updated 10/6/2004 11:49:37 AM ET 2004-10-06T15:49:37

Guest: Jon Meacham, Ben Ginsberg, Howard Wolfson, Ken Mehlman

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome back to MSNBC‘s special coverage of the vice-presidential debate at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.  We‘re broadcasting live from the campus surrounded by bands, by students, citizens, neighbors, and everybody.  Political activists, as you can hear.  It is a very raucous crowd.  I must say more raucous even than down in Miami.  Maybe because we have iceberg weather up here. 

And anybody who is deciding what college to go to, pay attention to the weather!  It‘s a big difference.  This school is a great school up here in Lake Erie, up in the Cleveland Indians‘ country.  I just went by the stadium tonight, Jacobs field.  It is a great brisk city.  Lot‘s of excitement here tonight.  Lots of partisanship in the crowd.  Occasionally this roving group of Bush-Cheney people come through here and I can‘t even hear myself think.  That‘s going to be part of this debate.  The atmospherics here in Cleveland, Ohio. 

The big question we‘re going to be asking all these people before we get on the news with the fight tonight, it is a fight at 9:00.  Is what‘s going to be the sparkle?  The moment in which one candidate crumbles and the other one triumphs?  I want to go to Andrea Mitchell.  Your thought on that.  What is the moment of attack tonight?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Halliburton for Edwards. 

And inexperience for Dick Cheney. 

MATTHEWS:  Ron Reagan? 

RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Inexperience.  And I‘m not sure that for Edwards, against Cheney, that it might not be the things that he‘s been saying lately this year about the Kerry-Edwards ticket, about bringing on terrorism and things like that.  Throwing a little of that back in his face. 

MATTHEWS:  Jon Meacham, “Newsweek”.

JON MEACHAM, “NEWSWEEK” MANAGING EDITOR:  I think it will be when Edwards turns to Cheney and says, do you really believe that we are going to make America less safe?  Do you really believe that electing John Kerry as commander-in-chief...

MATTHEWS:  Is that a rhetorical question or a real question?  Because only a rhetorical question is permitted. 

MEACHAM:  It will be rhetorical but he has to make that point that Cheney is the Darth Vader of the campaign.  He has got to get back to that 2000 image of himself as the Washington wise man not the Washington scary man.  And that‘s the goal tonight for him. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe he has to make himself fuzzier and nicer, Joe?

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”:  The great thing for Dick Cheney tonight is it‘s just like John Kerry during the last debate.  Expectations were so low it was easy for him to rise above it.  John Kerry had a great debate performance but the expectations were low.  Dick Cheney has been portrayed as Darth Vader over the past two, three years by Democrats, by Michael Moore, by some in the press.  It is very easy for Dick Cheney to rise above this.  Dick Cheney is a vice president like no other vice president in recent American history.  He is loathed by the left.  He is loved by the right.  The last debate was all about John Kerry.  This debate will be all about Dick Cheney. 

MATTHEWS:  How does he deal, Joe, with the “Saturday Night Live” version of him?  Darrell Hammond‘s version of the curled lip.  He looks like a guy pulling wings off a fly.  That‘s a hard image to change.

SCARBOROUGH:  Again, that plays into his advantage because he‘s so confident in his skin.  Back in 2000, we heard early on that George W.  Bush hated Will Ferrell‘s imitation of him. 

Let‘s face it.  The guy who wasn‘t comfortable in his skin as a presidential candidate.  They said Dick Cheney rolled with laughter every time he saw Darrell Hammond.  This guy is as comfortable in his skin as Ronald Reagan was in his.  That‘s why these attacks about Halliburton and the war, Cheney will swat them away. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let Andrea go.

MITCHELL:  One of the issues about Dick Cheney that people talk about, Joe, is he is the most powerful vice president in American history.  I mean, here is lots of evidence that not only has he had the most important role on the war, and the decision to go to war but also on domestic policy.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)  As Joe says, he really does have a good sense of humor about himself.  He once said to me, I was shaving in the morning and listening to Don Imus talking about the pork chop.  And I was thinking, who is pork chop?  And I finally realized I am pork chop. 

MATTHEWS:  But do you think that corn ball stuff will work after all these years?  People seeing him as the tough guy?  I mean, last time he was able to warm up Joe Lieberman for the kill by making jokes about his singing ability and all those stupid things.  And Joe obligingly laughed at his jokes.  Does anyone here expect John Edwards to laugh and guffaw at what the vice president will say tonight, Ron?

REAGAN:  No, times are much more serious than they were four years ago.  It‘s really inappropriate for him to do too much of that.  Cheney, that is.  No...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it will work, Jon?

MEACHAM:  I don‘t think it will.  I think particularly given the president‘s performance last week, Cheney has to figure out a way to be serious but not overly solemn.  That is he has to signal...

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you.  Just from reading the cases of John Edwards.  What he does is he takes a very well respected doctor.  He doesn‘t knock the doctor.  He basically says well, you‘re a great man, a good man.  The nurses are sainted.  He always builds up his opponents, and then he says except for that one day when you blew it.  And we‘ve got to get justice for that one day you blew it.  And I‘m just asking, could he do that with Cheney tonight?  This war that you pushed with bad intelligence, bad number of troops.  As Bremer said the other day, not enough troops.  You blew it.  What happens to Cheney?  What does he do?  How does he come back? 

SCARBOROUGH:  And here‘s what‘s so ironic about this.  For the first two, three years, the Bush team tried, saying George Bush in control.  Dick Cheney is not the brains behind George Bush.  Dick Cheney is the supporting cast.  What we‘re going to see tonight, after George Bush‘s dismal performance, and all my conservatives, very angry that I actually came out and said that, what we‘re going to see tonight is living proof that Dick Cheney can speak for 90 minutes straight.  He‘s going to knock it out of the park.  I‘m going to predict it early on.  Because again, you say can he rise above this Darth Vader image?  Listen.  Anybody not angry—I know you‘ve talked to him—anybody that‘s talked to Dick Cheney one on one knows he‘s a very likable engaging guy.  It doesn‘t match up with this two-dimensional characteristic...

MATTHEWS:  Is he going to be more (UNINTELLIGIBLE), or more pay no attention to the man behind the curtain? 

