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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Oct. 12

Read the transcript to the 9 p.m. ET show

Guest: Ben Ginsberg, Stephanie Cutter

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Twenty-four hours now until the final debate between President Bush and Senator John Kerry.  And we‘re here at the site of the debate, Arizona State University.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.


GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The war on terror is to make sure that these terrorist organizations do not end up with weapons of mass destruction!

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  “Compassionate conservative?”  What does that mean, cutting 500,000 kids from after-school programs?

BUSH:  Like you, I‘m concerned about the deficit, but I am not going

to short-change our troops in harm‘s way!~

KERRY:  ... running up the biggest deficits in American history.  Mr, President, you‘re batting 0 for 2.


MATTHEWS:  Good evening, and welcome back to MSNBC‘s special coverage of the presidential debates.  We‘re live from the beautiful campus of Arizona State University in Tempe.  And take a look around you at this scene.  This is for real, by the way.  We didn‘t create it.  This is what we came and found here at ASU, the people of Arizona, students of Arizona, all in anticipation of the two candidates for president taking the stage for the third and final debate before the election, which is now three weeks away from tonight.

The scene is set, the polls are close, the swing states are getting battered by political commercials, all in an effort to reach the undecideds, wherever they are, in the battleground states.  And who are these undecided voters?  Are they new voters, young voters, minorities?

Joining me now to find out who they are and how we‘re going to get them—at least, the candidates are going to, and how we‘re going to find them, my panel, NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC political analyst Ron Reagan, Republican election attorney—I‘m going to say erection attorney one of these days—Ben Ginsberg...



MATTHEWS:  ... and “Boston Globe” columnist Tom Oliphant.

I have to ask you about this excitement.  And I‘ll tell you, we‘ve all been through a lot of campaigns.  Kennedy-Nixon was my favorite as a kid.  This is almost as exciting as that, and maybe it will top it.  Tommy Oliphant?

TOM OLIPHANT, “BOSTON GLOBE”:  The reason, you know, is in 19 -- how old were you?  I was 16.

MATTHEWS:  I was...

OLIPHANT:  I was working.  I was—I did canvassing.

MATTHEWS:  You were (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for “The Globe,” weren‘t you?

OLIPHANT:  Yes.  Right.


MATTHEWS:  I was delivering “The Philadelphia Bulletin.”


MATTHEWS:  I wasn‘t writing it, I was delivering it, OK?

OLIPHANT:  Here‘s the similarity.  From Labor Day on, you really couldn‘t tell them apart in terms of who was ahead.  I mean, there‘s more polling now.  But basically, that thing was like this all the way from Labor Day on.  And I have never really experienced one since then like that.

MATTHEWS:  And these numbers tonight we put up, we had three different polls.  One was dead even, 47, and one was 1 ahead for Bush, the other was 1 ahead for Kerry.  It‘s as close to that campaign—and what I don‘t understand is, why a reelection campaign?  Reelection campaigns are supposed to be he‘s out or he‘s in, real simple.  The American voter is still—I don‘t care how much jokes they tell about the undecideds—is still weirdly undecided in this race.  Andrea Mitchell?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  And the issues could not be more different.  When we saw that debate last week, these two men are so different on so many subjects—on the war, on the economy, on health care...

MATTHEWS:  Stem cells!

MITCHELL:  ... on abortion rights, stem cells.  They could not be more different.  But for some reason, John Kerry has not sold the American people on them, even though George Bush, in at least one poll today, has only a 47 percent favorable rating, which is usually the death knell for an incumbent president.

MATTHEWS:  Ron Reagan, people—at least, a slight majority, absolute majority, want “change,” in quotes.  And they want something.  They don‘t like “this”...


MATTHEWS:  ... whatever “this” is.  But they‘re not sure they like “that” yet.

REAGAN:  That‘s right.  Andrea‘s right.  Kerry hasn‘t quite closed the sale.  But I think these debates have been helping him—not in any big way.  There hasn‘t been any knockout punch, no Eastern Europe moment or anything like that.  But standing up next to one another, aside from the issues, you see these two men.  And what are you seeing?  You‘re seeing one guy who‘s calm and one guy who‘s angry.  And anger does not play well on TV.

