updated 10/14/2004 10:32:51 AM ET 2004-10-14T14:32:51

Guest: Nicolle Devenish, Ben Ginsberg, Howard Fineman, Jesse Jackson, Janet Napolitano

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The presidential candidates are in Tempe, Arizona, and the stage is set for the last presidential debate.  With 20 days to the election, the candidates are even in the polls.  Could tonight be the tipping point?  Live from Arizona State University.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews, and welcome to MSNBC‘s coverage of the last presidential debate.  We‘re reporting on this historic event live from the campus of Arizona State University, the site of tonight‘s debate.  In just two hours, the two candidates for president of the United States will take the stage in their final face-off. 

Tonight, a real choice.  These candidates agree on nothing.  President George Bush will bring out his conservative base tonight and convince Americans as a whole to give him another four years.  John Kerry must keep his Democratic base and appeal to swing voters.  There‘s much at stake in tonight‘s contest, which could help decide who will lead our country. 

Stay with MSNBC tonight for reports from NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and NBC News Washington bureau chief and the moderator of “Meet the Press,” Tim Russert.  NBC correspondent Brian Williams, Andrea Mitchell, David Gregory and Norah O‘Donnell, plus MSNBC‘s Chris Jansing from the spin room and HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster back in D.C.

And you can get involved in this debate by voting online after it‘s over.  MSNBC is taking a survey of who you say won the debate.  It gives us an indication of where voters stand and also how well each political party is mobilizing its online vote.  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. 

My 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. 

But first, we‘re joined by Nicolle Devenish, communications director for the Bush-Cheney campaign.  Nicolle, thank you for joining us from the spin room.  Let me ask you before the spin starts tonight, what is the target goal of the president in tonight‘s debate? 

NICOLLE DEVENISH, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN:  You

know, I think the president has to do more than what you said, reach out to his base, and I think he‘ll do that.  I think the dirty little secret in this campaign is that John Kerry‘s record on social issues, domestic policy and taxes is as fertile ground for our campaign as his disturbing record on national security. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the issues you‘d like to see raised tonight.  Would you like to see gay marriage come up as an issue tonight? 

DEVENISH:  I don‘t think we have a lot of sway with the moderator. 

But I think if gay marriage does come up, there is a real difference here.  I mean, John Kerry is to the left of most Democrats on this issue.  He has a position that‘s muddled at best, and this president has been very clear.  And John Kerry‘s lack of coherence in articulating his position really does spread throughout all of the domestic policy positions. 

This president stands for marriage being between a man and a woman, and he‘s taken action to make his belief law.  John Kerry has never actually done anything to back up what he says his belief is. 

MATTHEWS:  Is the president‘s opposition to gay marriage and his call for a constitutional ban a political winner? 

DEVENISH:  I don‘t know.  I mean, people are going to decide that for themselves, I think, on November 2.  But his belief, you know, if you believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, it‘s only right as a leader to back policies that would make that so. 

So the difference between George Bush and John Kerry on an issue like gay marriage is that John Kerry talks the talk, but has never once in his career ever actually backed a law that would make marriage between a man and a woman.  So I think you go through issue after issue, and that‘s the case. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s get through some of the other social issues.  You mentioned social issues tonight.  Let‘s talk about abortion rights.  Is that another issue that will help the president win this election?  His clarity on that issue, his opposition to abortion and to abortion rights? 

DEVENISH:  I think you brought this up in the last debate.  I thought the most stunning moment in the last debate was actually the last question, when John Kerry, who is a champion of the pro-rights movement, who gets 100 percent rating from the national abortion rights agencies, he should be proud of his record for standing up for a woman‘s right to choose.  Yet he got a question from a woman who was pro-life, and he said, whoa, wait a minute, I‘m Catholic and I‘m pro-life.  This is a man who I can‘t think of any example of him actually standing up and articulating or saying anything consistent with his voting record. 

So I think every issue is important, and I think the voters will decide which ones matter most to them.  But I think what they‘re looking for—and, look, this president said in his convention speech, and I remember you talking about it that night, he said very clearly, you may not always agree with me, but you‘ll always know where I stand.  And I think that will be highlighted tonight between the different positions that the president and John Kerry have. 

You also have to look at how well they‘ve defended their positions. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you, just to clarify it, is the president‘s position that we should outlaw abortion? 

DEVENISH:  No.  I mean, the president has made very clear that he thinks abortion—that he supports the culture of life.  And I think you understand his position.  He‘s been very clear.  He doesn‘t think that this country is ready to outlaw abortion, as you just worded it. 