SCARBOROUGH:  He‘s going to be a loyal vice president.  But at the same time, he‘s going to show Americans just how able he is. 

MITCHELL:  What he‘s going to do is he‘s going to go after John Kerry.  That is his mission tonight is to beat up on John Kerry because they feel...

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get the little guy. 

We all agree on that.  I‘ve been hearing that from everybody.  The target by Dick Cheney is the presidential nominee of the Democratic party John Kerry.  It is not John Edwards. 

MEACHAM:  Well, it‘s almost as if John Edwards is this very well coifed fly he want‘s to get rid of.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Joining me right now in this so-called spin room is Howard Wolfson.  He is senior adviser to the Democratic National Committee.  He‘s an MSNBC contributor.  Oh, we have MSNBC contributor Ben Ginsberg.  By the way I get you mixed up.  Ben of course was a lawyer with the Bush-Cheney campaign until very recently. 

Let‘s go to Howard, the new guy on the block.  Is your guy John Edwards ready to go after Halliburton tonight? 

HOWARD WOLFSON, DEMOCRATIC NATL. CMTE. SR. ADVISER:  Absolutely.  This is going to be a debate of clear contrasts.  We have John Edwards who has spent his whole life fighting for middle class families and Dick Cheney who has spent his whole life fighting on behalf of the special interests and special interests.  This is the debate that Dick Cheney wanted.  He wanted this sit-down style.  It is something he is used to.  But John Edwards will make him be held accountable for his record.  We‘re going to talk about Halliburton.  We‘re going to talk about failed energy policy.  We‘ll talk about a failed Iraq policy.  Dick Cheney is the architect of so many of this administration‘s failures.  Tonight he‘ll to have explain about them. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go right now to Ben.  Do you think that Cheney will come back like a ton of bricks to any charge of lackadaisical behavior with regard to his former role of CEO of Halliburton? 

BEN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN ELECTION ATTORNEY:  Yes.  Absolutely.  Because he has nothing to be ashamed of.  He did everything right and by the book.  He was a successful businessman.  You want to encourage people who have success in the private sector to serve in government.  The focus of this debate will be on the flip-flops of John Kerry and John Edwards.  It will a great contrast between the gravitas of Dick Cheney and the inexperience of John Edwards.  And I think the Cheney-Bush team is looking forward to the debate. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Howard, is your candidate capable of carrying on the same kind of offensive for an hour and a half that John Kerry did last Thursday night?

WOLFSON:  Absolutely.  John Edwards is absolutely ready for this.  And there‘s so much to go on the offensive over.  Just as you said in the past couple days, Paul Bremer has said that we didn‘t have enough troops on the ground in Iraq.  Dick Cheney will have to answer for that.  Dick Cheney said that we would be greeted in Iraq as liberators.  He‘ll to have answer for that.  He‘ll to have answer for a failed energy policy that he led that in four years, has doubled the price of gasoline.  He‘ll to have answer for that.  He‘ll have to answer for jobs lost and health care missing and the biggest deficit in American history.  All of this will be subject to the debate tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go right now to Ben.  Do you think that if candidate is treated like a lawyer for a major corporation, in other words, if John Edwards goes after him like his opponent in the courtroom and treats him like the man who is responsible for a malpractice, how will he respond? 

GINSBERG:  I think he‘ll respond by answering the issue instead of sort of the ad hominem—ad hominem personal charges.  That the question is sort of Howard‘s lead-ups suggest.  I mean, what Dick Cheney wants to talk about is the ability of the Bush administration to continue leading the country against terror attacks, to be able to improve the economy even more than it is now.  And to be able to handle the random that come, vs.  the flopping of the Kerry/Edwards platform and John Edwards‘ utter lack of experience in the areas that are of concern to the people in the country. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard, do you think that Ohio is the key state in this election? 

WOLFSON:  Well, Ohio is absolutely key.  It is one of a handful of key states in this election.  You know, Ohio has lost so many jobs under the Bush/Cheney administration.  And people from Ohio are going to be watching tonight.  They‘re going to want to know why, Bush/Cheney gave so much money to billionaires and so little money the middle class.  John Edwards and John Kerry have a plan to turn that around. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, great have, Howard.  Welcome to the show.  Please come back soon.  Greg Ginsberg, you too.  We‘ll be right back after this break.  I want to thank you both for giving us both sides.  When we come back we‘re going to get reaction from our panel.  And later, NBC‘s Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert will be joining us quite soon.  You‘re watching HARDBALL live coverage of the vice presidential debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DAN QUAYLE (R-IN), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  I have as much experience in Congress as Jack Kennedy when he sought the presidency.  I will be prepared to deal with the people in the Bush administration, should that unfortunately ever occur.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy.  I knew Jack Kennedy.  Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine.  Senator, you‘re no Jack Kennedy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s live coverage of vice presidential debate.  We‘re here in case Western Reserve University.  We‘re back with our panel. 

I‘m going to run through what I think are great shots.  I did this earlier tonight, I want to run it with this new panel.

If I were Dick Cheney tonight, what I would do.  First, tell me if you all agree.  I‘d hit him as a lawyer within five seconds, because half the country hates lawyers.  Would that work? 

Right off the bat. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, the country hates lawyers.

MITCHELL:  Actually, they have polling that shows that trial lawyers are not as unpopular as you think, because people tend to think that they help malpractice cases.  There‘s a certain amount of support.

MECHAM:  People like their lawyer.  They hate they other guys. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let me say as a trial lawyer, we‘re unpopular.  And what John said is so true.  It‘s just like Congressmen.  Everybody loves their own lawyer.  Everybody hates all the other lawyers. 

MITCHELL:  Do you know who is more unpopular than trial lawyers? 

GROUP:  Congressman.

MITCHELL:  Reporters, journalists. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I get them all reporters, Congressmen, lawyers, now I‘m going to be a used car salesman. 

MATTHEWS:  Second line of attack, he‘s going to do what he did to Joe Lieberman.  He‘s going to praise him vote for his authorization and hit him for voting against the $87 billion. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s going to kill him. 

MATTHEWS:  Third one, he‘s going to hit him probably for having the fourth most liberal voting record in the U.S. Senate. 

And fifth, Kerry‘s voting record.  He‘ll make Kerry‘s—him defend Kerry‘s most liberal voting record in the Senate.  He‘ll call him cute.  He‘ll say I don‘t have the hair. 

