kerry unleashed last night. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, great to hear from you.  Joe Trippi.

Up next, we‘re going to see how the Bush-Kerry debate played among undecided voters in two battleground states, Ohio and Florida. 

And don‘t forget, you can keep up with the presidential race, as I said, on Hardblogger, our election blog Web site.  Just go to hardball.MSNBC.com. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half hour on HARDBALL: “The Horserace,” reaction to Thursday‘s debate.  We‘ll hear from two separate groups of undecided voters in the key swing states of Ohio and Florida.  “The Horserace” coming back, but first, let‘s catch up with MSNBC News.

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to “The Horserace.”

You‘ve heard it throughout the election cycle.  This race is going to be decided by a few battleground states. 

NBC‘s Ron Allen and Norah O‘Donnell watched Thursday night‘s debate with half-a-dozen undecided voters in Ohio and in Florida. 

What do these voters think about the candidates after their first head-to-head? 

Let‘s start with this report from Norah O‘Donnell down in Miami. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, with Kerry behind in the polls, some say the burden was on him to convince swing voters that he could be president. 

We gathered in a group of undecided voters in Florida, four of them registered Republicans, one independent.  Three of them had voted for President Bush in the last election, one for Al Gore and one didn‘t vote.  And all of them walked away from the debate with new impressions of the candidates. 

(voice-over):  They‘re some of Florida‘s key swing voters, Alicia Hidalgo (ph), assistant principal at a Miami high school.  She wonders why we went to war in Iraq.  Paul Nielsen (ph), a Korean War veteran who wants the troops out of Iraq.  Sheri Doswell (ph), a Miami retiree, wishes both candidates would stop talking about 30 years ago. 

Greg Feinberg (ph), a Miami dietitian, likes the president‘s response to 9/11.  But he doesn‘t like the war in Iraq.  And Ari Desager (ph), a first-year law student, is worried about getting a job. 

(on camera):  Who won the debate? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kerry. 

O‘DONNELL:  Who won the debate? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kerry. 

O‘DONNELL:  Who won the debate? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Kerry. 

O‘DONNELL:  Who won the debate? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Bush.   

O‘DONNELL:  Who won the debate? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kerry. 

O‘DONNELL:  Why do you think Kerry won? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think Kerry freed up a lot or cleared up a lot of his flip-flops tonight. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I disagree.  I really didn‘t hear anything specific coming from Kerry tonight.  I didn‘t actually hear what he‘s going to do and how he is going to end this war on terrorism. 

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  They all noticed the candidates‘ different styles and body language, struck by the president‘s facial expressions when Senator Kerry was speaking. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He was fidgeting. I believe.  He looked like it was offensive. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  To me, he looked mad, like he was fuming at what he was hearing.  That‘s the way he looked to me. 

(on camera):  A show of hands, how many people made up their minds tonight? 

Two of you decided tonight, the other three of you still undecided, all agree that Kerry looked a little bit better to you tonight.  Why? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When I have heard him speak in the past, it is mainly negative things.  And I got so tired of hearing that.  Tonight, it seemed that he really addressed some things, what he would do.  And that‘s what I was wondering, what would he would do. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think Kerry did a better job at addressing those issues than Bush did.  Bush just spoke in generalizations of liberty and the war on terrorism. 

O‘DONNELL:  What made you think better of Kerry tonight? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  His demeanor.  I guess what Sheri is saying, more positive. 

O‘DONNELL:  Which candidate do you think came off as the better candidate to lead this country in the war on terror? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Difficult question.  And when we had the 9/11 attack, I do believe that the leadership of the country was profound and it was good.  And decisions were made.  And I was proud of our country in the way we responded.  However, this Iraq war, I‘m really not as confident as I am with the leadership. 

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  But, in the end, it appears Senator Kerry still has work to do to seal the deal. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I guess I‘m really looking for things in Kerry to encourage me to vote for him.  I really haven‘t gotten there yet. 