But the difference on the issue of abortion is that no matter where you stand, you know that President Bush supports and will work for a culture of life.  He supports measures like parental notification.  He supported, along with many Democrats, a ban on partial birth abortion.  The debate in this country on abortion is not whether we outlaw abortion or not.  It‘s on—it‘s very much evolved.  It‘s a debate about whether we outlaw the grotesque procedure of a partial birth abortion. 

John Kerry opposes the ban on partial birth abortion, and this is where the debate on abortion in this country is in 2004. 

MATTHEWS:  But the pro-life people would like to outlaw abortion, and the president says he‘s pro-life.  I just want to know if he‘s in sync with the people who are pro-life in this country.  Is he?  Or is he not?  You say he‘s evolving on the issue.  Is he for ultimately outlawing abortion?   Is that his ultimate goal? 

DEVENISH:  He has never stated that that‘s a mission in his second term, but the president is pro-life.  He‘s proudly pro-life, and his policies back up his belief that he is proudly pro-life. 

The difference between George Bush and John Kerry on abortion, as many other issues, is that the president puts actions behind his words.  He puts actions behind the policies that he believes in.  John Kerry talks the talk, but there are very few examples of him actually accomplishing anything on any of his stated positions. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Nicolle, let‘s talk about tonight‘s preparation.  I‘ve heard from our reporters and correspondents that there‘s been a tremendous amount of preparation by the president and also by his challenger.  Can you tell us the kind of prep the president put—went through to get ready for tonight? 

DEVENISH:  Well, first of all, we recognize how important tonight is, and our goal tonight is to really draw a sharp contrast on the policies.  And we think that we come down on the side and share the values and priories of most Americans.  So we want to make it very clear tonight, the differences between John Kerry and President Bush. 

So to do that, we‘ve had to do our homework, and we‘ve had to study up on John Kerry‘s record, and also his statements, because some parts of that record are pretty flimsy.  So in some cases, we‘ve had to study votes and positions that he‘s taken, and in a lot of these areas his proposals and his amendments and his votes never became law. 

So we‘ve done a lot of homework.  I think David and Norah heard today, Dan Bartlett did a briefing and he detailed the number of sessions he did.  The president did a formal session yesterday and spent a lot of time today in a more informal setting, really boning up to make sure that he‘s sharp and able to draw these contrasts tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about how we can tell who won tonight.  You know, in the last two presidential debates, I thought President Bush won the second debate, but the polls show that the public believes, at least the people being polled, that sample, says that the president lost both debates.  What‘s going on out in the country where the people like myself, who seem to be paying the most attention, think Bush won and the public disagrees? 

DEVENISH:  Well, I don‘t know how many times I‘ll get to say this, but I agree with you.  I thought the president won in St. Louis, too.  And you know, I think it‘s a cumulative look.  I think people will look at all three debates, and they‘ll look at the case that each man made, and they‘re also going to evaluate—I mean, I think debates are really important.  They‘re the opportunity for these men to stand toe to toe and reveal something about themselves.  And if they do a good job, reveal something about their opponent.  And that‘s the goal, and we‘re going to do our best.  And we‘re obviously working to bring the numbers back to a place where we‘re ahead. 

So I understand that they‘ve tightened up and I think some polls still show us ahead and some of them show it really even.  But the goal obviously is to come out ahead after tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much.  Great having you on.  Nicolle Devenish is a spokesperson for the Bush-Cheney campaign.  Let‘s go to the panel.  It seems to me the way Nicolle set this up and it‘s a reasonable way to set it up, I certainly agree with her, you don‘t judge the success of a debater by how well he does in polls on who won the debate, you look at who is doing well after the debate in the matchup.  Is that the way it‘s going to be decided?  Bush wins if he‘s up in the polls again afterwards? 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Absolutely.  But voters will take a look and decide which one of these men they like not only on substance and on style and I think we‘ll see these two have very sort of different goals than we‘ve seen perhaps in the last two debates.  As Nicolle pointed out the Bush-Cheney campaign wants to paint John Kerry as a liberal, as someone who is for more taxes, more regulation, more government control, and that‘s what his 20-year voting record shows.  That‘s what we hear from the president tonight and he‘ll show that litany of things.  John Kerry will be making the case that it‘s time to change course, that we don‘t want another four years of what we had under this president—job losses, ballooning deficit, et cetera.  And that‘s what the contrast will be. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it a battle between conditions and values?  Kerry would like to discuss, David, the conditions, you know, the unemployment is not quite where people want it in terms of underemployment.  People don‘t like the war, you don‘t like conditions.  And the president keeps going back to what do you value? 

