updated 10/28/2004 10:57:15 AM ET 2004-10-28T14:57:15

Guest: Richard Falkenrath, Jamie Rubin, Don Evans, John Fund, Evan Thomas, Al Franken

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  John Kerry is hitting President Bush‘s raw nerve.  His management of the Iraq war.  Plus, a new Reuters/Zogby battleground state poll has Kerry ahead in five states, Bush in four.  With the race now tied in Iowa.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS:  Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews at MSNBC headquarters.  We‘re six days out from the presidential election in the Zogby daily track poll of likely voters shows Senator Kerry has closed the race from a three-point margin to a one-point margin.  And the ABC News tracking poll has the race 49-Kerry, 48-Bush.  Same as yesterday.  And according to our NBC News polling, 25 states are considered solid or leaning toward President Bush.  They comprise 222 electoral votes of the 270 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.  The big ones, nine states worth 109 electoral votes are still rated as toss-ups.  First after two straight days of Senator Kerry hammering President Bush over those missing explosive in Iraq, the president broke his silence over the matter and charged that Kerry was jumping to conclusions on when the weapons disappeared. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Our military is now investigating a number of possible scenarios, including that the explosives may have been moved before our troops even arrived at the site.  This investigation is important and it is ongoing.  And a political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not a person you want as your commander-in-chief. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Rick Falkenrath is an adviser to the Bush campaign.  He‘s also the former deputy homeland security adviser.  And Jamie Rubin is the senior adviser for national security affairs to the Kerry campaign.  He served as assistant secretary of state for public affairs during the Clinton administration.  Jamie, why has this been such a hot issue for Senator Kerry all these days?  What does it tell us that‘s  significant for the voters? 

JAMIE RUBIN, KERRY-EDWARDS FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER:  What it tells us is that when it comes to the most solemn decision a president can make, launching a war, this president didn‘t think it through.  They didn‘t have enough forces.  The army chief of staff told them they needed several hundred thousand forces to stabilize and secure Iraq, and what we‘ve discovered in this recent case is that the looting took place at some point after the invasion and now 380 tons of extremely dangerous material, material that the terrorists could use, has gone missing.  There‘s a  simple reason for it.  They didn‘t plan for what would happen after Saddam fell.  And this failure to plan is a major blunder and it is one of the reasons why 18 months after the fall of Saddam Hussein, we still have chaos, instability and pitched battles across the country.  This president failed in his job of managing our forces during the Iraq war. 

MATTHEWS:  Rick, the president‘s view? 

RICHARD FALKENRATH, BUSH-CHENEY ‘04 ADVISER:  Well, the facts are not nearly as simple as Jamie makes out.  I don‘t think Jamie knows the facts.  As Dick Holbrooke, his colleague admitted yesterday, the Kerry campaign does not know what actually happened at this arms depot.  It may have been that Saddam Hussein moved the explosives before the invasion happened.  We don‘t know.  An investigation is ongoing.  A less reckless leader would have withheld the charges and waited until the investigation runs its course to find out what actually happened. 

MATTHEWS:  Suppose the weapons were moved, redeployed, hidden, taken somewhere else right before the troops got there.  What would that say about the invasion planning itself?  Anything? 

FALKENRATH:  What it says about the campaign, I think, is that Senator Kerry...

MATTHEWS:  No, your side is right in its supposition, well, the weapons could have been moved.  Those explosives, the 400 tons of them could have been moved before our troops arrived on site.  What would that say? 

FALKENRATH:  It says that there was a phenomenal amount of weapons in Iraq before we invaded.  Over 200,000 tons of munitions in Iraq before the invasion.  The vast majority of which have been safeguarded and accounted for.  Not all of it has and these weapons are a threat.  There‘s no question about that.  We don‘t mean to minimize that in any respect.  This was an extremely dangerous, well armed country with an unbelievable quantity of weapon. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the fact that the interim government, which we put our support behind, said that those weapons were there after the invasion?  They were moved after we got there? 

RUBIN:  I‘m not sure they have the facts either.  I think we need to find out the facts. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you guys just playing for time here?  You are saying you want an investigation.  That‘s usually what a side says when they want to have this drag out until after the voting.  Let me ask you plainly.  Do you think we‘ll get an answer to this question before the election? 

FALKENRATH:  I don‘t know if we‘ll get an answer.  But Senator Kerry leaped to an answer before he had the facts and he put out an attack ad immediately ripping it out of the headlines of the “New York Times  without knowing what he was talking about.  And his spokesmen are out making the same claims without knowing what they‘re talking about.  That‘s reckless and irresponsible. 

MATTHEWS:  Jamie?

