Guest: Mike Barnicle, Tucker Carlson, Charlie Cook, Margaret Brennan, Todd Harris, Steve McMahon, Rep. Barney Frank, Stuart Rothenberg, Jeanne Cummings, Michael Crowley, Michelle Bernard
MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST: What do Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Barack Obama have in common? Just ask John McCain.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Mike Barnicle. Leading off: going negative. In case you haven‘t noticed—and the Obama campaign sure has—John McCain is going negative. The latest salvo came today in an ad mocking Obama‘s worldwide celebrity. Here‘s part of the ad. And look closely for some familiar faces.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He‘s the biggest celebrity in the world. But is he ready to lead?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNICLE: Britney—Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. And yes, the Obama campaign did strike back, calling the ad part of a steady stream of false negative attacks. But of course, here‘s the thing about negative ads, folks. They work. So we‘ve brought in the strategists, one Democrat, one Republican, and we‘ll ask them, Will McCain‘s tactics help him, or will he turn off independents he needs to win?
Plus, if John McCain has become the nasty campaigner, has Barack Obama become too cool for school? It‘s one thing to be confident, but has Obama, as “The Washington Post” put it this morning, gone from being the presumptive nominee to being the presumptuous nominee?
Also, as you know, every night on HARDBALL, we have the “Big Number.” Well, try this big number on for size -- 60, 6-0. That‘s how many Senate seats the Democrats would need to have a filibuster-proof majority. Can Ted Stevens‘s indictment yesterday help them get there? We‘ll look at some key races and crunch the numbers. And in the “Politics Fix,” we‘ll take a look at how Obama is fighting back against some of those negative McCain ads with an ad of his own.
And what could David Hasselhoff and the rapper Ludacris possibly have to do with this year‘s presidential campaign? Find out later in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”
But first, John McCain goes negative. Let‘s bring in our strategists, Democratic media consultant Steve McMahon and Republican strategist and former spokesman Todd Harris.
So today, OK, “New York times.” Here‘s today‘s “New York Times.” Quote, “The old happy warrior side of Mr. McCain has been eclipsed a bit lately by a much more aggressive and more negative Mr. McCain, who hammers Mr. Obama repeatedly on policy differences, experience and trustworthiness.”
So Todd, in my mind‘s eye, I can see John McCain in the year—late 1999, 2000, a happy warrior. People were attracted to him. He was an independent guy. They loved him. They followed him. They came in droves to his town hall meetings.
STEVE MCMAHON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, FORMER MCCAIN SPOKESMAN: Not enough. I was there, but...
BARNICLE: And I can see him in December of 2007, in January and February of 2008, the same John McCain. So I guess the question is being asked by a lot of people in the politics business, the media business, the cosmetics of politics, What‘s happened to McCain? Is this stuff going to work? Why is he going this way?
HARRIS: Well, this is about one thing and one thing only, which is to steer the conversation surrounding this race onto the issue of whether or not Barack Obama is qualified to be leader of the free world. That is issue terrain that the McCain people—the McCain campaign feels very comfortable fighting this battle on. They feel that if this is what the campaign is about, a referendum on Obama‘s leadership, then that‘s their best shot.
And so yes. Is this—you know, is the ad subtle? No. But you know, the media likes subtlety like it likes a kick in the head, and so this is going to catch a lot of eyeballs, get a lot of attention. And if this ad steers conversation toward that conversation of whether or not Obama is ready to be president, then it‘s going to be effective.
BARNICLE: Are you going to sit there and take that? I mean, you‘re a Democratic strategist. Come on.
STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think my job tonight‘s actually a little easier than Todd‘s, don‘t you think, Todd?
MCMAHON: Listen, you know, the Obama campaign likes to say that Senator McCain‘s election would be like a third Bush term. But of course, before you get to a third Bush term, you have to have a third Bush campaign, and that‘s pretty much what they‘re running here. They‘re not running a campaign that Todd and John Weaver ran a long time ago.
John Weaver, of course, is the person who in 2000 ran the happy warriors campaign, when he was a happy guy. And Johnson Weaver today, in fact, said that his silence is over, that this campaign has diminished John McCain. He‘s not only not recognizing his old friend, John McCain, but he‘s, I think, furious at the campaign for doing this to his old friend.
The fact of the matter is John McCain can only win if he‘s a hopeful, optimistic leader and if he‘s offering a vision for America that people can embrace, not by tearing down Barack Obama, and certainly not by childish ads like this one.
HARRIS: Well, I think we have put all of this into some amount of context, though. It‘s like this whole campaign—and on the Obama side has been all, like, kid gloves and lollipops.
MCMAHON: They‘ve not run a negative ad (INAUDIBLE)
HARRIS: No, no. But his supporters have—they‘ve run ads that have distorted McCain‘s record, and his supporters have called John McCain a warmonger. They‘ve talked about distorting his position on Iraq. It‘s not like this has all been kid gloves. And yes, this is a hard-hitting ad, but it‘s been a hard-hitting campaign so far.
