updated 10/12/2004 10:18:44 AM ET 2004-10-12T14:18:44

Guests: Ben Ginsberg, Nicolle Devenish, Stephanie Cutter, Richard Gephardt

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  And welcome to MSNBC‘s special coverage of the second president decks debate in St.  Louis tonight.  We‘re live from the beautiful campus of Washington University in St. Louis, joined by students, faculty and neighbors on a lawn just across from the hall where President Bush and Senator John Kerry take stage in one hour and face off in a debate that could be the tipping point in this wild election. 

The pressure is on the president.  Can he convince voters to stay the course, or will John Kerry deliver another strong performance and keep his momentum going into the final stretch? 

We have the event covered with reports from NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw and the Tim Russert NBC news Washington Bureau chief and the moderator of “Meet the Press.”  Plus, MSNBC‘s Chris Jansing in the “Spin Room.”  And David Shuster back in Washington. 

If you want to participate in tonight‘s debate directly and personally, you can vote online after it is all over.  MSNBC is conducting a survey of who you say won.  It will give us an indication of where you stand.  And also how the parties are mobilizing their vote online.  MSNBC‘s live vote will open at 10:30 Eastern right after the debate. 

Now let‘s go to my primetime panel.  NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC political analyst Ron Reagan.  He said darkly.  Republican trial attorney Ben Ginsberg.  And MSNBC political analyst Patrick J. Buchanan. 

The big question tonight, I want some predictions, because I‘m getting awful nervous about making pronouncements.  So I want to get some predictions.

Let‘s go to the other end first.  Patrick J. Buchanan.  As an objective, nonpolitical, unbiased estimate of who will be declared by others, the winner tonight. 

PATRICK J. BUCHANAN, POLITICAL ANALYST:  My guess would be the president of the United States, Chris.  I think he‘s going to put in a much better performance than last week.  I think he is going to be calm.  I think he‘s going to have a sense of humor.  I think he‘s going to be responsive.  And I think it is his hope and expectation, it would be mine, that he would cancel out the effect performance of last week. 

And if he does that, I think Republicans and conservative will give a sigh of relief, as they did in the second Reagan-Mondale debate when President Reagan gave that memorable answer and he stopped all those concerns that had come out of the first debate.  I‘m picking the president of the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Ben Ginsberg, did you vote absentee already? 

BEN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY:  Several times. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s perfectly all right to agree.  But do you think so. 

GINSBERG:  Yes.  I do.  Look, the expectations have now been set lower for the president.  Frankly, that‘s a position he‘s more comfortable in.  He likes this format.  He knows how to connect with people in a positive way.  And I think that he is going to do much, much better tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  So the people tonight are coming to participate have been told their coming to a petting zoo. Is that right?  Is it that bad? 

GINSBERG:  No, no, no.  It is the hard, probing questions he wants to handle. 

MATTHEWS:  I thought they had gotten expectations really low. 

Ron Reagan, do you buy this theory that this is the second Mondale-Reagan debate.  And after a bad show by your father at first, when came back like dynamite? 

RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, George W. Bush isn‘t Ronald Reagan.  So, I don‘t know about that.  But the expectations game, I kind of agree with Ben.  They‘ve been lowered for the president.  He is more comfortable there.  And in some ways, yes, he is competing against John Kerry, but he is also competing against himself in the first debate.  And that should be much easier than beating John Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  Andrea.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I think the burden is on on the president to perform tonight.  And I think that this format is absolutely, probably, pretty good for him.  First of all, all of these people, these ordinary people, they‘re speaking to the president of the United States.  And that gives him a big advantage to John Kerry.  Because no matter what you think of him, he is the office holder. 

I also think, though, that John Kerry has got two big weapons tonight.  One is the job report, which was disappointing to the Republicans.  And the other is of course, the weapons of mass destruction report. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me give you another view.  Suppose you have—these people are all described as soft Bush, soft Kerry or undecided.  People at this point in the campaign, after months and months of argument, still can‘t be convinced by either candidate, I would suggest they‘re difficult personalities, OK.  And they‘re so difficult that they have got grievances.  Just guessing.  And they‘re going to address their grievance to the man in charge.  The super.  They‘re going to bang on the pipes tonight and say more hot water. 

Do you think anybody is going to say, great show, Mr. President, well done.  Or are they going to say, I can‘t get a job, my sister-in-law can‘t get a job, my kid is graduating from college and he can‘t get a job.  Isn‘t it a complaint session tonight, Ben? 

GINSBERG:  No.  I‘m not sure it is going to be a complaint session, because  Charlie Gibson‘s job as moderator is to sort through the 160 questions that he gets from the panelists and pick 20 at a maximum to ask.  I think that‘s probably a leavening effect...

MATTHEWS:  You mean, they won‘t just be personal complaints about disability... 

GINSBERG:  No, no.  Charlie is going to try to get a wide ranging... 

BUCHANAN:  That‘s not bad, Chris, to have an adversarial question to the president of the United States.  It will get him going.  He has always risen—so far as I‘ve seen, he has always risen to the occasion when he‘s had a difficult situation.  September 20...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he‘s done well with press conferences? 

BUCHANAN:  No, no, no.  I‘m talking about great occasions, on the pile down there in Manhattan.  That September 20 speech of his I thought was a memorable speech.  I think he knows the pressure is on him tonight...

MATTHEWS:  But those were prearranged, prerehearsed written speeches

by others. 

BUCHANAN:  All right.  He did three debates against Al Gore where he won all thee.  And I‘ll tell you, that surprised Patrick J. Buchanan. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  And I think he did as well.  But I wonder if he is as good as he was when he started. 

MITCHELL:  Both of these candidates would have been better served if they had been holding press conferences.  This is not just special pleading for those of us in the press.  They‘re not used to getting tough questions.  And frankly, a lot of Kerry‘s people have been telling him now, he had one yesterday.  Get out there.  Because you need that exchange.  You can‘t just hear your own voice in your ear. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you know why Jimmy Carter lost to your father, one of the reasons, besides the hostage crisis?  The Rose Garden strategy.  You can‘t take yourself out of the fight and expect to win. 