MEACHAM:  There‘ll be a hair joke.

MATTHEWS:  Will he do that?

MEACHAM:  There will definitely be a hair moment.

MATTHEWS:  A hair moment. 

MITCHELL:  And pretty. 

MATTHEWS:  And pretty.  The Breck Girls.  Breck vs. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(CROSSTALK)

He‘s attack lines I think Edwards—add yours to this potpourri.  Here‘s an Edwards attack line, Halliburton.  Do have we all agree that he‘s going to hit him for being CEO of a company that sells a lot of equipment, billions of dollars in contracts to the federal government and still benefits (UNINTELLIGIBLE). 

MEACHAM:  It will be more dignified than that.  It will be more dignified.  It will be John Kerry and I want to spend money to make the homeland security safe, not give big contracts to Halliburton. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  But let me just say, I think they‘re going to use Halliburton.  I think it is a big mistake and this is why.  The Bush campaign hope that Edwards spends his time attacking Dick Cheney.  Because Dick Cheney is going to ignore Edwards all night, and he‘s going to be bashing John Kerry.  The way the Bush campaign is looking at this, if John Edwards wants to attack the number two guy, that‘s great with us, because we‘re going after the guy at the top of the ticket.  Because that‘s all people are going to remember on November 2. 

MATTHEWS:  SO if they have too trade scar tissue from John—from the vice president for scar tissue from the presidential—Democratic—they‘ll be happy with that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s a dream scenario.  And let‘s face it, it is hard to put scar tissue on this vice president.  So, again, they‘re hoping—they‘re hoping that it becomes about Dick Cheney instead of George W. Bush. 

Again, that way they can bash John Kerry.  And just against

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) fine, Halliburton, fine.  Keep talking about Halliburton, but let me tell you about the guy that you want to be president of the United States. 

MEACHAM:  Remember the pressure... 

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘m saying that‘s what Dick Cheney will be saying. 

MEACHAM:  Remember the appreciate our John Edwards tonight.  I think this is very important.  The basic job description of the vice-presidential nominee for 44 years has been deliver your home state.  There‘s a new “Mason-Dixon” poll out last weekend, 52-43 Bush/Cheney over Kerry/Edward in North Carolina.   

MATTHEWS:  That after the debate.

MEACHAM:  So, Cheney‘s got to find—Edwards has got to find a way to justify himself.  I think, that will turn up the volume for him in the attacks on Cheney. 

MITCHELL:  I think, one of the things Cheney is doing tonight is playing clean-up—batting clean-up for George Bush.  Because they feel that George Bush did not go after John Kerry‘s Senate voting record, 20-year record enough.  So that‘s what, Cheney is supposed to do here. 

MATTHEWS:  John Edwards...

REAGAN:  I was going to say another tough thing for Edward is that he‘s got two competing aims here too.  He wants to be the attack dog to a certain degree and go after Cheney, but also, the measure he has to meet is, am I presidential? 

And so he has to be extra dignified while he does it.  And those three things don‘t...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I have to tell you, reading about his trials, he‘s very good at taking velvet gloved punches at his opponent in the court room.  He knows how to treat doctors with respect, even has he takes their money away from them. 

MEACHAM:  He‘s the male steel magnolia (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  Very, very good at setting up dialog. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about it.  Supposed Dick...

SCARBOROUGH:  Can I say one think really quickly about what Ron brings up.  I‘m no magnolia in me baby.  Ron brought up a great point, I talked to a top—Democratic donor in the lobby of the hotel before I came over here.  And do you know what he said that they were looking at John Edwards for tonight?  It is not about ‘04, they‘re saying ‘08.  They say, this is the ultimate test.  If for some reason we don‘t win, we‘re all looking at John Edwards.  We‘re seeing how he‘s going to perform tonight.  And it‘s presidential.  I know a lot of print journalists hate talking about these debates being judged on presidential or not pres—this is his coming out party, this is his test. 

MITCHELL:  That‘s one of the downfalls as far the Kerry campaign is concerned.  If Edwards is more concerned about being dignified and presidential and about his 2008 chances than being a pit bull for tonight, then that is not good for John Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s one way he could do that, and it may not help John Kerry.  If you read his speeches, if you‘re watching as we all have on the stump, he is very good at this two America speech.  He talks about the poor people that don‘t have health insurance and the rich people who have all they need.  He talks about people working for low wages and that sort of thing.  It is all true obviously.  It doesn‘t necessarily help John Kerry but it does give him a chance to portray himself as a gladiator for the little guy.  Do you think he‘ll do that tonight and ignore Dick Cheney to some extent, Joe?

Wouldn‘t you ignore Cheney and speak to the people?

SCARBOROUGH:  I would.  I personally would but I‘ll tell you he‘s on marching orders to go after Dick Cheney to talk about Halliburton, to talk about Iraq, to talk about George Bush, to talk about what Bremer said earlier, to talk about Donald Rumsfeld.  Bremer who basically is saying what Democrats have been saying all along.  He gives a speech in front of some executives and tells them that he thinks that we needed more troops in Iraq at the beginning of the war.  Well, that‘s what Democrats and a lot of Republicans have been saying.  Donald Rumsfeld, from the very beginning said we can win this war with less troops.  For Bremer to come out and say that right now, it is pure C.Y.A.  Talk about disloyal.  But for him to say that...

MATTHEWS:  ...said it was off the record which is like saying red meat to the press.  The minute you say off the record, great, we like it better. 

MITCHELL:  ...Those folks in the White House are just going crazy over this.  The Pentagon.  Because this is Jerry Bremer.  He was their guy.  And as Joe says, he‘s cleaning up his own record.  They‘re now saying that he didn‘t ask for more troops when he did. 

MATTHEWS:  I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) but wasn‘t he up for secretary of state?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  probably not doing well right now. 

MATTHEWS:  He was. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He isn‘t going to come close to it. 

MEACHAM:  Historically what‘s really, really important about tonight because I think this is the most important one of the—since the first one when you had Bob Dole and Walter Mondale which we forget, 1976 was an incredibly close race.  Ford stayed up all night, lost his voice.  They were waiting for the returns from Ohio and Hawaii.  What could come out of this is a visual image, some impression that in a very, very tight race which we obviously have after Miami, it could really move a couple of numbers here and all it takes is a couple of numbers...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there are points to be won or lost tonight?

