updated 10/6/2004 4:45:05 PM ET 2004-10-06T20:45:05

Guest: Ben Ginsberg, Mike Barnicle, Melinda Hennenberger

JOE SCARBOROUGH, CO-HOST:  Welcome back.  More of MSNBC‘s continuing coverage of the debate between Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards. 

Now, who got the upper hand tonight?  Our all-star panel has got a lot more to say on that. 

I‘m Joe Scarborough. 

RON REAGAN, CO-HOST:  And I‘m Ron Reagan.  We‘re here in Cleveland at Case Western Reserve University, the site of tonight‘s debate. 

Elections less than a half a month away.  Will the heated exchanges between the vice president and the man who wants his job have any impact on the battle for the White House?

Let‘s ask our panel.  We‘ve got “Newsweek” contributing editor Melinda Henneberger; Mike Barnicle from the “Boston Herald”; and Republican election attorney Ben Ginsberg. 

Ben, will any of this matter in a day or two?

BEN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN ELECTION ATTORNEY:  I think once the presidential debate occurs Friday, no, it probably won‘t mater so much other than the attitude that the president will be able to take into the—the debate. 

Republicans and the ticket got a huge boost tonight from sort of the perceptions and how they changed, the narrowing of the gap that occurred a little bit after last week‘s debate. 

This showed that you can‘t really erase a John Kerry 30-year record with a 90-minute debate performance.  So the Bush-Cheney ticket and Republicans generally feel a lot better about things after tonight. 

REAGAN:  Mike, we‘ve seen a few polls coming out already inevitably, some of which we simply discarded. 

MIKE BARNICLE, “THE BOSTON HERALD”:  CBS News. 

REAGAN:  CBS News, exactly. 

BARNICLE:  And the drunken people who called in on this poll. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Basically, everybody that said that Edwards won, I‘ve thrown it out. 

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But I‘m very down the middle. 

REAGAN:  But it‘s interesting.  There are a lot of people saying that Edwards has won.  Does it have something to do, maybe, with people just kind of not liking Dick Cheney?

BARNICLE:  I think probably people who voted for Edwards probably don‘t like Dick Cheney.  I think that‘s a safe assumption. 

But I also think—look, Edwards makes a terrific appearance.  And you know, if it‘s the last thing that people remember in the debate this evening, the last thing that John Edwards said.  The closing was very powerful, very personable.  I think a lot of people can identify with some of the things he said. 

And again, it‘s like, you know, Dick Cheney in a way, although he‘s very skillful and he‘s very well prepared, he does probably remind a lot of people in this country of the guy who sits across the desk and says, “No, you‘re not getting that loan.  I‘m sorry.  You don‘t have enough equity.  Work harder.  Come back tomorrow.”

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I want to play a clip of Edwards going after Cheney‘s relationship with Halliburton.  It was a tough moment.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  These are the facts. 

The facts are, the vice president‘s company that he was CEO of, that did business with sworn enemies of the United States, paid millions of dollars in fines, for providing false financial information.  It‘s under investigation for bribing foreign officials, the same company that got a $7.5 billion no bid contract. 

The rule is, that part of their money is supposed to be withheld when they‘re under investigation, as they are now, for having overcharged the American taxpayer.  But they‘re getting every dime of their money. 

I‘m happy to let voters make their own decision about this. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Melinda, did he draw blood on that?

MELINDA HENNEBERGER, “NEWSWEEK”:  That‘s a line from his stump speech.  I wasn‘t shocked by the pact that he used it, but I didn‘t think that was one of the better moments of the debate. 

I, though, did not think that Cheney did the ticket any good tonight.  In fact, I think if there‘s any damage—one damaging thing that comes out of it that will be remembered, it will be his strange insistence that he never drew the line between Iraq and 9/11. 

I mean, I didn‘t hear Edwards making any statement quite that unsupportable. 

I also thought, you know, Edwards put healthcare on the table, and when Cheney—it wasn‘t Edwards‘ best performance, I have to say.  But when Cheney said, “I‘ve never seen you before,” or whatever his line was, I thought he just seemed nasty.

And now that it turns out not to even be true, and it just kind of made you wonder, “Well, Dick, maybe you should get out more,” you know? 

REAGAN:  Ben, even our—even our College Republican down here at the rope line when I asked him about that 9/11, you know, connection to Saddam comment kind of shook his head and said, “Yes, that was a little, you know, that was a little strange.” 

GINSBERG:  Yes.  I mean, who knows what happens under the bright lights when you get asked a question like that?   There were, in fact, references in the Senate Intelligence Committee report to links between—between the groups.  It was a moment that may or may not get—get replayed. 

I think that probably doesn‘t really stand the overall test of making it past Friday, either. 

REAGAN:  What happens—one more question for you—if tomorrow and the next day, more polls come out and they‘re somewhat larger polls, and still the public seems to think that Edwards has won the debate, what will that do to the Republican talking points in the spin room?

GINSBERG:  I mean, I ultimately think very little.  Friday night is going to be about the presidential debate. 