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Right.  And I think that is a big part of it.  I think it‘s the reality on the ground in Iraq and, yes, I think that will be a topic.  I think the economy...

MATTHEWS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) domestic issues...

GREGORY:  Kerry wants to bring it in and certainly Bush wants to talk about it as well.  This is really the ground that they‘re fighting here.  As Norah says, this is an end game here for the Bush team which is define Kerry as a liberal.  Get off the flip-flop stuff and convince people that you cannot trust the liberal.  He‘s going to make your government bigger. 

MATTHEWS:  How many times will we hear the word liberal tonight? 

GREGORY:  I think even more than you heard it the last time.

MATTHEWS:  Double digits?  And this is the end game.  So you‘re talking about how...

GREGORY:  How we‘re going to judge it at the end here, the Bush team has not liked these debates.  This has not been a great period for them.  John Kerry has changed the dynamic of this race because he‘s looked presidential and the Bush team acknowledges that.  He‘s overcome a lot...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s picked up four and Bush has lost five.  Look at the numbers. 

GREGORY:  Right.  So it‘s where the head-to-head is and then you have about 18 days of campaigning for that final definitional phase going after however many undecideds are left.

MATTHEWS:  Any chance these two men will be in the same room again between now and election day after tonight?  Any chance they‘ll be in the same room again? 

BEN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN ELECTION ATTORNEY:  Can‘t imagine.  Can‘t imagine. 

MATTHEWS:  What will be the strategy from the Republican side tonight? 

GINSBERG:  I think the strategy is to drive home on John Kerry‘s 20-year record and how he‘s changed from it.  Iraq gave him a shelter where he could actually cast a vote that helped hide where he‘s been for 20 years on national security and defense issues.  He‘s got nowhere to hide on the domestic side.  That‘s what they drive home. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Howard, what‘s going to be the campaign about tonight? 

Both sides. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  I‘m going to look to see if John Kerry can make the sale here.  As David points out, he‘s gotten in the ballgame, he‘s presidential.  He‘s fighting Bush toe to toe.  But the American people especially undecided voters, they want that personal sense.  They want a sense of trust here.  Kerry can recite all he wants how bad the economy is, the unemployment rate.  It can‘t just be a prosecutorial brief.  Kerry has a chance here to really take the lead. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not just the attorney, he‘s the client. 

FINEMAN:  He has to be the client as well. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Coming up, we‘ll get reaction from Kerry‘s side from the Reverend Jesse Jackson.  And later NBC‘s Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert will both join us here.  You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s coverage of the last presidential debate tonight live from Arizona State University on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m here with the Reverend Jesse Jackson who is out campaigning for John Kerry.  Does John Kerry have to show some soul tonight? 

REV. JESSE JACKSON, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, when he commits himself to in reverse Robin Hood, this process of taking from the poor and giving to the rich, that‘s soul when he commits himself to reinvest in America and put America back to work.  There‘s been a net loss of jobs in every state.  It‘s been disproportionate impacting upon black and brown and poor people and so his addressing a plan to put America back to where it can stop exporting jobs, is soulful and scientific. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he getting any better from the just anybody but Bush candidate over the last couple of weeks?

JACKSON:  There‘s an awful lot of anybody but Bush.  The extent to which there has been such an ideological line of hostility drawn.  Mr. Bush has not had one meeting with the AFL-CIO, NAACP, Congressional Black Caucus, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)  Ashcroft a hard line.  And then the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) themes.  We get no mercy on that.  It‘s almost as if they are expanding.  On the other hand as Kerry stands for a fair supreme court, he stands for affirmative action, women‘s rights, workers rights, and investment in public education, those issues resonate. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re talking—we‘re hearing a lot of buzz about people like Curtis Gantz (ph), who studies these things.  He thinks you might see on November 2 maybe 118 million voters, 14 million more than last time.  Is that good news for Kerry? 

JACKSON:  Well, it is good news because that is an upsurge of interest

in this campaign because when you don‘t vote you lose the right to

criticize and on November 3 you‘re going to sing one of two songs.  “How We

Got Over” or “Would Coulda Shoulda.”  You have a chance to sing “How We Got

Over” if you use your vote.  As I go around the country and I look at the -

·         the rich have gotten much richer and they‘ve been subsidized by government policy.  Middle class got a tax cut and a job cut and the benefit cut and the health hike and a tuition hike and there‘s anxiety about that and fear but also the centerpiece of this thing remains the war in Iraq.  No congressperson lost a child in Iraq.  No top member of the Senate lost a child in Iraq, and we‘re losing—we‘re losing lives and money and credibility, and seemingly based upon misinformation. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about Florida, does based upon your connections down there in Florida, your contacts, do you think we‘re going to have a clean election in Florida?  I mean a clean one not just in terms of ethics, but one that has a clear result, an honest result? 