Let‘s take a look at what Pat was saying.  Let‘s take a look at how the president did, both candidates have done in town hall formats in the past.  During the presidential town hall debate in 2000, an audience member asked then Governor Bush about his opposition to the Brady Bill.  Let‘s take a look at that exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We would like to know why you object to the Brady Handgun bill, if do you object to it.  Because in a recent TV ad, it showed the National Rifle Association says if you are elected, that they will be working out of your office. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That wasn‘t my ad.  And that I think might have been on one of my opponent‘s ads. 

Here‘s what I believe, sir.  I believe law-abiding citizens ought to be allowed to protect themselves and their families.  I believe that we ought to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn‘t have them.  That‘s why I‘m more instant background checks at gun shows.  I‘m for trigger locks.  I think that makes sense.  But I also believe strongly that we need to enforce laws on the books.  That the best way to make sure that we keep our society safe and secure is to hold people accountable for breaking the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  In a town hall meeting in August, Senator Kerry was questioned on his Vietnam service and his inconsistency on Iraq.  Let‘s look at that exchange. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you waffle on issues?  Are you telling truth in Vietnam? 

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  All the guys who were with me in the specific action where they could see it and do it, absolutely document what I said.  As you‘ve seen in the last few days, you‘re now learning about the lie that‘s been put out there and how it has been put out there. 

The United States Navy 35 years ago, when it was fresh, did its own documentation.  Those documents stand.  And I am absolutely telling you the God‘s honest truth about what happened and what took place over there. 

And it‘s not waffling to say that something that you voted for, that they‘re not doing properly, ought to be done properly. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think any of the candidates will have the nerve tonight to actually argue with one of the people? 

REAGAN:  I don‘t think they‘ll have an opportunity.  The way the rules are set up here after the person asks the question, they cut the mic off. 

MATTHEWS:  What about challenging the premise of the question?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Here‘s the thing, they can do it, but as Ron and I were reading the rules, the president, you know, if he gets a tough question he can know right back at this fellow and go at him and go at him and the guy has to sit there mute.  A golden opportunity. 

MITCHELL:  The questioner can‘t come back and say, but you didn‘t answer my question.  Now Charley Gibson, of course, is the moderator and do what Jim Lehrer did and hold him to account. 

MATTHEWS:  Can he do that? 

MITCHELL:  He can sort of push the rules a little bit. 

MATTHEWS:  The smart thing politicians are always taught to do in these kinds of situations, and Patrick, you‘ve been a politician, is to  answer the question briskly, especially if it‘s a negative question.  And then give your speech.  Get it over with and then turn where you want to turn. 

BUCHANAN:  Do a sharp repost and then give a good cheer line following it.  But the problem here is, the audience can‘t respond to the good cheer line.  That could be a problem for the president. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you stop them? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, they stopped them down in Miami.  I don‘t know how you stop them. 

(CROSSTALK)

GINSBERG:  They were giving them pep talks for about an hour in a jocksternation (ph) session beforehand that says you‘re not allowed to talk.

BUCHANAN:  And they probably show them the police who are going to drag you out if you make a response.

REAGAN:  You know how polite this crowd is here.  We told them to be quiet and they do. 

MATTHEWS:  I wouldn‘t push that point. 

MITCHELL:  It may an great debate tonight.  We shouldn‘t call it a debate.  It will be a great town meeting.  But I just wish that these rules were more flexible.  And that they could follow up, call each other on inaccuracies.  Truth squad each other the way we do after the sessions are over. 

MATTHEWS:  The reason they don‘t is because nobody wants to flip a coin for who the next president is, right?  That would be risky. 

BUCHANAN:  They might have been able to do that.  I think you‘re exactly right.  Get a balanced audience.  Let them respond.  They could  probably have done that if you had these debates say September 3, where both candidates could say, look, if it is a bad night and they‘re all booing and hissing, there‘s plenty of time to come back.  We‘re getting so late in this game that no one wants to take a chance.  I can‘t blame either side for making these rules. 

MATTHEWS:  In football, you flip a coin to see who kicks and who

receives.  Tonight they don‘t flip a coin.  Both guys try to receive.  Both

guys will go out there on the offense at the same exact moment which does -

·         Ben, you know how it is.  It could well be that we‘re going to watch something at 9:00 that—Eastern time—that will be absolutely stunning.  Both guys coming out and throwing their punch within a minute. 

GINSBERG: Throwing them quick.  Being able to play off the audience.  They do have certain points that they know they have to get across.  And demeanor also matters a great deal especially in this town hall format.  Again with Kerry needing to show he has a heart and the president needing to overcome some of the smirks from last time. 

MATTHEWS:  Will they be wearing their casual clothes tonight or will they show up like us in business wear? 

GINSBERG:  I think they‘ll show up looking presidential. 

MATTHEWS:  No casual wear tonight?

GINSBERG:  I don‘t think so.

MITCHELL:  On the run-through, the president went and spent maybe ten minutes.  They‘re calling it—it was supposed to be a walk-through.  They‘re calling it a run-through because he was so confident.  He came in and he was apparently joking around.  And Kerry spent a little bit longer. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How can the president defend the state of the economy compared to the glowing terms that have been used for months now about how it‘s roaring back.  How does he do it?

BUCHANAN:  Here‘s what he says.  I came into office.  We inherited a recession.  We had 9/11 which was a disaster.  We‘ve had two wars.  We‘ve created two million jobs in the last year.  This thing is on a roll.  There are a lot of folks who want to poor mouth us into poverty and recession again.  It won‘t happen.  Be positive and talk high about the country.  I think he can do it.

MATTHEWS:  Can he say things are better than they seem though because you know, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) these polling numbers on the economy lag.  People‘s feelings, you know, they lag well behind economic conditions.  There may well be a bunch of jobs opening somewhere.  If you don‘t have one, you don‘t feel like it. 