Going into that debate, it‘s really going to be sort of the experience and the gravitas factor, which no matter how individuals may look at what happened tonight, I think the overwhelming sense, certainly amongst the people in the room and certainly all the reporters watching it, was that Dick Cheney was a farm more serious individual in tough times, whether you like him or not, to lead this country than John Edwards, who wasn‘t quite ready for prime time yet. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And you know, Ron, the important thing about the debates, the presidential debate last time is, this is going to be a turn out election.  It‘s going to be about each party trying to get their base out. 

Last week John Kerry gave the Democratic base a reason to get excited about the ticket again and start that turnout machine churning.  Tonight Dick Cheney did the same thing. 

I don‘t really think they care what undecided voters said to CBS News.  I don‘t think they care what the polls say tomorrow. 

These Republicans saw Dick Cheney tonight.  They‘re excited; they think he did—they think he did a pretty good job. 

And I think it is, Mike Barnicle, it‘s going to be an election in the end, very close.  It‘s going to be about turnout in states like Florida, in states like Ohio, in states like Missouri, in these swing states. 

Which one of these guys appeals better to a voter in a swing state?  Now, you‘re from Massachusetts, but at the same time, you‘ve got—you‘ve got, you know, sort of the common man‘s columnist.  Who appeals to that guy?

BARNICLE:  Well, before we get there, I tell you, off of what you said, Ben, and off of the point that you raised, the annoying thing about—one of the annoying things about American politics today is that off of every bit of evidence that you read in the newspapers, that‘s been gathered by the 9/11 Commission, by other commissions, that‘s been stated by Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a way by Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld, would lead one to believe that Vice President Cheney was wrong this evening when he indicated that there was still a link between al Qaeda and September 11 and Iraq.  There was still a triangle there. 

The annoying thing about politics is, that it‘s really—sure, it‘s up to us in the media to point that out and to continue talking about it and writing about it.  But John Edwards was there tonight, and he should have taken it on, I think, more than he did.  And I don‘t know why they don‘t do that. 

They put it in a commercial.

SCARBOROUGH:  I...

BARNICLE:  They put it in a 30-second commercial.  It‘s bogus.

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s so funny that you say that, because after I came out last week and said John Kerry had clearly won the debate last week, conservatives jumped on me.  Just like Democrats jumped on me when I said in Boston that Kerry rushed his speech.  I got booed at the time.

But what was so amazing is conservatives.  I listened to the conservative talk radio host the next day, because I heard they were going to bash me.  And I listened, they were...

HENNEBERGER:  Who would want to do that?

REAGAN:  I love it.  I love it.

BARNICLE:  Who would want to do that?  Yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  I got the knife and would dance around the radio (ph), smoke.  And listen, this is where they...

BARNICLE:  This is where they rake Daddy over the coals. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But they‘d all say this.  It would be like, “How could Scarborough say that John Kerry won the debate when, you know, we know he flip-flopped on this issue.  And we know he flip-flopped on that issue.  And Scarborough should have known this.  And Scarborough should have known that.” 

And at the end of it, I said the same thing that you said, which was this: “If that‘s the case, why didn‘t George Bush make it during the debate?”

BARNICLE:  Yes.  Why do we—why do we end up, the voting public, never mind, you know, that we type for a living, the voting public, why do we end up having to watch this dialogue played out in these insipid 30-second commercials, when these two guys were there tonight, when Kerry and the president were together on the stage?

What are these rules all about?  Drop the rules, and let‘s go at it and get to—is Dick Cheney lying to us or isn‘t he?  John Edwards, ask him.  Ask him the question. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Melinda, I‘ve got to ask you this question.  I don‘t want to be harsh to you.  After all, it‘s cold, and we need to come together. 

HENNEBERGER:  I‘ll have to get my family to come on.

SCARBOROUGH:  Call your family when we ask you a tough question. 

REAGAN:  Gather around. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But you and Liz—Liz was here, Liz Morenas (ph), last hour with you. 

HENNEBERGER:  And you‘re going to say that‘s a woman thing. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No, I‘m not.  I‘m just going to say, you, too—please, don‘t be so presumptuous.  Can‘t we just have a dialogue without you stereotyping me as a flyover space sort of redneck guy?

But you two are two of the only people I‘ve heard thus far that said that Dick Cheney lost the debate.  Could it be a woman thing?

Seriously, it is so different from everything we have heard tonight.  I‘m just curious, what debate were you looking at and what debate was I looking at? 

And I‘m not saying that in an insulting way.  I just don‘t know how two people that follow this stuff so closely could come away with two different opinions?

HENNEBERGER:  You know, when you have the opinion, you never think it‘s because of a fill in the blank thing.

SCARBOROUGH:  Right.

HENNEBERGER:  So I don‘t know that I can answer that question. 

But I just thought, if anything, it was a draw, because I heard from the very first opening statement, “You‘ve misled the country.”

“Did not, you did.”

“Did, too.”

I‘m not sure, because for the swing voter, I‘m not sure it did much for those people, anyway. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.

