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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Thursday, July 31

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Mike Barnicle, Pat Buchanan, Michelle Bernard, Christina Brown,  Bob Shrum, Pete Hegseth, Jon Soltz, Jill Zuckman, Jonathan Martin, Perry Bacon

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  Playing the race card.  Are both sides guilty?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Mike Barnicle, in tonight for Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Leading off, the race for president just shifted into a higher gear.  The McCain campaign left no doubt today that it‘s decided that negative attacks on Obama are the way to go.  Today campaign manager Rick Davis said, quote, “Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck.  It‘s divisive, negative, shameful and wrong,” unquote.

What‘s Davis talking about?  Well, he‘s responding to charges Obama made yesterday about how the McCain campaign is trying to portray him.  Throw in some highly charged words from both sides about that Britney Spears/Paris Hilton ad that the McCain campaign unveiled yesterday, and you have a campaign now in which both sides are charging the other with playing the race card.  Lots more on this in just a moment.

Plus: Is the race gets tighter?  Depends on whom you ask.  We‘ve got a batch of new polls out today with some very interesting results.

And this morning, President Bush announced that because the situation in Iraq is improving, U.S. troops will serve 12-month tours, rather than 15.  Sound familiar?  Well, it should because President Bush made the same announcement on April 10.  So who‘s got the upper hand on Iraq, McCain or Obama?  We‘ll debate that later.

Plus: Ask yourself this.  Why are the candidates arguing about Britney Spears and Paris Hilton when gas prices are soaring and Exxon today announced record earnings of—are you ready -- $11.6 billion?  And that‘s just in the second quarter.  That and more in the “Politics Fix.”

And we‘ll tell you the latest, greatest way to drink to Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton—literally.  That‘s on the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

But first, the race card.  Michelle Bernard is an MSNBC political analyst, as is Patrick J. Buchanan, and Bob Shrum is a Democratic strategist, as everybody in the world knows.

So I would like to tell all of you, the three of you, that this is getting depressing to me, as a citizen, watching these people go around and exchanging words about racism.  Do you think the race card is being played?


No.  First of all, if you talk about the ad, the Britney Spears/Paris Hilton/Barack Obama, quote, unquote, “celebrity” ad in Germany, I don‘t see racism in it at all.  I mean, when I first saw the ad, the first thing I thought was, What a colossal waste of money.  Neither Britney Spears or Paris Hilton are known for their intellectual muscle.  Neither one of them would ever have been the president of “The Harvard Law Review,” and I kind of thought the ad was laughable.  I‘m pretty shocked that people see race being thrown into the equation when you take a look at that ad.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think Michelle‘s exactly right.  But what has happened is, this nonsense has stung Barack badly.  And so yesterday three times, he said, The reason they say I‘m risky is because my face is not like the face on the dollar bills.  And he said it in a funny way, but what he‘s saying is, he‘s sending a message there that, These guys are saying I‘m risky because I‘m black.

Now, that is grossly unfair to McCain.  They might have been too rough.  They might have been playing too much hardball, but that is grossly unfair.  I think Rick Davis had a point.  But what Barack is saying is, he‘s trying to intimidate the McCain people into backing off from a tactic that is working, that, apparently, Mike, has brought the Gallup poll from 8 points ahead for Barack to 1 point ahead today on Drudge.  And so I think that is where this is going.

I think Davis had a valid point here.  This is what the Barack people did to—remember, to Bill Clinton.  Bill Clinton said, It‘s a roll of the dice to elect this guy.

BARNICLE:  Yes.  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  And the comeback was, He‘s playing the race card.  So they‘re trying to intimidate the McCain people into backing off, and they ain‘t backing off.


BARNICLE:  Let‘s get Shrummy in on this.  And Bob, before we hear what you have to say—and we‘re on the edge of our seats waiting for what you have to say—let‘s give people a look at what Barack Obama did yesterday said yesterday at three different stops in Missouri, and then you, Bob Shrum.  Take a look.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  So what they‘re going to try to make you do is make you scared of me.  You know, he—Oh, he‘s not patriotic enough.  He‘s got a funny name.  He—you know, He doesn‘t look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know?

You know, he‘s new.  He doesn‘t look like the other presidents on the currency.

He‘s got a funny name.  And he doesn‘t look like all the presidents on the dollar bills and the $5 bills.


BARNICLE:  Well, Bob Shrum, I mean, you can sort of understand why the McCain campaign jumped at that, can‘t you?

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Oh, I know why they jumped at it.  Look, Barack Obama, as Chuck Todd said, offered—the NBC political director, uttered a very innocuous line that happened to be funny.  It‘s similar to what he said in Berlin and has said all the way back to the 2004 Democratic convention.  He has no interest in injecting race into this campaign.  It is the McCain campaign that wants to inject race, did it today, and it‘s now covering cable and covering the news.  That‘s what they want.

Look, if Barack Obama wanted to inject race into this campaign, he could find a lot more effective ways to do it.  The McCain campaign muscled it in today because, as some Republicans have said to me, in what may be a hopeless campaign, the only hope is that at the end, about 5 percent people are going to lie to the pollsters, pull back, not vote for him.

Pat, for example, has never said he hopes for that, but he‘s said repeatedly analytically that he thinks there‘s a vote out there that‘s going to pull back...

BUCHANAN:  Shrum, let me...

SHRUM:  ... from Barack Obama because of his race.

BUCHANAN:  See, he‘s coming after me.  Let me—let me respond...

SHRUM:  I‘m not coming after you, Pat!  You have said that.

BUCHANAN:  Well, look—look, I think Shrum has this point, that the McCain people leaped upon this.  There‘s no doubt about it.  When McCain said this morning, I‘m sad to say, or something like that, I started laughing.