O‘DONNELL (on camera):  Paul, you think made up your mind tonight? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I would probably give Kerry 60 percent and Bush 40, as far as their explanations and what they thought about.  And I was kind of put off by Bush.  I voted for Bush.  But he seems to be a little stubborn about this Iraq thing and making a mistake and not correcting it. 

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  That‘s two undecideds who say they will now vote for Kerry, but the others remain on the fence. 

(on camera):  Greg, did you find yourself leaning, though, one way or the other? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I wish I could mix them both together and have one person.  I‘m undecided. 

O‘DONNELL:  Since the debate was so heavily focused on foreign policy, many of the undecided voters said they‘re looking forward to the next several debates and the discussion of domestic issues. 

I‘m Norah O‘Donnell in Coral Gables for “The Horserace.”

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  What a quality report. 

Anyway, Ron Allen watched the debate with reporters in Stark County, Ohio, a county that has voted for the president in nine of the last 10 elections.  They‘re always right, it seems, except once. 

He asked what they all thought of the candidates, what messages worked and what these voters wanted to hear—Ron.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RON ALLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, we‘ve come to Stark County, Ohio, because voters here have a knack for picking presidents.  They‘ve gone with the winner in nine of the 10 last presidential elections.  From its rolling farmland to its aging Rust Belt smokestacks, Stark County is a microcosm of America.  So we asked some of its still undecided to judge the debate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  John Kerry convinced me that he is capable of being commander in chief. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I like President Bush.  I like his character.  I think he is a fine president as far as character is concerned. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think John Kerry will keep the country safer. 

ALLEN (on camera):  Even though there hasn‘t been a major attack in America since 9/11?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Absolutely.  I think he will keep my family and America safer. 

ALLEN:  You were concerned about the war.  You‘re a veteran.  Who had the better plan? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think Kerry does because he wants to create alliances, instead of doing it all on our own, like we are right now. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kerry is talking about getting out of Iraq.  And Bush is talking about staying there and completing the job. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The bad thing is, it is getting us in trouble now, because we‘re sticking our heads out there.  We‘re going to get it cut off. 

ALLEN:  And you‘re a first-time voter.  Did the debate help you make up your mind? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It helped me lean a little bit more towards Kerry. 

ALLEN:  Why? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I felt that he was really able to point out a lot of the weaknesses in the war and I felt that George Bush didn‘t have good responses. 

ALLEN:  You voted for President Bush in 2000. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, I did.

ALLEN:  Are you having doubts now? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, I am.  I‘m comfortable with him, but I‘m also comfortable with John Kerry.  So now they‘re equal in my mind as far as just protecting the country and foreign relations. 

ALLEN:  Mary, how important—you‘re a retired school teacher.  How important are domestic issues vs. foreign policy issues in terms of you making up your mind? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, domestic issues are very important. 

ALLEN:  Like education. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Like education.  I really need to hear the next debates, especially with the No Child Left Behind. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I still want to hear about the domestic issues. 

ALLEN:  Why? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Because I live in America.  Foreign issues are important, but not to the extent where people aren‘t working, when people have college degrees, masters degrees, can‘t find a job. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kerry may have appeared to have the better answers.  But there‘s more debates.  And I think there may a debate that maybe President Bush does a better job with. 

ALLEN:  We‘ve now been through two conventions.  We‘ve been through one debate.  We‘ve been through months and months of campaigning.  All of you are seeing television ads on TV, getting mailings in your mailboxes.  Why can‘t you make up your mind? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Basically because I have the time to decide and

I have got until November.  And I just want to make sure that what I heard

·         and I was completely expecting President Bush to do a wonderful job and to be completely in control. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He was OK tonight, George Bush.  John Kerry was just better.  It‘s not like George Bush crumbled.  John Kerry was better.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t think that he crumbled. 

ALLEN:  Was there a moment that stood out? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There was one moment in the debate where they could actually be men and just laugh and talk for just a brief moment. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  His daughters, I‘ve watched them.  I‘ve chuckled a few times at some of their comments.  And...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m trying to put a leash on them. 

