updated 10/7/2004 10:57:58 AM ET 2004-10-07T14:57:58

Guest: Andy Borowitz, Dana Milband, John Fund, Mark Leibovich

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? 

Dick Cheney say he never met John Edwards until last night.  Oh, John Edwards!  Did the vice president cough up a debate victory for the sake of a great line? 

More White House woes, it‘s own inspect says, no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after 1991.  And maybe he never met John Edwards either. 

More heart attacks and deaths may have been linked to Vioxx. 

Less flu vaccine may be available than we thought yesterday. 

And paying final respects to the man who said he never got any. 

RODNEY DANGERFIELD, ENTERTAINER:  No respect.  Don‘t get no respect at all.

OLBERMANN:  Comedian and actor Richard Lewis joins us to talk about the passing of Rodney Dangerfield.  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OBLERMANN:  Good evening.  This is Wednesday, October 6th, 27 days until the 2004 presidential election. 

Who did the vice president know and when did he know him?  It was cornerstone of Dick Cheney‘s attempt to make John Edwards look irrelevant and unqualified in the vice presidential debate.  It not only suggested Edwards was inexperienced, it implied he prioritized campaigning ahead of legislating.  It was a devastating put down.  The only problem was, it isn‘t true. 

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the vice president insist that even though he presides over the Senate and Edwards is a senator, they had never met.  Other than the time in the Senate and the other two times. 

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You‘ve got one of the worst attendance records in the United States Senate.  In my capacity as vice president, I am the president of the Senate, and the presiding officer.  I‘m up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they‘re in session.  The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight. 

But Cheney and Edwards met twice in 2001.  And again at the beginning of last year.  The 2003 event was in the Senate, recorded on tape.  January 8 of last year during a swearing in of North Carolina‘s junior Senator Elizabeth Dole.  Her in the front, Edwards in the back.  Cheney as president of the Senate to do the honors.  Senator Dole was escorted to the ceremony by her husband and by North Carolina senior senator, John Edwards.  The bible used to the swearing in belonged to Mrs. John Edwards. 

If that some how doesn‘t count as having met Edwards, there was the April 8th 2001 taping of the NBC News program, “Meet The Press.” Moderator Tim Russert remembered this morning that the then new vice president and Senator Edwards met at the NBC News bureau in Washington off camera.  They were both guests on the show and they shook hands.  If that some how doesn‘t count as having met John Edwards, there was also the February 1st, 2001 Senate prayer breakfast, videotaped by the network C-Span.  Who is the guy on the left?  At that event, Vice President Cheney sat next to Senator Edwards and thanked Edwards by name from the podium.  Other than that, he wouldn‘t know him if he fell over him. 

The Cheney team today still insists the vice president has no recollection of ever meeting Edwards.  Mrs. Lynne Cheney said they have crossed paths at that prayer breakfast but “don‘t you think the senator ought to go to the Senate once in a while.”

There is more than just a quibble over the night we never met.  Cheney‘s forceful performance was also self-sabotaged on this day after by comparisons between his instance last night, that he never implied a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 and the series of time that he has. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  The senator has his facts wrong.  I have not suggested there‘s a connection between Iraq and 9/11. 

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

Mohamed Atta who was the lead hijacker did apparently travel to Prague on a number of occasions and on at least one occasion, we have a reporting that places him in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official a few months before the attack on the World Trade Center. 

One of the lead hijackers, Mohamed Atta, had in fact met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague. 

It‘s been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and did he meet with the senior officials of the Iraqi intelligence services. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Even other member of the administration say there‘s no evidence that Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague.  And the CIA says there is evidence that at the time of the purported meeting, neither Atta or the intelligence officer were in were in Prague.  The truth fouls may have cost Cheney, a clear, if not land slide victory.  Before the I never met Edwards story was ever refuted, ABC News poll had all viewers saying the VP won the debate 43 percent to 35, 19 percent said it was a tie. 

So it has Cheney winning by eight points, a margin that almost matches the difference in who was watching.  ABC found 38 percent of those viewing were Republicans, only 31 percent Democrats.  At “Democracy Core,” Bob Strums organizations, although he is on leave from it.  Cheney was viewed as 40 to 37 victor.  Among the uncommitteds polled by CBS however, 41 percent thought Edwards had won, 28, Cheney.  And asked how the view of Edwards had changed during the debate, nearly half of the uncommitted said, for the better.  Only 14 percent for the worse.  And our msnbc.com debate boxing commission scored it pretty evenly, eight round to Cheney, eight to Edwards. 

The original decision given to Cheney on intangibles reversed morning when the commission penalized him 10 points for untruthfulness, 10 more forgetting his acquaintances, and two more for hitting himself with his own punch.  So, did the vice president win the debate or did he lose it by leaving himself wide open for today‘s Wednesday morning quarterbacks? 

Joining me now, the White correspondent of the “Washington Post,” Dana Milbank, who was at the debate last night.  He‘ll have a piece in tomorrow‘s paper about mid debate reference to factcheck.com, when it‘s actually factcheck.org. 

Dana good evening, thanks for your time. 

DANA MILBANK, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Ain‘t too many ways to cut this about Mr. Cheney meeting Senator Edwards.  Either the vice president had a really embarrassing memory slip or he lied.  Do we have any idea of which? 

