updated 10/27/2004 10:16:54 AM ET 2004-10-27T14:16:54

Guest: Tucker Eskew, Tad Devine, James Webb, Stanley Crouch, Debra Saunders, Greg Fox

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  One week before Americans cast their vote for president and new national polls show the race practically even now.  But both campaigns found the attack over the 380 tons of explosives missing in Iraq with the Kerry camp announcing it will release a new television ad on this issue.  Will the war in Iraq prove to be the ultimate battleground in this presidential election?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  With seven days to go to the presidential election, the Zogby daily tracking poll of likely voters shows President Bush holding to a three-point margin over Senator Kerry.  The ABC News tracking poll shows Kerry with a one-point edge over President Bush.  And “USA Today”/CNN/Gallup has the race narrowing from an eight-point margin in President Bush‘s favor to a five-point margin.  Still in his favor.  We‘ll talk about the latest in the battle for the White House with the Bush and Kerry campaigns in a minute. 

But first let‘s look at the NBC News electoral college ratings.  26 states are considered solid or leaning toward President Bush.  They comprise 222 electoral votes of the 270 votes needed to win the presidency.  15 states, and the District of Columbia, are considered solid or leaning toward Senator Kerry.  They‘re worth 207 electoral votes.  And nine votes worth 109 electoral votes are still called toss-ups.  The only changes, Arkansas moves from solid Bush to leaning Bush and Hawaii moves from solid Kerry to leaning Kerry.  Tad Devine is the senior adviser to the Kerry campaign and Tucker Eskew is a senior adviser to the Bush campaign.  Starting with Tad, any problems with those calls? 

TAD DEVINE, SR. ADVISER TO KERRY CAMPAIGN:  No.  I think that‘s a pretty accurate map.  We may lean here or lean there, but I think those are the battleground states as far as I see them. 

MATTHEWS:  Tucker? 

TUCKER ESKEW, BUSH-CHENEY ‘04 SR. ADVISER:  About right.  I think we go into these last few days in a good position.  We would rather be where we are than where they are.  We‘re on offense in states that Gore won.  They‘re on defense in states that Gore won. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you both to join me in a little bit of guidance for the viewer.  There are going to be surprises within those solid states, right?  Even the ones called solid?  In other words, people might as well not even vote according to the way sometimes people portray these things. 

ESKEW:  We‘re looking forward to them voting.  We‘ve got a great grassroots...

MATTHEWS:  I want to ask you this.  Do you expect surprises? 

ESKEW:  Sure. 

MATTHEWS:  Even among the solid and leaning states?  Not just the undecided states? 

ESKEW:  It‘s a possibility.  There are very few undecideds left in this race.  It is down to a small group of people. 

MATTHEWS:  So you really trust the polling. 

ESKEW:  We got good numbers out there. 

MATTHEWS:  I just wonder, why—Tad, why do you trust the polling so much when you have like margins of error of three or four points and the distances between the two candidates is three or four points in some cases?

DEVINE:  I‘m probably saying what Tucker is going to say.  We trust our own campaign polling.  We can trust it because we do so much of it.  It is very extensive.  It‘s the kind of polling you want to do over several days, call back, you know, it‘s valid.

MATTHEWS:  But how do you know who is going to vote?  Because if this is what people think it will be, a real bonanza of voting, a real American day of 120 million people voting, how do you know how those people that don‘t usually vote are going to vote?

DEVINE:  I think the screens and the polls themselves can tell who is going to vote.  If people express an actual certainty to vote, if they‘re registered to vote, you can assess them on a number of indicators.  If they do that, I think they‘re likely to vote. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Both confident of the numbers as presented so far? 

ESKEW:  The numbers and what‘s underlying, the intensity.  President Bush enjoys overwhelming positive support whereas John Kerry still has a large group of voters who are just voting for negative reasons.  That helps us with turnout...

MATTHEWS:  The last five or six days, the trend, please.

DEVINE:  I think the trend will be toward...

MATTHEWS:  No, what has it been the last five or six days?

DEVINE:  It‘s been toward Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with that?

DEVINE:  No.  Absolutely.  You look at where you‘re going.  Where the Kerry campaign is having to go is...

MATTHEWS:  ...national polling? 

ESKEW:  Yes.  But the national polling is in our favor as well.  We are holding the lead.

MATTHEWS:  Is it moving toward your guy or moving...

ESKEW:  We‘re holding a lead.  It is steady, it‘s moving up in a few places...

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t see it moving toward Kerry? 

ESKEW:  No. 

DEVINE:  Well, “Washington Post,” ABC, they‘re five points to Kerry in five days. 

ESKEW:  It‘s a state by state race as well. 

MATTHEWS:  How about the “Newsweek” and the “Washington Post” poll both moving toward Kerry, right?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, a challenge there.

ESKEW:  With a five-point lead, I‘ll give up a point or two. 

MATTHEWS:  So it is a slow breeze but not a strong breeze. 

ESKEW:  Not a strong breeze at all.  And there are other poll like Tip and Rasmussen moving in our favor.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about events.  I want to ask you which is significant, both of you.  Bill Clinton‘s arrival, like Lazarus in Philly yesterday, will that play a role in Pennsylvania, Ohio, places like that?

DEVINE:  Yes.  I think a very significant and positive role. 

