updated 8/11/2005 10:47:22 AM ET 2005-08-11T14:47:22

Guest: Kate O'Beirne, Katherine Harris, Paul Hackett

DAVID GREGORY, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, two of the most controversial politicians in the country, Florida Congresswoman Katherine Harris, now vying for the Senate, and Paul Hackett, the first Iraq war vet to run for office, on his narrow loss in Ohio—Harris and Hackett on politics, the war and their futures. 

I'm David Gregory.  Let's play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I'm David Gregory, in again tonight for Chris. 

Paul Hackett, a Marine from Ohio, grabbed headlines and almost won a seat for Congress after running as an anti-war candidate with no love lost for his commander in chief.  And he lost by just four points in Ohio's second most Republican district.  What does his run say about voter anxiety over the war and is it a wakeup call for Republicans next year? 

But, first, Katherine Harris.  She was the lightning rod of the Florida recount, vilified for insuring President Bush's victor, lampooned for her appearance.  Now she's back, this time without support from the Bushes and running for the Senate. 

Katherine Harris, Congresswoman, welcome to HARDBALL. 

REP. KATHERINE HARRIS ®, FLORIDA:  Thank you, David. 

And it was an extraordinary, historic day yesterday.  We had one woman launch her Senate campaign and another woman safely pilot the shuttle back to Earth. 

But I have to disagree.  We don't—we're not running without support from the Bushes.  In fact, we had an overwhelming round of support yesterday, with the governor giving us a—a great send-off, saying that we would be formidable, and great things coming from every sector of the Republican Party.  Let's just keep on it a level playing field here. 

GREGORY:  OK.  Well, you brought it up, so, let me ask you about something specifically that Governor Jeb Bush said. 

HARRIS:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  He said the following—quote—“I hope Congresswoman Harris runs a strong race.  She'll be a good candidate, and Bill Nelson is very vulnerable.”

Is that an endorsement?

HARRIS:  And the day before, he—the day before, he said I would be very, very—that I would be very formidable, and he wished me well. 

And I can't wait to get running.  We've already started our historic listening tour.  It is going to be a campaign for Florida's future.  And we've gone—going to go... 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  I want to get to some of those issues.  But I'd like to pin you down on this point, because I think...

HARRIS:  OK.

GREGORY:  ... it strikes a lot of people that there doesn't appear to be an endorsement here.  And let me ask you more specifically, when the president...

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  We're still in a primary, David. 

GREGORY:  Well...

HARRIS:  We're still in a primary, so I don't expect to—you know, it is unusual to have endorsements, although we've already had very strong statements from our national state party leaders, as well as Carole Jean Jordan, my—my party chairman, and across the board, all of our 67 county chairs in every county have called... 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  But—but, Congresswoman, let me just interrupt you, because when the president's senior adviser, Karl Rove, and Governor Bush of Florida spoke to you about your bid for the Senate, what is it that they said to you? 

HARRIS:  Actually, when I spoke to the governor, he was extremely gracious.  And I haven't spoken—I had not spoken with Karl or anyone else since the press announced I would be running, and I have had no negative comments or feedback whatsoever.  You can take a look at the polls.

GREGORY:  Isn't it true—isn't it true that the White House and even the president's brother, the governor's of Florida, have discouraged you from entering this race? 

HARRIS:  The governor never discouraged me from entering the race.  And, quite frankly, we're single digits down.  We have only to make up a few points, and we're going to encourage—we are going to just get our base so engaged. 

And then we're going to go to all the Democrats and independents and let them make their decisions.  We have found that, once they know more us about, they move dramatically, when I'm not just a caricature. 

GREGORY:  Well...

HARRIS:  When they've learned about my accomplishments and what we will do, instead of the ineffectiveness and the lack of a record from my competition. 

GREGORY:  One—one of the issues that I have detected from my own reporting at the White House is that the view within the White House is that you are simply too polarizing a figure in Florida to win. 

HARRIS:  I—I would—I love that aspect.  And that's not actually correct.  But the polarizing nature that you mentioned, I'm far less polarizing than the governor or the president, who both won elections and won reelections overwhelmingly. 

What happens with these—quote—“polarizing figures” is that they engage their base.  And come next year, in the general election, that engagement of the Republican base will do an extraordinary job of turnout.  It is going to be really important, not only in the U.S. Senate race, but also in the governor's race.  We look forward to that engagement and—and we can't wait. 

GREGORY:  But just—just to be clear here, for the record, you're saying that nobody within the White House, nobody within the Republican Party in Florida ever discouraged from you entering into this race? 

HARRIS:  No one from the Republican Party ever discouraged me from running.  And Karl Rove never asked me not to run. 

GREGORY:  And do you—do you—do you expect...

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  So, we are moving forward.  We have positive—David, we have positive comments. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  I understand. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  I understand that.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  ... from the Republican National Committee.

GREGORY:  And I want to get to that. 

Let me just—let me just go through my questions.  I will be happy to get to your agenda items.  I just want to clear this point up, because there might be some confusion, based on what's been publicly written about this and, as I say, my—my own information.  Are you saying that, because this is just the primary, that you expect President Bush to campaign with you in advance of this election? 