HENNEBERGER:  And I—I thought that Edwards just came across as the more caring person, the guy who was really—kept coming back again and again to jobs and to health care. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And the guy you‘d want to hug, the nice, sweet—Mike is laughing right now about wanting to hug the guy.

BARNICLE:  It is cold. 

SCARBOROUGH:  We‘re going to talk about—Mike is cold.  But we‘re going to talk about it in the segment.  You want to know what swing voters were thinking tonight?  They were thinking, “I wonder if the Yankees are going to catch up with the Twins?” 

I think swing voters were watching baseball tonight. 

HENNEBERGER:  I—I called my husband after the debate and said, “What did you think?”

And he: “I watched the Yankees.” 

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly.  He‘s a swing voter, I‘m sure. 

Still ahead, more on the battle of Cleveland and your phone calls.  If you have a question or comment, Mike Barnicle wants to answer it for you.  He‘s MSNBC‘s Dr. Phil.  Our number is 888-MSNBC-USA. 

AFTER HOURS will be right back, live from Case Western Reserve University. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REAGAN:  OK.  You‘ve got just a few seconds to run to the frig and grab a cold one or a hot one, whatever.  And we‘ll be back with more of AFTER HOURS in just a moment. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Welcome back to our—welcome back.  We‘re going to go to our panel, but first Mike Barnicle has asked that we have a 10-minute moment of silence for Rodney Dangerfield.  Let‘s begin. 

They stopped the music, I can‘t believe that.  Time for Rod.  Can I hold them for 10 minutes?  I bet I could. 

BARNICLE:  Finally Rodney gets some respect.

SCARBOROUGH:  Finally, Rodney gets some respect, because of you, Barnicle. 

Anyway, we‘ve got “Newsweek” contributing editor Melinda Henneberger.  We‘ve got Mike Barnicle from the “Boston Herald.”  We‘ve got Republican election attorney Ben Ginsberg. 

Now let‘s go to NBC‘s Brian Williams, who watched the debate closely tonight.  And he‘s going to determine whether Senator—the Senator and the vice president were completely on the up and up. 

Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  So much was said tonight, how do you separate facts from assertions, gray areas, things like did the two men meet? 

We have narrowed down some of the these subject matters, and you‘re right.  We watched tonight with our own experts by our side, checking these facts as they came out. 

And the first exchange we‘re going to show you came during the second round of questions.  What you‘re about to see is Vice President Dick Cheney, who Senator Edwards charged tonight, has repeatedly linked Iraq to the 9/11 attacks. 

This was the vice president tonight in his own defense. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY ®, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If—the Senator has got his facts wrong.  I have not suggested there‘s a connection between Iraq and the 9/11. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  But here is the vice president on “MEET THE PRESS” one year ago, September 14, 2003.  He was asked to define success in Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  We will struck a major blow, right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists, who have had us under assault now for many years but most especially on 9/11. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  So Vice President Cheney from tonight‘s debate and from “MEET THE PRESS” just over a year ago. 

Later in the debate, the subject of Halliburton came up, the huge contracting firm formally headed by Vice President Cheney.  They‘ve received, as you know, hundreds of millions in federal funds for work they have performed in Iraq.

And along came the following charge from Senator Edwards tonight, regarding just how Halliburton was awarded a lucrative contract to perform work in Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARDS:  We also thought it was wrong to have a $20 billion fund out of which $7.5 billion was going to go toward a no-bid contract for Halliburton, the vice president‘s former company.  It was wrong then; it‘s wrong now. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Now, those words right there, no-bid contract was the charge, and Senator Edwards used that same phrase, as you heard, many times tonight. 

The truth is, more like nobody else could bid on that contract, because nobody else could do that exact work.  According to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, Halliburton in this case was the only company able to be, quote, “in a position to provide the services within the required time,” given the urgency of the need on the ground in Iraq.” 

And an area where facts can be used either way tonight, the vice president and Senator Edwards used the same figure differently, and both may be correct at the same time.  It has to do with who bears the burden of the casualties in Iraq. 

This was Senator Edwards‘ argument.  He says the U.S. has borne 90 percent of the casualties.  That figure only refers to coalition forces. 

The vice president says that isn‘t the case, because he factors in casualties among Iraqi forces.  He took a dig, as you heard, at Senator Edwards for not including the native Iraqis in his figuring.  The difference here merely how each man uses the available statistics from Iraq. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

REAGAN:  That was Brian Williams from NBC, fact checking as always. 

You know, what struck me is that, preparation-wise, when Dick Cheney said, “I never said that about 9/11 and Iraq,” that John Edwards didn‘t have that “MEET THE PRESS” quote ready to go. 

HENNEBERGER:  Right. 

REAGAN:  “Excuse me, Mr. Vice President, but on such and such a date here‘s exactly what you said.”

HENNEBERGER:  Right.

REAGAN:  Why didn‘t he—Why wasn‘t he ready to go with that?

HENNEBERGER:  And I thought there were a few moments like that in the debate, where I do think that Cheney gave him huge openings to go through. 