BUCHANAN:  I think the economy is pretty much, it was not good.  It was sort of a blah report for the president today.  The economy is baked in the cake.  If your portfolio soared and you‘re happy, you know it.  If you lost your job, you‘re making $8 an hour, running messages and you lost a job in a manufacturing plant, you know it.  So people, I think, are probably pretty much decided on the economy, on their own situation. 

MATTHEWS:  But I also think there‘s a group of people who are parents.  These kids here, for example, behind us here.  They‘re facing the job market at the age of 22 or so.  They want to get a pretty good start.  Their parents are out there thinking, why is my kid getting stuck in a pretty bad situation here? 

BUCHANAN:  You‘re right.  The parents are concerned about that.  They probably have been concerned for a couple of years now on this situation.  I don‘t think anything these fellows say will change that apprehension that people already know. 

MITCHELL:  What Kerry is going to say, and what they‘re spinning today from the Democratic side, is that in the past four months, you‘re not seeing a progression.  You‘re not seeing an improvement in the jobs picture so they don‘t have the bounce, the momentum going in. 

GINSBERG:  But you are seeing positive job growth in 47 out of the 50 states over the past year.  And that‘s a statistic that they‘ll be able to play on. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Coming up, we‘re going to get an inside track on what both campaigns feel the candidates need to do.  That listener talking about they have to hit tonight.  You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s coverage of the second presidential debate which is coming on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go right now to Chris Jansing who is with the Bush campaign. 

CHRIS JANSING, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Thanks very much, Chris.  We‘re feeling a different dynamic tonight than before the first campaign when George Bush was leading.  Now we‘re looking at the statistical dead heat.  Nicolle, it is always good of you to come over.  What does the president have to do tonight?

NICOLLE DEVENISH, BUSH/CHENEY ‘04 COMM. DIRECTOR:  I think it is an important night for both campaigns.  I think the choice is really coming into focus.  I think John Kerry is shaping up to be someone who would like to be our complainer-in-chief.  George Bush is showing that truth telling and optimism can certainly co-exist. 

JANSING:  The Democrats say what hurt him was that he was scowler in chief.  In fact, the first lady even played fun of some of the faces when she was on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.  What will he do differently? 

DEVENISH:  I think we heard, this reminded me in a moment why George Bush is going to be president again.  He is someone who is able to laugh at himself and I think he explained the faces himself on Wednesday when someone goes through and attacks positions he once held, and plays politics with our troops that he voted against, brags against—about a protest vote against troops, I think any normal person would make a face. 

George Bush is if nothing else a normal person who really feels compelled to explain to the American people why Iraq is so important, why it is the central front in the war on terror and why we have to keep in place those policies to make sure we continue to grow...

JANSING:  Why then do you think the polls moving against you?  It has to be more than just faces. 

DEVENISH:  There‘s a tightening in the polls and I think people are focusing in.  That‘s why our campaign strategy this week really shifted to an intense discussion about John Kerry‘s record. 

JANSING:  I‘ve got to say the president has been much tougher and he hasn‘t exactly been soft in the previous months.  How tough can he be tonight in this forum given that he is talking to people who are probably a little bit nervous, maybe a little bit emotional about being there.  Is there a fine line between making that connection and also being tough?

DEVENISH:  People need to know 25 days out that John Kerry is the only person running, the only person on the ballot who voted to gut our nation‘s intelligences after the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.  The truth hurts.  The truth is tough.  The truth about John Kerry is critical for everybody to know.

JANSING:  We saw something today.  I will just pull this out.  This is what the Democrats are passing out.  These little glasses.  They have a flier with them.  They say the president is looking at the world through rose-colored glasses.  Do you get a laugh out of something like this? 

DEVENISH:  I do.  There are cynical attacks on every day‘s news cycle.  It is a standing contrast to the president‘s clear vision and clear plan for the next four years. 

JANSING:  Is he feeling good tonight?

DEVENISH:  He is.  I think we‘ll have a good night tonight. 

JANSING:  Nicolle Devenish, always a pleasure.  Thank you very much. 

Chris, back to you.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Chris.  Let‘s go right now to Stephanie Cutter who is with the—the...

STEPHANIE CUTTER, KERRY CAMPAIGN COMM. DIR.:  The Kerry campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  The Kerry campaign.  Let me ask you this about tonight.  Is it a disadvantage to have a candidate who is so tall?  Because I mean, you are trying to connect with regular heighted people. 

CUTTER:  Well, it‘s a good thing there aren‘t podiums.  Because God knows we had a heck of a debate about the size of the podium for the last debate so nobody looked taller. 

MATTHEWS:  And who won that debate? 

CUTTER:  Well, they won the podium size.  I think we won the debate.

MATTHEWS:  I heard you sort of tricked the president into having the wrong size podium so he ended up leaning over it like he is in the stocks or something. 

CUTTER:  Yeah...

MATTHEWS:  Was that a victory for you guys, to pull that number on him?

CUTTER:  Well, any excuse they can pull out, they will pull out. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you about the gamesmanship tonight.  Do you believe your candidate is the underdog tonight or the favorite?

CUTTER:  I don‘t think either.  I think that he‘s going to go on stage tonight and he‘s just going to be himself.  He‘s going to answer as many questions as he possibly can, and the difference between John Kerry and George Bush is that he is going to tell the truth.  He is going to face reality and level with the American people about the situation on the ground in Iraq and the situation here at home.  Today we had job numbers that the president can‘t still deal with the truth on. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the rest of the world must wonder about us having these sort of personality contests?  I can‘t imagine Hosni Mubarak trying to prove he is more likable than his opponent, or Putin trying to act more of a—or Schroeder, or any of those guys.  Even Chirac, you know.  Do you think it‘s somewhat weird that we‘re asking ourselves who is the most likable? 