MATTHEWS:  There you go again!

REAGAN:  I‘m just setting Ben up.

MATTHEWS:  There you go again!


BEN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN ELECTION ATTORNEY:  This is the 50-50 nation that we‘ve known has existed for at least four years, since the breath-takingly close election.  There are two candidates who present very different visions.  But because there was not more of a mandate coming out of the 2000 election, I think this is inevitable.  What‘s really interesting is the way the parties have gone about trying to bring new voters into the process to be able to redress that 50-50 split.

MATTHEWS:  And one—one party has its election booth set up in New York City and in Palm Springs, and the other one has them set up in Utah, right?


GINSBERG:  Well, I‘m not sure.  I think Wisconsin, Iowa and...

MATTHEWS:  Right.  That‘s where the fight is.


MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  If everybody‘s more or less decided and it‘s about—only about 3 or 5 percent undecided, according to polls, why is everybody watching every debate?  If you‘re already made up your mind, there‘s a deeper emotional commitment to this campaign than simply deciding who you‘re for.

OLIPHANT:  We have been seeing this 18 months.  We saw it in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of Iraq.  We saw it when the Howard Dean phenomenon was getting started.  We saw it in Iowa and New Hampshire back at the beginning of the year.  We‘ve seen it all this year.  Interest and intensity are added elements of this election.  They‘re not...

MATTHEWS:  Sue (ph) the decided voters!

OLIPHANT:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  The people have made up their mind.  They‘re watching this thing...

OLIPHANT:  Right.  Plus...


MATTHEWS:  They are so passionate about it.

OLIPHANT:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  And I find that...


OLIPHANT:  Plus, I would argue that you‘re light on the undecided.  I think more 5 to 10...

MATTHEWS:  Really?

OLIPHANT:  ... than 1 to 5.  I really do.

REAGAN:  Really?

GINSBERG:  But I think this is about a motivational turnout election.  This is about can you get your people to the polls?  I‘m not sure that the people who are watching this debate—they may have their minds made up about which candidate they like, but are they going to go out?  And are they going to go out and get their friends and neighbors to come out and vote?

MATTHEWS:  Well, I was on the “Tonight” last night, and I asked everybody, Are you all registered?  And about 10 people said they weren‘t registered.  I was ready to have them ejected from the theater.  I‘m so mad at people that don‘t—I consider them...


MITCHELL:  And there was booing.  It was interesting that...

MATTHEWS:  The Greeks used to call...

MITCHELL:  ... the rest of the audience booed them.

MATTHEWS:  But the Greeks used to call them idiots, the people that weren‘t—weren‘t citizens, that didn‘t participate.  I can‘t imagine anybody watching this show on a regular basis—I know they‘re all going to vote because I meet them all.  But why would a person not want to vote this time?

OLIPHANT:  I have the place to take you tomorrow.  There is a 99-cent store on Indian School Road just off Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix.  And I met them all day today and all day yesterday.  They‘re a little less well off.  They are more negative about the way things are in the country right now than most people who are committed are, but they are really doubting Kerry.  And that‘s this phenomenon.

It reminds me a little of 1960.  People didn‘t like Nixon and they were unsure about John Kennedy.  And you put those two phenomena together down the stretch of a tight election, and people are still tossing this around.  Now, Ben gave us one half of the story, which is the Bush half.  The other half is the Kerry half that you can actually motivate these undecided people to go out and vote for you.


OLIPHANT:  The Bush campaign is designed to suppress that.  That‘s why they say...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask a question.  You can‘t say you don‘t know George Bush.  Nobody in America doesn‘t know this fellow.  Like him or not, be impressed with him at times, changed your mind occasionally, but you can‘t say you don‘t know the guy.  Aren‘t undecideds really people who‘ve decided not to vote for the president?

MITCHELL:  I think so.  And they have not yet decided that they...

MATTHEWS:  To say so.

MITCHELL:  ... can support John Kerry.  So the question is whether they‘re going to all move...

MATTHEWS:  Will they go to Nader?