HARRIS:  No. 

I think, because it is a primary, I wouldn't have expected any endorsements whatsoever.  Absent a primary, a significant primary, that may occur.  I wasn't looking for endorsements.  We're engaged. 

GREGORY:  But do you expect the president...

HARRIS:  We're going to take our race...

GREGORY:  Does the president owe you?  Do you expect him to campaign with you down the stretch? 

HARRIS:  Why in the world would you ask if the president owed me?  I simply followed the letter of the law.  That's it. 

And I'm very proud of that record.  So, as we move forward, certainly, when I'm the nominee, I hope that we will have everyone at the table.  And I believe I will be the nominee.  And I don't know why there's—I think we can move on and not create controversy—try to create controversy where none exists.  Overwhelmingly...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  All right.  I'm certainly not trying to do that.  I'm just trying—I'm just trying to—to—to get—to nail this down...

HARRIS:  That's great.

GREGORY:  ... on—on the record.  Certainly, nobody...

HARRIS:  So, now we're moving on to—we started in Hillsborough this morning. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

HARRIS:  We are in Orlando today.  We will be in Jacksonville tomorrow

·         tonight. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

HARRIS:  Tallahassee, Pensacola, and then Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, Miami, Naples and Charlotte.  It is going to be an amazing beginning, but then we will go to every single county as well. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  No one—no one—Congresswoman, if I can just interject here, no one certainly can accuse you of not being tough.  I mean, after the 2000 recount, you had a target on your back.  As I'm mentioned, you were vilified by Democrats, who accused you of handing this election to—to President Bush.

HARRIS:  It goes with the territory, David.  You know. 

GREGORY:  If I can just finish the question.  You were even lampooned for your appearance.  And, yet, you keep coming back.  I wonder what motivates you. 

HARRIS:  What motivates me is making a difference for the people. 

We represent an extraordinary state, with amazing disparities.  And it's not being represented adequately in the United States Senate right now.  When you take a look at our voting record, “The National Journal”—

“The National Journal” reports that Senator Nelson has one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate, in fact, more liberal than Hillary Clinton or Charles Schumer. 

The fact is, that may be good for—for New York, but that's not what Florida is.  So, we look forward to a spirited debate.  You can't come home and call yourself a moderate, when you have over a 76 percent voting record as a liberal.  We're progressive conservative.  And we have a great message, not only to give to the people of Florida, but to engage them. 

We have this listening tour, so that we are going to go out. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

HARRIS:  The people of Florida are going to be our polls.  The people that we meet with and listen will develop a—a very aggressive agenda.  And I would argue, the line will be drawn in the sand by November.  There will be very clear choices.  Who has a vision?  Who has the leadership and who can actually deliver?

GREGORY:  You said, at one point, you thought the national media was trying to make you foolish.  Do you still believe that's the case? 

HARRIS:  Oh, you know what?  I can't speak for their motives.  But whatever.  It doesn't even matter to me. 

All I care about is taking my message to the people of Florida.  And that's what we're doing.  And it is working.  And we're developing an agenda that's going to be so exciting, because we don't want to be like California and other states.  We want to make sure that we have an extraordinary education for our children.  They're going to have to be competitive globally. 

We want to make sure that we don't have the kind of congestion and overdevelopment that we've seen in other states.  So, we are going to be actively engaged, listening, hearing people's deepest concerns and their grandest dreams.  We want to make sure that they can accomplish those dreams, as well as come up with solutions for those problems. 

GREGORY:  Before we take a break, I—I...

HARRIS:  And that's how we're going to engage for the next 15 months. 

GREGORY:  I want to ask you, who is your voter?  Who is your rock-solid voter, Congresswoman? 

HARRIS:  My rock-solid voters are grounded folks with a world view that has a sincere, honest outlook and that are fiscally conservative. 

And I think, whenever you take a look at those that—that really want to sincerely engage and make Florida a better place for our children and grandchildren, and where they came about the future, then—then they're going to be my ground—my bedrock voters. 

GREGORY:  We're going to take a break and come right back with the very latest and more with Katherine Harris in just a moment. 

And later on, on HARDBALL, an exclusive interview with the Iraq war vet Paul Hackett.  He lost a congressional seat in Ohio, but narrowly.  What message does it send for Republicans next year?  Will he return to the fight in Iraq?  And does he have future plans in politics? 

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  More with Senate candidate Katherine Harris, who was at the center of the 2000 Florida recount.  I'm David Gregory. 

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  I'm David Gregory.  And we are back with Republican Florida Representative Katherine Harris, who is now running for the Senate. 

Congresswoman, what do you care most about? 

HARRIS:  I care most about right now representing my district to make sure that people have adequate homes that are safe and secure, that they're not going to have to wake up in the middle of the night worried that their homeland is not protected, and that they're going to have a job, that they're going to be able to move forward and take care of their family. 

We're working really hard in Congress right now to make sure that we secure America.  So, it's exciting.  And I think, from that, hot off the press, I just had the chairman of Orange County Republican Committee, the whole county, come in and—and endorse me, as well as Congressman Ric Keller and Congressman Dave Weldon. 