MEACHAM:  I do.  Because I think Bob Dole lost Gerald Ford some points when he said Democrat wars. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I think there are points to be gained or lost.  I think it really breaks towards the Republicans‘ advantage, Cheney‘s advantage for this reason.  Before John Kerry‘s debate, he was down 65 to 35 percent in the internal talking about who do you trust to win the war on terror.  The top issue.  John Kerry has narrowed that gap.  I think tonight, Dick Cheney realizes, if that gap is widened up by anything he does tonight, that makes it tougher for John Kerry.  I think it can make a difference. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you the question.  I want each person to answer it because it‘s a tough one?  All right?  Who win a tie tonight?  Who does a tie benefit? 

MITCHELL:  Let me think about it.  That is a tough question. 

MATTHEWS:  Ron?

REAGAN:  Edwards.  If Edwards plays into a tie, he wins. 

MATTHEWS:  Because?

REAGAN:  Because he‘s the challenger.  And he‘s regarded as something of a lightweight.  If he can stand toe to toe with Cheney...

MATTHEWS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

REAGAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Jon?

MEACHAM:  Absolutely.  A tie benefits Edwards because Kerry has a clear win.  And a tie pushes things ahead.  And suddenly Edwards is a plausible president. 

SCARBOROUGH:  There‘s no doubt about it.  Edwards has been in politics six years.  Dick Cheney was White House chief of staff in what?  1975?

MEACHAM:  He was 12. 

SCARBOROUGH:  When he was 12.  So now a tie goes to Edwards, no doubt. 

MATTHEWS:  Will there ever be a moment tonight like there was last Thursday when Dick Cheney is at a loss for words?

SCARBOROUGH:  No.  Absolutely not.  It‘s not going to happen.

MATTHEWS:  Will there ever be a time tonight when young John Edwards  is?  When he is thrown back into his corner and he is unable to respond to the rhetoric, Jon?

MEACHAM:  He has made his living being able to talk immediately, honestly, quickly, to a jury for very high stakes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s not forget.  Remember the first “Meet The Press” moment when John Edwards went out there and just absolutely did a horrible job.  It was because he had only been in politics for five years at the time.  Let‘s not forget, this guy was a trial lawyer six years ago.  He does not have the experience, if he‘s asked a tough question, if he is thrown off, there is a possibility. 

MEACHAM:  I think if Republicans are counting on John Edwards to fold, I think it is a big mistake. 

MITCHELL:  I‘ll tell you one big difference between last week and this week is that both candidates for tonight have been really working hard at it.  Last week there‘s a clear indication that George Bush was lulled into a sense of false security by the kind of town meetings he goes to with preset groups.  Dick Cheney has been practicing all summer and one of his key coaches is his daughter Liz so this has been a family affair but they‘ve been working hard at it.

MATTHEWS:  Question of tactics.  Is Dick Cheney, who we all know and it has been pointed out again tonight can be quite witty, he is a witty guy.  Dark at times but witty.  If he drops one of those great towel snaps on the rear of John Edwards, a funny line will Edwards give the stone face or what? 

MITCHELL:  Edwards will crack up.  Edwards knows how to react to a jury.  Edwards will have the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  His big problem will be on the detail for substance of tough foreign policy issues.  But the tough side for Edwards is that Dick Cheney has to defend a war and the aftermath of the war and the absence of WMD.

MEACHAM:  I just disagree, respectfully.  Because what Edwards has done to make a living has been to master briefs.  And I think he will be—handle the details very well.  And think fast on his feet very well.  I think the question is going to be, when you look at these two guys, and let‘s say the president is out of town, who do you want responding in the first hours of a terrorist attack?  Do you want Cheney or do you want Edwards? 

MATTHEWS:  I also think if it comes down to an issue of Halliburton and the vice president‘s role there too, he will know more than John Edwards no matter how much of a briefing John Edwards got.  He will always have the advantage on the details and he‘ll be able to come back.  When we come back, we‘ll check in with NBC‘s Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert.  And don‘t forget, once the debate is over, we want to know what you think and who you think won.  Starting at 10:30 you‘ll be able to take part in our live vote on Hardball.MSNBC.com.  You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the vice presidential debate on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the vice presidential debate, now just about 30 minutes away. 

Let me ask the panel a question.  One of the things that people will be noticing tonight as they tune in at 9:00, when they tune in to watch this debate, those who haven‘t been talking to us, that is, is the fact that they‘re going to be sitting down.  Why do we have this discrepancy between presidential candidates standing up and the V.P. candidates sitting down? 

MITCHELL:  It was Jim Baker negotiating with Vernon Jordan on that with Dick Cheney.  Cheney likes to be sitting down.  And what you‘re going to see is a very different kind of atmosphere, because if you‘re sitting this close to someone, you can‘t get into a harsh attack.  You can use tough words, but it can‘t be really harsh. 

Also, the moderator, Gwen Ifill, will be sitting down.  And it changes the whole tone of the debate.

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  Yes. 

But, at the same time, when you‘re sitting this close to someone, it is very hard not to address them directly.  You may not be able to yell at them and be harsh, but you can go, say, listen, Mr. Cheney, etcetera, etcetera.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know, actually, we disprove these theories every night on HARDBALL.  So I don‘t know what you‘re talking about. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go right now to “NBC Nightly News” anchor, Tom Brokaw, and NBC Washington bureau chief and moderator of “Meet the Press,” Tim Russert. 

I didn‘t expect to ask this, Tom and Tim, but what do you think will be the significance of the sit-down affair, rather than the stand-up affair of last Thursday night? 

TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR:  Well, I think it probably works pretty well for Dick Cheney.  I think he is the more avuncular figure.  He is more comfortable in that.

Think back four years ago when a lot of Democrats thought that they had Dick Cheney on the ropes because of his congressional voting record.  That was going to be their big tool against him.  And then he came on against Joe Lieberman and demonstrated to the country what a lot of people in Washington had known for a long time.  He is a man who has an enormous command of the policies and the issues that are before the country, and not only an avuncular style, but a great use of language. 