MILBANK:  You‘re imposing such a stringent definition of meeting.  I don‘t feel I‘ve met someone until I sat down with them until I sat down with them for 90-minute in a televised debate, so, lets cut the man some slack.  Look, it sounded like a premeditated line.  It was obviously the rehearsed sort of thing.  So somebody at the staff level should have at least done a little Lexus-Nexus search to discover this.  It‘s possible it slipped the vice president‘s mind.  It is inexcusable that nobody actually checked it out. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it worth it to have this fire storm afterwards just to get that line in the paper?  In other words, could it have been a deliberate attempt just to get that line in, even though he knew it may not be true at the time? 

MILBANK:  There was an indication—the Democrats said after the debate it was actually, Mrs. Edwards that came up to the vice president and said, you know, that‘s not fair, that we have met you before.  And according to the Democrats, that was met with a sly smile and an, oh, yes, right.  Which indicated that he may have done that deliberately. 

But obviously, this is not something the vice president and their people wanted.  Because as you noted, he came out quite strongly in the debate.  It is this sort of second-guessing.  Remember after the famous Al Gore sighs from 2000.  Basic, we in the press didn‘t notice last night.  It really started to bubble up in the day, two, three after. 

OLBERMANN:  And obviously the Edwards thing gets the attention because it is easily digested.  But the remark, I have not suggest there is a connection between Iraq and 9/11. 

Phrased that had way, which is the suggestion of a connection not, stating that there was one, but a suggestion, is that Mr. Cheney‘s view from what he said the last three years? 

MILBANK:  It is extraordinary.  I mean, you played, I think, the proper clips when you say something is the—the—Iraq is the geographic base of the people who struck us on September 11, you‘re not only implying it, you‘re actually stating it.  This is a long standing issue with the vice president.  He has repeatedly made these references.  And sometimes the president has even been asked, about it, and he‘s knocked it down, but then the vice president is asked on doing it.  He‘s always been at the edge of the rhetoric in the administration.  Always a little more out there.  He got caught on that last night. 

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, what‘s the factcheck.com, factcheck.org story your working on in the “Post” tomorrow? 

I mean, don‘t give it all away obviously, but what‘s...

MILBANK:  We‘ll give it all away.  He referred people to factcheck.com, and in fact, the right site is .org, which is the University of Pennsylvania‘s fact checking site.  As it turns out, this was a private site run by some company in the Caman Islands, that was very irritated by getting this—all these people sent to its Web site.  So it retaliated by bouncing all these people George Soros‘ Web site, which is actually a virulent attack on President Bush.  Now, finally the dust clears today and we actually get some word from the correct Web site, factcheck.org that, in fact, Senator Edwards was correct in what he said about Halliburton last flight in the first place.  So all around, I think you might not expect there to be a lot more references to dot coms and dot org‘s from the vice president. 

OLBERMANN:  Unless he were to gain stock in one them of assume. 

Dana Milbank—that was meant as a joke.  The White House correspondent of the “Washington Post.”  Again, we thank you kind for your time tonight, sir. 

MILBANK:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s broaden this out slightly and try to assess the overall impact of the debate on the campaign.  A pleasure as always to be joined by Howard Fineman, NBC News political analyst and chief political correspondent of “Newsweek” magazine. 

Howard, good evening. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  That‘s howardfineman.org. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you.  Edu. 

FINEMAN:  Edu. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘re educating the viewer.  One small picture question here before we get to the big ones.  Dick Cheney, could not remember meeting John Edwards or he didn‘t tell the truth about meeting John Edwards.  But Edwards never said, hey wait a minute, vice president, we met three times.  That seems almost as strange.  Why didn‘t he say something? 

FINEMAN:  I don‘t know.  It would have been one heck of a moment if he had.  If John Edwards had said, Mr. President, your so—Mr. Vice president, you‘re so divorced from reality on all fronts, you don‘t remember having met me two or three times.  He didn‘t do it in an odd way, it is almost better this way.  Because, this has filled up the news of the day in politics.  And given John Edwards and John Kerry a free day they weren‘t expecting. 

OLBERMANN:  We got back into the science—political science fiction possibility there of Edwards saying—thinking quickly enough on his feet, gee, I‘ll let this one pass and get the media to devour it tomorrow. 

FINEMAN:  That‘s a little too cute, perhaps. 

OLBERMANN:  One of the vice president‘s goals last night in the big picture thing had to be, stop that bleeding from Bush/Kerry 1 last Thursday. 

FINEMAN:  I think he got it done initially.  I think psychologically, and politically, he did stop the bleeding because the vice president was able to articulate in much forceful and grave term, the overall theory of pre-emptive war and the notion that freedom is the precursor of stability and tranquility on the planet.  He was much more articulate and eloquent about it than George Bush was in the debate last week. 

And on the contrast, in terms of somebody with a sense of gravitas who knew what war was all about, and who steamed tough guy, I think Dick Cheney won that on stylistic grounds.  But what looked like gravitas yesterday looks like divorce from reality this morning.  And it‘s—and it‘s the Democrats‘ theory of their attack on George Bush and Dick Cheney that they‘re divorced from reality.  That they don‘t know what‘s going on around them in Iraq.  They don‘t know what the original justifications were for any.  They don‘t even get facts straight in a debate.  I would say today, if you were rescoring the debate as of this minute, I think John Edwards would have won it. 