So, I'm very grateful for that, showing that overwhelming support and with the polls being single digits behind a senator that's been in office, in public service 30 years.

GREGORY:  Right. 

HARRIS:  We think we are going to have a groundswell of support. 

GREGORY:  Let—I want to—let—so, let's talk about some of the issues.  Talk about homeland security. 

HARRIS:  Absolutely. 

GREGORY:  What step could be taken that has not been taken yet to better secure the American—the United States? 

HARRIS:  That's a really good question.  And I think that's kind of in the hearts and minds of everyone, knowing how—how good Great Britain in, in terms their security, and then seeing recently what happens, what has happened. 

One of the issues in the United States, we desperately need labor.  With unemployment at its complete lowest, one of the most important issues is to have that kind of work force, especially in Florida, for our hospitality, our construction, our agricultural businesses.  So, we need those workers that come temporarily. 

But we have to make sure they are who they say they are.  I have a bill with Senator Lugar in the Senate called the North American Cooperative Security Act that will employ biometrics to make sure we know who those workers are and also to make sure we apprehend the criminals before they cross our borders and work on that southern border of Mexico to preempt the Middle Easterners from pouring in and crossing our borders with Hispanic names. 

We will have that before the Congress.

GREGORY:  All right. 

HARRIS:  And I've already had one committee hearing in the United States Senate. 

GREGORY:  Let me ask you this.  On—on policy areas...

HARRIS:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  ... is there an area where you disagree with President Bush? 

HARRIS:  Actually, there are a number of areas that we disagree.  And that's what makes our party so strong. 

GREGORY:  What are they? 

HARRIS:  Just recently—oh, well, to begin the list, the most recent, anyway, was the energy policy. 

I think we needed an energy policy desperately concerning alternative resources and making sure that we can keep those prices low.  However, it was going to be at the expense of Florida's coastline, drilling in our—in the Gulf.  And, quite frankly, with an economy that depends on tourism, it was just a risk we couldn't take. 

It's not just our quality of life or our pristine, fragile ecological coastlines.  But, also, it's the fact that it is—it is—it is our economy.  Another issue is housing.  I felt very strongly that something called Hope Six, which has millions of dollars to tear down those failed social experiments, the government housing programs, so they can build respectful, affordable, safe, secure homes, he wanted to eliminate—the administration wanted to eliminate Hope Six. 

So, through my American Dream Down Payment Act, which actually is going to enable millions of low-income homeowners to buy their first home, we amended this Hope Six funding, so that now we will also be able to help folks living in government homes and live in a much more appropriate development.

GREGORY:  And—and one—one final area, Congresswoman, that's, of course, of great importance to everyone in the country and to Floridians, the Iraq war.  Do you support a date certain for the withdrawal of American troops? 

HARRIS:  I support securing our homeland by making sure we're capturing and killing those terrorists abroad.  I think our men and women are doing an extraordinary job, as they're putting their lives on the line to protect our freedoms here. 

I don't support a date certain, only because the terrorists would just wait until that point in time when we've tipped our hand to say, we will be withdrawing, and then come in and try to devastate a country that we've already spilled our blood for and invested so strongly in.  So, I—I believe that we need to help the Iraqis strengthen themselves.  I want our troop home as soon as possible.  But I feel very strongly that we can't leave before they have secured Iraq and helped the Iraqis stand up for themselves.

And, in visiting Iraq and talking with the women and our troops as well, they say that that's exactly what they want to do.  They don't want to come home until they know we're safe. 

GREGORY:  Congresswoman Katherine Harris in Florida tonight, thanks very much for being our guest. 

HARRIS:  Thank you. 

GREGORY:  And, up next, Paul Hackett was the first Iraq war veteran to run for Congress.  And he came close to winning.  So, what are his plans now? 

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to  HARDBALL. I'm David Gregory, sitting in for Chris Matthews tonight.

Paul Hackett came to national attention for being the first Iraq War veteran to run for Congress and for his very tough language against the president. Hackett, a Democrat, narrowly lost the election as an anti-war candidate in southern Ohio, the second most Republican district in the state.

But what does his narrow defeat mean for Republicans next year and does he have a future in politics? 

Paul Hackett joins us now.  Paul, welcome to HARDBALL.

PAUL HACKETT (D), FORMER OHIO CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:  David, thanks for having me on today. 

Where's Chris?  I just wanted to let him know I'm not packing today.

GREGORY:  You're not packing, something that he brought up during your interview, an important point to clarify. 

HACKETT:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  Let me begin by asking you about this tight race.  Why do you think you lost?

HACKETT:  Well, I think I lost because more folks voted for Jean Schmidt.  It's a traditionally Republican area.

GREGORY:  The president carried it with 64 percent of the vote last year.

HACKETT:  Correct.  Correct.

I—I—I took 48 percent, so we're pretty proud of that.  But I think—I think I had a strong message, a good message.  But, at the end of the day, Jean Schmidt carried it with 52 percent of the vote.  And if I were to do it again, I would probably do everything the same way that I did, say the same things, and stand for the same things.

I mean, I'm not a professional politician.  I say what I mean.  And everything that I was arguing for is what I believe.  But I think, probably, if I were going to do anything differently, I would probably work harder in the two counties that I lost largest in, Clermont County and Warren County, Clermont County being Jean Schmidt's home county.