BARNICLE: We‘re going to show you the latest—well, let‘s show you the newest McCain campaign ad right now and get your reaction to it. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He‘s the biggest celebrity in the world. But is he ready to lead? With gas prices soaring, Barack Obama says no to offshore drilling and says he‘ll raise taxes on electricity? Higher taxes, more foreign oil. That‘s the real Obama.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I‘m John McCain, and I approved this message.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNICLE: You know, we sit here in living rooms and dens across America, and these ads come beamed across and you sort of half pay attention to them. I think a lot of people just half pay attention to them. But there‘s an element in that ad, right toward the end of the ad, where it has Obama‘s face up and the word “foreign” next to it, with “more foreign oil.” There it is. It‘s right there on the screen now.
HARRIS: Well, it‘s true. I mean, you know, Obama—he keeps saying no to—no to expanded nuclear...
BARNICLE: Yes, but the “foreign”...
HARRIS: ... energy, no...
BARNICLE: ... the “foreign” deal. Obama‘s foreign deal.
BARNICLE: No, I know, but you know—you know...
HARRIS: Actually, he should say yes to foreign oil because that‘s his energy policy.
BARNICLE: Am I overreacting to that?
MCMAHON: Well, I don‘t think these things are coincidental. I do think, though, that Senator McCain has a choice to make here, and he‘s got to decide whether or not he wants to be happy warrior or he‘s got to decide whether or not he wants to be—run for grouch-in-chief. And the danger when you‘re 72 years old, when you‘re running a campaign that just seems like a grouchy old man campaign, is that that‘s not what people want in a president. And it‘s not somebody who‘s offering a vision for the future.
If you look at the two campaigns, Senator Obama is offering a hopeful, optimistic, aspirational vision for America‘s future, and John McCain is running as Walter Matthau in “Grumpy Old Men.”
BARNICLE: See, you stuck the age thing in three times there, the age, 72, the “Grumpy Old Men,” the Walter Matthau thing...
BARNICLE: But earlier, Steve, you had said that...
HARRIS: (INAUDIBLE) the age stuff.
BARNICLE: Yes. You had felt that part of the McCain campaign had diminished the candidate. Do you think any part of this campaign has diminished John McCain?
HARRIS: Well, look, it‘s been a tough campaign, and it‘s going to continue to be a tough campaign. But you‘ve got Barack Obama, who is treated, let‘s face it, line a celebrity amongst the media, who is getting is getting kid glove treatment. I don‘t think he‘s being put under the kind of media microscope that he needs to be.
And so, you know, if the press is not going to do it, then it‘s going to be incumbent upon the McCain campaign to call into question whether or not Barack Obama is prepared to lead this nation and to be commander-in-chief. That‘s the threshold question of this question. If ads like this get people talking about that, then it‘s probably going to be effective.
MCMAHON: You know, it‘s interesting. The footage from this ad, this footage is from his European trip. And Senator McCain‘s campaign actually taunted Barack Obama into going to Europe, going to Iraq, going to Afghanistan...
HARRIS: No one ever talked him into doing (INAUDIBLE)
MCMAHON: So the Obama campaign goes, and they get crowds unlike the crowds that John McCain saw in Colombia and Mexico and Canada, when he was campaigning out of the country. And now they‘re upset by it.
HARRIS: Well, no one ever taunted McCain into...
MCMAHON: Now they‘re shocked that people in Europe might actually...
HARRIS: ... giving a speech...
MCMAHON: ... want a different direction from the American president...
HARRIS: ... hundreds of thousands of...
BARNICLE: What‘s he supposed to do? Is he—you know, I‘m not going out there. There‘s too many people.
HARRIS: He didn‘t have to give a speech, and he certainly didn‘t have to give a speech talking about America‘s shortcomings. I mean, I think it was a little—
HARRIS: It‘s a little self-indulgent.
MCMAHON: ... pretty obvious to most people that America isn‘t perfect. It certainly is obvious to most people in Europe, and I think they might say it a little bit harsher than that.
MCMAHON: I mean, this is an American that has basically told people what to do in Europe, treated its allies like they‘re—like they‘re, you know...
HARRIS: The point is, that speech, like so much of the Obama campaign, it‘s just been really self-indulgent. It‘s all about Barack Obama.
HARRIS: Look, when Barack Obama meets behind closed doors with House and Senate Democrats, and says, you know, I am the moment that we‘ve all been waiting for...
BARNICLE: There‘s some question whether he actually said that.
MCMAHON: We are the moment that we have all been waiting for.
HARRIS: He was talking about himself.
BARNICLE: Let‘s stick with McCain, though, because you‘re right, he does get, you know, shortstopped in the media. He doesn‘t get as much attention, as much positive attention as Obama has. And yet I go back to my own eyesight, my own experience, and the fact that so many people, independents, really liked this guy, you know, when he came on stage at these town hall meetings with a smile and the microphone in his hand. And he was not your average Republican. There was an independent streak that he articulated. Where has this guy gone?
HARRIS: Well, McCain—I will concede, certainly, McCain is not at his best when he‘s delivering overly partisan messages because McCain is at his best when he‘s not being partisan. That‘s why his approval rating among independent voters has always been so high. That‘s why so many crossover Democrats have always supported John McCain.
So to the degree that he can—he needs to deliver this message talking about Obama. I think it‘s critical that the campaign frame this race as a referendum on whether Obama is prepared to be president. But it is a tough situation they‘re in because they need to do it in a way that doesn‘t make John McCain overly partisan.