(LAUGHTER)

KERRY:  Well, I‘ve learned not to do that. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, I think it is good.  I mean, it makes you realize that it is not a personal attack between the two of them.  It is just the business. 

ALLEN:  The upcoming debates, which will focus more on domestic issues, could be even more crucial here.  Stark County, like much of Ohio, has lost thousands and thousands of jobs since President Bush took office.  For many here, jobs, health care, those pocketbook issues, are much more pressing concerns than foreign policy matters far away.

In Massillon, Ohio, I‘m Ron Allen, NBC News for “The Horserace.” 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s good to see that people are thinking about things they‘re not told to think about.  Great report, Ron Allen.

Up next, NBC/”Wall Street Journal” pollster Peter Hart gives us his analysis of the Bush and Kerry first debate.  How will it play in the polls.  Plus, Chuck Todd, editor of “The Hotline,” on media coverage of the great debate. 

You‘re watching “The Horserace,” only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, how did Thursday‘s presidential debate play in the polls?

“The Horserace” back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to “The Horserace.”

Peter Hart is a Democratic pollster, who, along with a Republican counterpart, conducts polling for NBC and “The Wall Street Journal.”  He join us now with his analysis of how the polls taken of viewers watching the debate could affect the election. 

By the way, in an ABC poll of registered voters watching the debate, 45 percent thought Kerry had won, while only 35 percent thought the president won.  Gallup also polled registered voters watching the debate and found that 53 percent, a majority, thought Kerry performed better, as opposed to 37 percent, who thought President Bush did—was more effective.

Peter, what do you think those numbers are going to mean in terms of the matchups in the weeks ahead? 

PETER HART, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER:  What happens, Chris, is that it spreads out during the week because there comes a press report and basically it feeds back into the overall head to head.  And what I think it means is that Kerry is going to move up and Bush will probably remain flat.  So it was a good night for Kerry.  Kerry will move up.  But you have to wait about four days to see this. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at an example of how John Kerry and President Bush dealt with the issue of consistency in this campaign. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY:  I‘ve had one position, one consistent position, that Saddam Hussein was a threat.  There was a right way to disarm him and a wrong way.  And the president chose the wrong way. 

JIM LEHRER, MODERATOR:  Thirty seconds, Mr. President. 

BUSH:  The only thing consistent about my opponent‘s position is that he has been inconsistent.  He changes positions.  And you cannot change positions in this war on terror if you expect to win. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Peter, who do you think will turn out to have won last night‘s debate on that point, of consistency by candidate John Kerry?

HART:  Well, they each had a different assignment.  George Bush did exactly what he needed to do.  He played back to his theme. 

But, importantly, John Kerry needed to show assertiveness, aggressiveness and leadership.  And that‘s what he was able to do.  I talked to individual voters that we‘ve actually talked to in focus groups.  And they played that idea back to me.  They remained undecided, but at the same time, they‘ve gotten a better sense of Kerry.  That allows them to move to the economic issues.  And that‘s what these people are waiting for. 

MATTHEWS:  Do people have a fix now on Kerry‘s position on Iraq? 

HART:  I think a much better sense of him.  And, much more importantly, as this one woman said to me in Dayton, he is going to invite in others.  He is going to make it a real sense of, the world is against terrorism.  That‘s exactly what she was looking for, not that she‘s against Bush.  She likes his consistency.  But she wants the sense that we‘re going to do something different.  And that‘s what it seems to be about. 

MATTHEWS:  There seemed to be a long continuous debate last night as to whether we‘re in this war alone or not.  The president talked about his 30-some coalition members, including the United States.  And John Kerry kept coming back to well, if that‘s all the case, how come 90 percent of the casualties are American?  Did he win that argument?

HART:  Without a doubt. 

The one thing that we‘ve learned is that Americans have changed their point of view.  And that is, is the war worth it or not?  Back in December, they said a majority worth it, today, not worth it.  Do we believe that we can achieve victory?  Only 41 percent think that‘s going to be the case; 47 percent don‘t.  So the president, what they were looking for is a sense of change and a sense of willingness to admit where he‘s wrong; he will do better. 