So, I'd probably work harder there.  I thought I was working hard enough in there, but I probably would do it even harder.

GREGORY:  In the end, was this campaign about winning for you or about making a point?

HACKETT:  No, it was about winning for me.  I think that what I stand for and what I believe in is representative of the Democratic Party.

And if anybody wanted my opinion on the Democratic Party today, I would say, find candidates, choose candidates and support candidates that believe in what they stand for and are willing to fight for what they believe and stand for.  And I think that's probably why I did as well as I did in that tough district.

GREGORY:  Do you think it was a mistake, in retrospect, as an anti-war candidate, taking a principled stand, with the credibility of a veteran of this war, to call your commander in chief a chicken hawk and worse, particularly in a part of the country where they don't take kindly to that, in a district where he was so popular?

HACKETT:  Well, I said it.  And, as I've said many times, I said it. 

I meant it.  I stand by it and I would say it again. 

I'm not necessarily an anti-war candidate, or wasn't an anti-war candidate.  I'm critical of the way that the war is being handled and executed.  I think the jury is still out whether or not we're going to—that is, we being the nation and this administration—be effective in meeting whatever this week's goal or this week's end state is in Iraq.

And to the extent that I was critical of that, I think, frankly, that that message resonated throughout that district.  And if you look at the breakout in the counties in that district, many of the most conservative,, arguably, most conservative counties, I actually carried.  And I think, really, the takeaway is, I went out there.  I met the folks and ...

GREGORY:  And what did they say?  What did you hear about Iraq, in particular, about the war?  What did both Republicans and your Democratic supporters tell you?

HACKETT:  Well, I think that, as you get out into the country and the counties that represent the rural counties in the district, there are more, probably percentage-wise—I don't know this for a fact—families who have family members who are over in Iraq.  And, frankly, they're concerned about what's going on in Iraq.

And I think, as the campaign went on, folks began to view me as somebody who has an insight into the effectiveness of the campaign over in Iraq and therefore were interested in my opinions on it.

GREGORY:  Is President Bush losing support in the military?

HACKETT:  I would say he's probably not gaining support.  I don't, obviously, speak for the military.  My anecdotal observation is that he has probably got a lot of folks like me in the military that he may be unaware of.

GREGORY:  Your opponent, Jean Schmidt, during an interview I did with her on this program, said that your views about the war were really no different than Nancy Pelosi's.

HACKETT:  Well, I don't know Nancy Pelosi, so I don't really know what her views are.  I can just tell you my views on the war.

GREGORY:  That you were essentially a mouthpiece for the left wing of the Democratic Party and nothing more.

(LAUGHTER)

HACKETT:  Well, I'm certainly not a mouthpiece for anybody, except for myself and the views that I hold near and dear to me.

And I would remind those who listened to this campaign, I was advocating things like limited government, fiscal responsibility and a strong national defense, frankly, issues that I think are representative of the Democratic Party and not any longer representative of the Republican Party.  I would say Barry Goldwater is spinning in his grave when he looks at today's Republican Party, with the fiscal irresponsibility and the intrusive way that Washington interjects itself into Americans' private lives.

GREGORY:  We're going to take a break.  We will come back, talk more with Paul Hackett, more about the war and his own political plans in the future. 

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I'm David Gregory, in tonight for Chris Matthews tonight.

Paul Hackett, the Iraq War veteran whose unsuccessful bid for Congress in Ohio catapulted him on top of the headlines, and it certainly provided a wakeup call for Republicans after a tight fought race.

Are you a new Democratic star, Paul?

(LAUGHTER)

HACKETT:  Boy, they're in trouble if I am.

GREGORY:  Has Howard Dean called you?

HACKETT:  I got a—actually, I got a call from him on the night of the election, before the returns were all in.  And it was literally no more than about a five-second call, which, basically, said, hey, good luck; we're watching you.  So...

GREGORY:  And they were watching, weren't they? 

HACKETT:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  And the Democratic Party is watching.

Are you running again?

HACKETT:  You know, I don't think so.  I don't honestly know.  I'm taking a vacation this week.  I'm going to take a little more of a vacation next week.

GREGORY:  What do you have to figure out to decide?

HACKETT:  Whether or not to put the 350 small block Chevy in my 1940 Chevy Coupe or to put the 400 horsepower small block Chevy in.  I don't know.  So, you know...

GREGORY:  But, seriously, what are the calculations about—this is a good run for you.  Do you think you've got what it takes to run for the Senate in particular, against Senator DeWine, perhaps?

(CROSSTALK)

HACKETT:  It's nothing that I've seriously considered.  I've got views...

GREGORY:  You have to consider it now.  You've got a national spotlight from Democrats.  Not everybody gets that.

HACKETT:  Yes.  That's what I've been told.  I don't know.  I'm not a professional politician.  I really haven't sat around and thought about it and didn't really hear anything about it until after—until after I lost the election.  So what does that say?

GREGORY:  What does the Democratic Party need to do, in your judgment, to become a majority party once again?

HACKETT:  Well, again, I feel a little bit uncomfortable trying to tell the Democratic Party what to do.

