updated 10/12/2004 10:16:21 AM ET 2004-10-12T14:16:21

Guests: Ben Ginsberg, Terry McAuliffe, Ed Gillespie

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The town hall presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis.  The two candidates face 140 voters tonight: 63 soft for Bush, 63 soft for Kerry and 14 still saying they‘re undecided.  The fear factor is high as both camps face this night of do or die.  It is a zesty, testy race for the finish now. 

Just 3 weeks out, the contest is still a toss-up.  With half the voters telling George Bush you‘re fired, while the other half doesn‘t want to see John Kerry reporting for duty. 

Tonight, the political TV at its best.  Let‘s play HARDBALL‘.

(SINGING)

MATTHEWS:  That group here at Washington U is called After Hours. 

They‘ve been brought in specially by the candidates to teach them likability.  Anyway, I‘m Chris Matthews, and welcome to MSNBC‘s coverage of the second presidential debate.  We‘re broadcasting live from the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.  Surrounded, as you can see, by students, faculty and political zealots of all stripes, waiting to watch this great political event.  And in just two hours, the two candidates will take the stage and face off. 

Stay with MSNBC tonight for reports from NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw.  And NBC News Washington bureau chief of the moderator “Meet the Press” Tim Russert.  NBC correspondents Andrea Mitchell, David Gregory, Norah O‘Donnell.  Plus MSNBC‘s Chris Jansing in the so-called “Spin Room.”  And HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster back in Washington. 

If you want to get into this debate yourself, you can vote online after it is over.  MSNBC is taking a survey of who you think won.  It will give us an indication of where voters stand.  And also how the political parties are mobilizing their vote online.  If you want to get into it, go to hardball.MSNBC.com.  Our live vote will open at 10:30 Eastern time tonight following the debate.  Keep in mind our technology prevents more than one vote per computer.  No cheating.

Now, let‘s go to our panel for this hour.  Our White House team of correspondents.  From NBC News, Norah O‘Donnell and David Gregory, Republican election attorney Ben Ginsberg and “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman, who is also an MSNBC analyst. 

Let‘s set the stage tonight.  Is this like miss congeniality because they‘re dealing, interacting with all these so-called undecided and soft voters?

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, the town hall style puts a premium on personality, if you will.  So, we‘ll be judging, obviously, the substance but also the style because we‘ll see these two men moving around. 

The conventional wisdom has been that it benefits Bush, because he is more folksy, he does well in these types of formats.  But “USA Today” had this great thing today where they said that Kerry has done actually 70 town halls and that Bush has done 19.  So Kerry has actually been doing more of the town halls.  And in fact, the heavily scripted events that Bush usually does may actually prevent him from doing a good job here.  He is not used to taking questions from people who are not loyal supporters. 

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  I think what is difficult for Bush tonight is that we know he has got about five points he wants to make against Kerry.  He wants to come out and attack him hard.  He doesn‘t want to just counter punch like he did before, unsuccessfully.  He wants to attack.  In this format, does he come across as coarse?  Is it over the top?  That‘s the danger tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  So, it is hard to attack your rival when you‘re standing in front of people you‘re trying to seduce. 

GREGORY:  And answering real questions based on real concerns. 

BEN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY:  I think that‘s true in every debate.  And I love the way my colleagues here are setting the bar nice and low for the president.  But this is an important night for him.  He needs to draw the contrast about why he is the guy to be the commander in chief for the next four years against John Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he pretend he didn‘t want to meet in the town meeting style?  Is that why the negotiators led by James A Baker III insisted on not having a town meeting until the end, when they broke? 

GINSBERG:  It was certainly a convenient ploy to get other things for other debates.  But the president likes the town hall style and he‘ll do well tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  So, they lied? 

GINSBERG:  No, no. 

MATTHEWS:  They said they really didn‘t want to be here, but they wanted to be here most of all. 

GINSBERG:  That‘s what we call good negotiating. 

GREGORY:  I would say...

GINSBERG:  We‘ll do your next contract.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  Of course the irony is they were outsmarted by their own debate negotiating strategy, because the first debate rules hampered George Bush.  They didn‘t help him.  He needed to attack John Kerry and he couldn‘t.  And here, as David was saying, the format doesn‘t necessarily lend itself to attack. 

But in talking to Bush people today, the strategists today said the whole strategy for the next four weeks is attack, attack, attack.  And it is not so much Kerry the flip-flopper is that it is Kerry who is wrong.  He‘s wrong about the war.  He‘s wrong about big government.  We‘ve got the Dolphins and the flip-floppers here.  But I think they may be going...

MATTHEWS:  So you think at 9:00 Eastern tonight, he‘s just going to come out, and no matter what the question Charlie delivers to him from the audience, Charlie Gibson, he‘s just going to say, just like John Edwards did the other night.  You‘re not coming clean.  You‘re wrong, your wrong, you‘re wrong.