He didn‘t communicate that.  He has two more debates to be able to do so. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Kerry was successful in talking about the $87 billion issue, when he said that it‘s one thing to make a mistake in explaining your position; it‘s another to make a mistake in waging war?

HART:  Well, I think he made good inroads on that.  I don‘t think that he‘s answered it completely, because you‘ll see all the paid advertising. 

But, overall, Kerry did what he had to do, which was the ability to be able to show that he could be assertive and he knew who he was and what he stood for.  Voters just had no sense up to last night that that was what he was about. 

For Democrats, it became extremely important.  For independents, it opened the key which says, I can look at him further.  He may get my vote. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Peter Hart.

HART:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  One of the country‘s great pollsters. 

In Britain, oddsmakers are handicapping the presidential election now. 

And John Kerry may have gotten a boost out of Thursday‘s debate. 

NBC‘s Charles Sabine joins us now from London—Charles.

CHARLES SABINE, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hi there, Chris. 

You never argue with a bookie, they say, over here.  And in a country where there‘s a legal one on every other street corner, all of them have shortened their odds on Senator Kerry after the televised debate.  But he is still the outsider.  Ladbrokes bookmakers, one of the largest chains here, offered odds before the debate of 2-1 on the Democrats winning in November.  Those odds have now been changed to 7-4 on Senator Kerry, according to Ladbrokes because he showed himself to be the better public speaker in the debate. 

In other words, Chris, if I were to place this $100 bill on your behalf on John Kerry winning the election, and if your luck was in, Ladbrokes would return you $240 the day after the election.  That is, of course, depending on how long the count will take, $140 profit.  That same $100 bet on Bush, only a $40 profit, hardly worth the bet, huh?

MATTHEWS:  Well explained, Charles.

Let me ask you this.  How come they made such a quick adjustment?  Were they all watching the debate and just used their horse sense to know who won? 

SABINE:  Absolutely.  This is very serious stuff, because there‘s a great deal at stake here for these bookmakers.  Millions of dollars have already been placed on the election.  Ladbrokes tell me the odds on John Kerry would have even been shorter if it had not been for the amount of money being placed on his opponent. 

One bet alone, $110,000 on Bush, that‘s a $190,000 payout if the Republicans win.  With those kinds of bets, you realize these bookies have to get their odds right or they can get really stung by a public here that will bet on anything.  You can get odds here, for example, Chris, on which character in “The Simpsons” is going to come out of the closet in January.  The favorite for that, by the way, is Smithers at 5-2, just a little longer odds than John Kerry winning the election, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I love it.  Thank you very much, Charles Sabine. 

Up next, “The Hotline”‘s Chuck Todd on the media coverage of this week‘s presidential debate. 

And don‘t forget to visit our new HARDBALL “Horserace” Web site.  Log on to HORSERACE.MSNBC.com.

And Sunday, this is a big one.  Join Tom Brokaw and myself for an

MSNBC special.  You‘re going to love this one, “Picking Our Presidents:

Secrets”—and I mean secrets—“of the Great Debates.”  We‘ll bring you the drama, the surprises, the stories behind these unforgettable political events. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

RONALD REAGAN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Next Tuesday, all of you will go to the polls, will stand there in the polling place and make a decision.  I think, when you make that decision, it might be well if you would ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago? 

MATTHEWS:  David Gergen and Dick Wirthlin really cooked that one up for Reagan.

TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR:  Dick Wirthlin was kind of one of the unknown great tools in the Reagan arsenal.  He was a pollster.  He had been working with him since 1966.  And he in fact, before the debate, went in during the prep period with David Gergen and said these are the issues that the people will care really about and how do we get that into a single question? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BROKAW:  And then they came up with that line about, are you better off now than you were four years ago? 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Tom and I are going to tell you how it‘s done.  That‘s “Picking Our Presidents: Secrets of the Great Debates” Sunday at 10:00 on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back with “The Horserace.”