But I would say, you know, maybe one thing to look at is, they need to try to attract and cultivate candidates who are believers in whatever it is that they believe in and are willing to stand up and give punches and take punches.  And I think that's probably what served me well in this campaign, is, I had my personal beliefs.  I didn't adopt them from anybody else; I didn't get them handed to me from anybody else.  And I was willing to stand up and stand by them and give punches and take punches on the campaign trail.

GREGORY:  You were a tough guy?  Does the Democratic Party need more tough guys?

HACKETT:  I don't know.  I am who I am and I don't...

GREGORY:  Was John Kerry tough enough?

HACKETT:  I think that, probably, John Kerry does very well in his state and probably does not transcend all states across the nation.  That's probably why he got hammered as hard as he did in southern Ohio.  Southern Ohio is a tough area, as people know.

GREGORY:  Right, rural, Republican.

HACKETT:  It's rural.  It's independent is what it is.  And I think my message resonated because I was railing equally on Democrats and Republicans, Washington in general, that we don't need Washington in our private lives.

GREGORY:  What did your fellow Marines say about your run?  Did you offend them?

HACKETT:  No, no.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Did you offend them going after the president the way you did?

HACKETT:  I will tell you what.  I drilled this weekend and the resonance was, nobody picks on a Marine unless they wear digital.  So, they were very supportive and were behind me 110 percent.  So, it's good to hear that.

GREGORY:  Let me ask you—let me ask you again about Iraq, because this is such a serious time.

HACKETT:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  And American people are increasingly uneasy about the pace of events in Iraq.  Do you think the world would have been better if Saddam Hussein were left in power?

HACKETT:  I'm not necessarily sure if the world would be better off or worse off.  My question is, is America better off or worse off? 

And I take somewhat of a Machiavellian approach to it.  And I'm not necessarily—I don't necessarily believe that the United States is better off today, now that Saddam Hussein is gone.  Frankly, I'm not sure, if you surveyed most Iraqis, if they would think that they are better off today with Saddam Hussein gone.

My first question is, what's best for America?  And I'm not yet a big believer in America being better off with the state of Iraq as it is today.

GREGORY:  You—you—you think it's basically a clean slate.  I mean, if Saddam Hussein is still in power, the threat of terror is not any less; it's not any more?

HACKETT:  Well, stay focused; 9/11 didn't happen in relationship to Iraq.  Iraq was a contained threat.  They were a regional bully.  Saddam Hussein is an evil guy.  And my question is, well, who appointed us to be the police force of the world?

Now, I thought and still believe the fight was in Afghanistan.  And if Saddam Hussein demonstrated a credible threat to the United States, I would have been just has happy to sign up and go take part in that fight as I was to go help fix the mess in Iraq.

GREGORY:  You said, if you lost this election, you'd go back for another tour in Iraq.  Will you?

HACKETT:  I probably will.  I haven't made up my mind.  I'm in a unit.  I don't have a contract to that unit.  And we drilled for the first time since we got back.  My wife keeps on telling me that I have to focus on how I best serve my country.  Is it in Iraq or is it in some other role?

GREGORY:  Right.  Does she want you to run?  Would she like to see you to run for the Senate, for instance?

HACKETT:  You know, I'm not necessarily sure.  We've talked about all these new options that have been presented to us.

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  She's here.  We can bring her out here.

(CROSSTALK)

HACKETT:  Yes, right.  Bring her out here. 

(LAUGHTER)

HACKETT:  Honey, if you're listening, you know the answer.

(LAUGHTER)

GREGORY:  Which is?

HACKETT:  We're going to think about it and take a vacation this week.

GREGORY:  OK.

If the president were to call on you now and ask your advice on what you ought to do in Iraq today, what would you tell him?

HACKETT:  Define the mission, accomplish that mission if possible and then...

GREGORY:  All right.  But those are generalities.  So, what should the mission be?  You define it for him.

HACKETT:  I think right now the mission is, we pick up and we get out of there as efficiently and cleanly as possible.

GREGORY:  Right away, bring troops home today?

HACKETT:  I think that's what we're moving toward anyway.

GREGORY:  Well, that by—perhaps by next spring. 

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  In other words, whether or not there's a political progress, whether or not there is a...

HACKETT:  I see no progress there today.  I don't see—I don't see any political progress.

GREGORY:  But how can you say there's no progress, when you had millions of Iraqis who—who—who showed up to vote, who risked their lives to vote, that there is an effort under way to actually draft a constitution?  I mean, do you think that the insurgency really represents the Iraqi people?

HACKETT:  I think right—no, I don't. 

Right now, I think the country is in civil war and I don't think that we're going to be effective in the middle of a civil war.

GREGORY:  Is there any upside to cutting and running now?

HACKETT:  I don't think there is any upside in cutting and running.  I don't think there is—aside from saving billions of dollars and countless lives.  But I don't think there's any upset—upside in staying either.  I think we're probably at that point now and I think that Americans all have to critically look at what the administration is asking the military to do there.  And being beat cops on the streets of Fallujah, Ramadi and Baghdad I don't think is the best use of the military.