OLBERMANN:  Two poll result to throw at that you are appropriate of that.  The ABC poll had it Bush 51, Kerry 48 among the people the polled, and after the debate they had it Bush 50, Kerry 49, a marginal change but nothing impactful.  We heard that CBS number, too.  The uncommitted that they served 41 percent thought Edwards had won, 28 Cheney.  Although, the ABC uncommitteds were slightly favoring Cheney.  So, who won this debate? 

Not Cheney or Edwards but the Democrats or the Republicans. 

FINEMAN:  The whole race as I see it, Keith, now, in talking to Democratic and Republican strategists, they confirm this.  It is a race between Republicans effort to tear down John Kerry and make him seem incapable of and unqualified for being commander in chief.  And the flow of the news, and its ability to destroy the Bush administration.  The flow of the news here on reports about weapons of mass destruction.  On whether Zarqawi was in Iraq.  From Paul Bremer about critiquing the lack of troops in Iraq.  Both in terms of the original justification for the war and the handling of the war, there hasn‘t been a good story for this in months.  And minute by minute, day by day, that flow is what Kerry and Edwards are trying to take advantage of here.  And I think in the end, Edwards, did score some points on that. 

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman, the chief political correspondent of  “Newsweek” magazine, giving us a preview of our number three story tonight. 

And for that and for your appearance here, sir as always, my great thanks. 

FINEMAN:  Your welcome.

OLBERMANN:  One promotional announcement.  Looking ahead to Friday, and the second presidential debate, COUNTDOWN, special coverage will begin at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.  And as the debate happens, I will be scoring it again like a boxing judge, at hardblogger on msnbc.com.  Be there for the instant debate score card.  Bush/Kerry two, the whoie from St. Louie. 

John Kerry survived Vietnam, more than survived debate number one, but the question remain, can he survive an interview with Dr. Phil, and why do we care? 

And the big drug bust, not pot, not coke, flu vaccine.  What went wrong and what if anything can our government do about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  A significant speech on our nation‘s two highest priorities.  That‘s how it was sold by White House Press Secretary Scott Mclellan.  Why Mr. Bush would scrap his planned talk on medical liability in Wilkesberry, Pennsylvania today, and swap in another example of what we might define, in our fourth on the COUNTDOWN as the central theme of this campaign for Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry alike: overpromise, overdeliver. 

The significant speech sounded an aweful lot like the president‘s standard stump speech.  He told Pennsylvanians that John Kerry was ready to raise taxes, not ready to fight terrorism.  And with a poll in Florida showing Kerry up by two points there, and Bush-Kerry two on Friday.  He even got the OBGYN‘s back in. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Unfair lawsuits are hurting small businesses.  Lawsuits are driving up healthcare costs.  Lawsuits are threatening OBGYN‘s all across our country.  Lawsuits are driving good doctors out of practice. 

(APPLAUSE)

BUSH:  We need a president who will stand up to the trial lawyers in Washington, not put one on the ticket. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s been a while since any president had a political opponent deported.  That would have been Clement Vladingham (ph), the Ohio Senator banished to Canada by Abraham Lincoln.  Of course, while Vladingham (ph) was a pro south copperhead who had publicly called for union troops to desert in the middle of the Civil War. 

Michael Moore is not Clement Vladingham (ph), George Bush is not Abraham Lincoln and this is not the Civil War.  On the other hand, our times do have Michael Moore at stops at 3 Michigan Universities, during a 60-city get out the vote tour.  Moore offered first time voters prizes in exchange for pledges to vote. 

Moore says he has each pledge repeat the 2004 slacker oath.  Quote, “Pick nose, pick butt, pick Kerry.”  The GOP has four different prosecutors to pick some charges against the filmmaker, saying that gifts amount to bribery and are in favor of the Michigan election law.  The bribes here would be clean underwear, Tostitos and a package of Raman noodles.

From entertainment guys swerving into politics, to politicians swerving into enterainment, we have noted before here, that the line has blurred or been erased.  A candidate or his spouse or both of them are likelier to wind up on a talk show than on a news show. 

The latest tour dates this evening: We have first lady Laura Bush on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” on your local NBC station.  And John Kerry along with his wife Teresa on the Dr Phil show this afternoon.  They talked about when Kerry was a Cub Scout and how Teresa is grateful she‘s as old as she is, because experience has helped deal with personal attacks. 

If you‘ll remember when the Bushes joined the latest TV fad psychologist, Phil asked them about spanking their children.  Guess what he asked the Kerrys about?  Well guess what Dr. McGraw asked the Kerry‘s about.  I‘m beginning to suspect Dr. Phil has a little weirdness about him. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. PHIL MCGRAW:  Did you ever spank the girls? 

KERRY:  Only once did I ever spank one, only once. 

MCGRAW:  What did she do to get spanked? 

KERRY: I don‘t remember what it was.  I hated it.  And I said I‘ll never do that again in my life.  And I thought there were better ways to do things. 

MCGRAW:  Did it hurt you worse than did it her? 

KERRY:  Awful. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Just for pure weirdness, this campaign now threatens to break the all time low American water mark probably reached in 1872 when Ulysses S. Grant won reelection over Horace Greely.  The newspaper publisher who had spent his life assailing the Democratic party person wound up getting nominated by them for president.  Grant won handily, and 22 days after the election, Greeley dropped dead.  And this one seems to be weirder than that. 