MCMAHON: Here‘s the challenge the McCain campaign has, in addition to the—to the grouchiness that they‘re displaying today. John McCain was the guy that you just described. He was the...
BARNICLE: How old is he, Steve?
MCMAHON: I don‘t know. I don‘t think...
MCMAHON: By the way, I don‘t think it‘s a function of his age. I think it‘s a function of the way he‘s behaving.
HARRIS: Just like it‘s not a function of Obama‘s age...
MCMAHON: It tends to remind people...
HARRIS: ... it‘s a function of his inexperience.
MCMAHON: It tends to remind people of his age. But that‘s—but the point here, I think, is he used to be that guy you described. He used to be the maverick. He was the person—he was the Democrats‘ favorite Republican. But to get the nomination, he decided he had to become George Bush. He flip-flopped on tax cuts. He adopted Bush economic policies. He walked away from his own immigration reform bill. He flip-flopped on offshore oil drilling. He‘s become a doctrinaire Bush Republican, and he‘s offering a Bush third term, and that‘s not what people want.
BARNICLE: Well, you know the ad we just showed you. Here‘s what Barack Obama said about that John McCain ad. Give a listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I don‘t pay attention to John McCain‘s ads, although do I notice that he doesn‘t seem to have anything very positive to say about himself, does he. He seems to only be talking about me. You need to ask John McCain what he‘s for, not just what he‘s against.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNICLE: And he went to say that he‘s trying to—Obama said, you know, He‘s trying to portray me as being a risky choice for a candidate.
HARRIS: Well, he is a risky choice. I mean, look, if you put aside all of the rhetoric, you put aside all of the sweeping speeches, if you boil all of this down to what has Barack Obama done, not to sound like a president or to fly around and act like one, but to actually qualify him to be president, the resume is pretty thin. It‘s no wonder that he‘s always talking about the future because if he was talking about what he‘s actually done to qualify himself to be president, his speeches would be really, really short. And if you compare the Obama record to McCain‘s record...
HARRIS: ... to McCain‘s record of change, you know, there‘s no question. Only one of these guys has actually been a change agent in Washington, and that‘s been McCain.
MCMAHON: You know, Todd‘s not a very happy warrior tonight, either, is he? But—OK, so—so you know, John McCain, who—who wants to run on experience and admits that he doesn‘t know anything about economics or the economy...
MCMAHON: ... is actually a riskier choice in many respects. And you know, Senator Obama gives speeches, but what are in those speeches? He talks about an America, an America—and he offers a positive, hopeful, aspirational vision for America. He wants to cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans. He wants to go in a different economic direction. He wants to provide health care for every American. He wants to get our troops out of Iraq. Those are big choices. And at the end of the day, that‘s what the American voters wants, and that‘s why Barack Obama is winning.
And John McCain can run as a grouch, if he wants to, but it‘s not going to work. And John Weaver knows it‘s not going to work. And I think, Todd, if you were being a little bit more candid...
BARNICLE: Last word.
HARRIS: OK. Obama talks all the time about, Let‘s bridge this partisan divide. If someone could give me one example of the time—I mean, let‘s face it, he‘s a sitting United States senator. He‘s had opportunities to do this. Give me one...
MCMAHON: (INAUDIBLE) Dick Lugar.
HARRIS: John McCain talks to Democrats all the time. Talking to someone doesn‘t make you a bipartisan leader.
BARNICLE: Todd Harris, Steve McMahon, thanks very much.
From McCain to Obama. Coming up, is Barack Obama acting like he‘s already president, from his world tour last week to his top-level meetings and secret events this week, is he being presumptuous or supremely confident?
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL. So is there a perceived overconfidence in the Obama campaign? Is he acting like he‘s already president? Some critics say so. Joining me now, MSNBC senior campaign correspondent Tucker Carlson and Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, a primary backer, incidentally, of the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and primary author of the huge housing bill President Bush signed this morning.
Congressman, I understand he signed it at 7:00 AM and that you weren‘t invited. Is that accurate?
REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: That‘s accurate. I think I was represented by Barney the dog.
BARNICLE: So the bill, an important bill, a crucial bill—a lot of homes in foreclosure, a lot of Americans are worried—what does this bill do for the average American?
FRANK: Several things. The most important thing, we think—and we‘ve talked to a lot of the banks about this who have told us they‘re going to take advantage of it—it says in those cases where the borrower owes more money than the house is worth, that the banks, if they choose to it‘s voluntary on their part—but if they believe they can make—they can lose less money by writing down the loan than by foreclosing, if they do that, the borrower can then go to the FHA and get a loan guarantee.
Now, people have said, Well, you know, these people got in trouble. Why do we deal with it? And the answer is very simple. Foreclosures don‘t just hit the people who are being foreclosed upon. If they did, we‘d have the option of saying, Hey, you made your mistake and live with it. But it‘s hurting the whole economy. It hurts cities, which suddenly now—not suddenly, but which don‘t have houses paying property taxes but have houses eating property taxes because of police and fire. The whole neighborhood deteriorates.