Another one was on Cheney saying he was so sorry about how much more divided the country had become.  Huge opening for Edwards to talk about the culture wars, to talk about how we haven‘t stayed together as a country after 9/11, you know.

Another place that I did think he fell down was when they were talking about the heartbeat away from the presidency question.  You know, Edwards, to his credit, talked about John Kerry at every opportunity, but that was a moment for him to say, “Here‘s why you can trust me in this position.”  And he really didn‘t do that. 

REAGAN:  It struck me with a lot of this fact checking, not just in this debate but the previous one, too, that on the one hand you‘ll have somebody, you know, Kerry maybe talking about the $200 billion in Iraq, or—where it‘s a debatable thing. 

You could say, “Well, it was kind of an exaggeration,” and yet on the other side you have something like this 9/11 moment where it‘s just flat out wrong. 

Is there—should we be making that distinction?  Should we be making that distinction?

BARNICLE:  I think, you know, the Republicans ought to be sending an extended thank you note to Jim Baker, who really got the best of, you know, Vernon Jordan in the negotiations for these debates, because the rules preclude educational moments like that, like we‘re talking about. 

I mean, how do you combat what the vice president said tonight about the link between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein in 30 seconds?  You cannot do it.  Or 90 seconds. 

And it‘s such a vital issue.  It‘s such—it‘s such—it goes to the core of the largest issue in this country and this election.  The war in Iraq and the anxiety that I think so many people feel about it. 

There are 38 deaths from just Ohio in the war, one yesterday.  And a 38-year-old national guard guy from Marietta, Ohio, down by Cincinnati. 

You don‘t get the ability to talk about these things, to bring these issues, that issue specifically, home in human terms in 30- and 90-second bites.  It‘s tailored for the well-prepared candidate.  It‘s tailored for a Dick Cheney, as it was this evening.

And I agree with you.  How John Edwards, who is a skillful guy, a smart guy, can show up with seemingly nothing in his pocket to throw back at Cheney, when these things come up, is kind of mystifying. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Can I ask...

GINSBERG:  Go ahead.  Of course you can. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Just for the record, Ben, because there are a lot of people out there that are going to be saying, “Well, you know, Steven Hayes (ph) with ‘The Weekly Standard‘ wrote an entire book talking about Iraq-al Qaeda connection.  There are other people out there who have read it, of course.

There was a leaked memo from Department of Defense that had about 50 different specific links between Iraq and al Qaeda. 

We‘re all sitting here again making the presumption, because I think most of the chattering classes have concluded that there‘s not a link between Iraq and al Qaeda.  Of course, the 9/11 Commission came down with the belief that there‘s no connection between Iraq and at least 9/11. 

I want you to give the dissent here tonight.  Talk about what Steven Hayes (ph) and other people who actually believe there is a link between the two, what they‘ve been saying over the past several months?

GINSBERG:  Well, what they‘ve been saying is that there are, indeed, contacts that took place between the various organizations.  And while you obviously don‘t know the details of those contacts, there certainly could have been, through both sort of intuition and deductive reasoning, the sorts of contacts that—that allowed that statement to be true. 

You also had at least some evidence in the Senate Intelligence Committee report that came out in July that suggested those contacts. 

Lee Hamilton made a couple of comments in the course of the September 11 Commission report that would suggest that that‘s not a completely out to lunch comment that the vice president made. 

And again, I mean, I think one of the things that this debate will do is have other discussions about the subject, so that this is not all of a sudden a dead issue for the rest of this campaign.  It‘s likely something that will be talked about more and brought up more. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Ron, Democrats have just been driven crazy by this perception in America over the past several years that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. 

REAGAN:  Seventy percent at one point. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I remember the “Washington”...

REAGAN:  Now it‘s down to 40or something. 

SCARBOROUGH:  There was that “Washington Post” poll where they asked Americans, “Do you think Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11?”  And an overwhelming majority of Americans think that. 

And I think that when you start talking about...

REAGAN:  Thought that.  They don‘t...

SCARBOROUGH:  Thought that.  It sounded like you said about 40 to 45 percent. 

But I still think on some gut level, and I‘ve believed this for a very long time, that unlike Vietnam, Americans don‘t believe we can retreat from Iraq. 

Whether they think the president made the right choice or not, I think most Americans have decided, “OK, we‘re going to have neighbors that are going to die in this war.  We‘re going to be stuck in Iraq for a very long time.  This isn‘t like Bosnia; it‘s not like Kosovo.  We can‘t just choose to come home.  Our neck‘s on the line.”

REAGAN:  It‘s a catch-22. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Are you—are you hearing that also from, again, Democrats, from friends that—that are supporting John Kerry, that are basically saying, “You know what?  We‘re stuck there, whether we like it or not”? 

REAGAN:  Yes.  Most of the Democrats I talk to will—would agree with this.  It‘s this catch-22 that we have, where we can‘t leave, because there would be a civil war.  But the longer we stay, the angrier Iraqis become and the more violent, inevitably, it will become. 

What do you do under those circumstances?  Can‘t leave, can‘t stay?