JACKSON:  Well, the evidence is that those who stole the last one are trying to do it even more.  Mr. Bush, Governor Bush, for example, took 49,000 names off the roles, over (UNINTELLIGIBLE) African-American.  The judge overruled. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that the felony list?  What list was that? 

JACKSON:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  When he‘s talking about—last time he scrubbed the felony list—he didn‘t scrub it, he just took every name he could, and he said, anybody whose name sounds like one of these things is off the list. 

JACKSON:  And that‘s the point.  A lot of those people have been arrested and been convicted; some are not felons, that‘s the point.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

JACKSON:  And of course, you had the case in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) where votes simply were not counted.  Or the case of the Haitian-Americans who needed language support.  They were asked about their green cards, about their documentation for citizenship. 

So there seems to be no will in Florida, even now, for an open, free, fair, integritous (ph) election.  But it‘s not just Florida.  It‘s Michigan.  It‘s Minnesota.  This idea of not interpreting the Help America Vote Act in the way that makes it even fairer.  There seems to be a real partisanship application of Help America Vote Act. 

MATTHEWS:  If you had to bet right now, who is going to win this election, Reverend? 

JACKSON:  John Kerry is on an upsurge, and he is winning, I think, for three reasons.  He‘s done well in the debates.  But more than that, the Iraq war cannot be morally justified.  The economy for working people is worse off four years later.  And to think that Democrats have been aroused to vote, and when they vote in big numbers we tend to win. 

MATTHEWS:  Who are you voting for? 

JACKSON:  Voting for John Kerry and Edwards.  But more than that, there‘s a whole body of people.  It‘s not just the top of the ticket.  It‘s people running—it‘s Obama in Illinois, it‘s Majette in Georgia.  So, to me, I‘m inspired by bottom-up participation, not just the top. 

MATTHEWS:  The Reverend Jesse Jackson, please come back, sir.  We‘d like to have you back.

We‘ll be right back after this with our panel. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re into the final countdown to the final showdown, and what an incredible group of debates this has already been.  HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster joins us from Washington—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL ELECTION CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, everybody acknowledges there is a lot riding on this final face-to-face confrontation, and it should be an exclamation point on what has already been a remarkable debate series. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER (voice-over):  It began with the clash in Coral Gables. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This president has made, I regret to say, a colossal error of judgment, and judgment is what we look for in the president of the United States of America. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You cannot lead if you send mexed—mixed messages.  Mixed messages send the wrong signals to our troops. 

SHUSTER:  But at this, the first debate, it was the president‘s scowls, impatience and confusion that seemed to stand out. 

BUSH:  I—let me finish.  The intelligence I looked at was the same intelligence my opponent looked at. 

SHUSTER:  Viewers thought John Kerry was more presidential and persuasive. 

KERRY:  Or you can have the president‘s plan, which is four words, more of the same.  I think my plan is better. 

SHUSTER:  And by all accounts, Kerry scored a strong and much-needed victory. 

The second presidential debate in St. Louis...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you have a reply for that? 

SHUSTER:  ... was townhall style. 

BUSH:  Yes, I mean, he‘s got a record.  He‘s been there for 20 years. 

You can run but you can‘t hide. 

KERRY:  And if we‘d used smart diplomacy, we could have saved $200 billion and an invasion of Iraq, and right now Osama bin Laden might be in jail or dead.  That‘s the war against terror. 

SHUSTER:  The president‘s responses were steadier and yet more aggressive than the first debate, and he even managed to joke about a claim he owned stock in a timber company. 

BUSH:  That‘s news to me.  Need some wood? 

SHUSTER:  But the most memorable moment in debate No. 2 came when the president took on the moderator, Charlie Gibson. 

KERRY:  We‘re not going to go unilaterally.  We‘re not going to go alone, like this president did. 

CHARLIE GIBSON, MODERATOR:  Mr. President, let‘s extend for a minute. 

BUSH:  Let me just add—I‘ve got to answer this. 

GIBSON:  Well, exactly, and with reservists being held on duty...

BUSH:  Let me answer this, what he just said about going alone...

GIBSON:  Well, I wanted to get into the issue...

BUSH:  You tell Tony Blair we‘re going alone!  Tell Tony Blair we‘re going alone.  Tell Servio (sic) Berlusconi we‘re going alone.  Tell Alexander Kwasniewski of Poland we‘re going alone. 