BUCHANAN:  But there‘s no doubt—there‘s no doubt Obama is sticking it to him and saying, in effect, You‘re saying I‘m too risky because I‘m black, because I‘m black, because I‘m black.  So he did it.  I agree with Shrum here.  But he‘s got the black vote 94 to 1.  Why would Barack do something this stupid?

BERNARD:  It‘s not stupid, though.  Here‘s—I have to interject because it‘s not stupid.  Barack Obama is baiting the McCain campaign.  It‘s not race baiting, but he is baiting them, and they‘re foolish for falling for it.  This is what we‘ve seen.  He didn‘t say that, They have said don‘t vote for me because I don‘t look like the white men...


BARNICLE:  ... think they‘re foolish for following it?  It works...


BERNARD:  Well, it might work, but it might not because here—here‘s what he did that I think was the genius of his campaign, at least yesterday in Missouri, because we saw early on, Republican strategists, Republicans, you know, people who are—you know, may be surrogates for John McCain that he ended up having to repudiate, throwing out the fact that his middle name is Hussein and hoping that the American people would say, Ye Gods, he‘s Muslim, He‘s a jihadist, We can‘t elect him, My God, he‘s black, He‘s scary, We can‘t elect him.

So I think he went on the offensive not necessarily after the McCain campaign but after 527s.  And we have been saying it all along that we would hope that people would find a way to go after Barack Obama—let me just finish my point—on policy and not on race.  It was an offensive message...

BUCHANAN:  Here‘s the point...

BERNARD:  ... and if Rick Davis was smart, he would have ignored it.

BUCHANAN:  Rick Davis is smart.  Again, she‘s making my point.  The objective here is intimidation.  What Barack Obama‘s guys are signaling is, You come at us too hard, you hit this risky thing, inexperience, kooky friends and that, and we will play the race card and we will accuse you of racism.  And they intimidated the Clintons very badly, but the Republicans and the right aren‘t going to be intimidated when they look at Barack winning the black vote 94 to 1.

BARNICLE:  OK, Bob Shrum...

SHRUM:  Listen, Pat...


SHRUM:  I have no disagreement with Pat.  But—but—wait a minute...


BUCHANAN:  ... no disagreement.  Let him go.



SHRUM:  I have no disagreement with Pat.  I have no disagreement with Pat.  The Republicans will be happy to play the race card.  They‘ve done it before.  They‘ll do it again.

BARNICLE:  Listen to Rick Davis, John McCain‘s campaign manager, talking with NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell earlier today.  Listen to this.


RICK DAVIS, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN MANAGER:  So I just wanted to make it clear.  And to be honest, I don‘t know how else you explain the quote that you just played, other than to believe that somehow, Barack Obama was calling something we‘d done racist or something we had done with racial overtones.  Otherwise, I don‘t know what else he was talking about.


BARNICLE:  All right.  So now, Bob Shrum, I mean, both sides have it going here, and both sides have a semi-legitimate point that they‘re using, no?

SHRUM:  I don‘t agree with that, actually.  I think Obama would be happy to make a deal that no one ever mentioned race again in this campaign.  And I think he‘d be happy to make a deal that no one ever runs a negative ad.

Look, what‘s happening in the McCain campaign is they‘re lost in the strategic wilderness.  They‘re wandering around, moving from negative attack to negative attack.  One day, Obama‘s unpatriotic.  The next day, they compare him to Britney Spears.  Then, incredibly, he‘s an African-American who wants to play the race card.

The danger for McCain here is that he‘s coming across as a grouch without a vision.  He gives no sense of hope, no sense of where he‘d like to take the country.  And when people have done that before, Carter in 1980, Dukakis in 1988, who really offered no positive vision until the last two weeks, and Bush the first in 1992, who went around all the time attacking Bill Clinton‘s character and experience, they lost.

BUCHANAN:  We appreciate the counsel here, but let me say this.  It is equal...


SHRUM:  Pat, I know you won‘t take the counsel!

BUCHANAN:  ... ineffectual—he‘s running an ineffectual campaign in a lot of ways, in my judgment.  He‘s clumsy.  He‘s a fighter that‘s closing, but he‘s cut Obama because, look, in four days, this “Newsweek” tracking poll—excuse me, Gallup poll, is going from an 8-point lead, a good bump from that Berlin trip, down to 45-44, 1 point.  If you get into this—this is the only way McCain can win.  He‘s got to close with this guy who‘s got long-distance reach and get inside and really go after him, and that‘s what they‘re doing, and it‘s not pretty.  And Barack Obama made a mistake today.



BARNICLE:  Let‘s listen to John McCain today in Wisconsin.  Here‘s Senator McCain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  First of all, let me say that there are differences, and we are drawing those differences.  And I‘ve said earlier I admire his campaign, but what we are talking about here is substance and not style.  And what we‘re talking about is who has an agenda for the future of America.

So all I can say is that we‘re proud of that commercial.


BARNICLE:  Michelle...


BARNICLE:  ... Paris Hilton.

BERNARD:  Well, until he said he was proud of the commercial, I absolutely agreed with what he was saying.  I think—and that is the tone and the tenor of the campaign.

But I‘ve got to go back to one thing and just say I firmly believe that what Barack Obama was saying is, We‘re not going to play the race card, but we‘re not—that his campaign is not going to allow the Republican Party to do a Willie Horton to him.  I think it was a warning and it came out on the offense, and that the McCain campaign needs to find a way to beat him and not use race or religion or the threat of his being a Muslim.


BARNICLE:  There‘s no way you can avoid race, though.  There‘s no way you can avoid race in this campaign.

BERNARD:  Well, you can avoid race if you don‘t do an ad, for example which—and I‘m not comparing this to the Britney Spears ad because it‘s not.  But you don‘t have to do a Willie Horton.  You don‘t have to say that this man is a scary black man or he is a scary man because he has a Muslim middle name.

BUCHANAN:  Well...

BERNARD:  You don‘t have to do that.