RUBIN:  I‘m one of those people, and I don‘t feel reckless and irresponsible.  The “New York Times” has quoted now the colonel from the 101st Airborne Division, one of the first units who got there and he said there was no sign of looting in early April.  So this is a very serious issue.  The Bush campaign keeps trying shoot the messenger.  First they blame the Iraqi government.  Then they blame the International Atomic Energy Commission for reporting this.  Then they blamed the media.  This is a very serious issue.  And what it points up, and there is no argument here that when we went into Iraq, we didn‘t have adequate forces to secure and stabilize all of the different sites around Iraq.  This isn‘t the first time this happened.  We know last year, the uranium type material that could be used for dirty bombs that disappeared.  Witnesses saw the health ministries looted in Iraq.  And what did the secretary of defense say when all this looting was going on?  He said, stuff happens.  That‘s the point. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me make a point.  Colonel Joseph Anderson told the “New York Times” that his troops had not searched the site and merely stopped there overnight.  He said, quote, “I don‘t know what the place was supposed to be.  We did not get involved in any of the bunkers.  It was not our mission.  We were just stopping there on our way to Baghdad.  The plan was to leave that very same day.  The plan was not to go in there and start searching.  It looked like all the other ammunition supply points we had already seen.”

Rick, is that proof that there was no real effort to try to secure that type of facility, that type of ammo dump? 

FALKENRATH:  No, I don‘t think that‘s proof of that at all.  I think we need to find out the facts.  If there were no weapons at the site, then you wouldn‘t have wanted to guard it.  If they were gone, if they had been removed, if they were no longer there, there‘s no reason to guard it.  The real issue here is what sort of information do you need before you rip something out of the headlines and turn it into an attack ad?  And Senator Kerry simply does not know the facts yet. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s unusual, the Bush team under Karl Rove is brilliant in its counterattack, its ability to respond quickly and usefully to a charge made against it.  In this case, the president waited three days before responding today.  What is that about?  What does that tell us about the campaign strategy of Karl Rove and the president? 

FALKENRATH:  I think it tells that we‘ve learned that you don‘t always believe what you read in the “New York Times.”  That you need to get the facts and it is inappropriate for a sitting president to jump to conclusions based on one news report.  It is a serious matter and one that he‘s taken enormous interest in and will be investigated.  The answers will be found.  But you don‘t just leap to conclusions and start flinging out accusations in a political contest without knowing the facts. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the latest polling that shows that half the people who intend to vote for President Bush and Dick Cheney the vice president still believe there was WMD in the country.  And furthermore, over 60 percent believe the administration is putting out that word. 

FALKENRATH:  I don‘t—I‘m not a pollster.  I don‘t really know how to interpret those numbers.  I think the president has been pretty clear on that.  And I think to say that he‘s misled the public in any way would be not right.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m not saying it.  The people who support the president, half of them, believe the president was initially correct and don‘t feel that he has corrected his position.  They still believe what he said initially.  We went to war to stop those WMDs from being used against us.  How can you explain this resistance to the new information we‘ve all gotten several months back? 

FALKENRATH:  Chris, I‘m not sure.  I don‘t know.  I haven‘t seen that poll and I don‘t know how the question was phrased and I can‘t really explain what this poll is saying is true of the president‘s supporters.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Jamie.  Has the John Kerry unrelenting focus on this explosive weapons issue of the material that was allowed to let go, is that an attempt to get people who believed in the war in principle to now vote for Kerry on the issue of mismanagement? 

RUBIN:  To an extent.  Sure.  What it is is a focus on the facts. 

George Bush was always trying to compare himself...

MATTHEWS:  But are you sure—I‘m sorry, this is a point that was raised effectively by Rick.  Are you absolutely sure, Jamie, that these weapons, these explosive devices were not moved before our troops got there?  Are you absolutely sure? 

RUBIN:  The quote that you didn‘t use from the “New York Times” has the colonel go on, keep reading in the article.  He said there was no sign of looting here in early April.  So that was well after the war.  And all the indications are that the country was wildly looted after the fall of Saddam Hussein.  So the evidence is all compelling, pointing to the fact that because there weren‘t enough troops, because there was no post-war plan, because George Bush rejected the advice of the secretary of the army, our troops are in jeopardy and our country has gone through 18 months of chaos and instability of failed leadership. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much.  Richard Falkenrath and Jamie Rubin.  Coming up, the politics of the economy with Commerce Secretary Don Evans from battleground Ohio.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Joining us now from the campaign trail in the key battleground state of Ohio, is one of President Bush‘s closest friends and advisers, Commerce Secretary Don Evans. 

Mr. Secretary, I keep trying to read the faces of these candidates.  I‘ve noticed that Kerry is a little more happy.  He‘s a rather droll guy, but he seems to be happy, even calm in a kind of a zone of victory right now.  The president is still pretty happy, but I thought he might be a little clinching right now.  How does he see it?  Does he think he‘s going to win this thing? 

DON EVANS, COMMERCE SECRETARY:  Oh, absolutely, Chris.  No question about it.  He‘s very optimistic, very confident, very positive.  I mean, he loves these phases of the campaign.  I‘ve been through 5 of them with him.  He‘s, everyone of them, coming down the home stretch. 