CUTTER:  Well, I don‘t think that that is as important this year around, Chris.  I mean, four years ago, likability was a big issue on the ballot.  This year around—and look at the issues that we‘re facing in this election.  You know, how are going to achieve our mission in Iraq with a failed policy on the ground?  How are we going to get our economy working again for every American, not just the rich and corporate interests?  How are we going to get our schools funded?  All of these issues are too important for likability to be that important. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s funny you downplay the importance of likability, because according to the latest “Time” magazine poll released this afternoon, your candidate, John Kerry, is leading in likability.  Are you knocking that importance, the importance of that?

CUTTER:  No, but you know, polls go up, polls go down.  Just a week ago, we weren‘t as likable, and God knows what‘s going to happen a week from now. 

Tonight is an important night, but it‘s an important night to talk about the issues, the real issues, and talk about them based on reality. 

I just listened to Nicolle‘s interview.  And if tonight is going to go like her interview just did, it looks like we‘re just going to have more of the same from this president.  

MATTHEWS:  Did Dr. Phil have any advice for your candidate?  I noticed he was on the show.  He was amazingly honest and intimate about his family history.  Weren‘t you stunned by that John Kerry we saw this week? 

CUTTER:  It is the John Kerry that I know. 

MATTHEWS:  Talking about how he advised his kids in the first marriage to deal with the coming divorce.  And very intimate, amazing topics for him.  I thought he was more formal than that. 

CUTTER:  Well, that‘s not the real John Kerry.  The real John Kerry is an incredible father, an incredible husband.  You know, somebody who puts family first.  And that‘s the John Kerry that you saw with Dr. Phil. 

When he is out there campaigning, you see many different sides of John Kerry.  You know, somebody who is a leader, who has fought for a strong economy, fiscal discipline.  Somebody who has fought for a strong defense.  You know, you should come to some of our town halls across the country. 

There are some nice moments.

MATTHEWS:  When you brief your candidate, Senator Kerry, do you ever tell him you blew it last night? 

CUTTER:  No, I can‘t tell you that. 

MATTHEWS:  And every time great job when it was a great job? 

CUTTER:  I think honesty runs throughout the campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) “A Few Good Men.”  Can he take the truth? 

CUTTER:  He can take the truth. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go ahead and see what some people have some questions for you.  I noticed, based on previous conversations with this rope line here that these are all Democrats.  Do you have a question for Stephanie Cutter? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yeah, I do.  I know that Kerry, it‘s very important to him to be in concert with the U.N. and with our allies.  But I think it‘s also important to be a strong support for Israel and to be a strong friend with Israel.  And I know I can trust Bush to be a good friend to Israel.  But when Kerry is trying to be an ally with the International Court of Justice or other countries, how can he strongly support Israel? 

CUTTER:  Well, I don‘t know if you watched the last debate, or have been following what John Kerry has been saying about Israel, but he is a strong defender of Israel.  He knows that Israel is incredibly important to the United States in that region, and has defended it and supported it since the beginning of his public career.  So you don‘t have to worry about it.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go down here to the enemy territory.  I want to go...

(CROSSTALK)

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  This is dangerous.  This is dangerous.  This is all—do you have any questions for Stephanie Cutter?  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How can John Kerry claim that he is going to create jobs when he plans to raise taxes on small businesses by including them in the so-called wealthiest 1 percent? 

CUTTER:  Well, that‘s actually not included in the wealthiest 1 percent.  John Kerry was a deciding vote in the Clinton economic plan that created 23 million jobs.  Do you know who benefits from 23 million jobs?  Everybody.  Not just the rich.  Not just the powerful.  Not just the corporate interests.  And that‘s the type of economic policy you‘ll have once John Kerry is back in the White House.  Small businesses, big businesses, independent business owners, they‘ll all benefit. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator Kerry is watching you for advice right now, by the way.  He‘s learning from you.  He‘s getting ready.

Here‘s one more question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m curious as to how the Kerry campaign is going to successfully fight the war on the home front against terror with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Patriot Act? 

CUTTER:  Well, no. 1, he‘s going to give local law enforcement the resources they need.  No. 2, he is not going to just do a singular approach.  He‘s going to use every tool available to him to fight the war on terror here at home.  He is not going to underfund our agencies, and he supported the Department of Homeland Security since the beginning.  He didn‘t do it when it became politically popular.  

MATTHEWS:  Stephanie, who is going to win tonight? 

CUTTER:  I‘m not predicting, but I think that John Kerry will have a strong performance. 

MATTHEWS:  Stephanie Cutter, the communications director for the John Kerry for president campaign.  We‘ll be right back with Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert.  Stick with us for that big interview.  Coming back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) second presidential debate, tonight, live from St. Louis.  We‘re about 30 minutes away.  We‘re at 8:30 here Central time, 9:30 Eastern time.

And we‘re going to start right now with the panel.  And the panel right now, it seems to me that the question before the house is, will the questioning of the two candidates tonight by real people be exotic and diverse, or would follow the usual questions they‘re expected to ask?

Ben, are they going to do what most people do?  Ask—ask me a question.  They ask the obvious question.  Or will they go out and say, you know, I really do believe in the Second Amendment.  Do you? 

GINSBERG:  I think the latter. 

I think what will happen is that Charlie Gibson will get the broad universe of questions.  He‘ll narrow it down, so it‘s the topics we all sort of expect, but with a personal touch that will make it much more direct and intimate. 

BUCHANAN:  I tend to disagree. 

I used to brief Nixon and Reagan for the press conferences.  And you can predict, excuse me, what the press is going to ask, right down to the last question.  But you go out and you do a town hall and you can‘t predict anything.  You do kids in a school, you can predict nothing. 

I think you‘ll get a broader range of questions, far more, for example, than you got last week, say, the Cheney debate with Edwards. 

MATTHEWS:  Will people have the nerve to confront the president and say, your vice president seems to not be in synch with your experience, at least your experienced position on gay marriage. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to keep him under control? 

BUCHANAN:  I think it would be a good question.  And we have got Charlie Gibson there.  I think he‘s not going to keep it narrowed down to just all the predictable questions. 

I would hope he would pick a pretty good range.  And my guess is 150 people, you have got a tremendous range of questions. 