So we believe, the Congressional Budget Office believes, that several hundred thousands foreclosures will be averted.
It also creates a program for an affordable low-income housing trust fund that didn‘t get a lot of attention. One of the problems we‘ve had is we had people buying houses who shouldn‘t have bought houses, who couldn‘t afford to economically, who frankly weren‘t socially ready to take on owning a house, which is not a slam-dunk.
Part of the problem was there wasn‘t rental housing for them. So we are now going to create a fund to subsidize affordable rental housing, so they can move in there instead.
And then two other quick things. The Federal Reserve, with our full support, has now put out rules that will prevent the kind of bad mortgages, irresponsible mortgages from being made in the future. And there was irresponsibility both on the lenders and the borrowers.
The question then is, well, what about working people who aren‘t making a lot of money? Can‘t they get a chance to own homes? The answer is yes because we‘ve also expanded the Federal Housing Administration, the FHA, so it will be available for working people, people in the lower middle income category.
They can go there. If they can qualify, as many of them will be able to, they won‘t have to get a sub-prime loan with adjustable rate, et cetera. They‘ll be able to get a 30-year fixed income with a guarantee, which will lower their interest rate and allow them to get a home without having the problems we‘ve seen in the last couple years.
BARNICLE: Well, switching to politics now—and Tucker Carlson is here. We have a young man from the state of Illinois. He‘s looking for a home for the next four years. It‘s government-subsidized. It‘s called the White House. And there‘s been a lot of chatter on programs like this, and a lot of stuff in print media, that Obama‘s candidacy sometimes verges on the presumptuous.
Tucker, you first. Do you think it does?
TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC SENIOR CAMPAIGN CORRESPONDENT: Of course it does. All candidacies do.
You wake up in the morning and you decide, of 300 million Americans, you‘re the most qualified to be president, you‘re arrogant by definition. They all are. And he is, too. I think it is bad manners, the kind of thing your mother would spank you for, if she had good manners. But it‘s pretty good politics.
It is what Bush did, by the way, during the recount in 2000. Like Obama, he had very little experience. It was up in the air as to who was winning and declared himself president at this famous press conference, as you will remember. And a lot of people were offended by it. On the other hand, it worked. People looked at the television. There was Bush calling himself president. And people thought, well, I guess he is. And it will probably work for Obama.
BARNICLE: Hey, Congressman, did you get a chance to go to the Cannon House Office Building caucus room yesterday?
FRANK: To be technically accurate, I had a chance, but I didn‘t take advantage of it. I did not go to that caucus.
BARNICLE: So, Senator Obama, again, off of something he reportedly said at the caucus, that, you know, he has become the symbol for a lot of people around the world looking for America to change.
I spoke before 200,000 people in Berlin. He met with heads of state in France. He met with Palestinian leaders, with Israeli leaders. I guess the question is, isn‘t this what candidates do?
FRANK: Yes, it is.
And I have to say this. Look, we have a question. The next president is going to have to decide, what happens in Iraq? Do we pull out, and, if so, at what pace?
He will appoint justices to the Supreme Court. There will be questions of the economy. I think the overwhelming majority of Americans really aren‘t worried about whether or not he is presumptuous. They aren‘t planning to have dinner with him. They‘re not planning to hang out much with him.
They are talking, I hope, about what the public policy decisions will be. And I think Tucker Carlson put it accurately. Yes, look, there is a certain arrogance in declaring yourself a candidate for public office, not wholly unlike being a media pundit, in which you assume that much of the world is very interested in your opinions. We‘re all in that business.
FRANK: But I think what you have is, I hope, a focus on public policy.
John McCain and Barack Obama have some strong differences in public policy. And I would hope that‘s what the campaign would be about.
CARLSON: Well, I think the exact Obama quote was, I am the light, the truth and the way. No one gets to the father except through me. Drop your nets and follow me. I will make you fishers of men.
FRANK: Well, you‘re talking...
CARLSON: I mean, there is a messianic quality in some of his rhetoric.
Of course, it is, by definition, self-referential. And, again, I give him a pass on that because they all are that way. But it does remind you a little bit of Bush. I mean, this is a guy who almost seems to believe he is anointed to usher in a new era of consciousness in the world, to change human nature.
I mean, that‘s—you know, I don‘t know. I‘m more comfortable with modest goals like shorter lines at the DMV, a FEMA that shows up within a month of a hurricane. Start small. maybe.
FRANK: Well, let me start with, I don‘t think the president is going to have much to do with the state motor vehicle departments.
Secondly, you know, this isn‘t about, frankly, what people in the media feel comfortable with or not. As to the quote, I wasn‘t at the caucus. And I‘m, by birth, not an expert on the New Testament, which I believe that quote came from. So, I get a double pass, I think, on that one.
FRANK: The answer, again, I think the average citizen doesn‘t care as much.
Look, I understand. And part of it is a problem you guys have.
You‘re good people. You have got work to do. You have got hours to fill. There isn‘t always hard news. But whether or not he was too arrogant or not arrogant, I think, pales, according to—besides, what do you do about Iraq, what do you do about the Supreme Court, what do you do about taxes, what do you do about energy conservation?