On that cheery not, I‘m joined by satirist Andy Borowitz, a creator of the online humor column, “The Borowitz Report”  and author of “The Borowitz Report: The Big Book of Shockers.”  Quite a lengthy plug there.  Andy, good evening. 

ANDY BOROWITZ, HUMORIST:  Hi, Keith.  How are you? 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m OK, except for this campaign.  A big picture, Horace Greeley would have been appalled by this, wouldn‘t he? 

BOROWITZ:  You know, I‘ve got to say Keith, I think this election has completely jumped the shark at this point.  That‘s where I am on this.  If this were a TV show, I would say we are in the last season of Scooby Doo and Scrappy Doo has just entered the scene.

OLBERMANN:  A couple things in particular.  The Bushes on Dr. Phil.  John Kerry on Jon Stewart.  The Kerryes on Dr. Phil.  Then Laura Bush on Jay Leno.  When did we move from democracy to election by talk show? 

BOROWITZ:  Well, it‘s a lot easier to talk to these guys than to real news guys.  And you know, they‘re not the only ones who are doing it.  Ralph Nader all this week has been on the Sci-Fi channel. 

OLBERMANN:  Missing, the unexplained, something like that. 

BOROWITZ:  Exactly. 

OLBERMANN:  One of those time warp things.  Or just about his hair. 

BOROWITZ:  Or just about his hair. 

OLBERMANN:  The calls to prosecute Michael Moore for offering to trade underwear for votes? 

BOROWITZ:  You know, every side is doing this.  I mean, the Bush twins are also on the road and their offering colleges students to throw a bodacious keger if they will vote for Bush.  So, I think, fair is fair. 

OLBERMANN:  After the comedy act at the Republican convention, anything goes, I guess. 

BOROWITZ:  I guess.  Was that comedy act?  I guess. 

OLBERMANN:  Supposed to be.  You have to play along at least with them. 

Can you summarize last night‘s John Edwards, Dick Cheney debate?  The I haven‘t met John Edwards, Senator, and you‘re no John Edwards bit? 

BOROWITZ:  You know.  It was such a mystifying thing.  I have got to say that John Edwards, I saw this poll today, likely voters say he is even hotter than they they remember him being.  They really—according to voters, they asked, who do you trust more to be president of the United States.  And they said John Edwards had me at hello.  I think that‘s good for him. 

Cheney, when he said I‘ve never met John Edwards, I was watching and I was thinking, of course you haven‘t, you‘ve been in an underground hideout for the last 3 years.  You haven‘t met anybody.  So, I don‘t know.  It didn‘t convince me. 

OLBERMANN:  Give him the World Series results for the last 3 years. 

BOROWITZ:  Have you heard of this Paris Hilton person, Dick? 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m sorry.  That‘s superb. 

Andy Borowitz of the “Borowitz Report.”  Many thanks for being with us.  And for that line about the bunker which will stay with me all night. 

BOROWITZ:  And it is great to finally meet you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ve never met before, except that one time when we did the television show on another network where you were the guest and I was the host.  But other than, we‘ve never met. 

BOROWITZ:  We‘ve never met.

OLBERMANN:  Never met. 

Andy Borowitz, many thanks. 

Politics even making its way into Oddball tonight.  Koalas and contraception.  Not kidding. 

And remembering the man whose jokes were always at his own expense. 

Rodney Dangerfield‘s life of laughs.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We pause the COUNTDOWN now, for our of respect for the late Mr. Dangerfield, the news that gets no respect, the strange stories involving goofy kids, furry animals and your United States Senate in action.  Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin Down Under where in some parts of the country, the Koala Bear is in danger of extinction.  But in others like Hillsville, the whole place is stinking with them.  And they‘re eating all the vegetation.  But desperate times call for Australian measures, so officials say they‘re provide nearly 2,000 koalas with contraceptives. 

That, they think will slow down the population, and thus reduce the number of koalas devouring the eucalyptus leaves, yum, yum. 

So my new job mate, is to put the condoms where? 

To Washington, DC.  And it is time for another episode of this old House of Representatives.  Watch the thumbs, boys. 

Actually this is part of a bipartisan work crew.  Senators Trent Lott, Chris Dodd, Bill Frist and others, today they‘re beginning the construction of the 2005 presidential inauguration site. 

Obviously, the Senators will not be building the entire platform.  There‘s a team of guys with some of those new jobs the economy has created to do that.  This was strictly ceremonial. 

But later on, join Joe Lieberman and Sam Brownback as they show you how to replace rusty, aluminum siding on the Capital Dome and patch those ugly holes in the linoleum of the grand rotunda. 

Finally to Huntsville, Alabama, for the brave story of 11-year-old Vincent York and an important reminder to you kids about putting nonfood stuff in your mouth.  Don‘t!

Vincent was in class last Thursday, chewing away on his four-inch pencil when a friend snuck up behind him and scared him.  And gulp, down it went, swallowed whole.  No teacher would believe him, he says, and so he spent the whole day with a Ticonderoga in his belly.

It was not until he got him and told him mother that he was taken to the hospital for X-rays.  Always count on mom.  This was not the kind of thing that could just be left to time and the digestive tract, it had to be surgically removed.

Vincent‘s fine.  Just remember though, he offers you to loan you his pencil, ask for the pen.

No biological or chemical weapons, and no nukes: the final word from our guys on the ground in Iraq coming up.

Also, the concerns over Vioxx.  First, the drug is pulled.  Now we find out how late it was pulled.