BUCHANAN:  Well, you know what you‘re doing...

BERNARD:  You can beat him another way.

BUCHANAN:  What you‘re doing here, Michelle, is you are setting down ground rules for the opposition by which it must play in a battle for the presidency of the United States.  They‘ve got a right to do and say what they want, and they can lose doing that or they can win doing that.

BERNARD:  You‘re absolutely right...


BUCHANAN:  Why can‘t we say his middle name?  I mean, they didn‘t call Milhous?  How many times did you hear the name Milhous when Nixon was running?


BERNARD:  You can say his name, but you don‘t need to—there‘s nothing wrong with his middle name, but when you use it to insinuate that you‘re going to be elected a jihadist to the presidency of the United States, that‘s a problem!

BUCHANAN:  What is wrong with Ann Coulter...

SHRUM:  Look, Michelle—Pat—Pat...

BUCHANAN:  ... writing about...


SHRUM:  Pat, Michelle is right.  Pat, Michelle is right.  When people use the name Hussein and they use it with a sneer, they‘re trying to say something and to convey something.  When they do some of this stuff...

SHRUM:  Well, why is he exempt from that?  Why is he exempt and Milhous wasn‘t?

BERNARD:  Because—Pat!

SHRUM:  Because Milhous—no, Richard Nixon didn‘t lose in 1960...

BERNARD:  It‘s not a Muslim name!

SHRUM:  ... because his name was Milhous.  And in 1972, he pioneered the lousy kind of tactics we‘re now seeing from the McCain campaign.

BUCHANAN:  In ‘72?  We won in 49 states!

SHRUM:  One other thing, Pat—one other thing...

BUCHANAN:  That‘s lousy?

SHRUM:  Yes, I know, and everybody—everybody who worked for him except you went to jail!  Now, look...



BERNARD:  May I please just say you can say his name.  His name is Hussein.  There is nothing dishonorable about having the name Hussein.  You just cannot use it to insinuate that he is—that there is something wrong with him because his middle name is Hussein.  You can‘t insinuate that he is a Muslim and he‘s going to blow the country up!

BUCHANAN:  Who are you to say what people can and can‘t do in a presidential campaign?

BERNARD:  I‘m no different than you.  You‘re saying...

SHRUM:  You know why, Pat?  Because...


BUCHANAN:  I just judge it when they do it.


SHRUM:  We ought to move beyond the politics of smear here.  We ought to move beyond the politics of smear and fear.  Let‘s talk about...

BUCHANAN:  Look, McCain...

SHRUM:  ... real issues, not Britney Spears.

BUCHANAN:  Cut it out, Bob!  Cut it out, Bob.  You say real issues. 

These have to be the real issues if they change...

SHRUM:  Look, race and...

BUCHANAN:  ... a Barack 17-point lead...

SHRUM:  Pat, you‘re...


SHRUM:  Pat, what are you talking about?

BUCHANAN:  They took an 8-point lead to 1 point...

SHRUM:  Race and Hussein?


SHRUM:  Race and Hussein are the real issues?

BUCHANAN:  I‘m talking about...

BERNARD:  What does that say about our country if we cannot get beyond race and religion?

BUCHANAN:  (INAUDIBLE) talking about the country.  Who decides how he should campaign, what issues he should hit, whether he should go on the attack, whether he shouldn‘t go on the attack? Candidates do that.  McCain‘s been doing that...

SHRUM:  Pat, I‘m not saying there are a set of rules, I‘m just saying...


BUCHANAN:  ... cut an 8-point lead to 1 point.

SHRUM:  ... this is wrong.  It‘s wrong.  It‘s wrong.

BUCHANAN:  It‘s working!

SHRUM:  And it‘s not working, by the way.

BUCHANAN:  What are you talking about?

SHRUM:  The Gallup poll—the Gallup poll that you love to cite always shows at the beginning of the week, as Chuck Todd has pointed out, Obama with a big lead and a narrow lead at the end of the week.  The fact is, there‘s a new CNN poll that shows him over 50 percent and with a 7-point lead.

BARNICLE:  Bob—wait a minute.  OK.  Listen, you guys are—can you guys stick around?  Of course you can!


BARNICLE:  In the next segment, we‘re going to reveal what Patrick J.

Buchanan stands for.


BARNICLE:  Coming up, brand-new poll numbers, and we‘ve got the latest on the Obama-McCain race nationally.

Plus, you may be surprised to hear where things stand in the key battleground states of Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania.

You are watching HARDBALL.  It is only here on MSNBC.


BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL, with Patrick J. Buchanan and others.  We‘ve got new poll numbers from some of the most crucial states in this election, and we‘re back to break them down with MSNBC political analysts Michelle Bernard and Patrick Joseph Buchanan—that‘s what the J is for—plus Democratic strategist Bob Shrum.

Let‘s go right to the first national poll conducted after Obama‘s overseas trip, and Obama leads John McCain by 7 points.  Last month in this same poll, Obama led by 5.  That‘s the CNN poll.  Well, take that, Pat.  I mean, the CNN...

BUCHANAN:  Well, if that‘s—if that‘s content, I would say that his bump held, you know?  And frankly, the polls differ, you know?  But as I say, you look at the “Newsweek” one, it shows a trend of 7 points down in one week.  I tend to take that seriously.  But you know, who knows what these polls are going to mean, you know?  But Barack is ahead in all of them.

BARNICLE:  Bob Shrum, you‘ve run a million campaigns.  What—give me the meaning of these polls right now, this snapshot right now, here at the edge of the end of summer.

SHRUM:  The biggest meaning is something Pat just said, which is there have been dozens of polls since the beginning of July, and in every one but one of them, the leader is Barack Obama.  When you look at that and there‘s that consistency over a long period of time, and you have the Gallup poll daily tracking poll go up and down very inconsistently, you conclude that Obama‘s ahead.