REAGAN:  Yes.  Charlie is very good, too.  And I think he is thinking as we are.  Let‘s not make it the usual questions.  Let‘s find some personalized takes on questions. 

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  No, I‘m sorry. 

What‘s interesting is that the Kerry campaign had wanted this to really focus on jobs and on the economy.  And they still want it to, to an extent. 

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  But they really want to still hammer away on Iraq.  He‘s been told every day, every campaign event, hammer home the point about Iraq, because they think that that is now a winning argument for them. 

MATTHEWS:  They think war hurts the president. 

MITCHELL:  They think war hurts the president because of what‘s

happening on ground and also now this definitive report saying that the

whole premise for going into the war

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It is going to be interesting to see as we poll in the weeks ahead before the election as to whether the number of people who think it was a bad idea to go to war, based on this information grows up to about 60 percent or not.

Let‘s go right now to a real figure out here. 

Oh, we‘re going to go to Tom and Tim.  We were going to Dick Gephardt.  I guess we‘ll go to him in a minute.  He‘s from Missouri, obviously.  He‘s been going to every one of these card games. 

Let me right now to go Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert. 

This is the Show-Me State, Tom and Tim.  Do you think that a lot of the people out there tonight who have been selected to get their questions answered are going to be skeptical and hard to sell by these two candidates? 

TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR:  I do think that they will be.  This is a tough political state. 

They have tough state elections.  And it is always contested in a national presidential campaign.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

BROKAW:  What you‘re hearing behind us is Janet Brown, who is warming up the audience.  And now Paul Kirk and Frank Fahrenkopf, who are the two chairs of the commission on the debate, are addressing the crowd as well. 

Yes, I don‘t think that these are going to be pushovers.  They‘re the so-called soft or noncommitted voters.  But I think they‘ll be taking the measure of it.  But, both candidates, obviously, are going to playing well beyond this audience that‘s here tonight.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

BROKAW:  Got a lot of people up in the stands tonight.  I know that they‘re going to be told to hold their applause. 

But the dynamic changes, Chris, I think strongly when you‘re in a town hall kind of debate.  It is as much about how you can connect personally, that wonderful moment for Bill Clinton when he walked forward and met the woman down in Richmond, when George Bush was looking at his watch at that time. 

TIM RUSSERT, NBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  Right. 

BROKAW:  I feel your pain. 

That was a big moment in that debate. 

RUSSERT:  Chris, also, you know, there are 140 people on the stage. 

They each submitted one question for George Bush, one question for Kerry.  That‘s 280 questions.  And Charlie Gibson, the moderator, has to pick just 16. 

So we don‘t know what kind of editing process there is.  Secondly, after the question is asked, if the president or Senator Kerry wants to talk to the questioner by saying, tell me about that job you lost, their microphones are cut off. 

BROKAW:  Right. 

RUSSERT:  The questioner cannot talk to the candidates.  And so who knows what kind of bizarre moments this is going to create. 

And, lastly, I think what you‘re touching on is that there could be a question here from left field about—who knows where it could come from about gasoline prices, milk prices.  Who knows?  And a candidate could really be left in a very dangerous and difficult position of looking disconnected with the average guy. 

MATTHEWS:  Does the president face a special handicap tonight, in that if anyone has a complaint about anything to do vaguely with public policy, they‘re going to blame the president in their question? 

BROKAW:  Well, we‘ll wait and see how Charlie edits those questions. 

I do think that that is going to be a key thing.

But, so far, the administration has been extraordinarily skillful in making this, as we‘ve all been saying, a referendum on the John Kerry and not on the four years of George W. Bush.  But again, today, some very tough news for the president, the beheading of another hostage, the job numbers that are out that are not so good.  This is the week in which his own weapons inspector said, no, no WMD.  In fact, there has not been since 1991. 

So those kinds of questions will come to him in a way that he can‘t control them, as he has been able to in the past. 

RUSSERT:  Yes. 

I‘m very anxious, Chris, to see when John Kerry raises Ambassador Bremer‘s call for more troops or the Duelfer reports saying there are no weapons of mass destruction, whether George Bush tries to debate those by saying, well, now, the report really says that Saddam had the intent or does he move on to the bigger war on terror and try to paint a vision.

I think if he gets down in the weeds and tries to debate the reports with John Kerry, it will be a loss. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the dynamics. 

BROKAW:  Chris...

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, go ahead, Tom. 

Well, I was just going to say, the other piece of this is going to be

·         that the audience ought to be watching for is that Charlie is instructed to cut off a questioner if that questioner doesn‘t match what he or she submitted to the card.  And that puts him in a very difficult situation. 

So this one is loaded with potential

(CROSSTALK)  

RUSSERT:  And to that point, Tom, if the president or Senator Kerry does not answer the question as presented, you cannot dis these questioners.  These are not like journalists.

BROKAW:  Right. 

RUSSERT:  Where you can go with your prefab answer, your spin, no matter what is asked.  If they don‘t directly address the question, these people are going to come out to the spin room or out to the hall or for the next three days and say he didn‘t answer my question.  That‘s devastating. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the visuals.  They were so important in the presidential debate of last week. 

We saw the president of the United States looking very unhappy with some of the way the questioning was going.  Will we see the audience faces as they—will the cameras be allowed to pan and look around for those reactions, which might prove skeptical of what the candidates are saying? 

BROKAW:  Here‘s my one guess about what is going to happen tonight. 

At some point, very early on, George Bush will make fun of himself about that and try to turn it to his favor, as did he this past week.  You would have made faces, too, if you had been out there with this guy who was changing his position every 30 seconds. 

And the Kerry people expect that in some form tonight.  It is also his natural inclination.  That great line he had at the Republican Convention, you know, a lot of people talk about my swaggering.  In Texas, we call that walking.  There will be something like that, I think, from the president to make reference to last week to try to take the edge off of it. 

RUSSERT:  But, Chris, that‘s a very important point you just hit on. 

BROKAW:  Right. 