Those stories ahead.  Now, here are COUNTDOWN‘S top 3 newsmakers of the day.

No. 3: Stephen Starr of Philadelphia, owner of the Barkley Prime Restaurant, who is offering patrons a Philly cheesesteak including patte and truffles, for $100 a sandwhich.  Prediction, not for long he‘s not. 

No. 2: David and Halina Woolford of Oakland in England.  Their house was severely damaged by a hit and run driver who sped away from the scene.  Nothing shoking about that, of course, except that the vehicle he was in was a late model how air balloon.

And No. 1: Yolanda Taylor of Betinharbor, Michican.  She has pleaded guilty to something that would make Mr. Burns from the Simpsons proud.  During 2 nights of public disorder in the city last June, Ms. Taylor was selling rocks, selling rocks to rioters.  Small ones for a dollar, big ones for 5.  Thus, disproving the old insult, you couldn‘t sell rocks during a riot.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, who had the edge in Tuesday night‘s vice presidential debate and who will come out stronger in Friday‘s presidential debate?  “The Wall Street Journal”‘s John Fund and Mark Leibovich of “The Washington Post” are here. 

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

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Joining us now, Mark Leibovich, national political reporter for “The Washington Post,” and John Fund, columnist with OpinionJournal.com and author of the new book “Stealing Elections.”

Let me go to Mark first of all.

Last night immediately after the debate between the vice presidential and the vice president himself, there was a lot of buzz certainly on our network that Cheney had done very well, very well, indeed, in fact that he was the victor.  How is that playing during the day, that assessment? 

MARK LEIBOVICH, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I think it sort of washed itself out. 

I think the overall wisdom is that it was something of a draw.  Some people obviously gave to it Cheney.  Some people said Edwards exceeded expectations.  I think, in general, what most people will say is that that was sort of a perishable event.  And the fact that really there was a disagreement on who won or lost is not going to make for any memorability, except for the tone, which was pretty intense. 

MATTHEWS:  John Fund, your assessment after 24 hours?  How has it turned?  Or has it turned at all?  Is it still seen as a Cheney victory? 

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  I think it was a Cheney victory on points.  I also think it did something psychological. 

Bush partisans were very depressed last Thursday after the president turned in a very weak performance.  They‘re now re-emboldened and reinvigorated.  The slide has stopped and they are charged up for the Friday debate.  And that of course is going to be Bush‘s moment of truth.

I think Cheney, by the way, showed himself to be workhorse.  And I think he successfully painted John Edwards by talking about his thin Senate record as a show horse. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of his assertion that he had never met him before?  That was a powerful moment in the debate as we watched it.

FUND:  It was clever.

MATTHEWS:  It seemed like a thunderous blow against a new arrival on the scene, someone who hadn‘t really earned his papers yet, more or less.  Do you think it worked? 

FUND:  Here‘s the significance of that. 

Obviously, it‘s not quite true, because they appeared together at a prayer breakfast in early 2001.  But for purposes of business on the Senate floor, Cheney was correct. 

The real interesting thing is, regardless of what the technical accuracy is, Edwards did not respond to it.  He left it on the table.  He sounded like someone who realized it wasn‘t in his talking points, but he couldn‘t react properly. 

MATTHEWS:  In other words, Mark, it was close enough to the truth, he didn‘t want to fight about it. 

(LAUGHTER)

LEIBOVICH:  Yes, clearly...

FUND:  He may not have remembered it. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

LEIBOVICH:  Right.  Exactly. 

And, also, it‘s the kind of thing that Edwards could have dispatched pretty easily.  He could have said, actually, Mr. Vice President, we met on this occasion and on that occasion.  And, obviously, I didn‘t make too big an impression.  And people would have laughed and the line probably would have dissipated. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but suppose—we‘ve talked this through so many times in the last 24 hours.  Suppose the vice president then retorted, well, I just never associated you with the Senate floor, because I never saw you there.  Wouldn‘t that have been a rebuttal that would have blown him away as well? 

LEIBOVICH:  Maybe.  I don‘t think there were really any blowing-away moments last night, to be honest with you.

I think, again, it was tough attack by Cheney at that moment.  But, ultimately, the tone was very, very harsh, one of the harshest in presidential and certainly vice presidential debate history.  But, again, I think people before the debate yesterday and certainly after the debate today are looking to Friday as really the next big event. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s look at that bite, because I think John was right.  Although it was technically inaccurate, it certainly had some thunderous dramatic effect.  Here it is, the vice president saying he never really met the guy he‘s running against. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The reason they keep trying to attack Halliburton is because they want to obscure their own record. 

And Senator, frankly, you have a record in the Senate that‘s not very distinguished.  You‘ve missed 33 out of 36 meetings in the Judiciary Committee, almost 70 percent of the meetings of the Intelligence Committee. 

You‘ve missed a lot of key votes:  on tax policy, on energy, on Medicare reform. 

Your hometown newspaper has taken to calling you Senator Gone.  You‘ve got one of the worst attendance records in the United States Senate. 

Now, in my capacity as vice president, I am the president of Senate, the presiding officer.  I‘m up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they‘re in session. 

The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight. 

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

MATTHEWS:  God.  You know, I think Tom Brokaw compared that to a meeting in the principal‘s office, Mark.

It does seem to display—these guys are only about 12 years apart, maybe less. 