But that‘s not the fundamental reality.  The fundamental reality is that the country is very unhappy about the economy, very unhappy about health care, gas prices, energy, foreign policy.  You have all of the forces gathering that were gathering, I think, in 1980 on the other side to help Ronald Reagan, and you don‘t have John McCain giving any sense of hope.

“The Boston Globe” headline today, on the front page, people are desperate to try to find money to send their kids back to college.  And John McCain‘s running an ad with Britney Spears in it?

BARNICLE:  Michelle, let me ask you, off of what Bob and Pat have both said about these polls, but not specifically about the polls, people, I think, might be more desperate, you know, for a campaign that tells them something about the issues than—than these polls and the ads that we have seen thus far.  It‘s pretty depressing.


If you take a look at any of the headlines across the nation, we have got this housing crisis.  People are very, very worried about foods prices, gasoline prices.  And when you turn on the television and the first thing you do is see an ad about Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, who—and whomever that might be coming down the pike, I would imagine that most—most of the American public is sitting back and scratching their head and wondering, really, do either of these candidates feel their pain, and do they have—share the concerns that we have about the future of our families? 

BARNICLE:  You‘re shaking your head.

BUCHANAN:  But this is ridiculous, look, in this sense.

You do an hour show on gasoline prices, and you can forget your ratings.  Look, the reason both candidates and campaigns are going at this is because it‘s working.  And it‘s working because it seems to be moving people. 

And I think their assessment—we may call it their frivolous, but I think their assessments are fundamentally right.  The basic point of the polls that we see in a single line is, the country doesn‘t want the Republicans reelected, and Obama has failed to close the sale.  Thus far, it is still open, but he has not closed it. 

SHRUM:  Yes.  And in fairness to...


SHRUM:  Go ahead.  I‘m sorry. 

BARNICLE:  Well, we have...


SHRUM:  I was going to say, in fairness to—in fairness to Obama, the ad that he‘s running actually does talk about all these issues and about what he would like to do about these issues. 

It starts with—with an indictment of McCain with a series of very effective third-party quotes, saying his attacks are inaccurate, baloney, and then moves on to talk about these big economic issues that we have to face and the voters want to talk about.

And you know why we don‘t talk about that ad?  Because it doesn‘t have Britney Spears in it. 

BARNICLE:  Yes.  Because we‘re—and we‘re talking about polls.  A new Quinnipiac poll out today, it has Barack Obama up by two points in Florida and Ohio, and up by seven in Pennsylvania.

So, my question to you, Bob Shrum, this is certainly too close to call, this election.  Four years ago, you were helping to run John Kerry‘s campaign.  The whole Swift Boat thing occurred right at about this time of the summer during the course of that campaign.

Tell me what you do with Obama.  I mean, would you be fighting back and answering, like within nanoseconds, each time a McCain campaign ad comes up, the way that was not done in the Kerry campaign? 

SHRUM:  Well, actually, the—I don‘t want to get into the Kerry thing.  I mean, I think we made some mistakes there.  And I think there are explanations for it. 

But the thing that‘s really interesting here is that McCain‘s putting out this whole series of ad in a very different environment than 2004.  In 2004, Bush was over 50 percent popularity.  The war was over 50 percent popularity.  The economy was getting stronger.  People had a better sense about the country.  And Bush had a powerful, positive argument, that he was our protector after 9/11.  He had those ads on the air at the beginning of his campaign and all the way to the end of his campaign.

So, I think, to do a kind of caricature of the Bush 2004 approach is not going to work for McCain.  And I think, come election night, Pat‘s going to have to sit there and say...

BUCHANAN:  Well, look...

SHRUM:  ... Obama closed the deal. 


BUCHANAN:  Well, maybe I will.  Maybe I will. 

But let me say this.  The—the Swift Boats were—were 527s.  That wasn‘t the Bush campaign.  That was very effective because it was coming at Kerry from an angle.  And it was directly from Bush.

And I think Kerry would have made a mistake if he tried to engage those guys.  You had some Medal of Honor winners.  Do you really want to get in a fight over exactly what I did up—when we were up in the canal, when you‘re trying to run a campaign?  I‘m not sure...


BARNICLE:  I don‘t think anybody thought that it was coming from anything other than the Bush...


BUCHANAN:  But, I mean, so—but it wasn‘t directly from White House guy.  I mean...

BARNICLE:  Oh, I understand.


BUCHANAN:  I mean, this stuff is straight from John McCain.  He‘s...


BARNICLE:  That‘s really...



BARNICLE:  How do you explain—how do you explain this, Pat and Michelle?  In Pennsylvania, John McCain is down by seven points.  He was down by 12 points a few weeks ago, a month ago. 


BERNARD:  He—I mean, he—you know, I think he‘s closing the gap. 

I don‘t think that these polls are...

BARNICLE:  Why?  Why do you think he is? 

BERNARD:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t know.

I think that the American public is still trying to figure out who Barack Obama is, whether—frankly, the negative ads might be working.  I might have to give Pat a point here and say that the negative ads are working, because, if you take a look at the ads and how they have been coming out, the polls—the gap has been closing and closing and closing. 

BARNICLE:  He‘s got that smile...



BERNARD:  I know.  He‘s ready to pounce. 

But I just got to say...


BERNARD:  ... a week ago, you said—you mentioned, you know, that neither one of these guys could get to 50 percent.  Barack Obama finally did it.  But these polls are just a snapshot in time. 

BUCHANAN:  I know.

BERNARD:  And this is—this election, I think, is showing us that this is going to be a referendum on Barack Obama.  If Senator McCain wins the election, I don‘t necessarily believe it‘s going to be because people are excited about him, but they could not get themselves to vote for Obama. 

BUCHANAN:  They‘re closing—they‘re—because—you know why?  Look, as I said, he‘s got -- 94-1, he‘s got the black vote.  Take it off the table.  What do you got to get?  There‘s about 20 percent of the Democratic Party...