He really enjoys being out there, connecting with the people.  But very optimistic.  We‘re going to  win on November 2.  Not only are we going to win the popular vote, we‘re going to win the electoral vote.  I‘m here, and as you said, in Ohio, Summit County, Ohio fighting on to victory.  We look good in Ohio. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you look good in the stock market today.  It took a little bump up there.  It‘s over 10,000 again.  What is the story on gasoline prices and the whole world situation?  That seems to be such a sensitive economic issue right now.  What do you see happening between now and next Tuesday on gas prices? 

EVANS:  I‘m not sure between now and next Tuesday, Chris.  But again, this talks about leadership.  I mean, the president came into office in January 2001 and talked about the importance of an energy policy for America.  To make sure we get the policies in place so that we can make—that we‘re providing available, affordable energy, reliable energy for all American families and businesses. 

And unfortunately, that plan has been obstructed in the Senate by senators, like Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards.  They‘ve obstructed an energy bill to come out of the Senate to get to the president‘s desk. 

And look, I don‘t know what‘s going to happen between now and next Tuesday.  But what I do know is the senators have been obstructing an energy bill for the last 3 years.  We need to get an energy bill in place like the president presented some three and a half years ago.  And we would be well down the road of making sure we‘re providing available and affordable energy for families and homes all across America. 

MATTHEWS:  But doesn‘t it bother you that as a patriotic American, the gas prices worldwide, is being made by guys with a lot of rings on their fingers?  You know, the poobah over there in Saudi Arabia that they say, well, I think I‘ll give them a break this week.  I sort of like the Bush family.  Isn‘t that kind of fickle business to be in, for us? 

EVANS:  Well, Chris, it doesn‘t have to be that way.  I mean, if we have a very thoughtful energy plan in place like the president has presented, we will be less dependent on foreign sources of energy. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But we are dependent. 

EVANS:  We are.  We are somewhat dependent.  We can be less dependent on them.  And we need to focus on alternative sources of fuel,  conservation of energy.  But make sure that we‘re continuing to expand our own energy supplies right here in America. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, we were promised before the war, and I don‘t want to rub this in, but the big promise, there are a lot of promises made and arguments made, for the war, one big one which sold with the American people was that Iraqi oil was going to pay for the reconstruction of Iraq.  Where is that money? 

EVANS:  Well, you know, the Iraqi oil production continues to climb, which I‘m pleased to see that.  I mean, it‘s somewhat higher than before the war.  And so that is good.  But that oil, Chris, belongs to the Iraqi people.  It is their money. 

MATTHEWS:  But why are we spending $87 billion to pay for the rehabilitation of that country, these huge appropriations, there was another one the other day for more money for the president.  Why do the American people to have rebuild a country that they saved?  If we liberated that country, shouldn‘t they pay for the liberation?  That was the promise made up front, wasn‘t it?  What happened to that promise? 

EVANS:  Well, it was a promise made up front was, we‘re going after the terrorists before they come and attack us, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  There was a promise made over and over again that Iraq would pay for its own liberation.  And I haven‘t heard that since we went in there. 

EVANS:  The promise is, is we‘re going to have a safer and more secure America, because we‘re going to go after the terrorists.  And that‘s exactly what has happened.  That‘s what the 9/11 Commission said.  Because we have gone into Iraq, because we‘re pursuing the terrorists around the world, this country is safer and more secure than otherwise we would have been. 

MATTHEWS:  When we rebuild the hospital and police forces, and we pay for utilities and air conditioning, and things like that in a foreign third world country, shouldn‘t they pay for that stuff? 

EVANS:  Again, Chris, I mean, look, we‘re talking about a more secure America, a more secure world.  And we have to look well into the future and not just look at building a hospital today or tomorrow or bringing on more power.  I think that‘s all very well and good for the Iraqi economy.  We need to get it up and moving.  It is on the move.  It is going to continue to strengthen.  We need to provide.

But listen, what it is really about is making this country more secure and safer, and expanding freedom around the world, and democracy around the world for your children and your grandchildren. 

MATTHEWS:  I accept that argument.  But when are we going to have to stop paying the bills?  When can we stop paying the bills?  When do the Iraqis, with all their oil, they got what, the second largest oil reserves in the world, we don‘t have that in this country.  If we had it, we could do a lot of things in this country.  They‘ve got it in their country.

Why do we pay their bills, when they‘ve got oil and we have to buy the oil from them?  It doesn‘t make sense morally. 

EVANS:  Well, Chris, what‘s happening is, we‘re continuing to move toward democracy in that country.  We‘re going to have elections in January.  As that happens, that country will become more secure.  As you get the country more secure, it will provide for more investment in that country, not only from Iraqi companies, from companies around the world that will increase the oil production in that country to who knows what.  That will help pay for the rebuilding of Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think would be the impact on the Ohio economy if the federal government spends $87 billion there this year? 