LEIBOVICH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  It displays a kind of—an advantage of some kind.  How would you describe that advantage that the vice president seems to exploit there?

LEIBOVICH:  Well, one word, gravitas. 

I think, if you look at the caricature of each, Cheney, depending on whether you like him or dislike him, is either a gray eminence or a prince of darkness, whereas Edwards is either a bright face or a lightweight.  I think clearly Cheney played to the lightweight imagery there very effectively. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me—let‘s take a look at right now what John Edwards said about that.  He apparently did he some cleaning up today.  And here he is responding to that charge that the vice president had never met him before. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, unfortunately for the vice president, just as there was a videotape of him sitting with me at the National Prayer Breakfast, there‘s also a lot of videotape out there of him suggesting there‘s a connection between Saddam Hussein and September the 11th

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Mark, it seemed like one of the ambitions of the challenger

going into last night‘s debate—in fact, he was relentless on the subject

·         was to try to separate Iraq from the war on terrorism.  Do you think he made the points he wanted to make last night? 

LEIBOVICH:  I think he probably did. 

That‘s sort of a continuum of what Kerry was trying to do and did very effectively last week in Miami.  And I think one of the things that Edwards was, if not haunted by, certainly conscious of, is the Lieberman example.  Joe Lieberman at the time was praised as a statesman in going against Cheney.  It was a very civil debate.  And yet Democrats, a lot of Democrats haven‘t forgiven him for that.

So I think John Edwards has been—he‘s been harping on the message of the day, which has been Iraq for the last two or three weeks.  And it was, again, just last night was a culmination of that. 

MATTHEWS:  John, that‘s a strange assignment, John Fund, to give a guy who basically supported the war for most of the last couple years.  He is much more hawkish than Kerry, much closer to Dick Gephardt and to Joe Lieberman on the issue the war than he is to John Kerry.  And yet he was given this assignment to say, we really didn‘t have to attack Iraq. 

FUND:  Well, I think John Edwards did go effectively through his talking points and point out that the situation in Iraq is bleak and doesn‘t particularly look good right now. 

Where he failed, though, was I think to properly explain to the American people in simple, clear terms why the Kerry-Edwards plan, whatever that plan is right now, since it just jelled on September 22, is going to get us out of—either out of Iraq if you are against the war or will win the war if you want to win the war. 

And that was his dilemma.  When Dick Cheney said, you couldn‘t stand up to Howard Dean in the primaries, that‘s why you changed your mind in supporting the $87 billion for the troops, John Edwards didn‘t have a proper response.  Again, once he got off his talking points, there wasn‘t much there. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you get that sense, Mark, that he was briefed, but he wasn‘t deep? 

LEIBOVICH:  Yes, I did in some ways.

I think John Edwards is very, very smooth and very, very articulate, obviously, but he is not particularly good on his feet.  He is nimble-minded, but not in a way that really translates into one-liners or anything that could even be considered spontaneous in a setting like last night. 

MATTHEWS:  Like not being able to remember that he actually spent a couple of hours sitting next to the vice president. 

LEIBOVICH:  Exactly. 

There were tons of moments where he could have been glib, funny, if not lighthearted.  I think Edwards, as he proved in his disastrous “Meet the Press” interview and in some other settings over the course of the campaign is—he is very, very well prepared, but not necessarily someone with great political instincts, at least in the heat of battle. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you get the sense, Mark, that he could have gone either way on the war in terms of his presentation last night, that if someone had said to him two or three days ago or a week ago, look, we want to you prepare a brief, we want you to make a case for the war with Iraq, that he would have been just as passionate?  Because he wasn‘t that passionate;.

(CROSSTALK)

LEIBOVICH:  Yes, there was a sense of that.  There was a trial lawyer‘s sort of preparation either way and prepared to argue either side of the case. 

And John Edwards has sort of a baseline of passion that you can either describe as being canned or overwrought, depending on who is looking.  But, yes, I think, especially in contrast to Cheney, who has a real, real grasp of issues and has a real gravitas and never really changes his tempo, someone like Edwards in that situation can be somewhat exposed. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I get the feeling you‘re watching a playwright fighting a theater critic, John, that it wasn‘t really a battle of two premises or two points of views or two philosophies of foreign policy.  It was a critique of a foreign policy by someone much junior to the person who was criticizing him. 

FUND:  Well, I think John Edwards came to basically defend John Kerry.  And he constantly evoked his name last night.  Cheney didn‘t feel that necessity to constantly evoke President Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he certainly didn‘t.  Did you notice that the president was almost unspoken, the name of the president was almost unspoken last night? 

FUND:  I think Mr. Cheney was Mr. Steady. 

And his mission there was to say, look, this administration is in good hands, regardless of what happened in last Thursday‘s debate.  And these two people can‘t be trusted because they‘re all over the map. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.  He is trying to discredit the witness, the professional witness. 

Anyway, we‘re going to come back.  I want to talk to both these guys to try to figure out what happened last night that is going to cue and key what is going to happen Friday night out there in Saint Louis at Washington U., because I think every one of these leads to the next one.  We‘ll talk about how this does carry the chain of events further. 

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, “The Wall Street Journal”‘s John Fund on the issue of gay marriage from Tuesday‘s vice presidential debate. 

HARDBALL back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with John Fund of OpinionJournal.com.

Mark Leibovich of “The Washington Post” was called away to assignment.