MITCHELL:  ... in the last couple of days.  I don‘t think they‘re—these are not people who would go to Nader.  You don‘t sense that this year.  What you don‘t know is whether the polls are not capturing a whole cohort of people, mostly younger people, who have cell phones and don‘t—do not have land lines and...

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about that.

MITCHELL:  ... and are not polled.

MATTHEWS:  Is polling up to date, Ollie (ph)?

OLIPHANT:  No.  There are two other phenomena than the one Andrea just mentioned, which is absolutely central, by the way.  The other two is there‘s this overhang, really, of millions of new registrants in the country and people in places like Arizona or Nevada who have moved in.  And they overhang these tiny margins between the two candidates.  Plus, many of these battleground states have additional unusual features.  For example, here in Arizona, you have native Americans.  You could be talking 150,000, 200,000 people that nobody knows anything about.

MATTHEWS:  How come they don‘t...


MATTHEWS:  I don‘t understand.  Why aren‘t they polled?

OLIPHANT:  Telephones...

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t have a telephone?

OLIPHANT:  ... cell phones, whatever.

MITCHELL:  There‘s another factor.  I was talking to somebody in Philadelphia, a Democratic organizer, today, who was suspicious about the new high registration numbers that the Democrats are bragging about.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  In Philly.

MITCHELL:  And this person said the problem is that people are getting

·         they‘re getting paid bonuses for registering a certain number of new voters.  So they‘ll take a voting roll and they‘ll see that your name is Chris Matthews.


MITCHELL:  They will re-register you as Christopher J. Matthews, or whatever it is.

MATTHEWS:  How do you know my middle initial?

MITCHELL:  I just figured that was it.


MITCHELL:  And then they get...


MITCHELL:  Then they get a fee for that.  So you‘ve got a lot of people who are gaming the system who are not necessarily...

MATTHEWS:  But those votes won‘t count.

MITCHELL:  ... producing the...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s just for numbers.

GINSBERG:  Well, but that‘s why...

MITCHELL:  That‘s what I‘m saying, that they‘re being counted on now

by Democrats and Republicans...

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you about these...


MATTHEWS:  Most kids today, my kids, are lucky enough to have cell phones, the ones that do.  They don‘t have a phone number at home.

MITCHELL:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  If you‘re going to poll them, you got to get one of—and by the way, they don‘t answer their phones because they know it‘s somebody they don‘t know or they don‘t want to—there‘s so much voter ID out there (UNINTELLIGIBLE) What‘s it called, caller ID?

REAGAN:  It‘s called caller ID.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t want to talk to strangers.  I‘m not taking that call.

When we come back, more on John Kerry‘s strategy for tomorrow night‘s debate from Kerry campaign communications director Stephanie Cutter.  And coming up this Thursday on HARDBALL, I‘ll interview the Democratic nominee for vice president, Senator John Edwards.  He‘s coming to HARDBALL on Thursday for the big part of this show.

You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s coverage on the eve of the third presidential debate live from ASU.



BUSH:  I don‘t see how you can lead this country in a time of war if you change your mind because of politics!

KERRY:  The president couldn‘t find the weapons of mass destruction, so he‘s really turned his campaign into a weapon of mass deception.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Stephanie Cutter, communications director for the Kerry campaign.  Do you know how many people would love to have a nice, simple, dramatic name like Stephanie Cutter?  Is that a Hollywood name, or you were born with that name?


MATTHEWS:  It‘s such an exciting name.  It‘s like Rock Hudson—

Stephanie Cutter.  It‘s a great name.

You know, I‘ve looked at the polls after every one of the debates, and I‘ve tried to figure out what‘s going to happen.  And except for the first debate, the polls have always surprised me.  Can you tell who‘s going to win these debates by the polls before you see them?

CUTTER:  Well, Chris, you know...

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t they amazing?

CUTTER:  You have to listen to the people.  And let‘s look what the people have said about the debates that we‘ve been in so far.


CUTTER:  Just two weeks ago, George Bush and his campaign said that he was going to put Kerry away before the first debate.  Kerry was the overwhelming winner, based on what the people were saying.