EVANS:  Well, listen, what we‘re talking about, Chris, as you know, is freedom.  And we‘re talking about freedom and safety and security for your children and your grandchildren.  And we‘re going to pay whatever the price is to win that war. 

And I‘ve got to tell you this other thing, Chris, that you cannot have economic security in a country without national security.  So we‘re going to pay whatever price it takes to make sure that we have economic security in this country, which part of that is making sure we have national security in this country.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s very nice of you to come on HARDBALL, Mr. Secretary. 

I really appreciate it. 

The name of the show is HARDBALL, as you‘ve noticed.  Thank you very much.  Secretary of Commerce Don Evans.

Up next, a look at the latest political ads being launched less than a week before voting day.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  The name of the show is HARDBALL, as you‘ve noticed.  Thank you very much, Secretary of Commerce, Don Evans.

Up next, a look at the latest political ads being launched a week before voting day.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  The campaign may be winding down but the campaign advertises (ph) are proving to be quite nimble, even at the end.  The campaigns both released new television commercials today. 

HARDBALL election correspondent, David Shuster, join us now with more

·         David. 

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL ELECTION CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, the latest commercials from both campaigns reflect the new cycle, and the heavy focus over the last couple days on these missing explosives in Iraq.  The Bush campaign doesn‘t feel this story helps them one bit, so today, two days before the Bush campaign run its final commercial, they released the commercial to the media hoping to get some play in that sense.  The commercial shows the president talking indirectly about 9/11, but also talking to military families.  Here‘s part of the commercial. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  These four years have brought moments I could not foresee and will not forget.  I‘ve learned firsthand that ordering Americans into battle is the hardest decision, even when it is right.  Because of your service and sacrifice, we are defeating the terrorists where they live and plan, and you‘re making America safer.  I will never relent in defending America, whatever it takes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Unlike previous commercials, the Bush campaign does not mention John Kerry in this ad.  It is a classic closing commercial in the sense that you‘ve got soaring music, soaring rhetoric, all designed to try to get the president‘s supporters to line up behind him. 

As for John Kerry, his campaign also indirectly responding to the latest news focus on these missing explosives.  The Kerry campaign is deeply concerned about some of the counter punching, the charges from the president and vice president, that John Kerry doesn‘t care about U.S.  Troops or U.S. forces.  So today, the Kerry campaign released this ad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY:  Our soldiers fighting in Iraq are heroes.  Their families have earned our thanks, and our support.  As we see the deepening crisis and chaos in Iraq, as we choose a new commander-in-chief, and a fresh start, we will always support and honor those who serve.  Strength, courage, patriotism. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  What‘s so interesting about that final Kerry ad, if it is the final ad, is that in the previous ads the Kerry campaign said would be the final ads of the campaign, you actually see John Kerry.  He looks into the camera and tries to make his case, again with soaring rhetoric and soaring music.  In this case, they felt that they simply needed to put this ad in the rotation to answer the charges being leveled against John Kerry that he doesn‘t care about the troops. 

And finally, Chris, we like to talk a lot about these independent groups, they are going negative right through the end.  A Republican group is blaming John Kerry and the trial lawyers for the shortage of flu vaccine, saying litigation prices are driving a lot of these companies out of the business.  And a Democratic group continues to run that ad showing the president joking about weapons of mass destruction and then cutting to a woman whose brother was killed in Baghdad, when she looks in the camera and says my brother died looking for those weapons—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  David, what‘s stunning is this new poll that shows that a good portion, almost half of the people supporting President Bush now, still believe there were WMD in that country when we went in, against all the evidence, against what the president himself is saying. 

Is this administration still benefiting from people connecting, well, just connecting the war with Iraq with WMD? 

SHUSTER:  Chris, they‘re benefiting because then it ties then into their media strategy.  Whenever the president talks about a strong response, about taking aggressive action, it fits that perception that Iraq was related to 9/11.  And even in these commercials that we‘ve been running, the president continues to make the case that Iraq was part of the war on terror and to the extent that people feel Iraq was dangerous, had weapons of mass destruction, that fits into the overall story line that the Bush campaign wants voters to have when they go into the poll on election day. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, in some sense, it is bad intelligence going into the voting booth.  Any ways, thank you very much, David Shuster.

Up next, Evan Thomas, John Fund and Ron Reagan on the possible fallout (ph) over the missing explosives in Iraq.  Your watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  This half-hour on HARDBALL, the Bush campaign criticizes John Kerry‘s attacks on the president over missing explosives in Iraq.  We‘ll talk about it with Evan Thomas, John Fund and Ron Reagan.  And later, Al Franken join us. 

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

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Joining me right now is Evan Thomas, assistant editing manager of “Newsweek” magazine, John Fund, columnist for “The Wall Street Journal”‘s OpinionJournal.com and also author of “Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy.”  Also joining us is MSNBC‘s political analyst Ron Reagan. 