SHRUM:  Pat, they get—do get to vote in America.  African-Americans do get to vote.  Don‘t take it off the table. 


BUCHANAN:  Well, you—OK.  If Barack wants to go to downtown Philly and campaign there, I think that‘s dumb. 

It‘s the 20 percent of Democrats who are white voters, who are Hillary voters, who still have a big question mark over this guy.  And their doubts are growing in Pennsylvania.  That is why it is closing.

SHRUM:  Pat, no, they‘re not.  Pat—Pat, he‘s exactly where he was. 

BUCHANAN:  He‘s down from 12 to seven.

SHRUM:  He‘s exactly where he was in April and May in Pennsylvania. 

He got a temporary bump in June. 

The truth is, he‘s led consistently in that poll in Pennsylvania by 6 percent or 7 percent, sometimes by a little bit more.  He has a seven-point lead nationally.  If that happens, he‘s going to win by 50 or 70 electoral votes. 

BARNICLE:  Bob, can we get a consensus around this table, though, starting with you?  Can we get a consensus that negative ads, no matter which side you‘re on, no matter what you think of them, no matter how poorly you think they‘re made, whatever, they work, yes or no?

SHRUM:  It depends.  It depends.  They have got to—they have got to be a mirror image.  They have got to reflect and fit with a positive message.  They have got to push off the positive message. 

And there has to be a positive message, or, as I said earlier, someone like McCain is going to come across as a grouch—as a grouch without any vision.


BUCHANAN:  Of course they work.  Of course they work. 

BARNICLE:  We have got to...


BUCHANAN:  There‘s 10 points that are going to decide the election.  Those 10 points are guys who are flipping back and forth.  They vote against people, not for them. 

Why do you think we won 61 percent of the vote against McGovern?  They weren‘t voting for us.  They were voting against George. 

BARNICLE:  And that was with Milhous on the ballot.

BUCHANAN:  That was with Milhous and with his middle name being attacked the entire campaign.


BARNICLE:  Thank you, Pat Buchanan, Bob Shrum, Michelle Bernard.


BARNICLE:  All right. 

Up next:  David Letterman thinks Barack Obama‘s getting overconfident. 

Highlights from Letterman‘s top 10 reasons why—next on the “Sideshow.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.” 

Late-night host David Letterman took a shot at Obama‘s confidence this week with his top 10 list. 

Take a listen. 



Number 10, proposed bill to change Oklahoma to Oklabama. 



LETTERMAN:  Number nine, offered Bush 20 bucks for the “Mission Established” banner. 

Number three, offer McCain a job in gift shop at Obama Presidential Library. 



LETTERMAN:  Number two, announced his running mate will be Andy Dick. 

PAUL SHAFFER, BAND LEADER:  I don‘t—now I see what you‘re...

LETTERMAN:  And the number-one sign Barack Obama is overconfident, been cruising for chicks with John Edwards. 



BARNICLE:  You have got to love Dave. 

Well, Obama supporters aren‘t exactly trying to tamp down expectations.  Here they are singing happy birthday to him at a rally in Iowa, today. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALES AND FEMALE (singing):  Happy Birthday, Mr.

President.  Happy birthday to you.



BARNICLE:  Mr. President?  Jumping the gun a little, and wrong on both counts.  The election is 96 days away, and Barack Obama‘s birthday isn‘t until Monday.  He will be 47 years of age. 

Next, how‘s this for a reception?  We know Connecticut Democrats aren‘t thrilled with Senator Joe Lieberman‘s role as a McCain surrogate.  And now there‘s a group drawing the line at the Republican Convention.  According to “The Stamford Advocate,” if Lieberman shows up for the GOP convention, they plan on camping outside the Saint Paul Xcel Energy Center with a 30-foot inflatable rat—proof again that politics can get down and dirty. 

This year‘s Democratic primary drove the candidates to drink in the nation‘s bars of paying tribute.  Remember the video of Barack Obama throwing back beers on the campaign trail?  Well, he‘s now got this drink at a D.C. cafe called the “Obama Crisis Coffee” for—you guessed it—those late-night 3:00 a.m. phone calls. 

And who could forget the moment Hillary did a boilermaker, downing a shot of whiskey and chasing it with beer?  She might be out of the ‘08 race, but she has still got “The Billary” on the bar menu.  That‘s right.  You can‘t even belly up to the bar to get away from politics this year. 

Now for “Name That Veep.” 

“The Washington Post” reports that this young up-and-comer House member is getting buzz in conservative circles as an ideal McCain number two.  He‘s the only Jewish Republican in the House, and he recently raised his profile by lunching with John McCain last weekend in the Hamptons. 

So, who is it?  Virginia Congressman and House Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor.  Could this be the ticket to locking up Virginia this fall?

Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

The founders of, a grassroots campaign to get Senator Clinton on the Democratic ticket, announced today that they‘re abandoning their efforts, as it‘s become clear to them that Senator Obama is no longer considering Hillary Clinton as a running mate. 

So, just how long had this group been pushing for a so-called Democratic dream ticket?  One hundred and fifteen days.  That‘s right.  They kept up the hope for a joint Obama/Clinton ticket for 115 days.  And, today, this morning, they woke up from their dream.  One hundred and fifteen days of sweet dreams, sweet remembrances, now over—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  President Bush shortens the length of tours of duty in Iraq, but only for troops heading over starting tomorrow.  Does this mean the surge worked?  And does it help or hurt John McCain? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


CHRISTINA BROWN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Christina Brown with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks finished the day lower, but ended the month mixed, due to economic concerns and falling oil prices.  The Dow Jones industrials fell 206 points.  The S&P 500 lost 17.  The Nasdaq edged four points lower. 

The economic news continues to be mixed.  Jobless claims hit a five-year high last week.  And the Commerce Department says there‘s been more slowing than previously thought.