CUTTER:  Even today, after the second debate, we‘re finding new polling information that shows we just—we put Bush away in the second debate.  I think the key to winning these debates is standing up, telling the truth, talking about your vision for the country and being able to defend your own record.  And that‘s what John Kerry has done.

MATTHEWS:  But I saw John Kerry walk off the stage slowly after the second debate, and he lacked the ebullience, the look of victory, the thrill of victory that he had after the first debate.  Yet, you‘re right.  The “USA Today” poll, 60 -- what, 65 to 40, Kerry won.  I think—let me ask—let me try something by you, my theory.  There‘s someone out there called the phantom referee.  And no matter what we say on this stage at night here, no matter what the cognoscenti say or the experts say, this poll number comes in, and it just blows us away.  It‘s always pro-Kerry.

I‘m thinking it may not always be a reflection of his performance, as much as the public wanting change.  And if you ask them, Do you want change, and that means Kerry, they say Kerry.  Don‘t you notice how strong the numbers are for Kerry after even the closer debate that seemed closer in performance?  Why are they so pro—do you really think your candidate blew Bush away Friday night?  Blew him away!  Yes?

CUTTER:  Those are your words.


CUTTER:  But sure.  Yes, I do.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Are you...

CUTTER:  But you know—you know, I don‘t know who this phantom person is you‘ve been talking about...

MATTHEWS:  Who are these people who...

CUTTER:  ... but I think it‘s these people right here...

MATTHEWS:  No, no.  Wait a minute.

CUTTER:  ... who say that...

MATTHEWS:  We don‘t know who you‘re talking about.  Oh, these people right here?  These people over here, are they phantoms, too, the—no, they‘re Kerry—I think Kerry‘s are—I think Kerry people stay up later at night.  We‘ve got the Bush people down here.

Let me ask you about the debates.  Why is there so much excitement about this election, when it‘s a reelection that normally doesn‘t cause much excitement?

CUTTER:  Because I think that—you know, I hate to keep turning to polls, but that‘s how we hear from American people about what they feel.  The majority of the American people want a significantly new direction in this country.  They want a change.  The majority of the American people don‘t like the direction George Bush has taken them on the economy, the direction we‘ve taken on Iraq.  They don‘t favor the president on his health care policies.  Those are things that get people up and vote because they want to make their lives better, and George Bush has let them down.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about Chris Reeve, who died this weekend.  And he left a telephone message for John Kerry.


MATTHEWS:  Will we ever get to hear what that message was?


MATTHEWS:  Why not?

CUTTER:  Because it was a private message between...

MATTHEWS:  But he did...


MATTHEWS:  But John Kerry did come out and give the political gist of it and said, I‘m rooting for you.  You‘re carrying the cause.

CUTTER:  Right.  It was a very personal message from Chris Reeve to John Kerry.  They were friends.  They‘ve known each other for a very long time.

MATTHEWS:  Well, how will we know...

CUTTER:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  ... that was the message he left unless we hear the recording?

CUTTER:  Well, you‘re just going to have to trust us because...

MATTHEWS:  Really?

CUTTER:  Just look at the history...

MATTHEWS:  Why won‘t...

CUTTER:  ... between John Kerry and Chris Reeve.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why would you tell us what he said but not let us hear it?  I just don‘t understand why we don‘t hear the tape.

CUTTER:  I don‘t think they have the message anymore, to be perfectly honest.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, really?


CUTTER:  However, I think we‘re missing...


CUTTER:  We‘re missing the bigger issue here.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  No, it is a bigger issue...

CUTTER:  ... nobody knew...

MATTHEWS:  ... because there‘s a lot of...

CUTTER:  You know, John Kerry said the other day...

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a lot of...

CUTTER:  ... that we did not know that Chris Reeve was going into the hospital that day.


CUTTER:  So like any message that you get, you don‘t think that that‘s going to be the last message.  It was a very tragic thing that happened to Chris Reeve, but let‘s not miss the bigger picture here.  Chris Reeve was a champion for a lot of different people.

MATTHEWS:  He asked...

CUTTER:  We have to honor his memory.