We are nation-building over there.  President Bush in 2000 said he didn't want to nation-build.  Well, guess what, folks?  That's what we're doing over there.  We're nation-building and we're painting schools.  I don't think painting schools and act—and using the military as beat cops if the best use of this military.  That's my personal opinion.

GREGORY:  What should Republicans take away from Paul Hackett's run for Congress?

HACKETT:  That there's probably going to be more guys like me jumping into the fray.

GREGORY:  And perhaps even you.

HACKETT:  It's possible.  I'm not ruling it out.  I'm not trying to be coy. 

I mean, it's—these are decisions I've never sat around and thought, because it's never been my goal to be a professional politician, so I'm—

I'm treading new territory.  And I want to—I want to—I have got—I have got the opportunity to take my time and make the next decision, so I plan on using it.

GREGORY:  Paul Hackett, thanks very much for your views.

HACKETT:  Thanks very much.  Thanks.

GREGORY:  Good luck.

HACKETT:  Thank you.

GREGORY:  And, when we return, two political insiders debate the war, the hot political races and the race for '08, Democratic strategist Bob Shrum and “The National Review”'s Kate O'Beirne, when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Coming up, new polls show support for the Iraq war falling, and a majority says it hasn't made us safer.

HARDBALL returns right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Kate O'Beirne is the Washington editor of “National Review” magazine.  And Bob Shrum is a HARDBALL political analyst and a senior fellow at New York University's Graduate School of Public Service. 

Welcome to you both. 

BOB SHRUM, HARDBALL POLITICAL ANALYST:  Glad to be here.

KATE O'BEIRNE, “THE NATIONAL REVIEW”:  Thanks, David.  Good to be here.

GREGORY:  Kate, let me begin with you. 

You heard the interview that we did earlier on HARDBALL with Congresswoman Harris.  She disputes this idea that she was discouraged from running.  But it appears that that was the case.  And, certainly, the comments from Governor Bush in Florida that she would be, that he hopes she runs a strong campaign and that Bill Nelson is vulnerable is not quite an endorsement.  Why don't they want her to run? 

O'BEIRNE:  An awful lot of the Republican establishment recognizes that there are very strong feelings in Florida about Katherine Harris, dating back to 2000, the dispute, of course, over that presidential race in 2000.  So, they would prefer, in a perfect world, to have a candidate who isn't radioactive for some number of Floridians. 

But, on the other hand, she is resilient.  She will really mobilize the conservative base.  She'll raise a lot of money, I think, even nationwide, because she became known to a national audience back then.  And I—I do think Jeb Bush is right with respect to Bill Nelson being sort of vulnerable.  So, I think she'll be—a lot of smart Republicans in Florida suspect she'll be a far stronger candidate than some Washington Republicans think she will. 

GREGORY:  Bob Shrum, one of the issues in Florida, as you well know, is that there are the independents who are key to that state.  And, in one survey, Katherine Harris has but 25 percent of support from independents, in other words, those who give her a favorable rating.  Is that a big issue?  In other words, is that why Republicans think that she is too radioactive? 

SHRUM:  Well, it is a big problem for her. 

You know, when Kate says that she'll mobilize the conservative base, you can't win Florida simply by mobilizing the conservative base.  You have to reach out beyond it.  Now, given that George Bush probably wouldn't be president without Katherine Harris, maybe they ought to give her a chance and a shot at running for the Senate.

But I think they're worried for two reasons.  First of all, she is a deeply polarizing figure.  And, secondly, as her interview demonstrated, I don't think she is a very effective candidate.  She doesn't actually get directly to the questions you were asking. 

And she says things, for example, that she's a fiscal conservative, when she's running actually as a Bush partisan against someone like Bill Nelson, who has one of the strongest records on fiscal conservatism of anybody in the Democratic Party. 

In the...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  Go ahead, Kate.

O'BEIRNE:  Let's not forget that Terry McAuliffe was going to get their revenge for 2000 against Jeb Bush in 2002, confident that some huge number of Floridians were ready to take it out on Jeb Bush, who won overwhelmingly that race.  A whole lot of people haven't moved on since 2000. 

GREGORY:  Let's move now on to Southern Ohio and the race in the 2nd District for Rob Portman's seat.  Paul Hackett, you heard my interview with him.  It sounds like he—he may become a darling in the Democratic Party.  He ran a tough campaign in a very conservative district.  Is there a message here for Republicans? 

O'BEIRNE:  I think that race is being wildly overinterpreted by Democrats.  It is sort of peculiar to see a losing candidate take a victory lap, which is sort of what Paul Hackett is doing. 

Look, we love Marines.  Who doesn't love our Marines?  He fought in Iraq.  He has every right to have an opinion in Iraq.  He loses an awful lot of people, of course, when he talks about the president of the United States the way he does.  He didn't run, he said himself, as an anti-war candidate. 

And typical of special elections, the turnout was incredibly small.  Republican turnout tanked.  And I suspect that was a result of the fact that the Republican candidate emerged from an 11-person field and the vote was splintered all over the place.  Republicans quickly point to other special elections where their candidate narrowly won and then went on to win in general election by a much wider margin. 