His sentences are well modulated.  They have beginning, middles and ends to them.  And he makes his case very persuasively.  And, of course, he has had a lot of practice at it.  Tonight, he has got a tougher brief, because he is the one who has been out front, as we‘ve been saying all evening long, on the big issues of terrorism and Iraq.

And a lot of the claims that he has made at the beginning and the middle and even in the last few phases of this war simply have been disproven—Tim.

TIM RUSSERT, NBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  Tom, the Bush people pushed for the table, pushed for all the rules, the lights, the bells, the whistles.  And the Kerry campaign gave it all in order to get three presidential debates and a V.P. debate. 

They wanted Dick Cheney at the table because he is shorter.  He is stockier.  They didn‘t like the contrast with a lean John Edwards.  Edwards made his career standing in front of a courtroom.  He is used to that kind of a position.  Also, they liked the contrast, the Bush people, that Cheney will come across as the avuncular professor and Edwards as sort of the young acolyte. 

They may be surprised, because Edwards can be just as forceful at a table as he can be at a podium.  And I do think that both these candidates, even though these are in close proximity, are going to let loose tonight.  I truly do.  I think there‘s a lot of energy behind them.

I know, for example, the Kerry people are fully expecting Cheney to go after Kerry, as David Gregory reported on the news.  And someone very high up in the Kerry operation sent word to the Edwards operation, your guy‘s job is to defend John Kerry.  That‘s why he‘s on the ticket.  So look for a robust defense. 

BROKAW:  One of the things that will happen here tonight, Chris, is the games are already under way. 

Seated prominently in the audience tonight in Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland is Pat Leahy, who is the longtime Democratic senator from the state of Vermont who had the exchange on the floor with Vice President Cheney on the floor of the United States Senate in which the vice president used, I guess I can say this, the F-word to Pat Leahy, who has been a sharp critic of the vice president‘s connection to Halliburton.  So that game is already under way as well.

RUSSERT:  I wonder if Senator Leahy will be giving Dick Cheney hand signals. 

(LAUGHTER)

BROKAW:  I suspect not. 

RUSSERT:  I actually moderated a debate one time with Jeb Bush for governor of Florida, Tom.  And they took Barbara Bush and sat her right in front of the Republican—the Democratic candidate.  So every time he tried to attack Jeb, he is looking at white-haired Barbara Bush. 

BROKAW:  Going after the mother. 

RUSSERT:  A famous tactic and it works well.  It totally neutralizes him. 

BROKAW:  Yes—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Tom and Tim.

BROKAW:  Go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  The topic that got the vice president so upset to use foul language on the Senate floor was Halliburton.  Do you expect that John Edwards will bring it up tonight and stick it to the vice president? 

BROKAW:  I think he has to be a little careful about how he does it. 

But I‘m very confident that we‘re going to hear the word Halliburton again and again as part of the fabric of the charges against the administration, something along the lines of, Mr. Vice President, a company that you know something about, Halliburton, you used to be the president of it, it‘s ended up with all these contracts.  There was no bid process.  And we‘re so far behind on reconstruction in Iraq that no one can defend it.  I suspect not even you is very proud of your old company.  

(CROSSTALK)

RUSSERT:  And you‘re making millions of dollars in deferred income while you‘re vice—you can their whole thing. 

I‘m not sure that we are going to have to wait for John Edwards.  My sense is, Gwen Ifill, the moderator, may tee that question up.  But I have no doubt that Halliburton with a capital H will be cited over and over again.  One of the Kerry people said, are we going to hear Halliburton a lot?  They said, yes, probably as many times as Dick Cheney will invoke September 11. 

BROKAW:  One of the things I think on the cultural issues, because this is an open format tonight, as you know, Chris.  The vice president, who has acknowledged that he has a gay daughter, differs with the president on the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages in America. 

He believes, and he said this again in Iowa recently, that it should be left up to the states.  It will be interesting to see how he handles that.  And that may very well work very much to his advantage, because he can say, we‘re living with this in our family.  We talk about it constantly.  The president and I don‘t agree on everything.  This is not some kind of a robotic administration. 

I happen to disagree with him, but he‘s the president of the United States.  That would be a moment worth watching as well, because the Republicans continue to believe that gay marriage as a cultural issue is a real wedge issue for them, especially in their key battleground precincts in battleground states, like in southwestern Ohio, for example. 

RUSSERT:  Tom, you‘re exactly right. 

We‘ve been focusing a lot on Iraq and Halliburton.  But the social, cultural issues are very important, particularly in Ohio, in the southern part.  And this debate in Cleveland, I look for John Edwards to try to get this on the economy as quickly as he can.  Ohio has lost over 200,000 jobs in the last four years.  And George Bush only carried the state by 170,000 four years ago.  This is unlike last Thursday, where it was limited to foreign policy—domestic issues, jobs, tax cuts, all on the table tonight. 

BROKAW:  All right, Chris, that‘s the view from here before we get to the debate now in about 23 minutes. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Tom and Tim.  We‘ll check back with you after the debate. 

When we come back, we‘re going to hear from Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman.

You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s live coverage, very live, of the vice presidential debate on MSNBC.    

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Live coverage of the vice presidential debate, which is set to begin at the top of the hour. 

MSNBC‘s Chris Jansing joins us now for the so-called spin room with Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman—Chris.

CHRIS JANSING, NBC CORRESPONDENT:   Thanks very much, Chris. 

And I want to ask you, first, Ken, about what the vice president has to do tonight.  Traditional wisdom, President Bush got beaten.  All the polls said that did he in the first debate.  Do you need this win to regain momentum for the campaign? 

KEN MEHLMAN, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN MANAGER:  Well, I think what you‘ll hear from the vice president tonight is a discussion of what this president has done and will do to make sure our country is safe, to make sure our economy is strong, and to make sure we continue reforming government to meet these challenges. 

JANSING:  Does he need to articulate that because the president didn‘t do it well enough in the first debate?

MEHLMAN:  Well, I disagree with your characterization of the president.  I think he will articulate it.  The vice president will lay out our vision for making this a safer country and making sure that there‘s more prosperity here as well. 

JANSING:  No surprise where the Democrats think you‘re vulnerable.  Let‘s start with Halliburton.  It wouldn‘t be any surprise to anybody if John Edwards said, look, the vice president has taken millions of dollars from Halliburton, a company that‘s taken billions in the reconstruction of Iraq.  What does he say to that? 