Here‘s an exchange, John, from last night over the issue of gay marriage.  Let‘s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.  It‘s a wonderful thing.  And there are millions of parents like that who love their children, who want their children to be happy. 

And I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and so does John Kerry. 

I also believe that there should be partnership benefits for gay and lesbian couples in long-term, committed relationships. 

But we should not use the Constitution to divide this country. 

No state for the last 200 years has ever had to recognize another state‘s marriage. 

This is using the Constitution as a political tool, and it‘s wrong. 

GWEN IFILL, MODERATOR:  New question, but same subject. 

As the vice president mentioned, John Kerry comes from the state of Massachusetts, which has taken as big a step as any state in the union to legalize gay marriage.  Yet both you and Senator Kerry say you oppose it. 

Are you trying to have it both ways? 

EDWARDS:  No.  I think we‘ve both said the same thing all along. 

We both believe that—and this goes onto the end of what I just talked about—we both believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. 

But we also believe that gay and lesbians and gay and lesbian couples, those who have been in long-term relationships, deserve to be treated respectfully, they deserve to have benefits. 

For example, a gay couple now has a very difficult time, one, visiting the other when they‘re in the hospital, or, for example, if, heaven forbid, one of them were to pass away, they have trouble even arranging the funeral. 

I mean, those are not the kind of things that John Kerry and I believe in.  I suspect the vice president himself does not believe in that. 

But we don‘t—we do believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. 

And I want to go back, if I can, to the question you just asked, which is this constitutional amendment. 

I want to make sure people understand that the president is proposing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage that is completely unnecessary. 

Under the law of this country for the last 200 years, no state has been required to recognize another state‘s marriage. 

Let me just be simple about this.  My state of North Carolina would not be required to recognize a marriage from Massachusetts, which you just asked about. 

There is absolutely no purpose in the law and in reality for this amendment.  It‘s nothing but a political tool.  And it‘s being used in an effort to divide this country on an issue that we should not be dividing America on. 

We ought to be talking about issues like health care and jobs and what‘s happening in Iraq, not using an issue to divide this country in a way that‘s solely for political purposes.  It‘s wrong. 

IFILL:  Mr. Vice President, you have 90 seconds. 

CHENEY:  Well, Gwen, 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)

MATTHEWS:  Boy, that was using the clock brilliantly, wasn‘t it, John?  I mean, the vice president, could you read that poker face of what he thought the other guy was saying? 

FUND:  Well, Dick Cheney obviously did not want to discuss this subject at all.  John Edwards threw up a fog machine, but he did one effective thing politically, Chris. 

I think a lot of people in the audience, a lot of devoutly religious viewers, weren‘t aware that Dick Cheney had a gay daughter.  And I think that was sort of a slight pressing of Dick Cheney and his base saying, you may not be aware of something.  This guy is not everything you might want to think. 

MATTHEWS:  My God.

FUND:  He is not the social conservative that you might want to think.

MATTHEWS:  So it really was a stab at the guy politically to try to take away some of his naturally loyal conservative base?

FUND:  I think it was one of the smartest things John Edwards did.  It was very subtle.

MATTHEWS:  But it was ruthless.  It was ruthless. 

FUND:  It was very subtle. 

MATTHEWS:  I wouldn‘t call it subtle. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, let me ask you about this, because it seemed to me

he was saying—and a lot of people are concerned about this on both sides

·         that no state can be required to give full faith and credit to another state‘s decision as to what a marriage is. 

So, example, in Maryland, where I live, doesn‘t to have accept the marriage contract coming out of Massachusetts if it involves two people of the same gender.  However, that‘s the issue that was raised by the Defense of Marriage Act, which John Kerry voted against. 

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  Which would have protected the rights of states from being forced into accepting some other state‘s decision. 

FUND:  And that was Kerry‘s biggest lost opportunity.  He wanted to get away from that issue so fast, he lost a great opportunity to say, if your guy had his way, we wouldn‘t have those federal protections. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about politics.  You took about the—well, I‘ll use the word ruthlessness of John Edwards‘ move there, because he basically tried to wedge some of the vice president‘s constituency away from him by saying, hey, this guy has got a gay daughter.  He is not like us, as if that‘s something you can choose. 

What was Edwards up to with regard to the gay community?  Was he saying to people who are gay in this country—and what does he—take the Kinsey numbers.  Let‘s say a bigger version, 5 percent.  They‘re voting.  They‘re DINKs.  They have double income, no-kids households in many cases.  They all vote.  They‘re very active and some of them are well off.  They‘re both business people.  They‘re very active in politics. 

Is he trying to corral them to stay in the Democratic Party, even though party will not support their desire to marry? 

FUND:  Well, in political telegraph form, what he was saying is, look, I can‘t be with you on gay marriage.  John Kerry can‘t be with you for political reasons, but we‘re a whole lot better than these other guys. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s that? 

FUND:  Well, we are very sensitive.  He went on and on about how he wants to extend benefits to gay couples.  He wants to do everything short of declaring what they have as a marriage. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  Is this issue a plus or a minus for the Democratic ticket?  Assuming that they don‘t grab too many of the cultural conservatives by the stuff we saw last night, is generally you have a sense that gays are going to vote Democrat this time; people who don‘t like gays are going to vote Republican?

FUND:  Look, this is the most under-reported story in politics right now. 