However, the caution I think the Republicans should take from that race is, you really to have turn out your base.  This Republican candidate didn't.  And they better be prepared to do a far better job in Ohio and other places come next November. 

GREGORY:  But is—Bob, is this an issue of a Marine, an Iraq veteran who walked in the door with credibility, having served, having some insight into the war?  Does this represent a kind of tipping point in voter anxiety about what's happening in Iraq? 

SHRUM:  Well, I think, obviously, that, in many ways, he was a very good candidate. 

I, secondly, think that people are very distressed about the war.  I think support for the war has—has eroded at a very rapid rate and is actually in danger of collapsing.  The president keeps giving one speech after another, trying to create a rationale for it.  But all he does is repeat the same things he said before. 

So, I think that—that Hackett is obviously a strong candidate.  And I think he was running in the kind of year when it wasn't Democrats, by the way, but Newt Gingrich who looked at that special election and said Republicans ought to be worried about 2006. 

O'BEIRNE:  David, is there an echo in here?  I think I'm hearing the

Kerry message from last fall.  The fact remains, polls showed that active -

·         active-duty military...

SHRUM:  Well, what Kerry—what Kerry—what Kerry message?

O'BEIRNE:  ... members voted for George Bush in numbers above 75 or 80 percent. 

This particular Iraq veteran, although he deserves enormous credit for having served, is in fact an anomaly, although, as I said, he is an attractive candidate, if he stops bad-mouthing the president.  He might well have a future.  He ran as a fiscal conservative.  He criticized the Republican for raising taxes.  He ran as a proud gun owner.  He has certain messages that probably could work in Ohio. 

GREGORY:  Let—let me move to another hot race.  And that's—potentially a hot race.  And that is Senator Clinton against Jeanine Pirro in New York. 

Kate, do you think Jeanine Pirro is for real here?  And, if she can't beat Senator Clinton, can she at least give her enough of a tough ride to distract her from her '08 ambitions? 

O'BEIRNE:  David, that might not—that might be a lukewarm race, David, not hot necessarily. 

GREGORY:  Not quite a hot race.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BEIRNE:  The Republicans have wanted a woman to run against Hillary Clinton.  They apparently have now found one. 

Republicans in New York are telling themselves that she'll run a credible enough race as the—she's the Westchester district attorney.  She'll run a credible enough race to sort of pin down Hillary Clinton a little bit.  There's no expectation on the part of even the most bullish Republicans that she could win that seat. 

GREGORY:  One of the reasons, Bob, has to be fund-raising.  And that is that Senator Clinton is—is on track to raise plenty of money to cover the Senate race and still build up a sizable war chest, a very large war chest, for an '08 run, right? 

SHRUM:  Look, I think Senator Clinton very well represents the state of New York, represents the views of a majority of people in that state, and has done a terrific job as senator. 

So, I agree with Kate.  I think that's a, how do you put it, lukewarm race. 

(LAUGHTER)

SHRUM:  By the way, I do want to say this.  John Kerry was right about the mess in Iraq.  Joe Biden is right about the mess in Iraq. 

And, Kate, I think if your candidates go around next year mouthing the same kind of cliches that the president keeps mouthing, the Republicans are in for a very bad 2006. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We're going to—we're going to leave it there. 

We are going to come back. 

I want to talk more about Iraq, some of these very difficult poll numbers for the president.  Our guests are staying with us. 

And when we return, more of our political roundtable. 

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  And we're back with Kate O'Beirne from “The National Review” and HARDBALL political contributor Bob Shrum. 

Troubling poll numbers for the president on Iraq this week; 54 percent of Americans believe that the war in Iraq was not worth it; 54 percent of American believe sending troops to Iraq was a mistake; 57 percent say the war in Iraq has made the U.S. less safe against terror attack, not safer. 

Kate, how big of a political problem does the president face right now with the war? 

O'BEIRNE:  I think these polls reflect that there is a real problem. 

The president does have a real problem making his case about Iraq. 

In fact, David, it is not always about the economy.  That's not so, especially when Americans are involved in a shooting war.  The economy, the economic news is in fact quite good, aside from gas prices, which I think is also sort of souring the public's mood. 

But the heartbreaking loss of 14 Marines in a day, the president can't say often enough, remind us, why we're there, why it is making us safer, why it serves the national security interests of the United States.  And Republican members of Congress, who headed home in August with a script to tout the transportation bill and the energy bill, that's the wrong script. 

They all ought to be talking about Iraq and reminding the American public why it is so crucial that we prevail there. 

GREGORY:  Bob, it—it strikes me, covering this president day in and day out, that, as many of—as events I have been to on Social Security, with kind of detailed analysis about the—the scope of that problem, that there has not been the kind of detailed presentation about Iraq, even though the White House officials say they've made it, about Iraq, geographically, tactically, number of troops and where, where the biggest challenges are to our troops.

Is it high time for the president to be doing that? 

SHRUM:  Well, he hasn't made the case. 

And, you know, unlike FDR or JFK or Ronald Reagan, I don't think you could expect George Bush to mobilize the English language and send it into battle.  But I think the problem here is one of substance.  The policy is failing.  We are sending troops into areas.  They are getting involved in fights.  They're taking over the areas.  As soon as they leave, the insurgents come back. 