Let me start with Evan Thomas. 

Thanks for joining the show, Evan. 

EVAN THOMAS, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, “NEWSWEEK”:  Hey, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Why the big stink over unsecured explosives two years ago?  Why is the issue about our failure of our forces to effectively secure or not secure some explosives back two years ago right before an election?

THOMAS:  It just goes to the question of incompetence in Iraq. 

This has been creeping up on Bush steadily.  And there is a kind of a tipping point where I think many voters think enough, already.  This is just not working.  And they may hold Bush accountable for it. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to John Fund. 

This story doesn‘t help the president.  I‘m just suggesting that.  Let me ask you, does it help him?  Because he doesn‘t seem to be quick on the draw like he usually is in responding to this charge. 

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Well, this is an October surprise, Chris. 

And it is very muddled.  It is sort of like the swift boats.  You don‘t know exactly who is telling the truth.  You don‘t know exactly where the actual truth is.  We don‘t have the answers.  And the problem is, we only have three or four days to figure out if the American troop were there and didn‘t find anything 18 months ago or not. 

So I think the voters are basically going to factor this out.  Those voters who are convinced the war in Iraq is a disaster will be confirmed in this.  I don‘t think it changes minds. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what about—let me try a strategy by—could this be an effort, exploiting this hell, like he is doing, John Kerry, he is trying to get the people who believed in the war in principle.  He has all the doves.  He has all the anti-war folks.  That‘s about 40 percent of the country. 

But to win, he has to win a substantial chunk of those who thought the war was a good idea, but think it has been badly handled. 

FUND:  Well, those people are paying attention, Chris.  And I think they actually want to see a positive plan on how he would fight the war better, how he would have a better exit strategy, a better governing study.  I don‘t think to this day, John Kerry has closed the deal on that.  Can you tell me in 50 words or less what his plan...

MATTHEWS:  No. 

FUND:  How there is any difference from of Bush?

MATTHEWS:  And that is the question.  I don‘t have the answer.  But I wonder whether this doesn‘t put the onus of proof back on the president‘s back. 

Ron Reagan, is this an attempt to try to loosen up those pro-war people to vote for somebody else, Kerry? 

RON REAGAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, yes, of course, it is. 

Again, as Evan said, this speaks to the competence of Mr. Bush.  His entire campaign now hinges on the idea that he is better able to protect America from terrorists.  So what we know now is that 380 tons of munitions were there at this place in Iraq and they are no longer there.  Whether they disappeared before our troops went in or after our troops went in is frankly irrelevant. 

The fact is, no effort was made to secure them. 

FUND:  No, it isn‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  John.

FUND:  No, it isn‘t.

No, if you‘re going to the competence of President Bush and the competence of the military forces that are also—whose reputation is at take here.

REAGAN:  I didn‘t say that. 

FUND:  No, but if you‘re going to either the competence of Bush or the military forces, it makes a world of difference whether they were there when they arrived. 

REAGAN:  No, actually, it doesn‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Evan Thomas.

Evan Thomas, let‘s talk about the relevance of this issue.  If you won a baseball game, you wouldn‘t be arguing about an error in the third inning.  Is this because the war is growing increasingly unpopular and people are looking for a scapegoat? 

THOMAS:  I think it is a cumulative effect.  The war has always been dogging Bush as an issue. 

And for a long time, he successfully said this is an overall war on terror.  But the more people focus on just the Iraq part of the equation, the more problems Bush has.  And this has the effect of focusing all the attention here at the end on Iraq, on how well we fought war in Iraq.  And that‘s just—that‘s not good for Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that a no-lose situation if the focus the last week, the last weekend, John, is on Iraq for the Democrats? 

FUND:  I think it is a wash.  People are dug into their positions, Chris. 

I actually think, surprisingly enough, domestic issues, pocketbook issues, people don‘t like to tell pollsters they care about their job security when American military forces are at risk.  But how they actually vote, as opposed to what they tell pollsters, it is domestic. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Ron Reagan.

I‘m stunned by these new statistics that have come out that show that almost half the people who intend to vote for the president and the vice president still believe that there was WMD, weapons of mass destruction, in that country when we went in, against even what the president said himself.  Why the disconnect between what the president is saying and what his supporters believe? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Or is the president not saying it clearly enough or what? 

REAGAN:  Well, of course, it suits him to sort of muddle that issue. 

He knows there was no WMD found.  But his supporters still do not. 

There‘s a kind of cognitive dissonance among Bush supporters now.  If you pay attention to a poll that came out from the University of Maryland recently, even Bush supporters acknowledge that, if there were no WMD, if there was no connection to al Qaeda, a real operational connection to al Qaeda and Saddam, that we shouldn‘t have gone into Iraq.  So they‘re left in a very difficult position. 