SHUSTER:  Tonight in debate No. 3, the moderator again has discretion as to whether to follow up or extend a line of questioning.  The rules require the candidates to stand behind their lectern and stay there.  They may ask each other rhetorical questions but not direct questions.  There will be visual time cues, and the networks will consider reaction shots fair game. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  And, Chris, perhaps the most important rule tonight, all of the questions, all of them, will be focused on domestic policy issues—

Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, David Shuster.  Up next, NBC‘s Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert.  You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s coverage of the last presidential debate.  We‘re at Arizona State University.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  The war on terror is to make sure that these terrorist organizations do not end up with weapons of mass destruction. 

KERRY:  Compassionate conservative, what does that mean?  Cutting 500,000 kids from after-school programs? 

BUSH:  Like you, I‘m concerned about the deficit.  But I am not going to shortchange our troops in harm‘s way. 

KERRY:  ... running up the biggest deficits in American history.  Mr.

President, you‘re batting zero for two.

BUSH:  I‘m not going to run up taxes, which will cost this economy jobs. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the last presidential debate here at Arizona State University.

We‘re joined right now by “Nbc Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw and NBC News Washington bureau chief and moderator of “Meet the Press,” Tim Russert. 

Tom and Tim, lately, there‘s been a lot of talk of possibly having a huge turnout November 2.  People are talking about numbers up to 118 million turnout.  Do you think it was the debates that did it?

TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR:  I think it was a combination of a number of things.  If I can, if I—I guess I would use the phrase a rising tide lifts all votes, as opposed to boats. 

I think it‘s event-driven.  There is a war in Iraq.  There is an uncertain war against terrorism.  The economy seems to be playing by new rules.  There‘s a great deal of anxiety in America about health care and the cultural issues.  All of those brought everyone back to the political process.  Then you have these two very well-oiled machines determined to register everyone that they can and get them to the voting booth on Election Day. 

Then you add to that the high drama of the first two of these presidential debates and it all comes together in a kind of a critical mass, so I don‘t think it‘s just one thing, Chris.  I think that we‘re seeing here in the best sense of the word all that we want out of a democracy, because people are engaged for all the right reasons. 

TIM RUSSERT, NBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  Chris, if I could just add one thing to that, remember the election of 2000.  People remember it, particularly the Democrats.

And we obey the rule of law, as our great nation does, but people in 2000 said, we‘re going to settle the scour in 2004.  I‘ve gone around all across the country and listened to black radio and there‘s not a day that goes by where there‘s not people on the phone saying, we‘ve got to get out and vote.  We can‘t let what happened in 2000 happen again in 2004. 

I think the Democrats have enormous registration advantage initially. 

The Republicans are now catching up.  I think we could have a huge turnout. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Tom, who is benefiting most, which of the candidates, from these debates? 

BROKAW:  I think so far that even the Republicans will tell you that it‘s been an advantage to John Kerry.

First of all, in that first debate, the phrase that I used at the time was that he got into the playoffs.  If he had not done well in that debate, it would have been tough for him to recover from it, put a lot of pressure on the president.  Then last week, depending on how you saw it, John Kerry still held his own ground.  The president made a comeback.  And tonight, these critical domestic issues will define for a lot of people what really motivates them. 

What are they going to do about health care?  What are they going to do about the economy?  What are they going to do about taxes and the deficit?  So I think, up to this point, at least, Chris, that it‘s been probably advantage John Kerry, but, in tennis terms, by a point or two. 

RUSSERT:  Chris, think back two weeks ago.  What was the mood in the Democratic Party?  What was the mood in the Bush campaign?  They believe they were on the 20-yard line in the red zone about to push it in.  These debates have transformed this race, have given John Kerry an opportunity to be seen as a potential president.  And that‘s why tonight is so critical for both these men. 

When incumbents run for reelection, the elections generally don‘t end close.  People begin to pull away.  Either they win or lose big as an incumbent.  Tonight could be that moment for either George Bush or John Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, is tonight more about selling this, what we have today in terms of everything, the war, the economy, the social issues, and deciding whether we know enough about that, the Kerry scenario?  In other words, I guess the same question applies.  Who has the most riding tonight, the guy who has to sell the new scenario or the guy who has to sell us on the existing scenario? 

BROKAW:  I think that the pressure is on both these campaigns tonight.  I think, as well as John Kerry has done, he still has not reached the bar that he needs to on the likability quotient.  It‘s kind of a fancy phrase for people still not warming to him, Chris.  And that‘s always an important factor in a presidential election. 