Those are the issues that I really do believe most Americans are focused on, not whether, well, he was a little too presumptuous or he wasn‘t presumptuous. What is he going to do about the economy, about jobs, about gas prices?
CARLSON: Well, I think that‘s—I think that‘s a solid point. No, I think, actually, the congressman makes a solid point.
And that‘s why the McCain ad, writing off Obama as a celebrity, make not be as effective as an saying, look, this guy wants to give driver‘s licenses to illegal aliens. Now that ad would work.
BARNICLE: Well, back to the aforementioned meeting in the Cannon Building yesterday that Congressman Frank couldn‘t attend, Congressman Clyburn from South Carolina, he did attend it, and he had something to say, you had some reports indicating that Obama said one thing. But Congressman from South Carolina had this to say. Take a listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: What he said was, and quite -it was in response to what one of the members prefaced a question by—he said: I wish I could take credit for that, but I can‘t, because it‘s not about me, it‘s about America, it‘s about the people of Germany and the people of Europe looking for new hope, new relationships as we go forward in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNICLE: So, Congressman, let me ask you a question.
Do you think there‘d be all this chatter on programs like this and in the newspapers about Barack Obama saying what he has supposedly saying, going where he did indeed go, if he were a white guy?
FRANK: Yes, I think, because it‘s the presidential campaign, and you have to talk about it. It‘s the big—it‘s a big thing people want to talk about. And I guess until—at least until the Olympics start we won‘t have much relief from it.
And, again—and, look, part of the problem is this. There‘s a compulsion to fill the time and to tell people more than people know. It may also be that, frankly, debating the specifics of a tax plan or a housing plan or what you do about should we or shouldn‘t we have a second economic stimulus, that may not be good TV, that may be boring to people.
FRANK: I‘m not expert on that.
CARLSON: Well, not all of us are as deep as you, Congressman. But I think it matters if the man who would be president, you know, has an inflated sense of himself. That‘s a significant character flaw if it‘s true.
FRANK: Well, Tucker, you just began—you just began by saying that all people who want to be president have an inflated sense of themselves, so I‘m little bit puzzled by why that‘s...
CARLSON: Right. But, well, because there‘s a...
FRANK: Can I finish, Tucker.
CARLSON: There‘s a threshold beyond which it‘s egomania.
FRANK: I‘m trying to quote you, and you even interrupt me when I‘m quoting you.
The fact is, you said they all have inflated senses of themselves. The man‘s been around for a while. There‘s no sign that he‘s got any kind of distended ego that makes him unreasonable.
And I also think this kind of pop psychological analysis, which is not worth a great deal, is no substitute for talking about the economy, about joblessness, about the environment, and what about you do about America‘s role in the world. Should we be shifting from Iraq to Afghanistan?
CARLSON: Oh—oh—oh, spare me, Congressman.
FRANK: Excuse me. That‘s much more...
CARLSON: The guy‘s—the guy‘s been around for like 20 minutes.
FRANK: Oh, come on...
CARLSON: It‘s valid for us to know who he is, don‘t you think? We can‘t just elect him without knowing who Barack Obama is. You don‘t know who he is. I don‘t either. We have to learn. That‘s the process.
FRANK: What is this diatribe? Your diatribe, Tucker, is totally unrelated to anything I just said.
CARLSON: It‘s not a diatribe.
BARNICLE: We have got to...
FRANK: May I finish? What are the ground rules, Tucker?
BARNICLE: Two seconds, Barney.
The point is, no, I don‘t think the psychoanalysis is a big deal in terms of relevance. Whether or not we have troops in Iraq or Afghanistan is what we ought to talk about.
And the other thing, by the way, let‘s be honest about it, there‘s an element of partisanship. There is a tendency for Republicans and conservatives to look negatively at the one guy, liberals and Democrats to look negative at the other. None of it makes any real difference, I think, to the average voter.
BARNICLE: There you go. I‘m with you there.
Congressman Barney Frank, Tucker Carlson, thanks very much.
Up next: Talk about a “Sideshow.” David Hasselhoff and the actor Ludacris are now figuring into this presidential campaign. How?
Well, stick around. The HARDBALL “Sideshow” is next.
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”
Last week, the Republican National Committee sent their own film crew out to Obama‘s Berlin speech. And, well, they have decided to take a very colorful line of attack on the Democratic nominee.
Just take a look at their new Web ad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE AD)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People of Berlin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama is an inspiration to us all. Can you feel the love? Yes, we can.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If we do this, and we do that, yes, we can.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “TITANIC”)
LEONARDO DICAPRIO, ACTOR: I‘m the king of the world!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNICLE: Works for me. Of course, you can‘t knock German fan frenzies without throwing a shirtless David Hasselhoff into the mix.
I don‘t know. The whole thing looks more like a skit from “Saturday Night Live” than an ad from a political party, but, oh, well.
Next: What is on your playlist? Obama says he has got rapper Ludacris on his iPod. Well, now Ludacris is out with his own song about Obama. We had to do a little editing of this, but here‘s the part that‘s safe for TV.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
LUDACRIS, RAPPER; And all you other politicians trying to hate on my man, watch us win majority vote in every state of my man. You can‘t stop what‘s about to happen. We about to make history, the first black president is destined, and it‘s meant to be. Get out and man or the end will be near. And the world is ready for change, because Obama is here.”