FINEMAN:  Well, he has to be careful.  He has to be careful and do it in a likable way. 

GREGORY:  There‘s an evolution here.  You went from the Cheney debate, which they thought laid the groundwork for the speech the government gave the next day.  Which said, forget about the flip-flopper, this is basically a nominee, Senator Kerry who has been anti-war for 20 some odd years on the wrong side of history.  He‘s not tough enough to keep America safe.  This is where they wanted to come full circle tonight.  That‘s the argument.  And frankly, as Howard‘s pointing out, that‘s the argument down the stretch here for undecided voters. 

MATTHEWS:  So they‘ve stopped saying that they‘re both for the war, but one is fickle.  They‘re now saying one is prowar, or strong and the other is dovish. 

GREGORY:  And that he is all wrong on Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Boy that‘s changed.  War and peace, hawk and dove?

GINSBERG:  No.  It is being decisive, and being indecisive.  It is being clear on what you can do and it is all the flip-flopping that John Kerry has done.  That‘s what you‘ll hear about tonight. 

O‘DONNELL:  The president in the speech that David was just talking about, said that Kerry would make the—has a record of weakness and he would make the world more dangerous.  He then called him a tax and spend liberal.  This was a very, very aggressive speech.  It was so aggressive, he can‘t do that again tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  Is the White House adjusting its strategy every day? 

FINEMAN:   Sure.  Because Kerry is changing his.  Kerry went to the full anti-war position, basically, even though he wants to be tough in Fallujah, et cetera.  He‘s basically saying it was a huge mistake.  He‘s going with the flow of the news. 

George Bush‘s real opponent is the news.  It‘s not so much John Kerry. 

It is the flow of the news.  So they‘ve adjusted to it. 

The other big piece of business for Bush tonight, is he‘s got to set up his argument about the economy.  Kerry has benefited from the focus on the commander-in-chief in Iraq issue, because there‘s been next to no discussion of the economy, healthcare and so on.  That‘s a Democratic strength.  George W. Bush has to attack on that ground tonight. 

GREGORY:  Bush said somebody, before the heat of the campaign, he said at one point, there was a guy who ran into in Arkansas who came up to him and said, you know, Mr. President, Massachusetts liberals still has a good ring to it.  And it‘s pretty simple.  That‘s pretty much the strategy that they‘re pursuing down the stretch.  Tax and spend liberal and he‘s not tough enough.  It kind of reminds you of 1988. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not very he edifying, is it? 

This making fun of the part of the country.  If you think about.  Why don‘t we say southern grit?  Why don‘t we make fun of the western cowboy, hicks?  Are we now making fun of different parts of the country?  That‘s OK, now.  You‘re president of all the country, Ben. 

GINSBERG:  That‘s a surrogate for a much larger and deeper debate about what your priorities are in term of how you run a government.  That‘s what this is about.  And that‘s the contrast the president will need to draw up tonight. 

FINEMAN:  And in defense of the president‘s campaign at this point, the Democrats are talking all the time about a Bible Belt that doesn‘t acknowledge science, OK.  So there‘s a little bit of a regional and cultural attack on what the Democrats are doing as well.  It is both sides, because this country is divided culturally right smack down middle. 

MATTHEWS:  How does the Democrat or the Republican win the following fight?  We‘re in a part of the country that is very sensitive to economics.  It always has been.  Very skeptical at the advantages of free trade, for example, same as Ohio.  Very skeptical about free trade and the tax policies and the fiscal policies of this administration.  And yet it is also culturally conservative. 

So if you raise issue of gay marriage and the issue of guns, you win out here if you‘re a Republican.  If you‘re a Democrat and you raise the issue, you‘re only making $7 or $8 an hour, you win as a Democrat.  Tonight will each party try to change the topic?  Do you think the president will go to the cultural issues tonight to try to kill his opponent—Norah? 

O‘DONNELL:  No, I don‘t.  He won‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  He won‘t talk gay marriage, he won‘t talk guns? 

O‘DONNELL:  He‘ll try not to.  I think this is an enormously large audience.  You have mostly, you know, 62.5 million people watched the last debate.  The president wants to go down the road, he wants to speak to swing voters. 

Howard brings up an excellent point, this president is on the defensive to some degree by the news.  He has to deal with Rumsfeld‘s comments this week, that there‘s no connection that he‘s seen evidence between Saddam and al Qaeda.  Two, Bremers comments the U.S. never had enough news in Iraq.  And three, the new CIA report that says there were no weapons of mass destruction. 

Kerry was effective in the first debate, because he took the news, he hit Bush hard right at the top.  Bush immediately got on the defensive and started making those grimaces. 

FINEMAN:  They‘re going to use the unemployment numbers today. 

GREGORY:  I think the values is important.  They‘ve had referendum on gay marriage in this state and in Michigan.  And I think he‘ll do that if he has an opportunity. 