RUSSERT:  What if the cutaway shot is a soft Kerry supporter who is sheik his head at something George Bush is saying? 

BROKAW:  Yes. 

RUSSERT:  We have to be extremely careful in term of these reaction shots, because they could have a strong editorial punch. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I‘m sure the candidates worried about that in setting this up. 

Thank you very much, Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert.  We‘ll check back with you for your views after this thing happens. 

And when we come back, a favorite son of these parts, Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt.  We‘re going to talk to him when we return.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Governor Reagan, again, was against such a proposal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Governor?

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There you go again.

ANNOUNCER:  Ronald Reagan‘s “There you go again” battle cry secured his victory over Jimmy Carter in 1980.  But four years later, challenger Walter Mondale turned the tables.

WALTER MONDALE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  There you go again, right?  Remember the last time you said that?  You said it when President Carter said that you were going to cut Medicare.  You said, oh, no, there you go again, Mr. President.  And what did you do right after the election?  You went out and tried to cut $20 billion out of Medicare. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The only thing consistent about my opponent‘s position is that he‘s been inconsistent. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  He misled the American people when he said we would go to war as a last resort.  We did not go as a last resort. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the second presidential debate here in Saint Louis.  In about 20 minutes, it‘s going to happen, the big one.

Joining me now, Missouri Congressman and former presidential candidate Dick Gephardt.  What a great guy. 

You are so popular out here.  And everybody loved seeing you behind home plate.  Will the Cardinals win the World Series? 

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D), MISSOURI:  Absolutely.  No question about it. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you about tonight. 

Will John Kerry win the debate tonight? 

GEPHARDT:  Absolutely.  Kerry did a great job in the first debate. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you know? 

GEPHARDT:  How do I know?  I just know. 

He did a great job in the first debate.  He is going to continue that momentum.  And, as some of your guests there, Tom Brokaw and Tim, were saying, the facts in the last week really keep that momentum going for Kerry and against Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about your state of Missouri.  Is it Missouri or Missour-a? 

GEPHARDT:  It depends on which side of the state you‘re on.  On the eastern side, Saint Louis side, it‘s Missouri.  On the Kansas City side, it‘s Missour-a.

MATTHEWS:  Does that mean the Missouri side is more Democrat and the Missour-a side is more Republican? 

GEPHARDT:  Well, I think what you have got now is that the cities are more Democratic and the more rural and small town areas are a little bit more Republican. 

But this is the real bellwether state.  This state has picked the president in all the last elections over the last 50 years, except 1956.  We picked Adlai Stevenson. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you explain that oddity of history?  You voted for Ike, the man who received the Nazi surrender in 1952.  And after an excellent first term—he had a very good first term—you dumped him for Adlai.  What was the thinking out here?  Was that the trade issue?  Or was it the economy?  What was it? 

GEPHARDT:  I think Missourians are very discerning.  They‘re very tough judges.  And I think they were just taken with Adlai Stevenson‘s good, reasonable speeches.  I don‘t know of anybody who gave better speeches than he did. 

Missourians are very good citizens.  Chris, in my district, we get 80 to 85 percent of the registered voters voting in a presidential election.  These are good citizens. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the famous phrase about your state, the Show-Me State, the skepticism.  Is that going to be evident tonight in the town meeting? 

GEPHARDT:  I think it will be.  These are very realistic people. 

They‘re very smart.  They follow all of this. 

And, as I said a moment ago, they‘re really good citizens.  They‘re open, friendly people.  And, you know, you talked about the Cardinals before.  We‘re known as the best sports town in America.  That really says something about the people.  People love sports.  They love politics.  And they pay attention to the details.  They know the nuances of baseball. 

And I would submit to you, they watch the nuances of politics.  They‘re going to be paying special attention today to what the candidates say. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the two big issues of the campaign, Iraq and the economy.  Have you changed your view, given all this new information, no WMD, no connection to al Qaeda, at least not in terms of 9/11, no Iraqi, happy Iraqi scenario, as Howard Fineman calls it—they aren‘t exactly thrilled with our presence—and no Iraqi oil to pay for the occupation and rebuilding? 

Have you changed your assessment since you voted for the authorization in 2002? 

GEPHARDT:  Chris, obviously, there was a failure of intelligence here that none of us knew about.  But the issue in this campaign is not whether we should have gone to Iraq. 

Obviously, I voted for it.  John Edwards voted for it.  John Kerry voted for it to give the president the authority.  Our criticism now is of the way, the how of how he went to Iraq.  It was the lack of patience to bring in the U.N. allies that we needed and that we need now.  And that has cut us off from our ability to deal with Osama bin Laden, to deal with the terrorists in other places in the world. 

It is the missed opportunities, the consequences of the impatience and the way the president did this that is the criticism that John Kerry is rightly bringing up right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the economy.  This administration believes in tax relief for people, especially who pay a lot of taxes at the top.  That‘s fair enough, in that they like to get tax relief where it goes and where it has the biggest impact, among those in the higher brackets.  They believe in free trade. 

Give me the Democratic alternative to those two factors, big tax cuts for people, especially who pay big taxes, and no trade barriers.  What‘s your party‘s policy? 

GEPHARDT:  Well, we‘re the party of people.  We‘re the party that says everybody should pay their fair share.  We believe in a progressive tax system.  If you make more, you ought to pay a little more.  That‘s fair.  That‘s the American way.  And that also frees the middle class to be shoppers and to go out and do the things they need to do to make the economy go. 

On trade, we really define fair, as well as free trade.  And John Kerry will bring a very different trade policy that will stop the outsourcing of American jobs and get American workers on a level playing field when we can compete and beat anybody in the world. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, U.S. Congressman Dick Gephardt of Saint Louis. 

When we come back, the rules of tonight‘s debate, now just 14 minutes away. 

HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the second presidential debate here in Saint Louis continues after this.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the second presidential debate.  It‘s just moments away.  The wives of the candidates were introduced inside the hall a moment ago.  And the debate is ready to begin in 11 minutes.  Tonight‘s debate is in a town hall format. 