Despite record-breaking profits, ExxonMobil fails to meet expectations.  The company posted quarterly near $12 billion, up 14 percent.  But Wall Street was looking for more. 

Meanwhile, crude oil gave up most of yesterday‘s gains, closing more than $2 lower, at just over $124 a barrel. 

And biotech stocks—biotech stocks were higher today, helped by a surge in ImClone shares.  Bristol-Myers has offered to buy the cancer drugmaker for $4.5 billion cash. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in world worldwide—now back to HARDBALL. 

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Bush announced this morning that he‘s reducing the length of combat tours in Iraq for troops deploying as of tomorrow. 

Take a look. 


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We‘re also reducing the length of combat tours in Iraq.  Beginning tomorrow, troops deploying to Iraq will serve 12-month tours, instead of 15-month tours.  This will ease the burden on our forces, and it will make life easier for our wonderful military families. 


BARNICLE:  So, does this reduction in the length of combat tours help validate Senator McCain‘s argument that the surge succeeded in Iraq? 

Let‘s turn to two Iraq war veterans.  Pete Hegseth is the chairman of Vets For Freedom.  And Jon Soltz is the co-founder and chair of 

Gentlemen, thanks for joining us.  We appreciate it. 

Let me ask you—Peter, let me ask you first, what do you think this means in the context of the campaign, the rhetoric on both sides?  What does it mean to you personally? 

PETE HEGSETH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, VETS FOR FREEDOM:  Well, it‘s certainly good news.  It‘s good news for the country, it‘s good news for military personnel and families that troop deployments will be shorter, and also that our troops are coming home, and what they have fought so valiantly in the surge in the counterinsurgency strategy, that those gains are being maintained, that, as these troops are coming home, a lot of the success and stability we‘re seeing, it‘s durable, and it‘s not—it‘s something the Iraqi government can capitalize on. 

That was the intent of the surge in the beginning, bring the violence down, so the Iraqi government could stand up.  They‘re doing that.  We‘re negotiating a long-term settlement with them.  And the reason that‘s going so well, that we‘re able to bring our troops home and continue to bring even more home as the Iraqi government stands up, the Iraqi security forces, which are now over 530,000 strong, because we have trained them so well, they‘re starting to take over more and more of the security in Iraq, which is a good-news story for the military, and it‘s good news for all Americans. 

BARNICLE:  Jon, what do you think?  I mean, the change in troop deployments, you know, the service, the reduction of three months in the service in Iraq, the fact that the surge has been successful, the fact that casualties are down, what does this do to the politics of this year, to the two candidates, if anything? 

SOLTZ:  Well, I wouldn‘t say the surge has been more successful.  America is less secure.  Al Qaeda is stronger today than it was eight years ago, specifically in Afghanistan.  I don‘t think that this press conference today the president had was anything new. 

I mean, all of us, like myself and Peter, served in Iraq, love to see troop deployments go down from 15 months to 12 months.  But this is nothing different than we knew what was going to happen a year ago.  The surge brigades were coming out of Iraq.  The troop deployment times were going to go from 15 months to 12 months. 

This is the second time the president has done a dog and pony show at the White House with this information.  We knew three months ago he was going to go to 12 months.  And the bottom line is that the only guys that are going down to 12 month are the ones that are leaving now. 

He‘s not even going to be commander-in-chief to bring them home.  So if I‘m Senator Obama, I call out John McCain and George Bush for using this sort of, you know, issue of the troops as to their political benefit when it is sort of disingenuous to the American public. 

And it doesn‘t change the fact that Maliki says that he supports Senator Obama‘s plan. 

BARNICLE:  Did I hear you correctly that you said you didn‘t think the surge was a success? 

SOLTZ:  It‘s not a success.  I mean, we‘ve not seen political reconciliation in Iraq.  We are about to have a complete stir-up in Kirkuk.  We have a situation in Afghanistan where it‘s totally, you know, less secure now than it was before. 

The purpose of the surge is to make America safer.  And I don‘t think anybody believes that.  And I think that Senator McCain is, you know, off base like George Bush.  And that Senator Obama is specifically right to continue to talk about strategy and diplomacy and defeating al Qaeda worldwide than get stuck talking about, you know, a tank platoon or an infantry platoon in the streets of Baghdad. 

BARNICLE:  Peter, your turn.

HEGSETH:  I mean, I really think only folks with absolute partisan blinders on at this point would be able to.

SOLTZ:  It‘s ridiculous.

HEGSETH:  . would be able to  ignore the fact that the surge has been.

SOLTZ:  The mission is to defeat al Qaeda.

HEGSETH:  . remarkably successful.  Al Qaeda drew the line in the sand in Iraq.  Listen to Osama bin Laden, listen to Zawahiri, they all said it was the central front where they would defeat the Americans. 

SOLTZ:  That‘s ridiculous, right-wing talking points.

HEGSETH:  Senator McCain and others had the courage to call for a surge, which has brought the violence down.  And I take issue with this assertion that the Iraqi government has not made progress.  They‘ve reconciled a great deal.  They‘ve passed 15 of 18 benchmarks.

SOLTZ:  The core issues in Iraq haven‘t been fixed.

HEGSETH:  They‘ve done an outstanding job.  And now al Qaeda is fleeing Iraq into other places where we‘re going to take the fight to them as well.  So Iraq, at this point, the surge has been remarkably successful on the military, political, and on the economic side as they‘re pumping out even more oil and funding more of their reconstruction. 

SOLTZ:  No, the oil law hasn‘t been fixed.

HEGSETH:  So this is all very, very good progress.

SOLTZ:  We had a problem with Kirkuk.  I mean, Mr. Barzani said he‘s going to, you know, put the Peshmerga into Kirkuk and fight a war.  The bottom line is that Senator Obama has a.

HEGSETH:  “Kirkush”?