MEHLMAN:  Well, first of all, it‘s totally inaccurate.  The vice president has a relationship with Halliburton that ended when he finished serving as its president.  He received deferred compensation, the way that a lot of CEOs do.  But let me tell you why we might hear Halliburton.

(CROSSTALK)

JANSING:  ... the average American, when they hear that since becoming vice president-elect, he has gotten $2 million from Halliburton?

MEHLMAN:  I think the average American is worried about health care, keeping our country safe and growing jobs.  That‘s why you‘re going to hear Halliburton.  Halliburton is their substitute for an agenda.  They don‘t want to talk about the fact that they‘ll impose government bureaucrats between doctors and patients. 

They don‘t want to talk about the billions and trillions in new taxes Senator Kerry has proposed as a candidate.  And they surely don‘t want to talk about the global test that will prevent Senator Kerry, were he president, from defending our country while threats gather.  And so what are they going to do?  They may bring up Halliburton.

JANSING:  They may want to talk about the war in Iraq as well.  The vice president has said that he was very much in favor of going into Iraq. 

MEHLMAN:  Absolutely.

JANSING:  He continues to defend it.  Paul Bremer now, who, of course, was the former U.S. representative there, said we didn‘t have enough troops.  We didn‘t do enough to squash the insurgency. 

What does the vice president say to that? 

MEHLMAN:  Well, I think the vice president says two things. 

First of all, the number of troops we have is the number of troops that the commanders on the ground told us we needed.  From day one, this president and vice president have believed that not politicians, but troops on the ground and commanders on the ground ought to decide how many troops we need. 

But, secondly, we welcome a debate on the war in Iraq.  The war in Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism.  And I look forward to Senator Edwards explaining why and he John Kerry were for the war, then against the war, against funding our troops in battle, why they‘ve been all over the place.  Why have they had 11 different positions on the central front in the war on terror? 

JANSING:  We‘re watching now.  And there you see Elizabeth Edwards. 

And we have seen the candidates come in.  We‘ve seen their wives come in. 

MEHLMAN:  Right. 

JANSING:  A lot has been made of the very different styles of these two men. 

MEHLMAN:  Very different.

JANSING:  The vice president can come across, yes, as serious and informed, but also as sometimes cold and aloof.  What are we going to see tonight? 

MEHLMAN:  I think you‘re going to the vice president in the same way we heard him four years ago, informed, somebody who is ready to step in, should he have to, to be our commander in chief if unfortunately that‘s necessary. 

(CROSSTALK)

JANSING:  ... debate.  Some people said it was almost too gentlemanly. 

Will this be a livelier debate? 

MEHLMAN:  Well, I think that the vice president is very good at expressing himself in a way that is gentlemanly, that is respectful, but sometimes humorous. 

That‘s what I think you‘re going to hear from him tonight.  It will be interesting to see what you hear from Senator Edwards, because I think you may be right.  We may hear a lot of attacks on Halliburton and not a lot of explanation of these higher taxes, of this global test before America defends itself.  It will be interesting to see how Senator Edwards defends his and Senator Kerry‘s pre-9/11 world view that says you let threats gather while America waits. 

JANSING:  Yes or no, most important debate potentially in vice presidential history? 

MEHLMAN:  Yes. 

JANSING:  Ken Mehlman.

MEHLMAN:  Thank you. 

JANSING:  Thank you very much. 

MEHLMAN:  Thanks a lot.

JANSING:  We appreciate it.  Campaign manager for Bush-Cheney ‘04 --

Chris, back to you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Chris Jansing.

We‘re back with our panel. 

And I guess—it is so interesting to watch the theatricality of people as they come in.  We saw Vernon Jordan there, who was the negotiator for the Democratic side, Elizabeth Edwards coming in, and Lynne Cheney, and then, of course, Pat Leahy standing there. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Pat Leahy was the U.S. senator, obviously a partisan Democrat, who walked up to vice president‘s chair in the Senate and raised the issue of Halliburton to him on the Senate floor.  I‘m not sure if that‘s within the protocol.  Is it, Andrea?

MITCHELL:  What really happened was that he said something that was friendly to Cheney after having blasted him.  And Cheney really got offended by the hypocrisy of it.  What‘s so funny is that Pat Leahy is one of the nicest guys around the Senate.  But it really rubbed Dick Cheney the wrong way.  And he popped off.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he might do that tonight, for the benefit of us all?

(LAUGHTER)

MITCHELL:  I would not expect it. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to see some spontaneous behavior.  If somebody questioned my ethics, I would yell. 

REAGAN:  You know, we were talking about the sitting-down aspect of this before.  And can‘t you imagine that the Republican negotiators said to the Democrat negotiators, listen, if you guys insist on standing up, we‘re going to rake you over the coals about how you‘re making a 70 some-odd-year-old guy with a pacemaker stand for 90 minutes just to satisfy your vanity and your need to wave your arms around. 

MATTHEWS:  How old is the vice president? 

Reagan How old is he? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Sixty-two. 

REAGAN:  Sixty-two? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  He‘s about three years older than me, mojo. 

REAGAN:  My mistake.  My mistake. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not that old.

REAGAN:  Well, he

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  He looks his age.

MEACHAM:  I don‘t think you should make age an issue in this campaign. 

REAGAN:  No.  No.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he is going to use—do you think he is going to use your dad‘s old line in a different context?  I won‘t use my opponent‘s youth and inexperience against him, but mean it? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he might do that?

REAGAN:  It‘s possible.

MEACHAM:  You know, one of the things that is sort of fascinating about the interest we have in this, not only for this horse race, you know, the vice presidency is what has given us Theodore Roosevelt. 

And of the last 12 presidents, five have been vice presidents. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MEACHAM:  So this is a pretty high percentage that the guy we‘re looking at with Edwards, no matter what happens this year, it may happen.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re just about 13 minutes away right now from the start of tonight‘s debate.  It‘s going to be a hot one.

When we come back, we‘ll get some final predictions from the panel about what to expect from Vice President Cheney, who seems to be what all the action is about right now, and Senator Edwards. 

HARDBALL‘s live coverage of vice presidential debate continues after this.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back in Cleveland, as you can see, with a lively crowd, raucous at times. 