And for more on that, we‘re joined by HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, a little bit of history. 

This is now just the third presidential debate really since the invention of television to use the town hall format, a format where the audience members are front and center and they‘re the ones who get to ask the questions. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER (voice-over):  It all started 12 years ago. 

BROKAW:  Good evening from the University of Richmond, where, tonight, the candidates and the voters mix it up in a free-wheeling format that‘s never been tried before. 

SHUSTER:  The candidates were Bush, Clinton and Perot. 

ROSS PEROT (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Now, just for the record, I don‘t have any spin doctors.  I don‘t have any speechwriters.  It probably shows.  

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  This was the debate where President Bush was caught looking at his watch.  Then, he struggled to answer a question about the national debt. 

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Obviously, it has a lot to do with interest rates.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She meant you personally.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You, on a personal basis—how has it affected you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What I‘m saying is...

G.H.W. BUSH:  I‘m not sure I get—help me with the question and I‘ll try to answer it.

SHUSTER:  The president seemed out of touch, especially compared to Bill Clinton. 

WILLIAM J. CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You know people who‘ve lost their jobs and lost their homes?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, yes, uh-huh.

CLINTON:  In my state, when people lose their jobs there‘s a good chance I‘ll know them by their names.  When a factory closes, I know the people who ran it. 

SHUSTER:  Clinton won the debate and the election handily. 

In 1996, there were no town hall debates.  But four years ago, the style was used for the final debate between Vice President Gore and Texas Governor Bush.  It included a weird moment when the vice president seemed to invade Mr. Bush‘s space. 

G.W. BUSH:  It‘s not only what‘s your philosophy and what‘s your position on issues, but can you get things done?

It‘s not what your philosophy and position on issue.  Can you get things done?  And I believe I can.  [laughter]

(LAUGHTER)

G.W. BUSH:  And I believe I can. 

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  What about the Dingell-Norwood bill?

SHUSTER:  Tonight, the candidates are again free to stand and walk away from their chairs, but there‘s a line marked on the stage that they are not supposed to cross.  The audience includes undecided voters and an equal number of soft Bush and Kerry supporters, meaning they have indicated they may change their minds. 

The rules, though, are more controlling than previous town halls.  The moderator, Charlie Gibson, will know the questions in advance and shall select and approve all questions to be posed by the audience members to the candidates.  Gibson will eliminate any questions that he deems inappropriate.  And if any audience member poses a question or makes a statement that is any material way different than the question that audience member earlier submitted, the moderator will cut off the questioner and advise the audience that such nonreviewed questions are not permitted.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  The timing of the candidates‘ answers will be strictly controlled, just like the first presidential debate a week ago.  And while the candidates may ask each other rhetorical questions, they are not allowed to ask each other direct questions. 

And, finally, Chris, back to that first town hall-style debate 12 years ago, in the room that night were a number of members of Congress, interested observers, you might call them, including a senator from Massachusetts named John Kerry—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

We‘re back with our panel right now.

Does anyone want to offer a prediction now as to who will benefit from these rules? 

Pat.

BUCHANAN:  You know, I think if it would have been wide open, much more the way we discussed last night, I think it would have been the president, because you would think he‘s a more empathetic individual. 

But I think it is sort of a tossup now, right now.  I think the president will benefit from the format, not as much as he would have had it been wide open, quite frankly. 

MATTHEWS:  Will the camera, Ben, go looking for the most disgusted face in the audience? 

GINSBERG:  I don‘t think it will naturally go looking for it, because I think there‘s a degree of integrity amongst the pool.  But there are 15 cameras.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Wouldn‘t you as a producer want to find a more interesting face than a pleasant, like smiling face, very well done, good work? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Wouldn‘t you want to look for the real scowl? 

GINSBERG:  I think you have got an obligation as a producer not to be

looking for the editorial comment to govern

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  No, no, no.  I meant just generally for both candidates, look for the negative scowl.  It‘s better TV.

REAGAN:  Yes.  I think they‘ll probably focus on groups of people and not individuals, though.  I don‘t think they‘ll—I don‘t think they‘ll do that.  I agree with Ben.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, we don‘t cover highways where there‘s no accidents. 

We cover the accident, right?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

GINSBERG:  The 13 cameras will mean that people will be in the backgrounds of many of these shots, irrespective of looking for editorial comments. 

MITCHELL:  And we know that the president did look at a tape and was shown the reaction shots that had gone over so poorly with the public.  And he knows what happened.  So he is going to be very careful in his reactions. 

MATTHEWS:  And both learned, I assumed—tell me if I‘m wrong, that they‘ve all learned the lesson of George Herbert Walker Bush, don‘t bring a watch. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t even have one with you.

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  Pat and I aren‘t even wearing one. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  Exactly. 

GINSBERG:  But if you forget a watch and look anyways, that‘s even worse. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think that would be cause for committal.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Do not invade the other fellow‘s space.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And don‘t ask about Dingell-Norwood. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But what about the issue of a person who asks a question which is not well-informed?  Now, maybe Charlie edit out the ones that aren‘t well-informed. 

MITCHELL:  Charlie will weed that out.

MATTHEWS:  But what about a person who gets on the—that woman who asked that question in ‘92?  She was really talking about the recession.  She focused on the deficit or the debt. 

And Clinton knew that she had it a bit wrong.  But the president knew she had it wrong and was going to make her pay for it.  That‘s not good strategy, is it?

(LAUGHTER)

MITCHELL:  Well, the president was confused by what she meant.  And Clinton was just so intuitive that way, the way he reacted to it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s be honest.  She had it wrong and the president noted that she had it wrong, whereas Clinton said, I know she‘s got it wrong, but it ain‘t my job to correct the voter to get their vote. 

BUCHANAN:  Exactly. 

Right.  He just used the occasion to go in and make this empathetic point.  It was very, very effective.

MATTHEWS:  Will the American people be skeptical, as Show-Me State people here might be, of any sign of overt, practiced empathy? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think the president is a very natural figure, to be honest.  And I think—I don‘t think he has got that problem. 