MATTHEWS:  John Kerry said that the last message he got from the late Chris Reeve was to carry on the cause.  Will he mention Chris Reeve tomorrow night in the debate here at ASU?

CUTTER:  I don‘t know.  We‘ll have to...

MATTHEWS:  He mentioned it on Friday, though, right?

CUTTER:  He did.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about your candidate.  John Kerry won—he‘s very good at sort of the argument, but he rarely brings up the sort of the human interest case, the person who‘s working in a second job for $7 an hour, the person who‘s struggling economically with kids with disabilities or with special learning problems or the guy who can‘t get health coverage because he doesn‘t have health insurance for his kids.  Why does John Kerry not sort of bring up that personal side of his arguments?

CUTTER:  Well, you have to have the opportunity to do that.  And if you are...

MATTHEWS:  In the debates.

CUTTER:  If you were out there traveling with us across the country, which I encourage you to do, in the town halls that we have all over the country—you know, we don‘t make people sign pledges to get into our events.  John Kerry‘s out there talking directly to the American people.  You know, a woman who wants to start saying yes to her kids instead of saying no every day because she can‘t provide the things that they need, to a woman who wants to, you know, harness the opportunity of science so that her kids could get cures from childhood...


CUTTER:  ... diabetes—these are the types of things that he‘s talking about with real people every single day.  If it comes up in the debate, that‘s terrific.  But what we know from these debates is that the American people are liking what they hear from John Kerry.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there‘s any chance in the world, one in a million, that the president was wired the other night in the debate, he had a wire—an IFD behind him to help him with his—prompt him with his message?  Do you think there‘s any chance in the world that he was wired?

CUTTER:  Well, if he was...

MATTHEWS:  No, you don‘t want to answer this...

CUTTER:  ... I don‘t know what the hell they were telling him!


MATTHEWS:  Do you think there‘s any chance in the world he was wired? 

Any chance?

CUTTER:  I don‘t.  I just don‘t think it‘s probable.

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think there was any chance?  You think he was—probable, but do you think it‘s possible?

CUTTER:  Anything is possible...


MATTHEWS:  ... you‘re hedging your bets!  Does anybody think the president was wired?




MATTHEWS:  You people are—we have the most skeptical people!  Anyway, thank you very much, Stephanie Cutter, a great person.  Thank you for coming.

CUTTER:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re hoping to have your candidate on HARDBALL very soon.  We‘re going to have Edwards on Thursday night.  We can‘t wait to play HARDBALL with John Edwards.

We‘ll be right back after this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kerry!  Kerry!  Kerry!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Kerry!  Kerry!  Kerry!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kerry!  Kerry!  Kerry!

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back at ASU on the campus.  This is a fabulous school.  I mean, I‘ve always—I‘ve been out here before.  I love this place.  The weather‘s great.  It‘s dry but hot, right?


MATTHEWS:  How would you describe this school?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, it‘s awesome.

MATTHEWS:  It is awesome.  Now, let me ask you a question.  This is an essay question.  I‘ve been running up and down the aisle here.  As an American, as a voter, right...


MATTHEWS:  ... as a registered voter, what do you think is the importance of this presidential election, which is three weeks from tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It is the most important thing ever because of what‘s at stake.

MATTHEWS:  List what‘s at stake to you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The war in Iraq, our alliances with other countries, domestic policy, the economy, the deficit that we find ourselves in today.

MATTHEWS:  You know your stuff.  Who are you for?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The education.  Kerry all the way!


MATTHEWS:  I want you to match her eloquence, articulation.  I want you to be just as brilliant.  What do you think this election‘s all about?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s all about just getting the votes (ph) back for the Americans, getting back our jobs, getting back our economy, getting back our troops.  That‘s it.  I think that‘s...



MATTHEWS:  Well said.  The same message.  Thank you.  You‘re with Kerry.


MATTHEWS:  Let me go to this lady here.  Let me ask you—who are you with?  I got to get some—oh, Women for Kerry?  Well, we know that.  You‘re a woman, right?


MATTHEWS:  OK.  Why are women for Kerry, rather than men for Kerry? 

That‘s a trick question.