But let‘s not use what they view as the No. 1 issue.  Which is, make John Kerry in the eyes of undecided voters too much of a gamble on national security.  Somebody you can‘t trust to keep the country safe, that‘s what they‘re going to drive home.

MATTHEWS:  Ben, you disagree that that‘s the plan.  We‘ll know by 10:30 tonight Eastern time.

GINSBERG:  We‘ll know by 10:30 tonight.  I think the plan tonight is to draw a contrast.  And in terms of the subjects that you want to bring up, the town hall format is one that really limits more than the others the ability, because you have to relate to the questioner.  So you have to deal with the question.

FINEMAN:  The way this works is Charlie Gibson picks the question.  So partly it is up to Charlie Gibson to determine whether they discuss cultural issues today or not.  I guarantee you unemployment and the employment numbers of today are going to be key in this thing.

MATTHEWS:  I think so.  When we come back, NBC News Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert are going to join us.  You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s coverage of the second presidential debate, live from Washington University in St. Louis, on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In tonight‘s debate, the first between presidential candidates in 16 years, the first ever in which an incumbent president has participated, is taking place for an audience. 

ANNOUNCER:  Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter went head to head in three presidential debates in 1976.  But in their second encounter, President Ford made a crippling political blunder. 

GERALD FORD, 38TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:   I‘m sorry.  Did I understand you to say, sir, that the Russians are not using Eastern Europe as their own sphere of influence? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  ... defend an economy that has failed to grow.  We still have—how did we do that?  

GREGORY:  Well, this is what he‘ll say.  He‘ll say that the economy is growing in the past year.  That there‘s a significant increase in jobs, 1.8 million is the figure.  He‘ll conveniently gloss over the net loss of jobs in the course of his administration.  But he‘ll say, look, we got attacked.  There‘s a resurrection under way in this country after 9/11.  That war didn‘t help but that we‘re slowly coming out of this. 

And what‘s worse?  Even if you‘re not happy with what I‘ve done on the economy, if you give the keys to this guy, John Kerry is going to raise taxes and he‘s going to hurt small business people, the little guy who is trying to add to their... 

MATTHEWS:  How do you...

GREGORY:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that‘s what they‘ll say.

MATTHEWS:  How do you convince people—it‘s not like Iraq where there‘s only a portion of America that‘s over there.  And the journalists and obviously the fighting people.  Everybody knows the state of the economy.  Everybody lives it every day, especially people who are hard hit. 

Ben, how do you convince a guy who is out of work that he is not really out of work or that he‘s really being well paid when he is making $7 an hour and he‘s not getting overtime?  How do you convince him he‘s wrong?

GINSBERG:  You convince him that you‘re taking steps that are bringing things back.  That you had tremendous shocks in the economy in the first couple of years of the administration.  There has been tremendous job growth in the last 13 months.  And if you have to, you go back to 1996 and point out the similarities in the numbers in the economy when Bill Clinton was running for re-election. 

John Kerry was running for re-election and we heard not a word about how bad the unemployment numbers were then. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard, I want to tell you something sophisticated here. 

It‘s highly sophisticated. 

FINEMAN:  Then you‘re asking the wrong... 

MATTHEWS:  People say that because so many people are involved in the stock market today, not in big numbers but in small portions, that they‘ve come to appreciate the business cycle and they‘ve come to appreciate the fact that it is not up to the president to move the switch back and forth as to how much voltage there is in the economy so they don‘t blame him as much, is that true for bad times? 

FINEMAN:  Only halfway true because there are many, many millions more invested in the stock market.  But they‘re looking to see if their nest egg is growing or shrinking.  They don‘t care about the sophisticated analysis.  And I think the fact that the stock market is at a lower point than it was when Bush came in is also hurting Bush.  He‘s the first president since Hoover to preside over not only a net decline in jobs, but a drop in the stock market.  So it is actually hurting him now, not helping him. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go right now to NBC News.  Nightly anchor Tom Brokaw and NBC News Washington bureau chief and moderator of “MEET THE PRESS,” Tim Russert, they‘re joining us right now.

Tom and Tim, thanks for joining us.  The big question I have is that why did President Bush, who is so good as we see him out on the stump dealing with people one to one, face to face, why did his negotiating team try to avoid tonight‘s town meeting? 

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”:  I think if they wanted to have just two debates, they were hoping that they could get off on the fast track last week with the foreign policy debate and then have domestic debate.  They didn‘t know where some of these votes were going to -- some of these questions were going to come from.  They didn‘t trust the selection process so they would rather go one-on-one.  But now they know that they have got to recover after last week, so they‘re going to go here. 

Can I just pick up on something, Chris, that you were talking about with the jobs numbers and something else?  I think a number that has not gotten enough attention this week is the price of oil.  It has now hit $53 a barrel.  Lee Scott from Wal-Mart says it is a $10 a week tax on the working class in this country.  It is taking a billion dollars out of the purchasing power of the working class.  And my guess is that we haven‘t paid enough attention to that. 