MATTHEWS:  It is all over issues—yes, but you look at states, you‘re right.  Missouri was a big vote.  Every state that we have a vote on it, the vote, when you get to go in that booth alone, when nobody is watching, people vote against gay marriage every time. 

FUND:  Chris, Chris, no one wants to talk about the fact that the two groups most opposed to gay marriage in this country happen to be blacks and Hispanics.  Nobody wants to talk about it.  But they do not want to equate the civil rights struggle that gays are fighting with their civil rights struggle. 

Nine percent, 9 percent of blacks tell pollsters, there‘s an equivalence between their civil rights struggle and that of gays.  And nobody wants to report it.  Politically, this is a loser for the Democrats, especially in the states where something like this is on the ballot.  That doesn‘t go to the merits of the issue, but it is a political loser. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did the vice president cut his remarks so short, then, if it was a loser for his party?  Just sensitivity about his family or what? 

FUND:  Well, I think he personally does not favor a constitutional amendment.  He mentioned that.  He would have sent a very mixed message if he had gone on to explain why in the world he disagrees with the president of the United States.  He basically just said, the president sets policy and I follow him. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FUND:  And he wanted to get off that fast. 

MATTHEWS:  He was like Colin Powell:  I‘m a good soldier. 

FUND:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, we‘re going to have more with John Fund when we return. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with John Fund.

You know, it‘s fascinating, Friday night, because the president of the United States, as well as the guy trying to take his job away from him, are going to be sitting before a bunch of people described as soft for Bush and soft for Kerry.  No more of this malarkey about people being undecided.  Why do you think the Bush people wanted it to be that kind of a makeup of the audience? 

FUND:  Because they don‘t really believe there are any undecided voters after all.  Karl Rove says 5, 6 percent.  So he was worried that people would sneak in under the undecided label, but they would really be there to pop questions about Bush under the guise of being undecided. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that based on history in these debates?  I think it is. 

FUND:  Well, 1992, Carole Simpson‘s debate with the first President Bush, I was there.  I think the audience was salted with pro-Clinton partisans.  So somebody messed up.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me say what I think happened, my view.  I agree with you.  I agree with that kind of an interpretation. 

My interpretation is these people that put these groups together go out and ask people if they have decided and they say, well, I haven‘t decided.  Then they ask them, what particular concern do you have about government?

FUND:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  And they go to some particular problem they‘re having with the federal government. 

FUND:  Health care.

MATTHEWS:  They want more health care.  They want more disability payments.  They want more stuff. 

And because they are pleading for a special interest they want, they sound like Democrats. 

FUND:  Bingo.

MATTHEWS:  People aren‘t coming on there to talk about the philosophy of progressive taxes or fiscal responsibility or even foreign policy.  It is always, the problem revolves around the problem—I didn‘t this disability decision.  I didn‘t get black lung.  Can you help me?  And it always sounds like a Democrat. 

FUND:  You‘re absolutely right.  And, therefore, the Bush people, being stuck with this town hall format, which, by the way, Bush often does well with, because he‘s got a very folksy style.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes, he‘s been doing with his—but that‘s with Republicans, of course. 

FUND:  Yes.  But he did not want to be confronted like his father was by this question, well, tell me how you feel about the deficit and how has it affected you.  And that‘s when Clinton had his great moment, because he marched right up to the woman and felt her pain. 

MATTHEWS:  Wasn‘t it—remember the case where somebody said—maybe this was a “Saturday Night Live” version of it—what can you do for me? 

FUND:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t have a job.  I don‘t have anything.  Do something for me.  And the answer generally is a Democratic answer.  We will give you this program, this training program.  We‘ll give you this benefit.  We‘ll give you this. 

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  The mommy—daddy—vs. the daddy party. 

MATTHEWS:  And the Republican answer is get up on your feet and take care of yourselves, get out of it.  And that doesn‘t sound good on national television. 

What about this issue?  It seems to me that the Democrats are driving a wedge between Iraq and the war on terror.  That seems to be an obsession.  And it certainly was last night.  Is this because of fear that in the last three weeks of the election, the president will continue to conflate the two issues:  We‘ve got to fight the terrorists in Iraq?

FUND:  Well, there‘s also the fear, Chris, that there will be some incident in the last few weeks.  And there‘s a tendency for people to rally around the president.  Let‘s say the terrorists take out Saudi Arabian oil refineries and send the price of oil not to $50 a barrel, where it is now, but to $65 or $75 a barrel. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Or, more likely, there‘s an assault on our troops in Iraq. 

FUND:  Well, that‘s a given.  There‘s going to be that.  I‘m talking about something more spectacular. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I meant a big uptick in the violence over there. 

FUND:  It could be all of the above, Chris. 

They‘re trying to insulate themselves, saying, whatever happens in Iraq, don‘t follow Bush as being the leader on the war on terror.  This was a diversion.

MATTHEWS:  OK, good luck with your book, “Stealing Elections.”

FUND:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  John Fund, it‘s great having you on, as always. 

Tomorrow night, we‘ll be at Washington University in Saint Louis, the site of the next big debate, the first—the second presidential debate.  Join us, HARDBALL, 7:00 Eastern, and special coverage is beginning at 9:00. 

And on Friday, our coverage of the debate begins at 7:00 Eastern. 

By the way, an hour from now, watch Tom Brokaw and me talk about the “Secrets of the Great Debates.”  It‘s a hell of a show, especially for political enthusiasts.

Coming up right now, the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.

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