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BARNICLE: That song also attacks Senators Clinton and McCain. Late today, the Obama camp condemned the song, saying Ludacris should quote—“be ashamed of these lyrics”—unquote.
Now for “Name That Veep.”
After a hiatus from the national spotlight, this Democratic governor jumped right back into the ‘08 mix today by announcing two August fund-raisers to help Hillary Clinton retire her debt. His March primary endorsement was a huge coup by the Obama campaign. And putting him on the ticket could bring Hispanics out in full force this fall.
So, who is it? New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. Vice president or not, he looks to be doing what he can to unite the Democratic Party.
Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Yesterday‘s indictment of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was a blow not only to Stevens‘ chances of holding on to his seat, but to a Republican Party that has had its share of trouble lately. So, just how many sitting United States senators have been indicted in history? Ten. That‘s right. Only 10 United States senators have ever been indicted while in office.
So, it might be fair to say, the timing on this latest one couldn‘t be worse for Republicans -- 10 indicted senators in history, tonight‘s “Big Number.”
Up next: After the indictment of Republican Senator Ted Stevens, the Democrats are hoping they can win big and build up a filibuster-proof majority of 60 Senate seats. We will look at the top five Senate races next.
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MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I am Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Earning news coming in from Visa, Disney and Starbucks after the close of the session. Visa posted higher-than-expected quarterly earnings, as spending on credit cards jumped, as did Disney, thanks in part to it theme park near Paris where the U.S. dollar is weak, helping to boost tourism. Well, Starbucks posted its first quarterly loss since going public. Its earnings came in about two cents below estimates.
And turning to the major indices, during the active-hours session, the Dow gained 186 points, the S&P 500 up 21, the Nasdaq higher by 10. And that happened despite a surge in oil prices. Oil gained by almost $5 a barrel, as the supply report showed an unexpected drop in gasoline inventory. Oil settled above $126 a barrel.
And we also got help from a survey that showed that the U.S. economy added about 9,000 jobs in June.
That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to HARDBALL.
BARNICLE: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Democrats think they can pick up more than a few Senate seats this November, but how many can they get?
Let‘s take a look at some of the Senate seats that could change hands.
Charlie Cook is an NBC News political analyst and publisher of “The Cook Political Report.” And Stuart Rothenberg is the editor of “The Rothenberg Political Report.”
And both you guys come like with booklets and notes and pens, and two big brains.
CHARLIE COOK, NBC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Too old to remember this stuff anymore.
BARNICLE: So, Alaska, of course, nearly everyone in the political universe is now aware that Ted Stevens, Republican incumbent, longtime incumbent, there since, I think, 1968, indicted yesterday. That can‘t be good for his chances for reelection, Stuart.
STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, “THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL
Look, if Ted Stevens is the Republican nominee come November, the Republicans have lost the seat. Some people think they have already lost the seat. I am reminded of the fact the last Democrat to win a federal election—a federal election in Alaska was 1974, Mike Gravel. That makes me very cautious about simply turning a seat over to the Democrats.
But you have to think the Mark Begich, the mayor, Mayor Begich is a strong nominee. And the Democrats have a terrific opportunity to steal a very Republican state.
BARNICLE: According to the latest polls, Begich is up. He‘s the mayor of Anchorage. He‘s up by, what, five points already?
COOK: Before the indictment.
COOK: Yes. Yes.
So, this is—no, this is—watching Republican this year, it is like watching a sports team that just can‘t buy a break.
Everything that goes wrong is going wrong. And you just sort of sit there and feel sorry for them. But, this was—probably happened—I think the only imaginable way I can figure that Republicans could possibly hold on to the seat—and it‘s like 5 percent—would be if Senator Stevens wins the six-way primary, and then maybe he drops out, and lets the state party pick a new guy.
But I don‘t think either of these guys in the primary field could beat Mayor Begich.
BARNICLE: New Hampshire is next.
In New Hampshire, Senator John Sununu, the incumbent, trails former Governor Jeanne Shaheen by 11 points in the Pollster.com average. He is a pretty good senator. He was extremely popular in New Hampshire. Is this a case of the national party driving the guy down?
ROTHENBERG: I think so. This was like Jim Talent a couple years ago, somebody who in a normal Republican year might not even draw a top tier opponent, but has drawn one this time. The state went very Democratic a couple years ago. Sununu is surprisingly optimistic. He believes that once he starts to campaign, the voters will really start to focus on the race. They haven‘t yet. I think he is overly optimistic. Jeanne Shaheen is a formidable candidate. He starts way behind in the polls. I think it‘s another terrific Democratic opportunity.
COOK: I think the national stuff is driving half of it. The other half is John Sununu is doing a great job of representing the old New Hampshire. But New Hampshire is becoming a suburb of Boston. And this new New Hampshire that‘s different, that‘s a lot less conservative, a lot less Republican New Hampshire, that he‘s not—the states changed and he‘s representing the old place. And I think that puts him at a hell of a disadvantage.
BARNICLE: And she was a popular former governor.
ROTHENBERG: She was, but he did defeat her.
COOK: In a much better time, and the state kept moving.