TIM RUSSERT, HOST, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Yes, remember earlier in the year, a big story when Prince Bandar suggested the Saudis might lower the price of oil as it got near the election because he likes to have good relationships with all the candidates running for president of the United States.  That didn‘t happen.

And Chris, my gut tells me we may hear a question from these people tonight about gasoline prices, what it mean to their tank.  And you‘re asking why no town hall originally.  It is the risk factor.  And this is the president and he is the former president‘s son.  He remembers the last time his dad was in a town hall.  He looked at his watch.  And it was devastating.

You won‘t see any smirks, any grimaces, any watch-looking tonight from George W. Bush. 

BROKAW:  And the fact is that this president is better than his dad was at relating to people.  And the Kerry people expect that tonight, he‘ll make some joke about the faces that he made last week.  They‘re calling it the “head fake” of some kind, that he‘ll refer to that in that self-deprecating fashion that he has. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about John Kerry, the challenger.  He had a good week.  His numbers are even now with the president‘s, according to “TIME” magazine.  But he has a personality challenge ahead of him tonight, doesn‘t he? 

I noticed he was on “Dr. Phil” this week answering all kinds of incredibly personal questions about how do you prepare children for divorce?  Amazingly intimate admissions.  Is he in training as well to be personable tonight? 

BROKAW:  Yes, it has always been a big issue for the Kerry campaign, how do they raise, if you will, his likeability quotient, because as we have said repeatedly along the campaign trail, you can‘t win on the fine print alone,  people have to be comfortable with who you are. 

I have on “NIGHTLY NEWS” earlier tonight, two families from here in Missouri, one going to vote only for John Kerry, the other one never going to vote for John Kerry, they‘re very pro Bush people. 

I said is there anything that could change you tonight to the pro Bush people, to vote for John Kerry?  And they said absolutely nothing at all.  These are evangelical Christians.  So he has to find some common ground out here in these battleground states: Iowa, Missouri, and so on, with that group, in terms of personally connecting with them. 

RUSSERT:  And Chris, it is a mad search for any independent swing voter he can possibly find.  In terms of the traditional news shows, they‘re not going near them.  John Kerry‘s hi Regis, hi Kelly, hi Dr.  Phil, “the Daily Show,” Leno, Letterman, he‘ll go anywhere in an alternative venue to try to find someone who hasn‘t made up their mind about this race. 

BROKAW:  If Tim would do meet the press at 3:00 in the morning on channel 109, he would have a small shot at getting him on.  But only then. 

MATTHEWS:  This is a personal question for you, Tom.  Do you think everybody is going to follow your example of earlier this week and suspending any instant judgment as to who wins tonight? 

BROKAW:  Oh, no.  I think it is too great a temptation.  I‘m going to try to hold to that pledge that I make myself every time there‘s one of these debates.  Because as we have seen already, the people take some time and make up their minds and then the polls begin to percolate in a different way after four or five days.  They pass it around, chew it over.  They listen to what we have to say after we come out of these debates.  But they remain very independent.  I‘m always heartened by that. 

RUSSERT:  I think this one, Chris, will have more of a post debate spin than the last one, because it is Friday night.  A lot of people are not going to watch this debate the way they did the first one.  A lot of TiVo, a lot of VCR, a lot of young people will miss it.  But word of mouth on Saturday and Sunday at the high school football games and Tuesday around the water cooler is going to be very important as to who won this debate. 

BROKAW:  Here in Missouri alone, they‘ll be saying to each other, what did you think about Friday night?  Hey,, the Cardinals look great.  That‘s what they‘ll be talking about. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you amazed at the number when we looked at them the last couple days, on the V.P. debate where so few people broke from partisan lines.  I think it was like 5 percent of one party gave the other guy the win.  And about 6 percent of one party gave the other guy the win?  Does that say where the votes are finally solidifying and people are just saying, my guy won?

BROKAW:  Yes.  I think there‘s some of that.  I was also surprised by the number of people in both parties who call me.  Democrats who call me to lament the performance of Senator Edwards.  Republicans who called me to say they thought Dick Cheney was too old and too grumpy.  So, I think there‘s a lot of anxiety on both sides and they may have canceled each other out. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Tom and Tim, thank you.  We‘ll be back with you in the next hour. 

Up next, we‘re going to check back with our panel.  You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s coverage of the second presidential debate.  Live from Washington University in St. Louis on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s special coverage of the second of the three presidential debates.  We‘re live at Washington University in St. Louis.  Let‘s talk to our panel. 

I‘m always impressed when somebody is still standing after a bad streak of luck.  The president‘s had a report there were no WMD, as he claimed there were at the beginning of the war in Iraq.  We know that Bremer, the guy he put in there that he trusted the most, maybe the next secretary of state there for a while, I don‘t think so now, says he didn‘t have enough troops and then this bad economic report today.  And yet the numbers show the president is basically even.  Does that show, David, he can take the worst? 