ESKEW:  Welcome back.  Interesting, they had to put him in Pennsylvania, a state they ought to have in the bag.  They don‘t.  We‘re going to win it.  And the talk of putting him in Arkansas, bring it on. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, could it be because it‘s the largest media market that‘s is in contention? 

ESKEW:  It could be because they‘re not getting the intensity of support in the base in the Democratic party.  We see signs of that. 

MATTHEWS:  Who is the better campaigner?  Clinton or Kerry? 

DEVINE:  After this election it will be Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about a couple of these issues.  One is this big cache of explosives which is unaccounted for.  Maybe it was missing before we got there, maybe it was not missing until we got there.  Was it a significant issue if it is not a presidential call.  The president of the United States is not in country, he doesn‘t make these decisions. 

DEVINE:  Because it‘s a demonstration of the president‘s incompetence.  This president rushed to war with no plan to win the peace.  And as a result of that, 380 tons of serious explosive are now in the hands of terrorists probably because of what the president did.  It is a very serious issue.

MATTHEWS:  The president‘s response has been kind of muted.

ESKEW:  We get the blame for that.  It is uncertain.  We also get credit for scoring 400,000 tons of munitions, destroying them, or they‘re ready to be destroyed.  This is an example of a say anything candidate.  I used to like the movie, “Say Anything.” 

MATTHEWS:  Neither side said anything in this case.

ESKEW:  Well, they did.  And they echoed it so fast, it kind of made CBS‘ head spin. 

MATTHEWS:  Why doesn‘t the president shove it back at them and say this is not my responsibility.  It is not my fault?  Why has he been so quiet on this? 

ESKEW:  I thought Vice President Cheney had some great comments today, pointing out the amount of munitions we had landed, pointing out the rush to which Kerry went to this issue.  It is uncertain.  A president really has to study facts before making decisions...

MATTHEWS:  Usually your guys are very good at knowing the info, because you‘re in power and you have all the information from the Defense Department.  There‘s a very particular response.  This time, the president and the vice president have not been particular in saying, Kerry is all wet. 

ESKEW:  The president was likely to say something very soon about Monday morning quarterbacking.  And Vice President Cheney said something about...

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t Monday morning quarterbacking a good time to pick next week‘s quarterback? 

ESKEW:  I tell you what, it‘s not a good time to...

MATTHEWS:  I tried that yesterday on Rick Santorum and I liked the sound of it.  I‘m sorry to bring it up tonight.

ESKEW:  Fair enough.  I think what we saw with the Kerry campaign, what was its message for Monday?  Because their message was ripped out of that day‘s headlines.  That‘s typical for a campaign that‘s so...

MATTHEWS:  Living off the land?  Is that bad? 

DEVINE:  I‘ll tell you, here‘s the message.  The president of the United States doesn‘t know what he‘s doing in Iraq or in America.  I think it‘s a pretty simple message and that‘s why he‘s not going to win reelection.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about Florida.  Richard Kahn raised the issue this morning, he thinks the Jewish vote is not as solid for the Democrats this time as it has been because of the president‘s strong support for Sharon and his government over there.  Is it still going to be the old 4-1 Democrat support? 

DEVEINE:  All the empirical evidence I see which is data says that John Kerry is going to enjoy overwhelming support. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did he have to send president Clinton down to a synagogue in south Florida? 

DEVINE:  Because we want to energize voters...

MATTHEWS:  But they vote a higher percent.  They‘re the best voters in America.  Why do you have to energize them?  They‘re the best voters in America, why do you have to energize them?

DEVINE:  Because it is important for them to hear the message of this campaign.  That John Kerry will take this nation in a direction—by the way in that the peace process, the road map that the president talks about, which he has done nothing on, will be a central part of the Kerry presidency. 

ESKEW:  We‘ve seen empirical data that doubles our numbers among Jewish Americans, doubles our number among African-Americans. 

MATTHEWS:  Empirical data meaning what? 

ESKEW:  Poll data.  And thirdly, the president tomorrow will be out with...

MATTHEWS:  Your polling. 

ESKEW:  Our polls, public polls.  The president will be out with your old buddy Zell Miller tomorrow. 

MATTHEWS:  I have to ask you this.  What constituency does Zell bring in for you? 

ESKEW:  Those undecided voters.  45 percent are still—they‘re blue collar.  They understand the kind of language Zell Miller talks about.  He grew up hard, he talks the language of people who know what it means to earn a paycheck...

MATTHEWS:  You mean they understand metaphors?  They‘re good with metaphors?

We‘ll be back.  I can‘t get over this fight.  I never started it but it keeps going.  Tucker—it was on “Saturday Night Live” again.  Tucker Eskew, stick around, Tad Devine.

And later, former Navy secretary James Webb on the war in Iraq and whether U.S. soldiers have the right to refuse to go to battle.  That‘s a hot one.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We‘re back with Tucker Eskew, senior adviser to the Bush Campaign and Tad Devine, senior adviser to the Kerry campaign. 

Why don‘t you get the president and the vice president on the show sometimes.  I just tried it through another means.  I‘ll keep trying to get him on.  We want him on because we had Kerry on just the other day.  And we had Edwards on the other day, Sioux City.  We had to track him down pretty long, but we got him.  I‘d love to get your guys.

Let me ask you about this weird race.  If you guys are political junkies, you know that ever since World War II, all reelection campaigns are pretty dramatic.  Either a guy quits like Truman or LBJ or Carter gets really dumped.  Or they get reelected rather dramatically. 