If they support the president and they support the war in Iraq, yet there were no WMD, nor any connection between Saddam and al Qaeda, that puts them in a very rocky place.  So they have to deny reality, in a sense.  They have to insist in their own minds that WMD were found, that there was a connection, and, more than that, that that is what the Duelfer report and the 9/11 Commission said.  We know these things are not true. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Evan, if that‘s the case, if voters are going into the booth next Tuesday or have already voted for the president and the vice president based upon their belief that there was a strong functioning relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in terms of obviously 9/11, and that there‘s a clear-cut case that there was WMD in that country at the time we went in, then we in the news business have not done the job with half the country.  They still have misinformation. 

THOMAS:  Well, we know from a lot of the polls that at least half the country doesn‘t believe a thing that we say.  So...

MATTHEWS:  Well, on this particular point, people are voting believing that there‘s WMD in that country, believing there‘s a 9/11 connection to Saddam Hussein.  Those are the strong, visceral reasons, according to not just Ron, but this poll shows that is why we should have gone to war in Iraq.  In other words, they support the war with Iraq and support president based on bad intelligence. 

THOMAS:  Well, Bush has been running on strength. 

And that, the idea that he is strong, is enough to efface or erase all number of mistakes for a significant percentage of the population.  I don‘t know what that is.  A third, 40 percent, are just going to be with Bush no matter what.  We‘re talking about the people on the margin here.  And that‘s the significance of this latest—this latest discovery, that those are the people who can be influenced here at the end, that to focus not on the war on terror overall, but on Iraq and on the mess in Iraq and the fact that the United States has not done a great job, at least after the war. 

MATTHEWS:  More with Evan, John and Ron when we return. 

And, later, Al Franken‘s thoughts on the upcoming presidential election.

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 Evan Thomas, John Fund and Ron Reagan. 

And, later, radio talk show host Al Franken will be here. 

HARDBALL back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

I‘m back with “Newsweek”‘s Evan Thomas, John Fund of “The Wall Street Journal”‘s OpinionJournal.com and author, John is, of “Stealing Elections,” and MSNBC‘s political analyst Ron Reagan.

Let‘s start again with Evan. 

Evan, this seemed to be incredibly well timed for the benefit of John Kerry, this “New York Times” story that came out on Sunday.  It shows—it brings up the issue of Iraq, which we‘ve all agreed is a negative for the president at this point.  It also shows the malfeasance on the part, the search malfeasance on the part of the armed forces under the commander in chief‘s direction.  Is there reason the believe that this was well timed for a political purpose? 

THOMAS:  No.

Look, I think there is a liberal bias in the press, and I think “The New York Times” has one.  But I doubt strongly that they were waiting for the great moment to drop this one on top of the White House.  I think it was just—it was timed by—by when they got the story and when they could run it. 

MATTHEWS:  John Fund, Is that your belief? 

FUND:  I don‘t think there are such accidents, comrade. 

If you look at the footprints that “The New York Times” and CBS has left this entire year with regard to coverage of the Bush administration, it has been so uniformly negative and so placed to exact the maximum amount of damage.  This is basically an old story, because it has not been nailed down. 

If you read “The New York Times” story carefully, there‘s a lot of ambiguity here.  This needed several more days of reporting.  It looks like an October surprise.  It smell like an October surprise.  It is an October surprise. 

MATTHEWS:  Ron Reagan, your view, your sense of smell about this? 

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  Pardon me? 

Well, let me give you an example of what isn‘t a liberal bias in the media.  I would maintain that there has been a double standard here.  And it works to President Bush‘s advantage. 

In the last week or two, we‘ve heard about how both sides are using scare tactics in this campaign.  Kerry is talking about a potential draft and that Social Security might go away.  And these politicians are doing what politicians do.  But there is a difference. 

George Bush is also going around the country and he is saying that John Kerry says—not that he believes, but that John Kerry says he will not defend America until we‘re attacked and only then with the permission of our foreign allies.  Now, there‘s a word for that.  And it is not hyperbole and it‘s not exaggeration.  It is lying.  Eric Alterman in “Newsweek” magazine had it exactly right this week.

Now, let me repeat that.  George W. Bush, when he says that about John Kerry, is lying.  Now, how many people in the press are willing to say that? 

MATTHEWS:  Let me offer the possibility of a middle case here, starting with Evan again. 

During the course of the claim made by the administration to our

European allies that the reason we were going to war is primarily because

we suspected weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear in the hands of

·         potentially nuclear in the hands of Saddam Hussein, the press sold that story for the president as if it were gospel, not just that there was weapons of mass destruction, but that was the reason for the war. 

Subsequently, we found out that was not the reason for the war, because the president said there were other reasons for the war which are paramount to him.  Has the press been a handmaiden to the president by using terms like the war on terror on this network, all the networks?  Is there a sense of trying to balance that toward the end? 

THOMAS:  Yes, I think there is.  I think the press feels like we were taken, that we kind of dropped our guard, that we were swept up in the patriotism of the moment after 9/11.