MATTHEWS:  Why are women for Kerry?  Why are you for Kerry?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Because women need our—we need our rights protected, and Kerry‘s going to do that for us.  Bush...

MATTHEWS:  Are they...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... seems to ignore us.

MATTHEWS:  Are they in jeopardy?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They are.  You know, Roe v Wade is going to be decided again in the Supreme Court soon, so...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think so?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They‘re going to—I think so.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know.  Maybe you‘re right.  You think there‘s going to be --  you mean you‘re afraid that President Bush will name judges that would...


MATTHEWS:  ... overturn it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think he‘s going to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a really conservative judge who‘s going to take that away from us.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.  Let me go to somebody—we have all Kerry people here.  This place is—any Bushies?


MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you—let me go right to you.  All right, take a minute.  It‘s an essay question, sir.  What is this campaign all about?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This campaign is all about fighting terror.  I think that fighting terror should be the first option for the two candidates, and I think Bush is more focusing on that issue.  No good economy without protecting USA.  That should be clear to everybody.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you.  Let‘s go to the next.  Let‘s go to Kerry again.  What do you think this campaign‘s all about?  I know from you somewhere.  I don‘t know where I know you from.  But go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t think so.  I was here earlier, but—I think the biggest issue for me is, once again, women‘s rights and humanitarian issues in general, taking care of the impoverished people in our country and just taking care of everyone, instead of just taking care of the wealthy corporations.

MATTHEWS:  President Bush campaigned as a “compassionate conservative.”  Didn‘t that work for you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No.  It seemed to be a little bit of an oxymoron to me, but...

MATTHEWS:  So you think any conservative is not compassionate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, that‘s not what I‘m saying, but I think...

MATTHEWS:  You said it was an oxymoron.


MATTHEWS:  You know what show you‘re on, what the name of the show is?


MATTHEWS:  OK.  Go ahead.


MATTHEWS:  This isn‘t “Success” magazine.


MATTHEWS:  OK.  Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  But I think he didn‘t represent the common people...

MATTHEWS:  If worse came to worst and President Bush—from your perspective, and the president is reelected, what do you think is so bad about that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, I really think that the economy is doing really bad.  People are losing their jobs.  People are having their rights stripped away.  And I just can‘t sit by and let my rights be taken away from me.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Sir, do you have a position on the war or a position on this election?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Position on the election on unemployment, jobs going overseas.



MATTHEWS:  Outsourcing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.  People are purchasing goods that come from other countries.  They‘re not supporting their local industry to create employment.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, sir.  Let‘s got to this fellow here right now, last question.  No comment?


MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you, why is this election important to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m mostly interested in the economy, the outsourcing of jobs, the tax cuts for the wealthy and stuff like that, that John Kerry will repeal.

MATTHEWS:  OK, you‘re a Kerryite.


MATTHEWS:  I tell you, it‘s great.  Everybody here knows what they‘re talking about.  No undecideds here, are there?  Any undecideds here?  Where are you?  Where are you?  We‘ll come back and find the—we‘re coming back to find undecideds when we come back with HARDBALL at the ASU campus (UNINTELLIGIBLE)




MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s live coverage from Arizona State University on the eve of the third and final presidential debate.  The Sinclair Broadcasting Corporation is ordering the company‘s 62 television stations to run an anti-Kerry documentary. 

HARDBALL election correspondent David Shuster has more now from Washington—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, tonight, there is simply an avalanche of criticism that is being heaped on Sinclair Broadcasting Corporation, which is based in Maryland. 

It starts with the FCC commissioner, Michael J. Copps, who is calling that the Sinclair decision to run this film is an abuse of the public trust and proof positive of media consolidation run amuck.  And just before we came on the air, Chris, we found more than a dozen Web sites now, bloggers dedicated specifically to tracking advertisers at some of the stations where Sinclair is running, has these television stations, to try put some pressure on the advertisers to pull their ads if Sinclair goes forward with this film attacking John Kerry. 

A little bit about the film.  It was released five weeks ago.  It is not new, despite what Sinclair is suggesting.  It is called “Stolen Honor.”  What it does is, it focuses on John Kerry‘s anti-war activities when he came back from Vietnam.  As was pointed out at the news conference five weeks ago, when the film was released, there are a number of major factual problems that have been pointed out in the film. 