Why is this different?  Why is this a race that‘s—where it isn‘t clear even now who‘s going to win? 

ESKEW:  Look, a very evenly split country in hard times.  No one would question the going through war, coming back from recession, coming back from 9/11.  It doesn‘t introduce elements that no president has had to contend with.  On the other hand, our opponent, John Kerry is running the highest negatives of Democratic, any challenger for the presidency since 1972 and George McGovern...

MATTHEWS:  Why is he even in so many polls with the president of the United States? 

ESKEW:  As, I‘ve mentioned, we‘ve been through a lot of hard times.  We‘ve been—we‘ve come out of recession.  We‘ve come through two wars together.  We‘ve had casualties.  We‘ve all done it. 

MATTHEWS:  A tested president against an untested senator, and yet so many polls are dead even.  What‘s it in the country—what wind do you feel at your back that gives you confidence you can win this in the next week.

DEVINE:  Well, I think the wind is the reason that the race is close, which is that this president has engaged in a deliberate strategy of polarization.  It‘s gone on for many years and gone on for this whole campaign.  And that has ensured that he has about 47 percent of the electorate in lock.  And think that‘s (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MATTHEWS:  But why has he—you say that and I can understand it in cultural terms, because we divide on cultural issues in some ways, and they are one way or the other.  Made a big effort for Wisconsin for the last two or three years, a big effort for my home state of Pennsylvania, that‘s a polarizing position to take, Pennsylvania, which is probably one of the more middle of the road states. 

DEVINE:  But going to a state doesn‘t represent trying to bring a country together.  I mean, the positions he‘s taken on issues, the rhetoric he used in his campaign, the tactics of his campaign which has been highly negative has polarized the nation. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, look he‘s going out—we can argue about it, I think he‘s got Jewish support for support of Israel, he‘s got Hispanic support because of his appeal to that community.  Hasn‘t he tried to bring in traditionally Democratic communities?

ESKEW:  He has indeed.  Reaching out again tomorrow, traveling with the Democrat.  Going to Youngstown, Ohio, a great place with a Democratic mayor. 

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s the Democrat he‘s traveling with?

ESKEW:  Zell Miller. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a real unifier. 

(LAUGHTER)

ESKEW:  Hey, he brought us votes.  He‘ll bring us more tomorrow. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not exactly a unifier, is he?  Come on, give me a break.  What does he unify?

ESKEW:  Elections unify us.  We‘re going to win.  We‘re going to win decisively and that will help unify the country.  I see us getting over this say anything politics. 

MATTHEWS:  No, it‘s like—it‘s like he‘s going to do with his revolvers.

DEVINE:  Challenge us to a duel, we‘ll be fine, so. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me what is Kerry‘s challenge next week?  And I want to ask you that about the president. 

So, you‘ve got seven days.  You have seven days.

DEVINE:  Telling the nation where he wants to lead it in the future. 

I mean...

MATTHEWS:  Positive rather than negative. 

DEVINE:  Yes, I think it‘s going to be... 

MATTHEWS:  So, when he‘s going to start to do the hope part of the speech?  I keep hearing it‘s coming.

DEVINE:  He‘s been doing it.  I mean, listen, if you look at our...

MATTHEWS:  No, he‘s attacking the president on his handling of the war in Iraq. 

DEVINE:  Our paid media in the battlegrounds right now is almost wholly positive, and has been so for a while.  It‘s a big difference than wolf ads on the other side. 

MATTHEWS:  What are your positive themes?

DEVINE:  To talk about his vision for the nation, where he wants to take it.  To talk about his agenda for jobs, for healthcare, for stem cell research, where there‘s a big difference.  For energy independence, where there‘s a profound difference.  To talk about that agenda and to ask for the vote.  And I think, that‘s a big difference in the campaign he‘s run, I think, in the paid media, which we control totally, a positive campaign directed—on television to direct towards voters.  And I think he‘s going to speak a lot, particularly, over the weekend about where he wants to lead the nation. 

ESKEW:  I do want to say what we‘re going to do.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the president‘s deal closer? 

ESKEW:  It is the choice.  We‘ve got serious choices.  And protecting our security, protecting family budgets, protecting retirement savings, protecting our country from a government out of control, and protecting bedrock values.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s a government out of countrol?

ESKEW:  The albatross of a healthcare plan that John Kerry‘s proposed is just one example.  A $2.2 trillion dollar premium (ph) plan.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the president—let me just ask you (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  Your (ph) friend of mine in Philadelphia, he is a Democrat.  I won‘t use his name, he‘s been a big Clinton supporter.  He said to me, the Bush message seems to be, hey, he‘s worse than I am. 

ESKEW:  Well, he is worse.  I‘ll agree to that. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t there an awful lot of negativity for an incumbent? 

ESKEW:  No.  I think this president has got a very hopeful vision for the future.  He‘s going to talk about that all the way down to the stretch.  Look at our paid ads and our message, as opposed to the say anything approach.  I think Americans are going to choose strongly in our favor.  We‘ve got election...

DEVINE:  Their paid ads are a pack of wolves.  OK, I don‘t know, what could be scarier than that.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

I mean, listen, it‘s been negative for a simple reason, the president cannot talk about his record.  He cannot talk about his record the last four years and he cannot talk about agenda for the future.  That‘s why he has to attack John Kerry.

MATTHEWS:  If the president wins, what will be the one word that explains it in history books?  One word.