As for the president, I was talking about major financial figure from Wall Street last night who was describing for me a meeting recently in which the people who were in the room, most of them big Republican Wall Streeters, who were saying by a factor by about 80 percent that they wanted to vote for George Bush, wanted to, were still not entirely there. 

And then when they were asked if they wanted George Bush to do everything different, almost everything different in the second term, by a factor of 80 percent, they said, yes, we‘ll vote for him but, he has got to change.  And I think that‘s the tricky part for him tonight as he gets challenged by John Kerry about being locked into policies that have failed.  Does he defend those policies or does he say I‘m going to make a lot of changes in the next term?  And that‘s a balancing act for this president and that‘s why sometimes it‘s tough to run as an incumbent when the policies are not all going the way that you‘d like them to. 

RUSSERT:  I‘m very curious to see, Chris, how both these men behave tonight.  Will they go after each other, George Bush calling John Kerry a liberal, liberal, liberal, and John Kerry saying that George Bush is a pawn of the rich?

Or do they try to pivot and try to be presidential, speaking to a broader audience and a broader country?  I think their instincts once they‘re in that arena is to go after each other, but politically it may be smarter to try to be a little bit broader. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert.  We‘ll be back to you in an hour. 

We‘re back now with our panel.  Let‘s chew on that a little bit. 

Is it really in the eyes of everybody, do you agree that this is of equal importance to both candidates?  Or is there one guy who has to really show his stuff and go for the knockout? 

GREGORY:  I think that‘s right.  I think they‘re...

MATTHEWS:  You say both have equal status.

GREGORY:  I do.  I do, because I think that they both have to come out of here with the race staying even and then be in a position in the final days of this race to pull away, one or the other, based on the ammunition that they gather up here in this debate. 

MATTHEWS:  But doesn‘t—well, let me ask, Howard, your thoughts. 

FINEMAN:  I think it‘s, in a way, more important for John Kerry. 

This is going to be John Kerry‘s last big audience.  The president can always make news.  After this, it‘s just going to be George Bush with big events and big news all around him, if he can create it.  This is Kerry‘s chance, after having shown his competence, to show his heart.  And I think that‘s important for him.  If he can do it, he can win this debate and really get some momentum out of it, because that‘s crucial.  That‘s crucial, I think. 

MATTHEWS:  Norah? 

MATTHEWS:  Very simply put, we know that a majority of the country has thought that we are headed in the wrong direction.  Does John Kerry look like the alternative, the credible alternative to the president?  I think he‘s done a good job the first two debates.  I watched one with undecided voters who say, oh, this guy maybe has some credibility.  He has to seal the deal in this third debate or people will want to stay with the president, especially at a time when terrorism and protecting our country is the No. 1 concern. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s sealing the deal mean, 50 to 49?  Or does that mean about 53-46? 

The reason I ask that is, you have to get 270 electoral votes, which means you have to clear those thresholds in states like Ohio, which are more culturally conservative than the rest of the country, and West Virginia and maybe a couple of Western states.  Doesn‘t he have to get a bit higher than 50 percent to be able to be in the running here? 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK) 

FINEMAN:  Go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  Ben, you know these numbers.

GINSBERG:  The battleground—yes, the battleground states, where

this election is being contested, there are more Gore states that are still

in play than there are Bush states.  That means John Kerry has to

differentiate between his 20-year liberal voting record

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  You said that before, I know.  You‘re getting to sound like somebody I know. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But let me ask you the question.  Does he have to get more than half the votes, dramatically different?  In other words, is 51-49 enough for him to win the election or will he still have problems getting the electoral vote, Ben? 

GINSBERG:  I think he‘s still going to have problems.  You‘re also talking about the poll numbers.  And the polls are weighted, as we know, to the big states.  So...

MATTHEWS:  They could carry New York by 60-40, California 60-40

(CROSSTALK)  

GINSBERG:  ... the Electoral College. 

FINEMAN:  And the reason you‘re right about this, Chris, is because, on the cultural issues, there are going to be people voting for George Bush who are not always going to tell the pollsters that they‘re voting for George Bush. 

And the hard-line appeals to the base, that doesn‘t always show up in the poll numbers, but it shows up in the polls. 

MATTHEWS:  Why not? 

FINEMAN:  Well, because I think—I think—I think that there‘s some reluctance to talk to pollsters about deeply-held personal beliefs. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  And George Bush is operating in that territory on abortion, on stem cell research.

O‘DONNELL:  Gay marriage.

FINEMAN:  On gay marriage. 

People don‘t want to be contentious, necessarily, but they have deeply held beliefs.  And that‘s what George Bush is trying to tap into. 