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know what, the more—also the more Americans that die, and I support this war.  But if I think this war is wrong, and I would say this to John Kerry. 

BARNICLE:  Why do you support the war?

SCARBOROUGH:  I support the war because I‘ve always believed from the very beginning that, just like Dick Cheney said tonight—I think it‘s a powerful line—that democracy is the best way to stop terror.

I believe that there has been an international terror network.  It was in Afghanistan.  It was in Sudan, and it moves across the Middle East. 

I personally believe the epicenter of that—that terror network is in Teheran.  It started there in 1979. 

But I believe, though, with Afghanistan, I believe we needed to do it and I believe in Iraq.  We needed also to go in there. 

BARNICLE:  But Joe, do you support the way this war is being managed, the way it‘s been run?

SCARBOROUGH:  No, absolutely not.  I would—I supported the war.  I thought they had a great game plan going in there. 

I think afterwards, though, they made some very critical mistakes.  And I think most people are saying this now.

But you don‘t go into a country and say, “We‘re going to liberate you from the chaos of Saddam Hussein,” and then stand by and allow widespread looting in the first 48 hours, first 72 hours. 

And those—I‘ll tell you what.  Were I president of the United States, and it‘s easy to play Monday morning quarterback, but with all that I know now, I would tell them, “You know what?  If people break into other people‘s homes, you fire a warning shot.  And then you put one between their eyes.” 

We—we have not been tough enough over there.  We‘ve turned Fallujah over to the terrorists and thugs.  What‘s that?

BARNICLE:  I think you are just where the country is at.  I think a lot of people have this anxiety about the war.  Know we can‘t cut and run and leaf from Iraq, but they‘re thinking, “What a mess.  What mismanaged war.” 

SCARBOROUGH:  Why do you turn Fallujah over to terrorists?  Why do you turn Fallujah over to thugs?  Why do you say, you know what?

REAGAN:  Because you don‘t want a big body count right before the election. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You don‘t want a big body count.  But I‘ll tell you what, though.  It is—it is a horribly flawed concept. 

They should have gone into Fallujah.  They should have leveled it if they had to level it.  I mean, they are allowing these terrorists to continue to breed and grow inside of Fallujah, and it‘s young Americans that are getting their heads cut off because of it. 

BARNICLE:  What‘s up with the Democrat—excuse me.  Go ahead. 

HENNEBERGER:  I was just going to say that Cheney wanted to make it, as Bush did, about whether or not the world is safer with Saddam in jail, but that‘s not really the question. 

The question isn‘t even whether he was a threat on some level but whether it was the top priority threat?  I mean, whether with everything else going on, what you just said about Iran, about North Korea, about so many places that we have threats, whether that should have been the top priority. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  And let‘s talk about this a little bit more afterwards and talk about how Kerry and Edwards have been handling it.  They‘re talking in my ear right now saying I‘ve got to go. 

BARNICLE:  Well, one quick point.  If you were president, Joe, would you still do “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”?

SCARBOROUGH:  Of course.  Of course.  You know what?  They‘ve got a TV studio, I understand, in the White House.  I could very easily do it.  While I was ordering the missiles to be flown over Fallujah. 

REAGAN:  And do it the same way. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Do it the same way, with a smile on my face, baby. 

Listen, we‘ll be right back.  We‘ve got a lot more AFTER HOURS to come from Cleveland, Ohio, with continuing coverage of tonight‘s heated showdown between Vice President Dick Cheney and Senator John Edwards. 

We‘ll be right back.

REAGAN: Whoa!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  You‘re watching AFTER HOURS live from Cleveland.

We‘ll be hearing from you next, taking your phone calls and e-mails.

But first, let‘s get the latest headlines from the MSNBC news desk.

BILL FITZGERALD, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hello.

I‘m Bill Fitzgerald with the headlines. 

Comedian Rodney Dangerfield has died.  His publicist says he suffered complications from heart surgery at UCLA Medical Center in August.  Dangerfield rose to stardom with the catchphrase “I don‘t get no respect.”  He was 82 years old.

The prosecution rested its case in Scott Peterson‘s murder trial.  It comes during the 19th week of testimony.  The defense begins presenting its case next Tuesday. 

U.S. health officials are warning of a major flu vaccine shortage after Britain abruptly shut down Chiron, the drug company that makes half the U.S. flu vaccine supply.  British regulators cited problems with the manufacturing process.  U.S. officials say most healthy adults should skip flu shots so the elderly and others most at risk from the flu can get scarce supplies.

And Mount Saint Helens released a spectacular cloud of steam and ash Tuesday morning.  It was the largest in a series of eruptions that began last Friday.  Scientists say more eruptions are possible.

Now back to the debate AFTER HOURS.

SCARBOROUGH:  Welcome back to what feels like Lambeau Field, the Ice Bowl.  Well, what year was that, Barnicle?  1960...

MIKE BARNICLE, “THE BOSTON HERALD”:  ‘65. 

SCARBOROUGH:  ‘64 or ‘65.