SOLTZ:  . very, very, very strong plan here.

HEGSETH:  What‘s “Kirkush”?

SOLTZ:  . to take the fight to al Qaeda in Afghanistan, OK, whereas Senator McCain and President Bush have had a plan and a policy of retreat against al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

HEGSETH:  John, I don‘t know where “Kirkush” is, but I know where Kirkuk is, and you know what, I think there are plenty of opportunities to ensure that we secure that city.

SOLTZ:  I think that depends on whether you talk to a Kurd or an Arab, but that‘s OK. 

HEGSETH:  And we talked to—you know, we‘re taking the fight to them in Mosul.  We‘re taking to the fight to them in Diyala.  And al Qaeda is certainly on the run.  And they‘ve declared this their central front.

SOLTZ:  These issues in Iraq are political.  And Senator Obama has a plan to deal with these issues.  He understands this is not about troop levels.  This is about regional strategic diplomacy.  We cannot get stuck into a conversation about tactics in Baghdad.  This is conversation about strategy against al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda is stronger now today than when we invaded Iraq. 

HEGSETH:  That‘s not true.

SOLTZ:  Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is much stronger today than they were at the beginning of the surge.  The surge has failed.  It has not completed the political compromises as required for success of the oil law.  For the situation of whether or not these Kurdish cities are going to be part of the Kurdish territories or they‘re going to be part of the central government in Baghdad. 

There are huge political problems still in Iraq and America is not safer.  Senator Obama is the only one who offers a plan, not just to help our military, but to defeat al Qaeda.

HEGSETH:  If we had done what Senator Obama wanted to do in January of 2007, we would be all out by now.  Al Qaeda would have its havens.  Iran would have.


SOLTZ:  If we wanted to do what Senator wanted to do in 2003.

HEGSETH:  And that would be a mistake.

SOLTZ:  . we would never have gotten into this war and we would have defeated al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  And that‘s the bottom line.

HEGSETH:  And so we have to ask ourselves who has the judgment to make sure that we.

SOLTZ:  Senator Obama.

HEGSETH:  . take the fight to our enemies in Afghanistan?  And I think that the crucible of that was the surge decision.  McCain stood behind it and fought for it.  It was remarkably successful despite what Jon and others may want to believe.  And I think he would have the judgment.

SOLTZ:  If you had taken the five surge brigades.

HEGSETH:  . to make sure we.


SOLTZ:  . that went into Iraq.

HEGSETH:  . that fight in Afghanistan.

SOLTZ:  . and you put them in Afghanistan, you would have gone from two combat brigades in Afghanistan to seven combat brigades in Afghanistan.  The central front for the war on terror has always been in Afghanistan. 

Osama bin Laden is in Afghanistan. 

It‘s completely ridiculous to think that the surge has been successful when al Qaeda is stronger today than they were a year ago. 

HEGSETH:  Al Qaeda is not stronger.

SOLTZ:  Absolutely they are.

HEGSETH:  Listen to the intelligence and their capabilities, they‘re... 

SOLTZ:  We‘ve lost more.

HEGSETH:  . absolutely decimated.

SOLTZ:  How can you even say that when we have Afghanistan that‘s in absolute, utter complete chaos right now? 

HEGSETH:  It‘s not in absolute.

SOLTZ:  Our NATO allies aren‘t completing their missions in Afghanistan.  I mean, I don‘t—this is a very simple matter.  I mean, this is coming from the same guys who spun us on WMD in Iraq, who spun us on we‘ve turned the corner 10 times.  We‘ve turned the corner so many times in Iraq before last year, we‘ve walked in a square.  It‘s ridiculous.

HEGSETH:  We may have things that—there are obviously things that need to be taken care of in Afghanistan, but to declare it chaos is going a little far.  Say that to our troops over there.

SOLTZ:  Could you not tell me right now that if you had taken those five surge brigades and you had put them in Afghanistan that we would be much more—much closer to victory in Afghanistan than we are today.  Absolutely, absolutely.

HEGSETH:  And today we would have lost where al Qaeda.

SOLTZ:  These problems in Iraq are politically-based.

HEGSETH:  . declared that they would defeat us in Iraq.

SOLTZ:  They are politically-based problems in Iraq.  I don‘t know how Senator McCain and President Bush are ever going to get around the fact that the prime minister of Iraq has endorsed Senator Obama‘s plan. 

HEGSETH:  Jon, you.

SOLTZ:  Senator Obama should continue to play offense now and the rest of the election on these issues.

BARNICLE:  Gentlemen—gentlemen, thank you for the conversation/debate.  And thank you especially, both of you, for your service.  Pete Hegseth, Jon Soltz, we appreciate it. 

Up next, the presidential race takes a nasty turn with both sides accusing the other of playing the race card.  Does either candidate benefit in this dogfight?  The “Politics Fix” is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.



SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  All we‘ve been hearing about is Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. 


OBAMA:  I do have to ask my opponent, is that the best you can come up with? 



OBAMA:  Is that really what this election is about?  Is that what is worthy of the American people? 



BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the “Politics Fix.” Tonight‘s roundtable, Jill Zuckman of The Chicago Tribune; Jonathan Martin of Politico; and Perry Bacon of The Washington Post.

Let‘s start here.  And then we‘ll get to you, Perry.  Off of the Obama clip, the race card has been thrown around today.  Part of this campaign, the past three or four days since I have been here in Washington, I find enormously depressing.  Do you? 

JILL ZUCKMAN, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE:  It‘s only July, what are we going to do in September and October?  I mean, the intensity of the back and forth and the vitriol is—it‘s unpleasant and it‘s a shame but I‘m afraid this is what it is and I don‘t think it‘s going to get better. 

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLTICO:  And it seems to be a turning point.  We‘re now talking about character and it‘s only July, like you said, we‘re already moving away from issues, you know, accusations of race being batted back and forth. 