ESKEW:  Vision. 

DEVINE:  Fluke. 

MATTHEWS:  And what word for your candidate? 

DEVINE:  No, I think if John Kerry wins, it‘s going to be simple, that The country wants change. 

MATTHEWS:  Change.  They don‘t want him, they want change. 

DEVINE:  They want a new direction. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you account for more people supporting Kerry are really opposed to the president and not for Kerry.

DEVINE:  That the president has so deeply polarized the nation. 

ESKEW:  That comes up short.  John Kerry has said that George Bush wants to cut social security checks by $500, false.  Say anything.  John Kerry, said the president wants to instill a draft.  He knows it‘s false, still does it.  John Kerry dragged Mary Cheney into the debate.  Wrong.  I mean, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  Who has more fire power, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bill Clinton? 

ESKEW:  George W. Bush.

DEVINE:  Clinton. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much.  Good guys.  Tad Devine, Tucker Eskew, for both sides.  We like it even here. 

Up next, former navy secretary, James Webb, on whether the United States soldiers have the right to refuse to take—to take orders in Iraq.  Your watching HARDBALL ON MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Were 18 Army reservists right to disobey orders to transport fuel in Iraq because they considered the mission too dangerous?  James Webb served as—he served as secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration.  He‘s author of the new book, “Born Fighting.”  You‘re a fighting man, right? 

JAMES WEBB, FORMER SECRETARY OF THE NAVY:  I have been, I have been, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You have the instinct of a soldier, right? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of—what did you think when you heard about these reservists saying, you know, the fuel is contaminated, it is a dangerous mission, it‘s in a dangerous area, we‘ve been hit there before.  We are not going to do it?  

WEBB:  Well, first of all, when you look at soldiers and at the duty to obey orders, I also represented a so-called war criminal for six years at one point, who killed himself halfway through, I finally cleared his name after six years, but I got really involved in the legal side of this as well. 

And all the courts start with the premise that a soldier is a reasoning agent.  They‘re not automatons.  There are orders that they are required to disobey, which is what happened to the fellow I represented.  They said he should have disobeyed it.  

MATTHEWS:  This is the Nuremberg thing.  It goes back to that...

WEBB:  Nuremberg, clear conscience...

MATTHEWS:  ... where you can‘t just say I was obeying orders. 

WEBB:  Exactly.  And at the same time, there is a gray area in what we would call the fog of war, where it is healthy to question orders.  One of the first things I learned in the Marine Corps—and the Marine Corps has a healthy attitude about this—is that if there is a confusing situation, you receive an order, there‘s nothing wrong with saying, wait a minute, are we sure we have all the facts? 

The first thing I saw, which is what you asked, was a possible failure of leadership.  There‘s an old military saying, there are no bad regiments, there are only bad colonels.  When you have 19 people standing up and saying something like that, I started wondering about whether the commanding officer was articulating the concerns up the chain of command, because loyalty goes both ways. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I‘ve heard guys tell me—I wasn‘t in combat, I was in the Peace Corps, I‘ve said that many times on this show—but guys who have been in combat when I asked them, say the best junior officers are the ones who can tell what you what the mission is about.  They sit down, they get—they have a huddle like in a football game, and say, here‘s what we have got to do here. 

WEBB:  Well, you obviously have to brief your people about the mission, but also, the best officers of any rank are ones who will not hesitate to articulate the concerns of their troops upward. 

I‘m not trying to let these people off the hook, but the first thing to go for is, was there a failure of leadership when you have 19 people saying something like that? 

Then the second thing I would look at would be, how dangerous was the mission as opposed to how dangerous were the people—how dangerous was the situation for the people that they were supposed to be resupplying?  And in this situation, clearly it looked like their mission and the circumstances that they were under probably had more danger at that point than the people they were resupplying.  So you want to sit back and say, were these people being well led?  Were they being taken care of? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, yeah, but can you—let me ask you a tougher question.  Can you imagine a Marine unit—regular Marines, not reservists, if there is such a thing—saying no to an order? 

WEBB:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  Marines would say yes, sir, wouldn‘t they? 

WEBB:  Well, it depends on the order.  But in this particular situation, what you would probably see in the Marine Corps—and I don‘t mean to knock the Army—is some pretty good NCOs and commanding officers sitting down and saying, wait a minute, we need to take care of our people here.  We need to make sure they‘ve got the right gear.  We need to make sure that they know that we‘re taken care of. 

And they would do the mission.  No, I don‘t think you would see in the Marine Corps or the Marine Corps reserves somebody refusing to obey orders. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just conscious of the semper fi, the whole altitude of the Marine Corps, which is we‘re going to do it, we‘re going to take the hill.  We know the odds, we‘re going to do it. 

WEBB:  But also, it‘s because they‘re well-led, and that there‘s a bond that exists between the commanders, officers, and staff, and COs and the troops, so that they know they‘re taken care of. 

MATTHEWS:  I think the same might be true, certainly would be true of regular Army.

What do you think about this reserves thing?  People call it back-door draft.  A lot of people went over there with the idea—a lot of people joined the reserves with the idea that they would be weekend warriors, so-called, and serve—they‘d be ready in case of an emergency, but they wouldn‘t be sent out on some, you know, deployment for months and months at a time.  That wasn‘t what they were signing up for.  Is this the proper use of reserves?