GREGORY:  I think he may be able to take the worst.  But there is erosion.  They admit that.  There has been a slide in the polls.  Kerry has made this a tighter race and brought himself back from the brink.  And everybody acknowledges that. 

I think the reality on some of the bad news—I think on Iraq, I don‘t think people dissect it the way we may.  I think they look at it and say he made a mess of Iraq, or we have got to stay on the hunt, get after all of them, there are beheadings, they‘re attacking Israelis in Egypt and it‘s a big problem and just stay on the hunt.  I‘m not so sure people start dissecting all of the particulars. 

O‘DONNELL:  There are two things the Bush-Cheney campaign official says.  One, they say well most people already thought there weren‘t any weapons of mass destruction so that‘s probably not surprising to people in their mind.  The other thing is, they make the case, it was right to take the action to remove Saddam Hussein, Kerry doesn‘t believe that.  They break it down to that very simple explanation.  Kerry, on the other hand, now is making the argument, Bush just can‘t deal with the truth. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, at least half the people say we shouldn‘t have gone to Iraq. 

FINEMAN:  The big thing for Kerry people is the Bush people have lost touch with reality, they were passing out little paper rose colored glasses in the press room. 

MATTHEWS:  I saw the rose colored classes.

Coming up—by they way, they weren‘t 3-D.  They didn‘t work.  Coming up, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee will join us, Terry McAuliffe.  He‘s here, and we will ask him what we should expect from Senator Kerry in tonight‘s debate.

We‘ll also here from Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie.

You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s coverage of the second presidential debate live from the great Washington University in St. Louis on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to tonight‘s second presidential debate.  I have got the chairman of the Democratic National Committee with me right now, Terry McAuliffe.

Terry, I‘ve been looking at the polls today, not just the national poll, which is dead even now in the “TIME” magazine poll.  But all the states that seem to be in play, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Ohio, are all so dead even.  How do you see it?

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN:  Well, we‘ve made tremendous movement since last Thursday. 

You look at John Kerry on that stage on the podium, showed strength, showed that he‘s fighting for the middle class, has a plan to deal with Iraq, will go out and hunt and kill those terrorists.  But you know what?  He‘s also going to fight for the middle class in this country. 

George Bush had an embarrassing performance last week.  He was arrogant.  He was angry.  He had trouble putting his sentences together.  I‘ve never seen a president, Chris, waiting for the lights to come on because he didn‘t have enough to say.  John Kerry has an awful lot to say.  He‘s going to fight for working families, the middle class in this country.  So you have seen that movement.  You saw it with John Edwards in his debate.  So we‘re moving.  This campaign is moving.  And it is exciting. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve had presidents who were not known to be articulate, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan at times.  Is that an argument against a president, that he is not good at putting sentences together, as you say? 

MCAULIFFE:  I think—well, the problem we had the other night, Americans looking at that, is that George Bush looked disinterested. 

People got real serious questions.  And they want answers to those questions.  And George Bush looked like he could have cared less, almost wondered, why are you questioning me?  Why is Jim Lehrer and John Kerry questioning him?  People are worried today.  George Bush is the first president in 72 years not to create a single net new job. 

We have 45 million Americans today who no health insurance.  He underfunded education by $30 billion and a mess in Iraq.  They deserve to have answers to the questions.  And the other night, it looked like George Bush didn‘t want to give them answers. 

MATTHEWS:  If the issues are important, why did you put your candidate on “Dr. Phil” the other day? 

MCAULIFFE:  I think it is important for everybody to see John Kerry. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s not an issues program. 

MCAULIFFE:  Well, he clearly talks about issues every day, Chris.  But you have got to see all kinds of John Kerry.  It is exciting.  John Kerry is out talking to everybody.  You can feel the momentum.  Tonight, there‘s a lot of pressure on George Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCAULIFFE:  He can‘t have a good performance.  He‘s got to have a great performance tonight.

MATTHEWS:  I think John Kerry did a wonderful job of presenting his case to people last week in a very formal fashion.  He dressed very formally.  He behaved and conducted himself like a president.  How does he get down and jive with the president tonight?  How does he act like Mr.  Regular, when we all know that John Kerry is a very formal person? 

MCAULIFFE:  Clearly what the Americans want, Chris, most importantly are answers to the questions.  People are very worried today.  They want to know who is going to fight for the middle class.  This has been a horrible week for George Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCAULIFFE:  You had the Duelfer report come out.  You had Ambassador Bremer saying we didn‘t have enough troops.  You had Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld saying that there were no ties between 9/11 and Iraq.  You‘ve had Republicans Senators McCain and Lugar and Hagel coming out saying we have a mess in Iraq.  It has been a bad 10 days.

So we want John Kerry out there serious, talking about the issues, showing strength, command of these issues.  That‘s what they want in their commander in chief.  We have very challenging times today.  And that‘s why John Kerry is doing so well. 

MATTHEWS:  We hear that the president is going to go on the attack tonight early on and he is going to make the case that John Kerry would not be a man to be trusted to defend the country.  Your response? 