Now it‘s time to take a look at the media coverage of presidential election, because, let‘s face it, the media has an influential role in what people think about candidates.

We‘re going to examine what the professionals are saying with Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of “The Hotline,” the bible of politics and the press. 

Chuck, did you sense any bias or push by any of the media enterprises in the last hours after the debate? 

CHUCK TODD, EDITOR IN CHIEF, “THE HOTLINE”:  You could see the difference between print and television, Chris, a little bit.  It seemed like television commentators were more comfortable with declaring a winner, with calling Kerry, calling the debate a win for Kerry. 

The print coverage was less likely to do so.  I think some of that had to do with the simple fact that a lot of the print media didn‘t get the split screen of the debate the way television commentators did.  And I think that that...

MATTHEWS:  Because? 

TODD:  It had a difference.

Because the media, the presidential commission debates only had the—their feed into the media filing center.  They didn‘t allow split screens. 

MATTHEWS:  And, therefore, they never grasped what a lot of us grasped, which was the discomfort of President Bush at hearing what he was hearing from Kerry. 

TODD:  That‘s right. 

And they all grasped that Kerry did well stylistically, but they didn‘t see the grimaces and they didn‘t see those facial expressions that the president had. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Chuck, I was watching sort of both faces on MSNBC and I was sort of using the president‘s reaction to sort of gauge the success of irritation perhaps on the part of how well Kerry was getting to him.  Do you think that‘s a fair way to look at something like this, just, if it bothers one guy, I guess the other guy is hitting him? 

TODD:  Well, it certainly does tell you that it‘s the first time that Bush has really been challenged on some of his positions in a long time.

We see him get interviewed sometimes in some interviews that he‘s done when—we certainly saw it four years when he did a lot more television interviews than he‘s been doing this year.  So, absolutely.  Look, it‘s human nature.  It‘s how people judge these debates. It‘s how Al Gore lost those debates. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know, if you go back through history, Chuck, you know as well as I do, the winner of the debates has won the election every time at the presidential level.  But this time, what do you think?  I don‘t think it‘s a lock that, if Kerry even wins the next two debates, he wins the election at this point. 

TODD:  Well, I don‘t it‘s a lock, because one thing that we‘ve noticed is that Bush didn‘t seem to lose a single supporter last night, at least in the instant polls and in many of the polls.  He didn‘t lose anybody.  It‘s just that Kerry got back some of his base, got back some enthusiasm among the Democrats and got some undecideds. 

But I don‘t know.  This thing could snowball.  I‘ve been sensing—last night, television commentators were sort of a pinky with Kerry.  On Friday morning and Friday afternoon, the commentary started getting more and more comfortable with declaring Kerry the winner.  And part of that is because the Bush campaign started acting like they lost. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I saw some faces that looked pretty bleak last night in the so-called spin room, where people were told to come out and sell the president‘s success and they didn‘t look like they had their heart in it. 

TODD:  No, they didn‘t. 

And then you saw the president if his Friday Pennsylvania stop, where suddenly he had these rebuttals to things that Kerry said.  Well, they were rebuttals that he should have said last on Thursday night.  And he didn‘t do it.  Bush also better be very wary of “Saturday Night Live.”  It‘s the opening weekend.  And they did a number on these debates four years ago.  They could do a number on Bush this weekend. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s watch Darrell Hammond and company, what they can do.  I bet there is some spanking going on at the White House today for people who were not supposed to show their unhappiness when their job was to show the president won. 

Anyway, great.  Great to have you, as always, every week, Chuck Todd.

Catch “The Horserace” again on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern and on Sunday at noon. 

On Monday, Washington‘s premier investigative reporter, Bob Woodward, will be my guest on HARDBALL.  And Tuesday, we‘ll be in Cleveland for the vice presidential debate.  And remember to join Tom Brokaw and me for our special on the “Secrets of the Great Debates” Sunday at 10:00.

I‘m Chris Matthews for “The Horserace.”

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

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media Inc. (f/k/a/ Federal Document Clearing House Inc., eMediaMillWorks, Inc.), ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,