BARNICLE: The next three states, the first of them being the state of Virginia, we‘re going to look at—it‘s a battle between former governors, Mark Warner—he leads former Governor Jim Gilmore by 26 points in the Pollster.com—that thing is over, no?
ROTHENBERG: It was over before it began. This is an absolute disaster for the Republicans. They have a bad nominee. The Democrats have a terrific candidate. It‘s over. Put it in the bank. Lock it up. It‘s over.
BARNICLE: What happens with Obama in the top of the ticket in Virginia? He has to be helped by this?
COOK: There‘s just nothing bad happening to Democrats in Virginia right now. Whether it is enough for Obama, we‘ll see. But this is—the thing is, in a normal year, if Republicans had nominated Tom Davis, a Tom Davis/Warner race would have been very competitive. It is a lousy year and a weak nominee. That just spells doom for Republicans in this race.
BARNICLE: We have another state, New Mexico, Pete Domenici, the incumbent, long time incumbent. He is leaving. We have a battle between two House members, Tom Udall, Congressman, Steve Pierce; leads Pierce by 28 points in the Pollster.com. This is stop the fight no, mas.
COOK: The thing is, again, this is a bad break. There was a more moderate Republican in the primary, Heather Wilson. Had she won, this still would have been a tough race for Republicans but they would have had a fighting chance. With Pierce, they don‘t.
ROTHENBERG: You have to remember, the Republican brand is damaged nationally, but that also means it is damaged in each and every state. So, in a neutral political environment, you take two Congressmen running against one another, it‘s a fair fight, an interesting fight. Maybe Udall has a small advantage. Not in this environment. Now, it looks like a considerable edge for him.
BARNICLE: We have another state and another Udall, Colorado. Congressman Mark Udall leads former Congressman Bob Schaffer, not the broadcaster, by seven points in the Pollster.com average. That‘s a bit more competitive in Colorado.
ROTHENBERG: I think this is a race, Schaffer, a former Congressman, Udall, a sitting member. The state has been competitive, though it has moved Democratically recently. There‘s now a Democratic governor, a Democratic senator was elected. They took over a Congressional district. In a neutral political environment, this is a fair fight. I think, again, with the Democratic mood, a slight edge for the Democrats. So I think it could be competitive.
COOK: This one‘s not done. It‘s not baked. This cake isn‘t baked. Democrats have an edge, no question about it. Again, Stu said in another year, it would be an even money fight maybe. But this year, you have to put the edge to Democrats.
BARNICLE: You first, do either of you think that the Democrats can get to 60, the filibuster proof number?
COOK: I don‘t think so, I really don‘t. They could get to eight. Once you‘re at eight, then hey—I would seriously doubt it, but then again, six—at this time, two years ago, six looked pretty rough too.
ROTHENBERG: I would say a year or two ago, I would have made fun—I probably did make fun of the idea that the Democrats could get 60. I can‘t make fun of that anymore. It seem like a long shot. It is not impossible. They would have to—the Democratic candidates in Minnesota and Maine would have to improve from where they are now. But it is going to be a Democratic year.
COOK: They would have to be knocking off Mitch McConnell and people like that. I don‘t think that‘s going to happen.
BARNICLE: Charlie Cook, Stu Rothenberg, thanks very much. Up next, the politics fix; how close is Barack Obama to picking a running mate? One of his top contenders says the list is getting shorter. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: We‘re back. Now it is time for politics and the fix with our round table. Michelle Bernard is an NBC political analyst. Michael Crowley is with the “New Republic.” And Jeanne Cummings is with the Politico.
Barack Obama, I believe, earlier today, he had a sound bite that I want you to listen to. This is what he had to say about John McCain and President Bush, framing him up in the campaign. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: So what they‘re going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he‘s not patriotic enough. He‘s got a funny name. He doesn‘t look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know? He‘s risky. That‘s the argument. That‘s the argument. That‘s essentially the argument they‘re making. The argument is, I know you don‘t really like what we‘re doing, but he‘s risky.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BARNICLE: Michael, what do you think? A pretty good retort there.
MICHAEL CROWLEY, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”: It is. Once again, we see why Obama is a good politician. It‘s a funny riff. He seems comfortable. He is taking on a very charged subject head on and laughing at it. It is not a laughing matter. He‘s exactly right. I think that‘s why he has been somewhat under performing the generic Democrat in the polls. Ultimately, I don‘t think the attack mode suits John McCain well. We saw today one of his long time confidants and advisers, John Weaver, came out and said he doesn‘t like the tone of this campaign. I really do think it‘s dangerous for McCain to be as negative as he has been. Maybe Obama can afford to be kind of chuckling about this right now.
BARNICLE: Gene, let me ask you, off what Michael said, there‘s been a couple of new attack ads put out by the McCain day. Every campaign puts out attack ads. It‘s not just John McCain. We should point that out. But there‘s a feeling out there, when you talk to ordinary people, not us, that this stuff isn‘t going to sell this year, the patriotism thing, the flag lapel stuff. What do you think?