MCAULIFFE:  Well, let me tell you, John Kerry stood up and fought for this country. 

I remind you, Chris, this man had two tours of duty in Vietnam up and down the Mekong Delta,  risked his life to save the lives of others, then in the United States fighting on the issues for 20 years.  I find that an insult when George Bush or anyone else raise those issues.  John Kerry has proven himself.  He has fought for this nation.  He has had to kill people for this nation.  He knows what it is to put on a uniform and fight for this nation. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take some questions, Terry, with the students here.

MCAULIFFE:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Do you have any questions for the chairman of the national

·         Democratic National Committee? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What do I tell my Republican, Texan brother-in-law?  What do I say to him when I‘m defending for Kerry? 

MCAULIFFE:  I think what you tell him, you‘re going to have a fresh start in Iraq.  We‘re going to fix the issues and the situation that we have in Iraq today.  John Kerry will keep you safer here at home.  And he will fight for the middle class. 

George Bush continually takes care of the top 1 percent, large corporations like Halliburton.  But he is not doing anything for 99 percent of the folks in this country whose health care costs have gone up 50 percent.  Education costs have gone up 35 percent.  They‘ve seen the cost of gasoline $53 for a barrel of oil.  Costs of gas at the pumps.  Everything has gone up, but their incomes have gone down. 

John Kerry will fix that. 

MATTHEWS:  Terry, let‘s go this lady, this young lady right here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What does Kerry plan to do in terms of amending relations with our international allies? 

MCAULIFFE:  Well, clearly, first and foremost, John Kerry will always tell our allies the truth.  And I think that‘s very important.  You saw the report, the Duelfer report that has just come out.  Clearly, they had no weapons of mass destruction.  They had no intentions of having weapons of mass destruction. 

George Bush misled America and the world.  He will always tell the truth.  He will sit down with the world leaders as soon as he is president, bring us all together.  It is always better when we can resolve these conflicts working with our allies side by side with the United States of America.  George Bush‘s arrogant go-alone strategy has not worked. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go over and talk to some Republicans.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to some Bush people here. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, I have a question.  How can you build alliances when you insult our allies? 

MCAULIFFE:  Well, John Kerry is not insulting our allies.  John Kerry has said he will sit down with our allies day one.  Prime Minister Allawi will tell you that we have a horrible situation in Iraq today. 

We had another beheading today.  We have kidnappings.  We have lost 1,100 of our soldiers.  We‘re 90 percent of the costs, 90 percent of the casualties.  Prime Minister Allawi in Iraq needs help.  And you know what?  John Kerry will provide him with that help.  We‘ll bring international support in.  That‘s the best thing that can happen to Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re in the Bush zone here.  Another question for Terry.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How are we supposed to trust a president who doesn‘t really know what he believes in? 

MCAULIFFE:  Well, I can just tell you, John Kerry, his entire life, if you look at his history of 20 years in the Senate, a prosecutor, went at a very young age and went and fought for this country, he knows exactly who he is.  And he knows exactly what he wants to do for this country. 

John Kerry is a man of strength, a man of passion, a man of commitment.  And he is offering America hope.  And help is on the way for so many Americans.  But this man has fought his whole life for folks. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that a familiar face? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All these programs he wants to add to our country, they are going to only cause taxes to raise and the deficit to raise.  How are you going to explain that to the American people? 

MCAULIFFE:  Well, first and foremost, George Bush has presided over the largest budget deficit in the history of our country, $422 billion this year, the largest deficit our nation has ever had. 

When Bill Clinton left office, he left a $5.6 real surplus, which is now a $3.8 trillion debt.  Let‘s forget the tax cut to the top 1 percent.  Let‘s give a tax cut to 99 percent of the workers in this country.  You know what?  When you give them money, they go out and inject money into the system.  We did it in the ‘90s, 22 million new jobs created. 

I remind you that Bill Clinton created more millionaires and billionaires than any other time in the history of our country, but also more people moved out of poverty.  When you get a Democrat like John Kerry in the White House, everybody benefits.  And that‘s what America is all about.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s Terry McAuliffe, who is ready for a town meeting of his own. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  When we come back, we‘ll hear from Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie.

You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the second presidential debate in Saint Louis. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s special coverage of the second of the three presidential debates.  We‘re here live at Washington University in Saint Louis. 

Let‘s go now to MSNBC‘s Chris Jansing, who is in the spin room with Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie. 

CHRIS JANSING, NBC CORRESPONDENT:   Thanks very much, Chris.  And he was standing here listening to what Terry McAuliffe had to say. 

Let me give you ask you about some of it, give you a chance to respond.  This is a different dynamic.  The polls have closed since the first debate.  Is the onus on President Bush to close the gap, to try to have a great performance this time? 

(LAUGHTER)

ED GILLESPIE, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  A little (INAUDIBLE) there by Terry.