Anyway...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That was Lambert Field, wasn‘t it? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Lambert Field. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Lambert Field.

SCARBOROUGH:  I thought it was Lambeau.  Who called it Lambert?  Oh, Kerry called it Lambert Field. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He was in the pits with Jack Lambert. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

REAGAN:  He was in Pittsburgh with Jack Lambert (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  And then he talked about a personal friend of mine, Bruce Springsteen. 

Anyway, our panel is staying up late tonight.  We‘ve got “Newsweek” contributing editor Melinda Hennenberger, Mike Barnicle from the “Boston Herald” and Republican election attorney Ben Ginsberg. 

Now, on the issue of gay marriage, Ron, there was an awesome exchange. 

RON REAGAN, HOST:  An exchange there.  Yes.  John Edwards began with some kind words for the vice president. 

Here they are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think the vice president and his wife love their daughter.  I think they love her very much.  And you can‘t have anything but respect for the fact that they‘re willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter.  The fact that they embrace her is a wonderful thing.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Let me simply thank the senator for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter.  I appreciate that very much. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s all he said.  Here we‘ve got, you know, we have Edwards going on for five, six minutes on gay marriage—well, I believe this but we don‘t want that and dadadadada.  And Cheney‘s like thank you very much, you know?  Thanks for the nice things you said about my daughter, you know? 

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  A strange issue for both sides, though, isn‘t it? 

SCARBOROUGH:  It really is.  And it‘s a strange issue because George Bush, though he‘s always, people always say that he‘s embraced by the religious right, there‘s sort of this awkward dance that‘s always going on between them.  George Bush has always wanted to be the uniter, not the divider, the compassionate conservative.  You never see him, you know, going and hugging Jerry Falwell.  Karl Rove doesn‘t want that to happen.  Sop this is a tough, tough issue for him. 

You know, this gay marriage amendment, Ben, he went out there earlier this year and he said I support the gay marriage amendment, banning gay marriage.  But his heart really wasn‘t in it.  I mean it was very obvious.  He let that die very quickly.   BEN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN ELECTION ATTORNEY:  Yes, it‘s not been pushed as a legislative priority. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Why is that? 

GINSBERG:  Well, because I think that there‘s a lot more on the platter that needs to be dealt with.  I mean when you are at war then sometimes social issues fade to the background.  You haven‘t seen abort on the...

SCARBOROUGH:  But wait, wait.  What‘s he doing that as a payoff to the religious right? 

REAGAN:  Oh, no.

GINSBERG:  Oh, I think it‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Wait, wait, well, hold up.  Hold up.  Barnicle...

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  Come on. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Was it a payoff to the religious right? 

GINSBERG:  Sometimes you need to cultivate your base garden there. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And that‘s what he was doing? 

GINSBERG:  Yes.

REAGAN:  But is pandering to homophobia really the way to do that?  I mean, you know where I‘m coming from on this.  I just found the whole thing really...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, that wasn‘t a leading question. 

REAGAN:  And frankly—no, well, listen, I‘m not proud of the Democrats either, you know, on this issue.  I wish somebody had the guts to come out and say you know what, if two people love each other they can get married.  It is none of the government‘s business.  How about that? 

GINSBERG:  Yes, I mean John Kerry, John Kerry has the problem of being from Massachusetts, which is the state that is the avant garde, as is Mike Barnicle—sorry, Mike. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Mike‘s avant garde.

GINSBERG:  And that‘s—but John Kerry has really been paralyzed by taking any sort of a forthright stand on it, as well.

REAGAN:  I agree. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Mike, I‘m glad that Ron brought up that you were from Massachusetts because it brings up an interesting point.  You know, when I went up to Massachusetts, I thought Boston was going to be a very liberal city, basically, you know, the East Coast‘s version of San Francisco.  It‘s not.  I mean it is a culturally conservative city.  You can tell that there are a lot of people that there‘s like one degrees separation between the nun who taught them in school and can whack a ruler over their head at any time...

BARNICLE:  Yes, look at my fingers. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But even in states like Massachusetts, there are an awful lot of crossover voters.  There are an awful lot of Democrats that were offended by the concept of gay marriage.  I mean this is not a winning political issue, it is? 

BARNICLE:  Well, you know, I think—not to parse what you just said—I think a lot of people are offended by the misapplication, in their minds, of the word marriage. 

MELINDA HENNENBERGER, “NEWSWEEK”:  Right. 

BARNICLE:  But I think more people have like no time to get involved in what two people want to do, whether they live upstairs or across the street.  That‘s your business.  And I‘m trying to pay my tuitions and I can‘t afford to buy my kids‘ sneakers and stuff like that. 

I think it‘s one of the more volatile non-issues, really.  I think people take legitimate offense at another word in the language, marriage, that‘s now being redefined and reinterpreted by a small activist minority of people, OK?  That‘s being done. 

But gay marriage, I mean it‘s not going to affect my marriage, what two people want to do, whether the two guys want to get married or two women want to get married.  And I think a lot of people feel that way.  Just, you know, let me sleep late on Saturday morning.  I don‘t care what you do on Saturdays. 