JEANNE CUMMINGS, POLITICO: Maybe it won‘t sell, but it would be the first time it didn‘t sell. I think that the Obama people are right to respond very aggressively to this sort of thing. I think the dynamic of this race feels very much like Carter/Reagan in reverse roles. Reagan was the risky one. He was this crazy actor, too conservative, going to hit the nuclear button; we can‘t trust him. That‘s the position of Barack Obama right now. As soon as Reagan went into one debate and showed he wasn‘t a crazy man, in fact, they can trust him, things changed. I think we could be looking at that dynamic.
BARNICLE: Yes, the debates are clearly going to be crucial, just the cosmetics of the debate.
MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: The cosmetics of the debate. I just want to step back for a second, because I think what Barack Obama did today, I thought was fascinating. He was his own anti-Willie Horton ad. He‘s gone out on the offensive. He‘s kind of looking at what could be coming down the pike, in terms of 527s, things we‘ve heard people say about Michelle Obama, people talking about his name being Hussein. He did it such a very charismatic way that it can only help him.
By the time we get to the debates, there‘s going to be a stark contrast, not just in age, but in appearance, in height, in the way that they speak. I think that a lot of members of the American public are going to find it very difficult to only focus on what they‘re hearing in terms of policy from the candidates, because the two of them look so differently and Barack Obama is a much better speaker than John McCain.
BARNICLE: Except that, back to your point, Michael, the point you just raised. We were talking earlier about the McCain of late ‘99 and 2000, the McCain of December 2007, and January and February of ‘08. It‘s the John McCain that a lot of people, I think, got used to, very attractive, sort of mellowed out, very independent, a lot of people attracted to his candidacy as a result of that. Do you think it‘s a bit too jarring for the people who do follow these things, average American voters who do follow these things, to see a different John McCain now?
CROWLEY: Yes, absolutely, Mike. I think, you know, when he won New Hampshire in 2000, that was on the strength of independents, who were taken with this guy who seemed to be practicing a new kind of politics. There‘s some relationship to Obama‘s new brand of politics. McCain was running a different kind of politics. He seemed to be more honorable and above the typical fray. That just seems to be out the window. I think you have to be really troubled when a guy like John Weaver, who is someone who is really close in his orbit, who helped to orchestrate that 2000 primary win New Hampshire, thinks that this isn‘t the happy warrior. This isn‘t the John McCain that was so successful in politics, that made his name nationally, that became such a potent force.
It just feels now like much more of a paint by numbers Republican campaign. At a time when the Republican brand, frankly, is in the toilet, I think he‘s better off going with the formula that worked for him in 2000 than just reprising the old RNC attack ad approach.
BARNICLE: We‘re going to take a break here in order to do some media bashing when we get back. We‘ll be back with the round table for more of the politics fix. You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
BARNICLE: We‘re back with the round table for more of the politics fix. This is a little off the topic of Obama and vice presidential stuff and everything. It‘s of interest to me. Maybe it‘s not of interest to you. We‘ll fin doubt. There‘s been a series of pieces in the “Washington Post,” “New York Times,” a couple of larger papers lately, increasingly taking aim at the Obama campaign for the lack of access that a lot of reporters have to the campaign. Is Obama becoming too presumptuous. Is his vanity getting in the way? Is his ego too large? The thing I notice, coming at this from a lifetime in the news business, knocking on doors, asking families of murder victims for a picture—I mean, why are we such a pack of whiners when it comes to covering candidates? Jeanne?
CUMMINGS: We are whiners, it‘s so true. So much of the campaign is reflected through our eyes and our own sensitivities. I covered the Bush White House. When they came into town, they changed a lot of rules when it came to media engagement. And it worked for them. These were lessons learned. We all need to toughen up. We aren‘t their friends. They know they‘re friends. It as an adversarial relationship. They are out there to win. We‘re out there to find mistakes.
We need to get over it. Everyone says, if you want to become president, one of the first things you have to do is prove to the public that you can be presidential, that you can stand on that stage. So Barack Obama is endeavoring to prove that to the voters. That‘s between him and the voters. We should probably get out of the middle.
BARNICLE: Michelle, on a scale of one to ten, cry babies, where are we on that scale?
BERNARD: I‘d have to give it a 20 plus on that scale. I think it‘s important to note the social implications of what we‘re seeing, in terms of the, quote unquote, whining. What we have to remember is it‘s not that only that Barack Obama is running for president, but this is the nation‘s first African-American man running for president. He can‘t go out on that stage looking scared. He can‘t go out on that stage without speaking absolutely perfect English. He has to look presidential. He has to allow the American public to see whether or not they can actually envision him standing on that White House podium, speaking for the entire nation. If he did anything less, his ratings would absolutely plummet.
BARNICLE: Michael Crowley, you cry baby, what do you have to say about this?
CROWLEY: I have too many friends who are daily reporters to try to knock them as whiners. Let me just make one thought, which is maybe there‘s a structural problem. I think we spend too much time following these candidates around in these miserable buses and planes, assessing the hour by hour. What did they feed us? What time did they come see us? Spend more time analyzing policy. Spend more time analyzing what they are proposing. That would maybe solve the problem.
BARNICLE: I‘m with you, buddy. Michael Crowley, Michelle Bernard, Jeanne Cummings, thanks very much. Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 for more HARDBALL. Time now for “RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.”
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