MATTHEWS:  You know where you see that?  When people go into the secret voting booth in states that vote on gay marriage, it goes down 3 or 4-1. 

FINEMAN:  Exactly. 

GREGORY:  And, Chris, the Bush campaign is counting on blue-collar rural Democrats in the Upper Midwest, say, to be the ones who may not talk about it to the pollsters, but who do come out and say, wait a minute, I don‘t trust Kerry on some of these issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota.

GREGORY:  Minnesota, Iowa. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

Well, if the Democrats lose those three, they can drop any interest in national politics. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll come right back.  We‘re going to be joined by Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s coverage of the last presidential debate tonight live from ASU, Arizona State University.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY:  He‘s added more debt to the debt of the United States in four years than all the way from George Washington to Ronald Reagan put together. 

BUSH: And obviously we hope that diplomacy works before you ever use force.  The hardest decision a president makes is ever to use force. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the last debate here at Arizona State University. 

Joining me right now is Arizona Governor and Kerry supporter Janet Napolitano. 

Governor, I saw in “The Arizona Republic” today that the margin of error now is 5 percent and the difference between the candidates is 5 percent.  Does that mean that John Kerry could just as easily win this state as the president? 

GOV. JANET NAPOLITANO (D), ARIZONA:  Yes, I think Arizona is back in play, particularly after John Kerry‘s performance in the first debate.  We have seen Bush‘s lead here diminish and now that—this is really going to be up to the last debate and the field operation. 

We have lots of new voters in this state, lots of voters who are voting, who use all these cell phones, so they‘re not getting polled.  And like I said, the Kerry campaign has the largest field operation of any I‘ve ever seen.  So I think it will come down to Election Day. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the character of Arizona.  Is it a secular state like, say, oh, Connecticut or New Jersey, or is it a religiously conservative state that‘s ruled by the cultural values of the Christian right?  How would you describe this state? 

NAPOLITANO:  Well, I think there‘s a strong element of the state that does adhere to the values of the so-called Christian right, but that in a statewide election gets diluted by a more secular population out there. 

So I would say that those wedge issues that keep being pushed by the Bush campaign, I don‘t think they‘re be the determinative issues here.  The determinative issues are going to be the economy.  They are going to be health care, education and it‘s got to be the war in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you expect tonight, if the president gets to control the debate, that he‘ll talk about gay marriage, about abortion rights, about guns? 

NAPOLITANO:  Well, I don‘t know.  I think part of it depends on the questions that are asked, but I think if he tries to do that and not talk about some of the other issues that actually have more salience to the everyday life of Arizonans and Americans, I think he‘ll pay a price for that. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the Latino vote and the American Indian vote, the Native American vote.  How strong are those two votes in your state now, right now? 

NAPOLITANO:  Well, I‘d say on the Native American vote, Senator Kerry is going to do extraordinarily well from all intents and purposes.  I was just up on the Navajo Reservation, which is our largest group of Native American voters.  And the leadership up there have all unanimously endorsed him, a strong Kerry presence up there. 

In terms of the women‘s vote, the women‘s vote in Arizona has kind of been like the women‘s vote nationally.  It‘s gone a little bit back and forth.  I think it was with Bush right after the Republican Convention on the security issues and some of the other things.  But, again, in the last couple of weeks, people are beginning to see John Kerry right across from George Bush and they‘re saying, hey, wait a minute, I like this guy.  And we‘re seeing that really happen to the women‘s vote out here. 

MATTHEWS:  John McCain told me the reason that Bill Clinton won the Arizona vote last—in ‘96, in his second run was because of what happened in California with regard to that proposition out there about families of undocumented workers.  Do you think the Hispanic vote or the Latino vote is still angry about that and still leaning Democrat? 

NAPOLITANO:  Yes, I do think the Hispanic vote here leans Democrat and it is the fastest growing part of our population.  They were probably about 15 percent of the voting populace in the last presidential in 2000.  They will be at least 15 and probably more in this election.  And if it is more than 15, that would bode well for Senator Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we‘ll ever have an honest discussion of illegal immigration as long as both parties are competing for the Latino vote? 

NAPOLITANO:  I have got to tell you, I hope so.  And I say this for a Democrat or a Republican.  We are a border state.  Over half of the Border Patrol arrests in the country last year for illegal immigration were made right here in Arizona. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

NAPOLITANO:  We are suffering because of the failure of Washington, D.C., to deal with the illegal immigration.  Whoever is elected needs to take this on. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you.  It‘s an honor to have you on, Governor, Governor Janet Napolitano of Arizona.

When we come back, we‘ll talk to this great crowd here at Arizona State University, the host for tonight‘s presidential debate. 