And, also, I hate to say it, but networks like war. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Even as a metaphor.

THOMAS:  And the press really like war.  And we did get swept up in it.  And I think there‘s buyer‘s remorse here.  And I think that is part of why the press is so tough on Bush.

MATTHEWS:  John? 

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  Chris, the media is fighting the last war. 

This looks very Nixonian.  The press has basically cast George W. Bush in the role of Richard Nixon, who they believed lied about Vietnam.  And they hated Richard Nixon. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FUND:  Now, Bush made mistakes in Iraq.  The French intelligence agencies made mistakes in Iraq.  The British agencies made mistakes.  The press obviously didn‘t have any better knowledge than they did.  Everybody made a mistake.

What the press has decided is, rather than making a mistake, that they think Bush lied to them.  And that‘s what this is.  This is payback. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s go to—once again to a middle case, the more nuanced point.  The president told Europe and told this country the reason we went to war was because of fear of WMD in the hands of Saddam Hussein.

Subsequent to the not finding of that WMD, a new case has been made for the war.  We‘re fighting against tyranny.  We‘re fighting for democracy.  That was not the case that was made for war before we went.  Can you say honestly that there‘s been a clear transfer of information and purpose from this administration, John, to the people who are now supporting it?  Because they‘re saying they never would have gone to war without the WMD being present there, they never would have gone to war had there not been an operational relationship with the people who attacked us 9/11.

FUND:  Well, just remember, John Kerry said he would have voted for the use of force in Iraq regardless of whether WMD.  So come on.

MATTHEWS:  Hardly your best witness, John.

(LAUGHTER)

FUND:  Look, Chris, 18 months ago, the administration threw everything, including the kitchen sink...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FUND:  ... on the table as a reason for going after Iraq. 

WMD, remember, Paul Wolfowitz said that was the one we could get the consensus on from all parts of the administration, because State was feuding with Defense.

MATTHEWS:  And could sell to Europe.

FUND:  Now, if you look at the reasons they‘re making the Iraq war now, they were mentioned 18 months ago.  Were they on the top list?  No.  But they were mentioned. 

And the American people, by still a plurality, believe Iraq was a viable war and needed to be done.  Look at the polls. 

MATTHEWS:  I like Evan Thomas‘ theory that there‘s an attempted balancing act here at the end. 

Do you want to elucidate that a bit, Evan?

THOMAS:  Well, look, I can just speak for myself and I think that the viscera of my colleagues, which is, there is a sense of remorse that we failed to report that there were some doubts about the WMD in the intelligence community beforehand.  And we were engaged in some cheerleading.

FUND:  But, Evan—Evan, it seems to me that a lot of people in the press actually think Bush consciously deceived them.  That is a level of animus which I think is not sustained by the proof.  It‘s not there.  You can‘t prove it.  I don‘t think you can even plausibly believe it. 

(CROSSTALK)

THOMAS:  I don‘t think it‘s a conscious deception here.  I think they wanted to go to war and they convinced themselves that there was a case for it. 

FUND:  But a lot of people in the media think they were lied to deliberately.  You know that. 

(CROSSTALK)

THOMAS:  Yes.  And I think in small ways they were lied to.  I think in the macro way, Bush really felt that the United States needed to go to war to show strength, to show that we could—that we could—to show our enemies that we were serious, a whole host of reasons. 

(CROSSTALK)

THOMAS:  And that involved telling some small lies.

(CROSSTALK)

FUND:  Read Bob Woodward‘s book.  There is no deception.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me suggest another middle case.  The people who sold this war also bought it.

Anyway, thank you very much, Evan Thomas, John Fund.

And thank you, Ron Reagan, who left a moment ago.

Up next, Al Franken on the battle for the White House.  This should be fun.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR:  Good evening once again. 

As you can see from the map behind us, this is turning out to be a very big night for Bill Clinton from the tiny state of Arkansas.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Together, we can do it.  Together, we can make the country that we love everything it was meant to be.  I still believe in a place called hope.

God bless America.  Thank you all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Joining me now from NBC‘s Democracy Plaza at 30 Rockefeller Center is Al Franken, humorist, best-selling author and host, appropriately, of “The Al Franken Show” on the Air America radio network. 

Al, what does your nose tell you about this election?  What do you smell out there in terms of who is winning this thing? 

AL FRANKEN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I‘ll tell you what, Chris.  I‘m here at Democracy Plaza, so named by George Orwell. 

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKEN:  After, of course, an invasion here.  And it used to be Rockefeller Plaza, but now Democracy Plaza.  And George W. Bush named it that. 

My nose is telling me a big Kerry victory, is what my nose is telling me.  And so is my heart. 

MATTHEWS:  How about your brain? 