WEBB:  I used to run the Guard and reserve programs before I was secretary of the Navy, for three years.  And it was always envisioned as what they call a total force.  Meaning that if there was a mobilization, that the force structure, particularly Army, was such that if this was an extensive mobilization, you would have to bring in the Guard and the reserve.  And actually, that‘s one thing that was designed to make sure that the communities weren‘t going to be totally separated from the military, which was a big concern when the draft ended. 

But the way that they have been used now, for this—these extended periods of mobilization, I don‘t think anyone envisioned that.  And it‘s also an active duty problem, in what they call stop-loss, where there are a number of people whose enlistments have been involuntarily extended in order to deploy them. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that an involuntary draft? 

WEBB:  It is.  It is, I mean...

MATTHEWS:  If you look down the road, do you see more of a manpower, rather a person power challenge facing us as we have all these different needs in the world with regard to South Korea, of course, defending against the potential nuclear development in the North?  We have got the Iranian situation.  We have got the Middle East.  All these possibilities.  Do we have a big enough Army? 

WEBB:  I would start from the other end of that.  I would say yes, you may end up seeing problems, particularly in the Guard and reserve, where this is a second career. 

But the starting point is the move into Iraq, separate all the political considerations aside, was a strategic blunder.  And for us to have such a high percentage of our military tied down in essentially occupying and attempting to reconstruct a society of a nation is a very bad idea.  And it absorbs people.  And it not only absorb people when you think about enlistments and this sort of thing, it absorbs people from other areas around the world, so that we can‘t pay proper attention to security concerns elsewhere. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do our leaders, starting with the president down, why did they not expect nationalistic resistance to an occupation in Iraq, when our whole history of the world tells us, expect people to resist occupation? 

WEBB:  You know, the sad thing is, there‘s not a thing that has occurred in Iraq that was not only predictable but predicted.  And predicted with good military advice to this administration. 

MATTHEWS:  Did ideology overwhelm military history here?  Is that why we went in with such confidence?

WEBB:  My view of it, when Vice President Cheney repeatedly says that the people who have questioned the war against Iraq don‘t understand the post-9/11 world, my view is the complete reverse.  The people who did this, this was on their to-do list when they got into the administration, and they did not... 

MATTHEWS:  Cheney? 

WEBB:  Cheney and the whole group that really put this together.  They wanted this as a part of what was going to happen in the Bush administration.  One way or the other, they were waiting for... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why they joined, you could argue. 

WEBB:  And in my view, these people don‘t understand the realities post-9/11.  Post-9/11, this was a bad idea.  Pre-9/11, I still would have opposed it, but at least it was an arguable idea. 

MATTHEWS:  Because—why is it more of a bad idea now since 9/11? 

WEBB:  Because international terrorism really moved in a dramatic way from a regional problem to a global problem.  We saw that we had to step to the forefront.  We had all the nations of the world with us after 9/11.  And we systematically alienated a huge percentage of the world at a time we needed their cooperation.  We tied down our military in static positions when we had developed, for 10 or 15 years, we had worked on a maneuverable military.  And now we dumped them into static positions.  So it is a bad idea in terms of international politics, a bad idea in terms of grand strategy, and a bad idea in how to use the military.

MATTHEWS:  Did we dare the Arab world to take us on in Iraq?  The young men of the Arab world?  Did we say, go ahead, make our day, go ahead, step up to the plate, you got it? 

WEBB:  Clearly, it was the inevitable consequences of anyone who thought this through. 

MATTHEWS:  Like bring it on.  That‘s what the president said.  And they did. 

WEBB:  And well, I think that by putting our people in Iraq, we certainly made them targets in a way that they wouldn‘t have been if we were fighting the war against international terrorism from a position to maneuver. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Good luck with the book.  “Born Fighting.”  If you were teaching at the academies, any one of the academies, would you be saying, don‘t to go war in Iraq?  That was the lesson here? 

WEBB:  As a policy matter or as a personal matter?

MATTHEWS:  As a military history matter, it was a mistake, it was a blunder? 

WEBB:  I would say, I would say in terms of national policy, it was a bad strategic blunder.  In terms of talking to an individual, you have to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m talking about course 101 in Annapolis, when you‘re teaching a course in military history, would you say one of the lessons of the war with Iraq that began in 2002, or whatever, was don‘t do it? 

WEBB:  I would say it was a bad idea.  A bad strategic blunder. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s fair enough.  I don‘t want you to make other people‘s points.  I mean, you‘re a great man, with a great history.  You worked for Reagan.  You think this war was a bad idea.  James Webb.  Your book is called “Born Fighting.” 

Up next, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster takes a look at possible October surprises in the last week leading up to this election.  Who knows what‘s going to happen, who knows what either party is going to try to do.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, will there be any October surprises the week before the election?  And, later, will Bill Clinton‘s appearance in Florida help the Kerry campaign in that battleground state? 

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

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Part of the folklore of presidential campaigns ever since 1980 is something called the October surprise.  And just seven days before the election, the unexpected is indeed happening. 

HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  With Chief Justice William Rehnquist battling thyroid cancer, the Supreme Court‘s possible handling of abortion rights is back in this campaign.  But that‘s already been eclipsed by the news from Iraq; 11 Iraqi soldiers have been kidnapped, following the execution-style murders of 50 Iraqis over the weekend.  And investigations are under way into the 380 tons of high explosives missing and possibly in the hands of terrorists. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Just as the Bush administration‘s failure to secure Iraq‘s borders has led to thousands of terrorists flooding into the country, their failure to secure those explosives threatens American troops and the American people. 