And Kerry is Kerry.  He is just a colder fish.  He‘s more professorial.  He‘s more distant.  And my guess is, he is going to be working very hard to be that way.  And he has had some experience with it right there on the campaign this year. 

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  He‘s had a lot of experience, actually.

MITCHELL:  He‘s been good at these town halls. 

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  And, in fact, his town hall meeting formats during the campaign have been much less structured and not with prescreened audience...

GINSBERG:  The town hall four years ago was right here in Saint Louis at Washington University.  President Bush did fine dealing with Show-Me State voters in that debate. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But is this good for the Republic, Pat, to have a national competition to see who is the most empathetic?  Is it good, “we care, so you care” kind of thing?

(CROSSTALK) 

BUCHANAN:  In the mega-reason, I think it is not good for America, for this reason.

I think Stevenson would have wiped up the floor with Eisenhower in a debate format, because Ike was—you know how he was. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

BUCHANAN:  But Ike was a good president, an excellent president, far superior in those Cold War days than Stevenson.  And yet I think he would have lost all three debates to Stevenson.  And I don‘t think that would have been good for the country.

MATTHEWS:  I can‘t see Ike taking questions from the floor from regular people. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Supreme allied commander.  Supreme allied commander.  If they had asked him, too, I don‘t think he would have handled it well. 

MITCHELL:  Let me just suggest that president is also being the leader and being an empathetic leader.  And I remember Ronald Reagan‘s speech after the Challenger tragedy.  There is that leadership component. 

So it‘s great to have presidents who know everything, but it is also great to have presidents who can interact with normal people. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  The toughest question I saw in the most recent poll—

and I‘ve been reading a lot of it, like everyone here—who would be most

likely to stop if you had a flat tire and help you?  So everybody has been

through that situation.  When we were young—you may not have hitchhiked

·         the rest of us all hitchhiked.  You always wonder who is going to ever stop for you, right?

If you don‘t look too dangerous or you don‘t look like you‘ve got a gun or anything, why don‘t the damn people stop?  I thought that was a great question.  You‘re fixing your tire.  You have got the jack up or you‘re a woman and you‘re trying to figure out how to get jack up, OK, and the guy stops and says, let me help you with that. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And it is right out of the movies.  This guy is the good guy; 40 percent said they thought the president would stop; 32 percent said that they thought John Kerry would start. 

That, to me, is a damning indictment, if only one—less than one-third of the people think you‘re in there to help in real-life situations.  I don‘t like that. 

REAGAN:  Well, fewer than half think the president would stop. 

Apparently, they‘re not crazy about either one of these guys. 

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  They think they both would

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  ... right on by. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

GINSBERG:  Maybe they think they don‘t know how to change a tire.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... slow down before deciding not to go?

MITCHELL:  Call the AAA. 

(CROSSTALK)

GINSBERG:  Here‘s my cell phone.

MATTHEWS:  Didn‘t that surprise you, that, Pat, that people have such

a low estimate of

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... stopping to help them?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Well, you‘re talking about the president, Kerry?  What do you think?  Would they stop if they saw you, Chris?  Look, I think that...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... a couple times.  No.  But in concept

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  But I‘m not surprised that had they think that Bush would stop more. 

But, again, I am a little bit surprised that you‘re all the way down to one-third or four out of 10 think that.  And the others think the guy would roll right on by.  I guess they think that these political leaders are really not in touch with them and are really not part of the community.  An awful lot of people have to feel they‘re aloof, they‘re out of touch with us. 

MATTHEWS:  I remember one of these polls they took years ago about Congress, not too many years ago.  And they said, do you believe that members of Congress steal equipment out of the office every night on the way home?  And the majority of people said yes.  They actually take typewriters out the back door.  This is the level of estimates they have of these guys.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The congressman himself is a thief.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  It was right after the House banking scandal. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What an estimate of public life.

BUCHANAN:  They all say—most of them say, my congressman won‘t do it, but the other guys will rob the place blind. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But I think people watching tonight say, of course they do. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, the second presidential debate is about to begin. 

It‘s 9:00 p.m. on the East Coast and 8:00 p.m. here in Saint Louis, where, in just a moment, the second presidential debate between President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry will begin here in Washington University.  We‘re here with the panel.  We‘re waiting.

It‘s been quite a moment here.  You know, we‘re watching this, they‘re all coming out here right now, Ron...

REAGAN:  Yes?

MATTHEWS:  Do you remember that Ford-Carter debate where they stood at those podiums?

REAGAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And froze, like bugs (ph). 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Patrick, you‘ve done these debates, haven‘t you?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I‘ve done the debates broadly with Bob Dole and a number of candidates.  We rarely got a two, one-on-one debate...

MATTHEWS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

BUCHANAN:  No, frankly, by the end, you mean, those debates are too large.  You do have some tension.  It‘s nothing like you would have right here.

MATTHEWS:  This is gutter fight time.

BUCHANAN:  Oh, this is big, heavy and serious.

MITCHELL:  And I‘ve been on a panel, and that is serious butterflies too.

MATTHEWS:  This is praying in the green room time, isn‘t it?

GINSBERG:  You don‘t want to be the staff aide next to the guy who‘s getting ready for...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  For Kerry in Miami, you know, when he walks out there, realizes everything he‘s built his life on could go down the tubes if I don‘t do well tonight...

MATTHEWS:  This is when he...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... three times in the last 10 minutes, right?

REAGAN:  Yes, oh, yes.  This is like a prize fight.  I mea, you know. 

Like I said before, somebody is going to lose.

MATTHEWS:  Yeah, but they don‘t give up sex for the first six months and last six months before a debate, do they?

REAGAN:  One hopes not.

MATTHEWS:  No, in boxing, you do that.  Don‘t you know that?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  When I was in the United States Golden Gloves, I had to give it up, and I was only 16.  Anyway, Charlie Gibson is set to begin the second presidential debate.  Let‘s listen.

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

END   

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