FRANKEN:  My brain is telling me a small Kerry victory. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you about this latest story which seems to be dominating the press, starting with “The New York Times,” that the United States, when it entered Iraq, failed to secure a large amount of explosives, up to 400 tons of conventional weaponry and materiel, and that that‘s being used to attack the president by John Kerry.  Is that an important story for us to talk about this week?

FRANKEN:  Well, I think it‘s just part and parcel of the whole ineptitude of this administration‘s conduct of this war, let alone getting into the war in the first place. 

So I think that is sort of—it‘s in keeping—we‘ve known that we didn‘t secure arsenals and weapons and that our own soldiers are getting shot with weapons that wouldn‘t secured because we didn‘t send in enough troops in the first place, because this president didn‘t listen to General Shinseki and other generals and ignored things like the CIA and the Army War College and the State Department‘s report. 

You know, when Colin Powell said, if you break it, you own it, which Colin Powell said was the Pottery Barn rule, which, by the way, it isn‘t—we at Air America Radio called Pottery Barn.  You can break stuff at Pottery Barn accidentally and you don‘t have to pay for it. 

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN:  Nevertheless—yes?  Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  I want you to start talking.  I want you to play Al Roker for our network tonight and go out and talk to some of those people around you. 

Can you bring them in on the mike and ask them what they think is moving their votes this last couple of days?

FRANKEN:  Oh, sure.  I‘ll be happy to. 

Chris, I‘m here, again at Democracy Plaza. 

Does anybody here have an opinion about this election? 

You, ma‘am. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I want to take back our country.  I am tired of the right, the extreme right, and where they want this country to go. 

FRANKEN:  Now, by that, it sounds like you‘re voting for John Kerry. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, yes, I am. 

FRANKEN:  You see, I‘m pretty—I‘m pretty savvy. 

OK, now...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And I listen to your radio station all the time. 

We can‘t get it in the house, but we drive around all day in the car. 

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKEN:  Well, thanks.  That‘s a loyal listener. 

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKEN:  Anybody on the other side?  Any Bush supporters here?  Any Bush supporters?  Any Bush supporters? 

We‘re in New York, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re in a blue state.  That‘s for sure. 

Here‘s one. 

FRANKEN:  No, no, no, hey, hey, hey.  Hey.  A little respect.  Listen, we want to be united, not divided, speaking of which, can you tell me why your president, our president, who ran as a uniter, not a divider, why we have such a divided country right now?  Why do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, because everything is not going right here and abroad. 

FRANKEN:  Now, everything is not going right here and abroad.  Who would be responsible for that, the president? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Perhaps, yes.  But it is a big plan.  It is a great responsibility to try and work everything out.  And I don‘t think it necessarily falling on one man‘s shoulders. 

FRANKEN:  Do you think that if it is your—if you‘re the top—you‘re the guy who takes the responsibility—remember, this president said he was going to usher in...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The buck stops here.

FRANKEN:  Well, he was going to usher in a new era of responsibility. 

You remember that from the 2000 race and from the convention? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

FRANKEN:  Do you think that he has taken any responsibility for any mistakes? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sadly, he will not come out and say that.  I think, in his heart, he does believe it.  Perhaps his ego is getting a little bit in the way there.  But... 

FRANKEN:  OK.

Now, you are a Bush supporter. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.  Yes. 

FRANKEN:  OK.

Well, you heard that ringing endorsement.

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  It wasn‘t too strong.

FRANKEN:  Of George W. Bush by this Bush supporter, who says that, unfortunately, George W. Bush can‘t seem to live up to his promise to usher in a new era of responsibility, Chris. 

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN:  A man who has obviously made many mistakes, but can‘t seem -

·         his ego—that is that what you said, sir? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Any time you get that high in political office, we all have egos. 

FRANKEN:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN:  Although, you remember when John Kennedy—you remember the Bay of Pigs, sir? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I was pretty young then. 

FRANKEN:  Yes. 

Well, John Kennedy after—took full responsibility for that. 

You‘ll remember that, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

FRANKEN:  As a student of Kennedy and of Nixon, that was a great book, by the way, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Al.

FRANKEN:  You‘re a terrific author.  You really are. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re welcome back any time. 

FRANKEN:  So here you have it.  You have it here at Democracy Plaza, enthusiastic Kerry supporters.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKEN:  Bush supporter who really can‘t come up with any reason to vote for Bush.  That seems to be the story here from Democracy Plaza. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well said.

FRANKEN:  A disappointed Bush supporter who says his man‘s ego is too inflated to admit any mistakes. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.  Thank you. 

FRANKEN:  Back to you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, roving correspondent Al Franken. 

We leave you now with a quote about democracy from philosopher Ralph :

“Voting is the least arduous of a citizen‘s duties. He has the prior and harder duty of making up his mind.”

You can see that quote from Democracy Plaza, where we‘ll be broadcasting from on election night.  Join us again in one hour for an extra edition of HARDBALL and my exclusive interview with John Kerry.

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

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

END   

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