At the top of the hour, Vice President Cheney and Senator Edwards will face off in their vice presidential debate, in just a couple of inside now.

We‘re back with the panel.  I want to make some—I love doing this to people.  You‘re all looking at me like I‘m about to pull out a machine gun here. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m going to ask you all, starting with you, Andrea, correspondent of foreign affairs, what will be the headline in the major papers tomorrow?  Will it be a foreign affairs issue or a domestic issue? 

MITCHELL:  I think it will be the war of foreign affairs, the lack of WMD, even though Edwards is going to try to turn it to the economy. 

MATTHEWS:  Ron? 

REAGAN:  I agree, Iraq and perhaps the difference between the rhetoric and the reality, the Republican rhetoric and what‘s happening on the ground. 

MEACHAM:  Edwards prosecutes Cheney on WMD and the case for war in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Malpractice? 

MEACHAM:  Malpractice. 

MATTHEWS:  Joe? 

SCARBOROUGH:  About the same.  It‘s going to be, Edwards goes after Cheney on Iraq, on, actually, the flip-flops of this administration, Bremer, Rumsfeld, and Cheney goes after Kerry, citing—saying that he‘s not up to the task of leading this war on terror. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think it‘s going to be in the tabs tomorrow, for example, the more conservative “New York Post,” nice try, John? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think that Cheney is going to come back and squash him like a bug? 

MITCHELL:  Well, I think what he‘s going to do is say, in a post-9/11 world, we can‘t have a guy who has been politics for six years and didn‘t even vote before he ran for the Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  So I will use, I will use my opponent‘s youth and inexperience against him? 

MITCHELL:  Absolutely.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, and Dick Cheney will also do again—he will do what George W. Bush didn‘t do last week.  He‘s going to talk about Kerry‘s record in the ‘90s on intelligence, the budget cuts, Kerry‘s record on spending and defense, the budget cuts, what Kerry said in 1998 when Bill Clinton wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, what Kerry said in 2001, 2002.  He‘s going to just keep coming after John Kerry. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Who is going to know more about John Kerry‘s Senate record, John Edwards or the vice president? 

SCARBOROUGH:  We‘ll watch and see.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, the vice president may know it better.

SCARBOROUGH:  Dick Cheney is going to know how to use it better.  And, also, he is going to use this whole sitting down thing.  He doesn‘t strike a Kennedyesque pose, but he‘s going to be able to use this sitting here thing.  He‘s going to be able to intimidate him without getting into his space. 

MEACHAM:  Senator, let me tell you, I understand. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  Senator, let me tell you, I understand. 

MEACHAM:  I was secretary of defense when we did this the last time. 

You were, what, 4? 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Not quite that direct, but he will say, he will say, I understand that you and Senator Kerry have some of the most liberal voting records in the United States history. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  But let me tell you what we‘re doing, blah, blah, blah. 

MEACHAM:  There‘s a great line between being avuncular and condescending.  And that is going to be Dick Cheney‘s trick.

MITCHELL:  Watch Edwards bring up Ohio‘s problems, job problems—there‘s a new unemployment number coming out on Friday—and stem cell research and some of the other domestic issues, where Democrats think they have got an advantage and tee up the Friday debate. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But Dick Cheney is going to say, you know, you keep talking about unemployment.  It‘s at 5.4 percent.  That‘s lower than what it was when Bill Clinton ran for reelection in 1996.  It‘s lower than the average in the ‘70s, the ‘80s, and ‘90s. 

I‘m not saying—I know there are a lot of people hurting out there.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘m just telling you, though, that is going to sell. 

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  ... the people here are hurting.  What you‘ve created are jobs that are not the low-wage jobs.  You‘ve created the high-end jobs.  And look at your tax cuts.

MEACHAM:  Not all of us, right.

MITCHELL:  Not all of us are in your kind of...

(CROSSTALK)

MEACHAM:  Have Halliburton stock options.

SCARBOROUGH:  And he‘s going to say, you know what? 

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  Although he is a multimillionaire. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  We survived 9/11.  We survived economic problems and it‘s still vibrant. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Ron Reagan.

REAGAN:  Wait for Edwards.  When Cheney says to him and reminds him about the voting against body armor for the troops line for Edwards to remind Cheney who actually sent those people over there without adequate body armor. 

MATTHEWS:  Whoa.

MEACHAM:  And you can play the—I think you can also play the experience card by playing biographical cards. 

I think Cheney will talk about, I was at the Pentagon when your running mate voted against throwing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.  I was in Congress when we did this.  I was in the—I was in the White House when we were attacked.  And so I think he will try to...

MATTHEWS:  Pull rank.

MEACHAM:  Pull rank, but he can do it biographically and make a case that‘s going to be the most important point about this debate, which is, who do you want sitting there?

MATTHEWS:  Will John Edwards play the class card? 

MEACHAM:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It won‘t work, though, against Dick Cheney.  Dick Cheney didn‘t exactly come from a Northeast liberal, elitist background.

But one other thing to key in on, alliances.  Dick Cheney is going to talk about how you don‘t build alliances—first of all, when we built this huge alliance in 1991, the guy you want to be president was against that alliance.  And now what‘s happened over the past three, four months, you‘re attacking our key ally, not only in Iraq.  You‘re also going after our allies across the globe.

MITCHELL:  And Kerry‘s mistake about globalize.  We‘re going to talk

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Global test, oh, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  Global test and about, you‘re not going to give a veto power.  You‘re not going to let the French decide whether we go to war. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right up there with the word sensitive. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me suggest a scenario. 

Remember all those great Spencer Tracy movies where—“Guess Who‘s Coming to Dinner?” where, at the end of the movie, Spencer Tracy becomes the judge and he rules?  How does young John Edwards fight that if Cheney simply decides that he‘s the umpire of this debate and he‘s going to decide who wins the debate by judging him in that very cerebral, deliberative way, well, the way I see it—you know how he does that, Joe—the way I see it, we have to look at the two issues here.  We have got two issues before us, two options.  You know how he does that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let me tell you—let me tell you how Washington works, Senator. 