REAGAN:  Well, and you‘ve got feelings here. 

HENNENBERGER:  It is a war over a word, but I think that in the heartland, people really do care about it.  And it‘s one of those cultural issues that people argue have led a lot of people out there to vote against their economic interests for the Republicans. 

BARNICLE:  Do you think they actually care about Ben and I getting engaged and getting married in the heartland, or do they care because what Ben and I are about to do or want to do is one more notch in people changing the culture around them, changing words that they hear on TV?  Swears are now on TV.  Sex is now on TV.  This box, this intimate box that‘s in our living room is filled with so much smut in the heartland.  And now they‘re going after marriage, too.  What else is left?

HENNENBERGER:  I think it‘s been sold as such a scary thing that, yes, it‘s part of that.  But even in itself, in a very religious country, I think it is a problem, basically. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I think, you know, I think it is, too.  You know, I think a lot of people, when they speak generally to pollsters, they‘re very progressive.  But, you know, it‘s very interesting, and I‘ll bring up a couple of issues from pop culture.  Remember Kevin Klein  had the movie, you know, it was supposed to be a big hit, about gay marriage? 

HENNENBERGER:  Yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  Or gay issues and love?  Ellen was a big hit then she came out, yes, I‘m gay; yes, I‘m canceled. 

I think, again, in the heartland, like you said...

REAGAN:  Yes, I‘ve got a new show now, though. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, I‘ve got a new show and she‘s not talking about being gay in the new show.  I just, I think as you get closer to Americans on this issue, I think, for whatever reason, I think they‘re repulsed.  And I think it has a lot to do with the bigger cultural war, something you touched on, Mike, which is, again, you‘ve invaded my space (UNINTELLIGIBLE). 

REAGAN:  Enlighten me, though, because you‘re from Scarborough country, where I guess maybe they are repulsed.  I don‘t know what freaks people out about gay folks. 

SCARBOROUGH:  We‘ll talk about it when we come back. 

REAGAN:  I don‘t get that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  We‘ll talk about what freaks out people...

REAGAN:  What freaks them out? 

SCARBOROUGH:  ... about gay folks, separate...

(CROSSTALK)

HENNENBERGER:  I thought it was very interesting, I had a conversation with Gary Bauer about this. 

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  OK, when we come back later, what Gary Bauer says about it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, we‘re going to get your phone calls coming up next so don‘t go away.  You can call us at 888-MSNBC-GAY—no, USA. 

We‘ll be right back, AFTER HOURS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REAGAN:  We‘re live at Case Western University in Cleveland. 

And here we are at the rope line with the dolphins.  Yes, the flippers are here.  OK, you guys, you‘re the only warm ones, by the way, wearing the dolphin heads.  We‘re all very jealous up there on the panel that you guys have these very nice warm, fuzzy little outfits. 

So, OK, let me have it here, the flippers.  What have you got to say? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My name is Flipper, this is Flopper and that‘s Flapper. 

REAGAN:  Flipper, Flopper and Flapper.

OK, I know what your deal is here.  But explain to the television audience at home just exactly why you‘re wearing dolphin outfits.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re with Flippercam.com and we‘re—John Kerry seems to have trouble taking a stand on the issue.  He flips and he flops around.  And that‘s what we do, too.  We‘re all flippers. 

REAGAN:  All right. 

What do you have to say, Flipper number two?  Are you Flapper?  Are you...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Flopper. 

REAGAN:  OK, Flopper. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Flipper and Flopper. 

REAGAN:  Flopper.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Flopper. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Check out the Web site.  We‘re just here in favor of consistency. 

REAGAN:  Just spreading the word for constituency.  And you‘re Flipper, Flopper, Flapper?  You‘re Flapper? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m Flapper.  That makes me (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  We‘ve logged almost 2,400 miles in the last 10 days or so, spreading the message, Flippercam.com.  We were actually in Lambert Field last Tuesday and if you check out the Web site, we‘ve got some great photos up.  Flippercam.com. 

REAGAN:  All right. 

Well, in about a minute here, I‘m going to wrestle you for that head gear, because I‘m freezing out here and that looks like—is it pretty warm in there? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, it‘s quite warm.  Yes.  We‘ve kept pretty warm this evening. 

REAGAN:  I hate you.

All right, well, back to the panel now—Joe, take it away. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, I‘m wondering, Mike, did we see Flipper, Flapper or Flopper on “Meet The Press” last week?  I‘m trying to remember which one was on.

BARNICLE:  All three of them were on.  Hopefully Friday night, after the presidential debate on AFTER HOURS, we‘re going to have Triumph the Insult Dog chase, Flipper, Flapper and Flopper around the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). 

(CROSSTALK)

GINSBERG:  It would be great the other way around. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, I‘ll tell you what, we‘re going to a break.

We‘ll be right back with Flipper, Flopper and Fleecer or whatever.  And hopefully Triumph will show up, too.