Look, the fact is, every day in this election is important right now.  We knew—when the president was up a bunch a little while ago, I said this is going to close at the end.  When he was down a bunch in the early summer after the Democrats‘ convention, I said this is going to close.

(CROSSTALK)

JANSING:  But they have got the momentum after the first debate. 

Wouldn‘t you rather be there? 

GILLESPIE:  The numbers are closing because that‘s where the electorate is.  It‘s a closely divided country today.  The fact is, every day is important.  The debate tonight is important.  The debate next week in Tempe will be important.  And every day from that day through November 2 will be important. 

So I have no doubt the president is going to do very well tonight.  He‘s going to continue to highlight the differences between his approach to governing and Senator Kerry‘s, which is significant. 

JANSING:  Well, let‘s talk about some of those differences. 

GILLESPIE:  Sure.

JANSING:  Because the people will ask about them.  And, arguably, as the news cycle has gone against you, new jobless report out today.  The number of new jobs created far less than had been expected.  The Kerry campaign is expected to go after that very tough tonight. 

GILLESPIE:  Well, sure.  And they‘re welcome to. 

The fact is, we are on our 13th straight month of jobs creation.  This president inherited a recession.  That‘s not my estimation.  That was the estimation of Joseph Stiglitz, former President Clinton‘s chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.  His tax relief package turned that recession into a recovery.  The fact is that we are now at almost two million jobs created in the past year. 

(CROSSTALK)

JANSING:  And what they‘ll say in response is that it‘s the first president since Hoover who in four years will have a net job loss. 

GILLESPIE:  Chris, the president is the first president, unfortunately, that was the president when the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11.  We lost a million job in the three months after September 11. 

The fact is that his policies are resulting in economic growth today.  And if John Kerry‘s policies were in place, higher taxes, more regulation, rampant litigation, we will reverse that economic growth.  We will go back to a recession possibly under his policies. 

JANSING:  Let‘s talk about a couple of other things in the news. 

Terry mentioned it quite a few times, the Duelfer report. 

GILLESPIE:  Yes. 

JANSING:  No WMDs, unfortunately, another beheading in Iraq today.  I heard a lot of people around Saint Louis talking about that.  What does the president say about the situation in Iraq? 

GILLESPIE:  Well, the president has said, obviously, that the Duelfer report said that there was obviously errors in our intelligence.  They have not found stockpiles of WMD.

Terry was wrong when he said there was no intention on the part of Saddam Hussein.  That is not what the Duelfer report said.  And, in fact, the Duelfer report is clear that Saddam Hussein was trying to wait out the sanctions and punch holes in the sanctions and in fact, through the oil-for-food program was essentially there was corruption involving Saddam Hussein‘s regime and involving China and Russia and France. 

We now know maybe why they were unwilling to remove Saddam Hussein from power.  Senator Kerry says he would have a global test and all those folks would have to give us a passing grade or a failing grade before we acted in our own national security interests.  I think that this Duelfer report undermines the whole notion of a global test.  We don‘t know what their motive is in terms of what our national security interests are. 

JANSING:  The Democrats think that plays into their strategy, which they are—they‘re going around here passing out little rose-colored glasses, saying the American people are on to the president, that he is painting a rosy picture of the economy, of an Iraq that doesn‘t exist. 

GILLESPIE:  Well, the fact is, I don‘t know what was rose-colored about what I said relative to the Duelfer report.  The Duelfer report speaks for itself. 

The president has been clear.  Being successful and victorious in Iraq is not easy, but it is important.  And when John Kerry says wrong place, wrong time, he‘s wrong.  The fact is that we are better off fighting over there now, rather than fighting over here later.  And the fact is, in the war on terror, Iraq and Afghanistan are the front lines in this war on terror. 

Senator Kerry himself said terrorists are streaming across the border into Iraq.  We need to fight them there.  It is the front lines. 

JANSING:  RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, always great to talk to you. 

GILLESPIE:  Thank you. 

JANSING:  Thanks very much—Chris, back to you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Chris Jansing and Ed Gillespie.

When we return, Joe Trippi will join us and we‘ll hear more from the students here at Washington University. 

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

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to Washington University, the site of tonight‘s second presidential debate.  It is going to be a town meeting-style debate.  It is going to be very exciting.  And it‘s going to be starting any minute now. 

I want to get some thoughts from Joe Trippi, who is on the line right now.

Joe Trippi, thanks for joining us.

Joe, you put together the Dean campaign.  You basically created the notion of a blogging-style campaign.  First question, are young people going to vote this year? 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

JOE TRIPPI, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Oh, they‘re definitely going to vote. 

There‘s so much energy. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What about globally? 

(LAUGHTER)

TRIPPI:  There‘s so much energy all over the country.  And I‘ve been out talking a lot and speaking on campuses and high schools.  And it is just amazing, the amount of energy. 