He won‘t put it that way, but he will say, I‘ve been there.  I was there as a chief of staff.  I was there as a secretary of defense.  I was there in the whip.  I know how Congress works.  I was in the leadership in Congress.  You weren‘t.  You know, I‘ve been vice president.  I‘ve done all of these things.

And he‘ll politely figure out a way to say, let me tell you how it really works in Washington.  I understand you want to be elected vice president. 

MEACHAM:  Right.  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I understand you‘re excited, kid.

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  But let me tell you how Washington really works. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, it sounds like we‘re underestimating John Edwards and usually when people start talking like this, we‘re always wrong.

I think, though, Dick Cheney, though, has been underestimated by and large leading up to this moment, and he‘s going to use the setting, he‘s going to use John Kerry‘s record to get him through tonight. 

MEACHAM:  What we haven‘t talked about—and Edwards is a brilliant lawyer—the big chink in Cheney‘s armor is his insistence on the al Qaeda-Baghdad link.

MITCHELL:  And WMD.

MEACHAM:  And WMD and so Cheney—this isn‘t (INAUDIBLE)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MEACHAM:  ... is that Cheney has pressed the case that the world has

found out was not true.  And, in fact, the president, who has said

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But Gwen Ifill isn‘t going to rule on that.  And Cheney is not going to agree to that.  What happens if they just have a moot discussion, where Cheney says you‘re wrong? 

REAGAN:  Edwards reminds him that Rumsfeld just said today he‘s never seen any good evidence for an al Qaeda-Saddam link, Chris. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But then Rumsfeld said, I was misquoted. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Listen, this is all a wash.  And you know why?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... hall right now. 

We‘re outside.  And the weather is very nice out here, but it‘s going to be a lot hotter inside that hall.  We‘re watching them. 

Here they come.  I love this stuff.  Look at these guys.  They are shaking hands.  That wasn‘t in the rules.  Look at them.  They‘re sitting down.  We‘re going to be starting our clock here at 9:00 right any minute now, any second now.  There they are.  No smiles yet.  That‘s Gwen Ifill with her back to us.  She‘s the moderator, red ties all around, it looks like.  I guess that‘s burgundy, blue shirt on the challenger. 

Interesting.  There‘s Dick Cheney starting to write some notes down that he has thought about before.  They‘re both doing that.  You‘re not supposed to bring notes in.  But you bring memorized words in.  And you write them down immediately.  Look at these guys.  There they are with their memorized material, their five, six words. 

MEACHAM:  It‘s H-A-L-L-I-B-U...

MATTHEWS:  Halliburton. 

MITCHELL:  Maybe they have got notes written on their hands, arms. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What are they writing?  Look at these briefs. 

MEACHAM:  No WMD.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know what Dick Cheney is writing down right now?  All of the statements John Edwards said leading up to the war, talking about the imminent threat, talking about Saddam having weapons of mass destruction. 

MITCHELL:  He‘s really not writing anything, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  He‘s going to hammer that hard.

MITCHELL:  It‘s just a device to keep yourself busy. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  They‘re drawing pictures. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Expecting to also talk an awful lot about what John Edwards himself said leading up to the war. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sure Edwards is writing down, never forget this man is evil.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t let him smile you into a stupid position.  It‘s great theater.

Watch these guys do this.  Look, he‘s going to the second page, Dick Cheney.  He has got two pages of notes to write.  Great memory test here.  You know what I read in the book about Edwards, he never memorizes phrases.  That‘s what he said in his book, that he does notes so he can talk from his heart and be a bit awkward.  So he doesn‘t mind being awkward if it shows heart.  We‘ll see that tonight perhaps if he stumbles a bit, but he‘s heartfelt in his remarks, whereas I don‘t think anyone has ever accused Dick Cheney of being overly heartfelt, probably tough. 

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s so important, though.

George W. Bush, again, didn‘t turn in a great performance.  His numbers have gone down.  But in likability areas and who do you trust, he may have bumbled around some, but, actually, his numbers have gone up in a lot of areas that quite frankly surprised me. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you know how we‘re going to know tonight who won the election, if it happens tonight?  If the public in all the polling we get for the next couple days, especially the next couple hours, says that Dick Cheney was more likable than John Edwards.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do we all agree that‘s the end of the election?

SCARBOROUGH:  Katie, bar the door.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  John Edwards will be back in the courtroom in four or fives weeks.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... Miss Congeniality, it‘s over for

(CROSSTALK)

MEACHAM:  But don‘t you think—don‘t you think that, after Miami, and the wonderful thing about politics is that it‘s fallen to Dick Cheney to warm up the Bush-Cheney ticket? 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

MEACHAM:  Isn‘t that wonderful?

MATTHEWS:  Or Lynne Cheney warming up the family.  Just kidding.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll hear—I‘ll get an e-mail on that after—for that comment.

(LAUGHTER)

MITCHELL:  The one thing about Dick Cheney that they love, of course, in the Bush family is that Dick Cheney is the only vice president that we can remember who has absolutely no ambitions to be president. 

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  . holding that seat.

MATTHEWS:  Just never forget, he was in charge of the vice presidential selection committee for George W. Bush.  Dick Cheney was head of the commission that picked Dick Cheney.  That‘s good work.

It‘s 9:00 on the East Coast, and in just a moment, the vice presidential debate begins, with Vice President Dick Cheney and John Edwards from North Carolina, will begin here in Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, just about to begin.

You know, I have to say that they‘re still writing notes, and I can tell that there is a lot of prepared material.  These guys are heavily briefed.  I looked, I think John Edwards has still got his head down.  I think Cheney‘s finished his SAT.

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  . debaters‘ technique that Kerry used very well.  You write notes, you look busy and serious, and you‘re not looking around vacantly, and it‘s a great way to look on camera.

MATTHEWS:  You know who locked in on that, the first guy?  John Kennedy.  He came out there, sat down, very calmly, at his little schoolboy‘s table, like you have it when you take SATs exams, and he was just writing things down.  It was devastating.  Nixon scared to death.  What‘s coming at me?

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  . somebody else is talking and you‘re writing is, I noticed a mistake there.  You‘re writing it down now.

MEACHAM:  One of the - we reported in the magazine this week that people offstage could hear Bush‘s sharpie pens, he was so angry in writing.

MATTHEWS:  Do you have to bring No. 2 pencils to this desk?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with the actual coverage of this debate.

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

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