That‘s when AFTER HOURS returns on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REAGAN:  Let‘s check in with our very unscientific poll at Joe.msnbc.com.  Over 750,000 people have voted already.  Who do you think won the vice presidential debate?  Well, 67 percent of you said John Edwards, 33 percent of you said Dick Cheney.  I‘m surprised. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You were saying viral e-mail. 

REAGAN:  That‘s pretty much the same proportion, almost the same proportion as Kerry won the first debate. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly.  And I think they were the same amount (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

REAGAN:  Ben‘s thinking conspiracy. 

SCARBOROUGH:  ... question on whether the world was flat or round said (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Ben, what‘s happened here is your candidate lost again, two in a row? 

GINSBERG:  No, I don‘t think so.  Good talking points on the e-mail chains getting cyberspace going tonight. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you‘ve got to remember, Joe Trippi does run the MSNBC Web site, after all.

GINSBERG:  Yes.  And he is the savvy veteran. 

SCARBOROUGH:  He is savvy. 

REAGAN:  But the Republicans were instructing people to get out there and vote in these kind of blog situations. 

BARNICLE:  Ben is clearly very resentful of that figure because he knows that most people who voted for Edwards did so because of Edwards‘ great hair. 

GINSBERG:  It‘s oh so good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ah, yes. 

GINSBERG:  But one is only given a certain number of hormones in life. 

REAGAN:  Speaking of hormones, you were going to tell us about Gary Bauer.

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, that‘s right. 

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN: 

I posed the question what is it that freaks people out about gay folks and you said Gary Bauer.  Well, explain.

HENNENBERGER:  I was first going to say those results maybe exonerate the women thing.  But anyway...

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, whatever. 

HENNENBERGER:  Back to hormones.  I had interviewed Gary Bauer at the height of the whole gay marriage debate, because I just, I think a lot of him.  He‘s not a hater and I wanted to hear from somebody for whom this is THE issue, you know, to—I wanted him to walk me through a logical argument on it.

And the surprising thing was that he wouldn‘t say the word gay or homosexual.  He kept saying well, let‘s talk about polygamy.  You know, how would you feel if a polygamist moved in next door?  And, you know...

REAGAN:  Now, wouldn‘t laws about polygamy and let‘s stretch it to bestiality and stuff like that, because that‘s what Rick Santorum and people like that bring up, wouldn‘t those laws apply equally to gay folks and straight folks?

HENNENBERGER:  That‘s right.  But his point is if we broaden the definition of marriage, anything can happen.  And the other interesting...

REAGAN:  All hell could break loose.

HENNENBERGER:  Yes. 

REAGAN:  Anything could happen. 

HENNENBERGER:  And the interesting thing...

REAGAN:  Dolphins (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

HENNENBERGER:  ... was he said that if men realized that they don‘t have to have just one wife, they wouldn‘t want to. 

REAGAN:  Well, again, very revealing of Mr. Bauer, perhaps. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, now, we‘ll be going to another hot topic.  Don Imus is angry with you.

HENNENBERGER:  He is. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Tell us about that. 

HENNENBERGER:  He is.  I‘ve been waiting for someone to call me a bimbo.  He‘s been calling me a bimbo. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Not. 

HENNENBERGER:  And a cheeseburger, a name I haven‘t been called since kindergarten.  I said in my Cheney story this week, I characterized, I quoted Don as saying that Cheney was the prince of darkness, a force of evil on the planet.  And I characterized him as a former Bush supporter...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right. 

HENNENBERGER:  ... based on his comments in 2000, every day disparaging Gore and every day saying how likable Bush was. 

So he didn‘t—he thought that it was unfair for me to make the leap from that to calling him a Bush supporter. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Final thoughts, Mike Barnicle?

BARNICLE:  Yes, I hope to be first in line for the lift tickets when they‘re given out here at the ski slopes, you know?  We‘re here and so—I think it was a terrific night for this country, to see two people, the vice president and a fellow who wants to be vice president, talking about issues as substantively as they did.  I wish there were fewer rules so they‘d get into a better dialogue about some of the things we‘ve been talking about tonight, especially the 9/11 connection with Iraq. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Ben, final thoughts? 

GINSBERG:  Well, I think we‘re on to St. Louis.  I think, interestingly enough, viewership seems to decline historically over the debates.  I‘m not sure that‘s going to be true this time.  I think things—interest may be piquing a bit in this, because it is so much up in the air still. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Ron, I enjoyed it, as always. 

REAGAN:  As always. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Thanks so much.

REAGAN:  You bet you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

REAGAN:  Take care.  I know your back is a little touchy tonight, so take care of that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  A little touchy, a little touchy. 

It‘s on to the Oxycontin for me, babe. 

Mike Barnicle, Melinda Hennenberg, Ben Ginsberg, thanks so much for being with us tonight. 

REAGAN:  And that‘s it for us tonight.

And make sure you tune into MSNBC Friday night for the second presidential debate at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.  Then stick around for AFTER HOURS at midnight.  We‘ll see you then.  Give Rush a call.  He‘ll fix you up. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, exactly.  Exactly. 

REAGAN:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, thanks a lot, everybody. 

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.

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