I think we‘re now at a part in this campaign where the McCain folks are trying to make a referendum on Obama.  And the Obama campaign doesn‘t necessarily want that.  But at the same time, they‘re not sure exactly—I don‘t think, where to go right now.

ZUCKMAN:  But you know, I just have to tell you about this mailer that the AFL-CIO sent out to its members.  It‘s like “Got Milk?”, only it has “got questions about Obama? Here are some answers.” 

And the questions were, is he a Christian?  Was he born in the United States?  Does he wear a flag pin?  I mean, that‘s—they endorsed Obama.  These are the kinds of things that they‘re trying to deal with. 

BARNICLE:  Hey, Perry, let me ask you, earlier today, well, I guess overnight it was announced that Exxon in the second quarter alone recorded $11 billion in profits.  I am not against profits.  I‘m a capitalist, I like money, I want people to make money, but you‘ve got to campaign in a country where people are losing their homes, we‘re paying $4.30 and up for gasoline. 

I mean, do you think—both sides, are they doing justice to the people that you cover, that we all cover? 

PERRY BACON, THE WASHINGTON POST:  I think the last couple of days have definitely not when we‘re talking about Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and that kind of thing.  I do think that the ad McCain—McCain‘s ad, which was panned (ph) in some ways, had a purpose, the idea is to sort of—to argue that Obama is sort of elite and sort of frivolous and he‘s like those actresses I guess he‘s referring to, that he has the idea that Obama‘s not substantive, I guess, is the argument they‘re trying to make. 

I‘m not sure that was the best way to make it, but I think there is some debate about character issues that is happening here.  The ad actually did talk about energy and what Obama is doing about it.  So I think there is some substance still being discussed in the campaign. 

BARNICLE:  Do you, Perry, and you, Jill and Jonathan, do you buy into the theory held by some—Ron Brownstein was on MSNBC earlier today talking about the latest McCain ad and the pictures of Paris Hilton and whatever the other chick‘s name is...

ZUCKMAN:  Britney.

MARTIN:  Britney Spears. 

BARNICLE:  Britney Spears, chick, I just called her a chick.  That‘s a complement.  You know, is there any similarity—political similarity in your mind‘s eye to this commercial and the Harold Ford stuff that was done against Harold Ford when he ran for the Senate in Tennessee? 

BACON:  I don‘t personally see a lot of similarity between those two things.  I think this ad, like I was saying before, I think the idea is to say that Obama is like those actresses—those people who are famous for being famous, for nothing to some extent.  McCain is arguing that Obama is famous without a real record is what I think the case he‘s trying to make is. 

MARTIN:  Yes, also, Mike, let me just say, there was a clear sexual connotation in that Ford ad that you‘re showing now.  And that‘s not in the McCain ad.  I mean, to me the McCain ad is more squarely aimed at trying to portray Obama as some sort of transnational figure. 

He‘s big on the world stage, he‘s an international celebrity, a global celebrity.  That he‘s somehow more international, but he is purely American.  And for me this is more like the ‘04 campaign against John Kerry, making him into this sort of effete, elite Frenchman.  And he was less American than he is global, I think. 

ZUCKMAN:  I actually asked the campaign why Britney Spears and Paris Hilton?  Why not somebody else?  And they said, look, if we had done George Clooney, he‘s a great actor, he‘s a liberal Democrat who is for serious causes, we wanted to show that Obama is vacuous the way these celebrities are vacuous. 

BARNICLE:  Famous for being famous.

ZUCKMAN:  Exactly.

BARNICLE:  We‘re going to be back with the roundtable for more of the “Politics Fix” in a couple of seconds.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


BARNICLE:  We‘re back with the roundtable and we just have a couple of minutes left.  And do we have the—yes, John McCain earlier today on this issue, the race card issue, this was CNN, I believe. 


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT:  Your campaign manager says he‘s playing a race card by saying that, by saying that you‘re trying to scare people, making them think this guy doesn‘t look like past presidents.  Is that a fair criticism for Rick thing to say, the Obama campaign is playing the race card? 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It is, I‘m sorry to say that it is, it‘s legitimate.  And we don‘t—there‘s no place in this campaign for that.  There‘s no place for it and we shouldn‘t be doing it. 

KING:  They say that‘s not the case. 

MCCAIN:  OK, John.

KING:  OK.  Senator, thank you, appreciate it.

MCCAIN:  I‘ll let the American people judge. 


BARNICLE:  Perry, you be the judge right now, did they plan it? 

BACON:  I‘m going to not answer that directly, but I will say that Obama usually says that they—or Republicans, are, you know, suggesting I‘m unusual or I‘m different.  He yesterday said McCain or Bush, which I don‘t think—which I think is different.  I think he has not said that before.  So I think this has been part of a different issue than usual. 

MARTIN:  No, Perry is right.  In fact, McCain‘s top aide, Steve Schmidt, told me today that was part of the reason why they seized on this.  In the past, he has sort of the general float.  Yesterday it was McCain himself that they are accusing him of and the McCain folks wanted to sort of seize on this quickly and make sure that he knew they‘re not going to tolerate a direct accusation of McCain playing a race card here. 

ZUCKMAN:  That‘s exactly right.  They don‘t want to be tarred with it.  They say they‘re not doing it, they‘re not going to do it.  And the only person in this presidential election who was ever sucked into a horrible race accusation was John McCain in 2000 in South Carolina.  And that‘s when the opposition said that he had fathered an illegitimate black child, only they were referring to his adoptive daughter from Bangladesh. 

MARTIN:  But in some ways, I think, sadly, guys, this whole issue was probably inevitable, this was the first African-American major party candidate.  At some point this was going to arise and here it is. 

BARNICLE:  Perry Bacon, Jonathan Martin, Jill Zuckman, thanks very much.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for “RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE WITH DAVID GREGORY.”



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