SHUSTER:  This was the second straight day John Kerry jumped on the story.  And today, he even turned it into an attack ad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

KERRY:  In Iraq, George Bush has overextended our troops and now failed to secure 380 tons of deadly explosives. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  For their part, the Bush campaign is highlighting an NBC News report that the explosives were already missing when U.S. soldiers went to the depot early in the war. 

And the president today tried to fend off Kerry by portraying him as opportunistic and weak.  Mr. Bush even invoked John F. Kennedy. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Senator Kerry has turned his back on pay any price and bear any burden.  He‘s replaced his commitments with wait and see and cut and run. 

SHUSTER:  Traditionally, an October surprise is seen as a last-minute political trick to try to influence an election.  In 1972, Henry Kissinger said that peace was at hand in Vietnam as his boss, Richard Nixon, sought a second term. 

In 1980, Ronald Reagan‘s campaign worried that President Carter would somehow engineer a last-minute release of the American hostages in Iran.  On the Friday before the 1992 election, Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh indicted President Bush‘s secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger.  And four years ago, an old drunk driving arrest involving George W. Bush came out five days before the election.  This year, Democrats have speculated about a last-minute Bush administration effort to capture Osama bin Laden. 

But so far, the surprise developments have cut against President Bush.  The chaos in Iraq has made it harder for the president to argue that things are getting better.  And in the highly charged atmosphere of the final days, every problem there seem to be getting magnified. 

(on camera):  Still, there are seven days left to go with.  And with this election so close, both campaigns are on pins and needles as they wonder what story beyond their control might come out next. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re joined right now by Debra Saunders of “The San Francisco Chronicle” and by Stanley Crouch of “The New York Daily News.”  He‘s also the author of a new book, “The Artificial White Man.”

Thank you both for joining us.

We‘re talking a very interesting time, a week before the election, obviously.  But events are taking place, the horrible story of those Iraqi trainees to be in the security force, 50 people executed mob-style, just like a mob execution shot in the head as they lay down, knowing their turn was coming, horrible story, apparently an inside job, 11 captives now, Iraqis on our side taken captive by the other side, 380 tons of conventional explosives missing, apparently in part of a mismanagement, perhaps, part of just bad luck by our forces getting in there. 

Stanley, tell me what you think all this adds up to.  Is this a growing bit of help for the Kerry campaign in a negative sense? 

STANLEY CROUCH, “THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”:  Well, you can never tell when you‘re talking about these kind of people, because we do know that Islamic Jihad and Hamas wanted Ariel Sharon elected.  So they stepped up the suicide bombings to the greatest extent that they possibly could before the election to ensure Sharon‘s getting in.  I by no means have any idea whether or not these guys have just—are just on a roll or whether they would want...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think they‘re that intuitive about our culture, because, you know, with the Spanish culture, they attacked right before their government elections not too long ago, several months back.  And the people of Spain turned out the government that had supported the war in Iraq. 

So there, they were directly trying to demoralize the people.  In this country, I think, you‘re saying it is hard to read us or is it possible to read us? 

CROUCH:  I mean, that could be a possibility, but I don‘t think it is going to have the effect that they would want, because we just don‘t know that the American people are going to suddenly say, oh, bad things are happening.  Get rid of Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I don‘t know it either. 

Let me go to Debra.

What‘s your view of these bad bits of—it is sort of like a Chinese kind of water torture of bad events for three or four days here.  It could turn tomorrow.  But what does it do to the election, do you think? 

DEBRA SAUNDERS, “THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE”:  Well, you know, I hope it doesn‘t have a whole lot to do with it. 

I have a problem with this “New York Times”/”60 Minutes” story, because it seems to be, people are convinced that this is because of looting.  We don‘t know that.  We don‘t know if Saddam Hussein moved those weapons.  And your NBC story suggests that the weapons may have been gone by the time U.S. troops could have done anything about it. 

I wonder, how do we win a war if the media put every single thing that happen, every casualty, every goof-up on the president?  How do you win? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘ve been asking the question myself on this show yesterday.  Is this a command decision by the president of the United States, the commander in chief?  Would he be involved with deciding whether a stockpile of munitions were picked up and secured or not?  This is a pretty much on-the-ground decision. 

That said, this kind of news report offers up the opportunity for someone who supports the war in principle to vote against president for bad management, right?  And that‘s where its political opportunity is for Kerry. 

SAUNDERS:  That‘s certainly the way Kerry is trying to play it. 

And my question is, do voters go for this?  Or do they look at him and say, every time there‘s bad news, he‘s happy because he gets to throw it at Bush?  And I don‘t know the answer to that.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think?  Final thought on that question, Mr.  Crouch, Stanley.  Do you think the voters are looking at that as a mismanagement issue and it gives an opportunity for those who in principle support the war to vote Democrat? 

(CROSSTALK)

CROUCH:  I don‘t think the American public is that insipid. 

I think that anybody who knows anything at all about war knows that you‘ve always got all kind of foul-ups in war.  And you never know exactly how things are going to go.  And you have to be able to depend upon strong officers.  And the biggest criticism I‘ve gotten of this war from military people has been that our forces in Iraq suffer from not having good officers. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a question we‘re going to have to get answered in a lot—we won‘t that have answer in a week. 

Let me ask you about Bill Clinton.  We always deal with simpler issues here on this show. 