The road from that Baghdad Airport into Baghdad isn't safe.  And the only answer the administration has to failure is more of the same.  I think, if this continues over a period of time, we are soon going to see people calling for a date certain for withdrawal.  And, at that point, the administration is going to have to say something other than, gee, that would be bad because it would give the insurgents notice, because at this very moment, they have generals who are saying, well, we might actually start withdrawing next spring. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  Talking themselves about a date certain. 

GREGORY:  And—and there's criticism, Kate, from both the left and the right, with talk of this kind of withdrawal date, perhaps 30,000, as many as 80,000 troops, by the spring or the summer, always conditional, always conditioned on political progress and progress with security forces, although that remains kind of a vague concept, just how well Iraqi security forces are doing.

Why, all of the sudden, is this administration talking so openly about bringing the groups home? 

O'BEIRNE:  Well, I'm not so sure it is all of a sudden. 

The president said from the very beginning, we will not stay a moment longer than necessary.  And I can remember his hands moving.  As the Iraqi troops, their capability moves up in handling these terrorists, we can reduce our own commitment.  So, it is really not new. 

Let's make clear that we—that—what else the poll did show.  A majority of the public supports the president's handling of the overall war on terror and he still enjoys widespread support for the personal characteristics.  Strong leader, they give him credit, of course, and the likability factor. 

Look, numbers about whether or not the public thought the war in Iraq was worthwhile, the numbers didn't look good last summer either, when there was bad news out of Iraq, or in the fall.  Now, then the president had the advantage of being matched up against John Kerry.  So, as disheartened as the public may have been about the Iraq war, given what the news was, they would look at the alternative and they found it unacceptable. 

And so, in the comparison, of course, George Bush was the stronger.  Now, he no longer benefits from a comparison with John Kerry, nor do congressional Republicans benefit from that kind of a comparison.  So, they have all got to be, over and over again, reminding the American public.  Those numbers can move when the public is reminded what's at stake in Iraq. 

GREGORY:  Bob, do the Democrats next year running for Congress, do they have a different message than John Kerry did last year?  Do they have a message that goes beyond effectively nibbling around the edges of the policy or making the case that the president didn't make the case for war? 

SHRUM:  Well, I—I actually think that John Kerry had a message that was very strong about the need to get allies in, about the fact that we couldn't indefinitely stay and carry the burden on our own. 

And, Kate, he almost won the election.  The fact is that—that the poll numbers on Iraq were nowhere near where they are now leading up to the election.  And Kate knows it.  Now, I think what the administration is doing is looking at this failure, and there are people inside it who are thinking about the George Aiken solution.  He was the senator from Vermont who, in the middle of the Vietnam War, said, why don't we declare victory and leave? 

If that happens—and I think George Bush knows this and won't do it

·         his legacy will be the largest deficit, the most massive deficit in American history, and the most misbegotten war in our history. 

GREGORY:  Are Democrats going to declare victory prematurely?  Are they going to call for withdrawal before it's the right time to do it? 

SHRUM:  Well, I don't—I don't know what the right time is.  I think there will be a debate in this country if we continue to see the kind of violence that we're seeing in Iraq, if we continue to see the kind of failure of security, the fights that we're having over the constitution, the lack of progress that we're seeing in that country.  There ought to be debates about whether or not we stay indefinitely. 

O'BEIRNE:  We—we had a big debate that you are engaged in, in the fall.  And John Kerry, in fact, had no alternative, except saying pretty please to the French, which was no answer.  Those same polls show...

SHRUM:  Well, but Kate, that's—Kate, that's—Kate, that's not true.  Kate, that is not true. 

O'BEIRNE:  ... that a large majority of—a large majority of the public doesn't want to leave prematurely.  They know they can't pull out the troops. 

As I said, the challenge for the president is not just to make a prime-time speech every several weeks.  And members of Congress, Republican members of Congress, and Democratic supporters, like Senator Lieberman and others, have to continually make the case. 

GREGORY:  I have got less than a minute, but I want to hear from both of you on this proposition.

Bob Woodward, at the Aspen Institute, made a prediction for the '08 race, that he sees Senator Clinton against Vice President Dick Cheney.  Do you see Cheney breaking his vow not to run? 

O'BEIRNE:  I think I would not be shocked if Dick Cheney ran in '08. 

I would not be shocked.

GREGORY:  Right. 

And—and, Bob, why would he do it? 

SHRUM:  To stop John McCain.  I think that there you know, are still a lot of people in the Republican Party who don't like John McCain.  I think he is naturally positioned to get the nomination.  I think, if he goes out and runs a good campaign, that could very well happen. 

GREGORY:  All right.  We will have to leave it there.

Thanks to both of you, Kate O'Beirne and Bob Shrum.

And tomorrow on HARDBALL, reports that military intelligence identified Mohamed Atta and three other hijackers as al Qaeda members before 9/11.  We will get reaction from two 9/11 commissioners, plus Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband in the 9/11 attacks. 

Right now, it is time for “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” and a bizarre episode involving a fan at Yankee Stadium, a heck of a way to take in the game—Keith. 

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, “COUNTDOWN”:  Thank you, David.

END

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