Get on to Hardblogger, by the way, our election blog Web site.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALD FORD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It would be the highest honor for me to have your support on November 2 and for you to say, Jerry Ford, you‘ve done a good job.  Keep on doing it.           

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  This really is an exciting campus.  And everybody is excited about tonight‘s debate.  And I‘m going to scare the hell out of one guy right now.  What are you looking for in the debate tonight?  Why are you watching?  You are going to watch.  You‘re a Bushie. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  What are you looking for tonight?  Are you just going to cheer?  Are you going to decide?  Your mind made up or what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My mind is pretty much made up.  Economically, I think that Bush is the stronger choice. 

MATTHEWS:  Stronger choice. 

What are you looking for tonight in the debate? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Bush to do better than he has been the past couple debates. 

MATTHEWS:  Who are you for? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  So you think he needs to jack it up a little? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think he needs to have a better appearance, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he‘s smarter than he looks? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, yes, definitely.  It is an act.  It is all an act.  It is all an act.  It is all an act.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, I mean that. 

Do you think—you disagree? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I disagree. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, I think he looked very good Friday night, everybody says.  And he didn‘t look so good the week before, the time before.  What do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  But I look at content of what he has to say, OK, how he looks, how he appears and how he carries himself.  And John Kerry carries himself way more presidential, way better than...

MATTHEWS:  If he explained the atomic theory, the general theory of relativity to you in absolute clear terms some night, would you still be against him? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t think he could do that.

MATTHEWS:  You would still be against him, wouldn‘t you?  Be honest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, I would.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not about I.Q.  It‘s not about I.Q. 

You, sir, what are you looking for tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I want to see Bush to be a strong leader to show us what he really is.  He‘s a strong leader for America. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you know he is a strong leader if you have to tell him to act like a strong leader?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Because—we don‘t have to tell him to act like a strong leader.  He is strong in his conviction.  Whatever he says, he does. 

MATTHEWS:  You have a lot of material here. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I sure do.

MATTHEWS:  You have about a $5 investment, counting the hat, the button, this thing. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Why have you made such an investment in the president? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, I got this for free.  I got this shirt.  Basically, they sent it to me.  It was kind of cool.  But, anyway, I really want to support the president, really want to show what we have.  And it‘s college students. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did you like him in the first debate or the second debate? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I liked him both debates.  I really enjoyed

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is that the real Bush right there? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, it is. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you. 

Let‘s go to you.  What are you looking for in tonight‘s debate? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m looking to see Bush once again show us what a strong leader he is. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So you believe in him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s to go a Democrat.  Here‘s one.

What are you looking for in tonight‘s debate?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m sick of hearing about Iraq.  I want to hear about the domestic issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Iraq is an important issue? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think it is an important issue, but I think

that all they‘ve talked about is Iraq.  I want to hear about

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Where do you stand on Iraq?  Should we have gone to war in Iraq? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t think we should have, no.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s your big domestic issue? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I would say education. 

MATTHEWS:  Excellent. 

Another Kerry.  I need another Kerry. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  All right, here‘s a Kerry.  Let‘s even it up here.

Are you for Kerry? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  What are you watching tonight?  What are you going to watch tonight? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I want to see where he stands on the issues. 

And he is just, like—I don‘t know.  I love him.  He is so good. 

MATTHEWS:  You love Kerry.  OK. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s an emotional thing. 

A Bushie?  What are you looking for tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m looking for health care.  I‘m a student.  I‘m a nursing student.  And I really—that‘s an important issue for me, is where they stand on health care. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think nurses make enough money? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, I think they‘re making a lot better money than they were about 10, 15 years ago. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s good.  I love nurses.  I was just in a hospital for malaria.  I like nurses. 

What are you looking for tonight? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m looking to find out what Senator Kerry‘s economic plan is and how he plans to implement it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you. 

What are you looking for tonight? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m looking to find out what happens when Kerry works with the economy as well and what his new plan is on the war, because he always seems to be talking about his plan, but he never really tells us what it is. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you for Kerry? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I am for Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  Now matter what he says tonight? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Probably, yes.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Who are you for?  You are for Kerry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m for Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you want to hear tonight from him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  From him, I want to hear more specifics and less Bush attacking.  We‘ve heard enough.  And I really want to know what he‘s going to do for us as the next president.  I believe in him and now I want to hear it. 

MATTHEWS:  You know enough about this.  You want to know more about that, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s the way I put it.

Anyway, we‘ll be right back with more from our panel and other big guests tonight, as we await the debate tonight at Arizona State University.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

END   

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