Debra, will Bill Clinton help or not? 

SAUNDERS:  I think he maybe will help.  Everybody gives Al Gore a hard time for not pulling Clinton out more. 

But four years ago, Bill Clinton was radioactive.  Now I think he can help get out the Democratic voters who don‘t necessarily vote. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SAUNDERS:  He‘ll also help get some Republican voters out, too. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that because the dress has been to the cleaners by now? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  No, the time—I‘m being funny.  But, obviously, time has played a role.  People are more forgiving about any misjudgment or misbehavior by anybody over time.  Thank God we are a forgiving country.  And is that what you‘re saying as well? 

SAUNDERS:  Yes.  I think four years makes a difference and that Bill Clinton is probably more helpful to John Kerry than he would have been to Al Gore. 

MATTHEWS:  I notice, Stanley, that they‘re using Bill Clinton in a very careful way.  They‘re using him on policy issues, not personality.  He didn‘t do his big seduction number in Philly.  I was right there across from him in the press area.  It was all policy, particular economic policies, things like that.  They‘re only using him in non-Bible Belt states, it seems to me, except for Arkansas. 

It seems like they‘re being very careful how they use him. 

CROUCH:  Well, the first thing is, is they don‘t want the public to see enough of Clinton to compare him to John Kerry, because Clinton is one of the most charismatic men walking the earth.  So the last thing that a party who has a stiff like John Kerry out there would want is for the public to think for even 10 seconds about how much more charismatic Bill Clinton is than John Kerry. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re so kind.  But weren‘t you kinder in a column you wrote recently?  Didn‘t you suggest that the stiffness has relieved lately?  I thought he was yesterday in interviewing him in Philadelphia up on that platform after the rally over than he was the last couple of times.  He seems like he‘s calmer, I would suggest even happier than he was before.

CROUCH:  Oh, no, he‘s getting it together.  In fact, the fact that 5:00 shadow that he has every day had begun to give him kind of a human quality, and he seems to have dropped a lot of that phony baloney imitation of FDR‘s sound with that fake vibrato in it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CROUCH:  So I think there‘s more of him out there and it can only do his campaign good, because Americans want to vote for people, like anybody else.  And they don‘t want to vote for a robot. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he‘s using man tan out there again? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, I don‘t know.  Somebody commented the other day that he had some of that stuff on him yesterday.  He was very dark. 

And we‘ll come back with Stanley Crouch and Debra Saunders.

And later on, an update from the battleground state of Florida.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, more with “The San Francisco Chronicle”‘s Debra Saunders and Stanley Crouch of “The New York Daily News.”  And later, a report from the battleground state of Florida.

HARDBALL is back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Debra Saunders of “The San Francisco Chronicle” and Stanley Crouch “The New York Daily News” to talk about these sort of odd events of the last week of the campaign.

Let‘s start with the lightest fare first of all, Stanley, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Are there voters out there who can be turned by this figure, this arrival of this Terminator on the scene in places like Ohio? 

CROUCH:  Well, I would hope not. 

(LAUGHTER)

CROUCH:  That is to say, I would hope that they wouldn‘t be turned because he‘s a movie star, because, first thing, he‘s never done a good acting role.  So that wouldn‘t be—I don‘t think there‘s any charisma there. 

SAUNDERS:  I have to disagree. 

MATTHEWS:  Let Debra respond on that.

Debra, you know him.  You covered the governor out there.  He is the governator.  Is he going to have an impact? 

SAUNDERS:  He has done a good acting job as a politician.  We have to give him credit for that. 

(LAUGHTER)

SAUNDERS:  You know, here‘s the thing. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger is such a big question mark.  He even was toying with reporters.  He was in San Francisco yesterday.  They were asking about his trip to Ohio, and he said he wasn‘t sure if he‘s going, but he probably can go because he has his own plane.  If the Bush people think that they can rely on him, they ought to be questioning that a little bit.  And also of course he disagrees with Bush on stem cells and some other issues.  So...

MATTHEWS:  A few others like gay marriage and abortion rights and the whole list. 

SAUNDERS:  Now, that said, his speech in New York at the GOP Convention was fantastic.  And I think it‘s one of the reasons why Bush got a bump out of the convention, when John Kerry got none.  So I think that Schwarzenegger can help. 

MATTHEWS:  Did it offset Zell Miller‘s? 

(LAUGHTER)

SAUNDERS:  Oh, yes, Zell Miller, too. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about another issue.  You be the woman and I‘m going to ask you.  You be the woman.  You—what do you think of the Supreme Court situation with the operation, a very serious operation for Justice Rehnquist?  Is that going to open up women‘s concerns about new appointments on the court? 

SAUNDERS:  Well, I think if Sandra Day O‘Connor were in trouble, I think that would make more of a difference. 

You know, look, people who vote based on Supreme Court appointees are basically the base on both parties.  So I don‘t see it making a big difference.

MATTHEWS:  Stanley?

CROUCH:  Yes, I think she is absolutely right. 

In the first point, I don‘t really think that most people pay that much attention to the Supreme Court.  I think that that is something that special interest groups and their lawyers actually spend more time thinking of, paying attention to. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me pose the dissenting view.  I think it will matter.

Let me go to this whole thing about, why would the president out of nowhere, Stanley, come out of against his own Republican Party platform from this summer‘s convention and say, although the party platform is against any kind of recognition of gay couples, he is for partners‘ rights if the states choose to enact those?