Young people are really going to be involved in this election.  And the one thing I would point out is, pollsters are not good at polling using cellular phones.  They can‘t reach someone who only has a cellular phone.  And so many of today‘s young people only use cellular phones.  And I‘m not sure they‘re being counted in the numbers that they‘ll be turning out on Election Day. 

MATTHEWS:  So, unless you have a land line, you‘re not likely to be polled. 

TRIPPI:  Exactly. 

And so when you have this huge surge of young people voting, they really may have the outcome in their hands.  The young people of this country, because they‘re not being measured accurately by pollsters, I think could decide the whole thing.  And most polls where they do measure young people show a substantial margin for John Kerry.  So I think he may have a leg up.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  Explain that margin.  Joe, what is moving that margin?  Why are the younger people—I remember Ronald Reagan was able to really capture the majority of the young voters.  What happened now?  What‘s going on today? 

TRIPPI:  I think that, one, something about 9/11 really energized this generation more than others to get involved. 

And it really sprung up early in 2003 with the Dean campaign.  But I think the Dean campaign and Democrats have been doing a better job of communicating with young people in their medium, the Internet, and using cell phones and other technology.  And we‘re speaking out.  Kerry has been speaking out on their issues. 

So I really think, in the end, they‘re not being measured by these polls.  And you really sense an energy, not just where you are, but across the country.  At every campus we‘ve been to—and you were out there doing a HARDBALL tour on campuses across the country—and I think you felt it yourself. 

People, young people, are really, really enthused this election about making a difference. 

MATTHEWS:  My only question is, you know the Nike commercial that says do it?

TRIPPI:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just concerned that they actually do actually sign up, get their absentee ballots and get their votes organized and show up at the polling booth.  You say they will.

TRIPPI:  Yes.  I think they will.  And I think there‘s an interesting thing going on tonight on the Net at a sight called dailykos.com.  They‘ve actually decided that hundred of thousands of Americans are going to come together tonight and fact-check everything in this campaign. 

They believe that 200,000 Americans actually fact-checking everything that‘s said in this debate, that they have more person power, brain power than any network or any of the campaigns to actually collectively be out there researching and immediately fact-checking and correcting the candidates. 

This is young people actually getting involved on the Internet in a way that has never happened before.  And it is going to happen for the first time tonight.  And then, of course, we have got Keith Olbermann and his blow-by-blow account of the debate that will be happening at Hardblogger.com. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Ben Ginsberg right now.

Tell me about the Republican effort to get out there on the blogs yourselves. 

GINSBERG:  The Republicans have a really sort of unique effort for Republicans to go out through the RNC and also the Bush-Cheney campaign, lots of lists, lots of campus organizing.  It is all really geared toward the get-out-the-vote effort on campuses.  And it is going to be unprecedented, I think, in its size and scope. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, we have got a question for Joe Trippi. 

Sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi, Mr. Trippi.  My name is Carl Caesar (ph). 

A large part of this debate has boiled down to records, whether being Vietnam or voting in the Congress.  And, in response, in the vice presidential debate, Mr. Edwards replied to Dick Cheney that a long resume isn‘t necessarily a good thing.  Could this also be used against Mr. Kerry in the debate later tonight?  And, if so, how do you think Mr. Kerry should best respond? 

TRIPPI:  Well, I think John Kerry has had a lot of experience in government.  I don‘t think that is going to be a problem with him.  He also has experience actually being in a war in Vietnam. 

So I don‘t think that—I think what Edwards was trying to say is that look at all your experience, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, and look at the mess we‘re in. 

So experience, just experience on its own, doesn‘t matter if you‘re not right.  And I think they may—you will probably have the president—

I mean, Kerry make that same claim tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to the Next person. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

While this whole war in Iraq is going on, Iran is on the verge of going nuclear.  And I‘m wondering whether Kerry is categorically opposed to going under a preemptive attack on Iran and whether Bush can afford to do another preemptive strike at this point. 

MATTHEWS:  You want to take that, Joe?

TRIPPI:  Yes. 

I mean, preemptive—I think a preemptive war should be—I don‘t know that it is going to come up much in this debate, but it should be a debate that happens where the American people understand the consequences.  One of the things you have to have with preemptive war—I think the Kerry campaign would tell you this—is that you have to have real good intelligence. 

You can‘t say like what turns out to have happened in Iraq bad intelligence and go in and preempt, because, you know, it‘s hard to say oops after you‘ve gone in there.  And that‘s what we‘re seeing the consequences of now.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Joe Trippi. 

Thanks a lot, Joe, for joining us tonight.

TRIPPI:  Thank you.  

MATTHEWS:  Norah O‘Donnell, David Gregory, Ben Ginsberg, Howard Fineman.

We‘re just about one hour away right now from the start of tonight‘s big second presidential debate.  And coming up in the next—that‘s coming up in the next hour.  And, of course, we‘re going to hear from both campaigns as the evening goes on.  We‘re going to hear from Tim Russert and Tom Brokaw again and from Dick Gephardt.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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