CROUCH:  Well, you know, Bush is a very difficult person to figure out, really.  I mean, we really don‘t understand him.  I mean, I don‘t know how he makes a number of the conclusions that he comes to.  And I don‘t really—I don‘t understand it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t either.

Let me ask you.  Let‘s go to Debra.  You‘re out in San Francisco and there‘s a large gay community, obviously, out there, a celebrated community.  Will this pick up any of the Democrats out there or middle-of-the-road people, independents out there? 

SAUNDERS:  You know, it might even be a way to appeal to conservatives who really believe in states rights.  I‘m not sure what that is about, but I‘m glad to see that the president is getting a little bit smarter on the whole issue of civil unions.  So I‘ll say it‘s an improvement.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that‘s where the country is?  Do you think that‘s where the middle of the country is, civil unions, but not marriage? 

SAUNDERS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Because California voted against marriage, clearly. 

SAUNDERS:  That‘s right.  Everybody thinks of California as being a liberal state that—and it is, but it is not so liberal.  And I think this is a lesson for people who look at gay marriage as being pivotal in this race. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Right.  And, also, when you go in the voting booth, you‘re always a lot more conservative on race and everything else.  Tom—what‘s his name? -- Tom Bradley was elected governor twice out in that state before people got to vote inside those booths. 

SAUNDERS:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Hey, thanks a lot, Debra.  It is great having you. 

Stanley, it‘s great having you on the show.  Good luck with the book. 

The name of the book is “The Artificial White Man.”

Up next, both campaigns are battling fiercely to win Florida‘s 27 electoral votes.  A look at that battleground state when we come back.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  With more electoral votes than any of the remaining nine battleground states, Florida is crucial in this presidential election. 

Joining me with the inside line on this pivotal state is Greg Fox, political reporter for NBC affiliate WESH in Orlando, Florida. 

Greg, thanks for joining us. 

What are the factors that have changed since the last time, when we had that basically a stalemate down there in 2000? 

GREG FOX, WESH-TV:  Well, a lot of things have changed. 

First of all, you have had an increasing drive among Democrats to increase voter registration.  It was pretty even in 2000, but right now, there are about 4.2 million registered Democrats in Florida and about 3.8 million registered Republicans in Florida.  So Democrats have been working hard, especially in this I-4 Corridor between St. Petersburg and Daytona Beach that runs up through the middle of Florida right past Disney World. 

Really, they have had 181,000 new registered voters in just the past couple of months.  So those drives, Chris, have been very strong.

MATTHEWS:  Well, in a state where the results are almost within the hundreds, I guess that makes a big impact. 

What about the stature of the governor down there, Jeb Bush, the president‘s brother?  How has that changed since four years ago? 

FOX:  You know, that is really interesting.  Four years ago in December—now, this is, again, right in the middle of the election controversy—Jeb Bush‘s approval rating for excellent or good was measured at 58 percent.  It is now measured at 61 percent.  It‘s even higher. 

If you could say that the governor has an influence in this state regarding his brother‘s chances in the presidential election, that bodes well for him.  I‘ll tell you also something that bodes well for him, his approval rating immediately after the four hurricanes that hit the state has been remarkable; 80 percent feel that he did a good or an excellent job handling the aftermath of those hurricanes.  And that was a big change because, back in the summer, his approval rating was actually lower than it had been in 2000. 

So those hurricanes and his response to them have really improved his performance rating in the minds of voters.  And that could help his brother this year. 

MATTHEWS:  Florida is known to be highly balkanized in terms of ethnicity.  Let‘s go through the groups.  The Cuban-American group, are they about the same as they were four years ago for the Republican side? 

FOX:  No, there‘s been a tremendous shift. 

In fact, when you look at the deep information inside of polls they ask, especially the young Cuban-Americans in South Florida predominantly, they are saying that they don‘t like the war.  They don‘t like the way it‘s going.  They think that the troops, about 22,000 of them in the Guard and Reserves in Florida that are in Iraq should be coming back home to Florida.  And they are saying that they are not happy with the way the economy looks, their outlook for jobs.

In contrast to that, 80 percent of Cuban-Americans who were born in Cuba still ally closely with the president. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me bring up something that was in Richard Cohen‘s column the other day in “The Washington Post.” 

He said: “I know this is an exaggeration, but while the polls tell me that only about a fifth of American Jewish voters support George W. Bush, my ears say the figure is much higher.  Everywhere I go, people tell me they will vote for Bush because he has been a mighty friend of Israel.”

Is there any way to determine whether that‘s true or not, what Richard Cohen is suggesting, a shift in some of the largely Democratic community of Jewish voters toward the Republican president? 

FOX:  It‘s hard to measure.  We are not seeing it in the polls that we‘ve been doing in the past couple of months. 

I will tell you that, if you recall, back in 2000, the large number of some 250,000 Jewish American voters down, predominantly in Southeast Florida, which is heavily Democrat, no surprise, they voted for Gore.  Or, because that‘s right in the middle of the butterfly ballot controversy with the punch cards, we‘re not sure whether they voted for Gore, whether they voted for Buchanan, whether they voted for Nader. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they are not sure either. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And that was a sad situation, Greg.  Thanks a lot for joining us from Orlando. 

We leave with you now with a quote about democracy from anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it‘s the only thing that ever has.”

Join us tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL. 

Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.

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