The thrust of the film features some former POWs who say that because of the anti-war protests, that is what kept the Vietnam War going.  But that is just factually inaccurate.  Historians point out that the Vietnam War came to an end when the Nixon administration negotiated a settlement in 1973 and that it was the lack of a settlement before then, not the protests, that kept the North Vietnamese fighting. 

Furthermore, the film shows some clips of John Kerry testifying about atrocities in Vietnam, but because of the way it is edited, in which you have John Kerry‘s statements which are edited in mid-sentence, the film makes it appear as if it is John Kerry suggesting that atrocities were committed in X, Y, and Z, when, in fact, when you look at the full contest, John Kerry is saying this soldier and that soldier said this is what happened.  So it‘s a difference.

But, again, there is a lot of meat there, Chris, for the critics of this film to chew on.  And, again, tonight, the Internet is going hog-wild over efforts to try to put pressure on Sinclair. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, David. 

We are here with the panel.  And we are joined right now by our colleague Joe Scarborough.  He has a bad back and is recovering right now at his home in Pensacola.

Joe, thanks for joining us.  I want to get you right into the action right now, Joe.  The president had a pretty bad night the first night.  I thought he had a very good night last Friday night.  The polls still seemed to find it for the other guy.  How is he going to do tomorrow night, based on the two nights you saw, one without an audience, one with an audience?

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”:  Well, you know, it always seems That we get things backwards. 

Obviously, the first night, everybody thought that the president was going to do well because it was a foreign policy night, that John Kerry wasn‘t going to be doing quite as well.  And of course we saw John Kerry deliver a fantastic performance. 

I thought ironically, in the second debate, despite what some people said in “The New York Times” and other publications, that the president was strongest when the debate turned to domestic issues.  I thought it was the same with the vice presidential debate, that that‘s when you started having the V.P.—that‘s when you started having Edwards stammering around talking about tort reform, stammering around talking about abortion. 

John Kerry had an almost nonsensical answer when it came to abortion.  I think you‘re going to find the same thing in this debate.  I think we‘re going to look back ironically and say, gee, the guy we expected to do well on foreign policy bombed, and the guy that we thought was going to do well on the domestic issues didn‘t do quite so well, John Kerry.  And I think everything is going to be breaking in George Bush‘s favor, again, ironically on domestic issues, because they are going to be talking about things John Kerry that doesn‘t want to talk about, his tax record, abortion, gun control, ironically, Chris, which you and I both know 10 years ago used to be a clear winner for Democrats. 

You saw in 2000, Al Gore start to shy away from it because he didn‘t want to offend voters in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia and other rural areas.  I think you are going to actually see the president on the offense on domestic policies, which, I‘ve got to say, is quite ironic. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you.  Let‘s go.  Thanks, Joe.  We‘ll be back in a minute with Joe.

Let me ask everybody here about the president tomorrow night.  The president had a bad night.  Then I thought he had a good night.  The public still didn‘t think so, based on the pilling.  Is this going to be like Gore, where you can‘t predict him?  He‘ll come up as a different person?  It‘s almost like he was wired the other night.  I know it‘s a ludicrous buzz.  But he was so much better the second time.  It was like Christian  in “Cyrano de Bergerac.”  Somebody was talking through him.  He was really good Friday night and really terrible the first night.

Ron, you know theatrics.

REAGAN:  Yes, I know.

Remember, last time in 2000, how we made such a big deal about Gore is this on one night and Gore is that on the other night.  I don‘t know that we‘re really doing that to George Bush this time, but he was two different people those two nights.  He was sort of befuddled the first time.  But, in the second debate, he was aggressive.  I thought he was too aggressive.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s two difference.  One may have been the practice night.  The first pancake is the bad one. 

REAGAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  The second factor was, there‘s nobody was there the first night.  Does this fellow need an audience? 

REAGAN:  I think he does. 


MATTHEWS:  What do you think, Andrea?

MITCHELL:  I think he does.  And I think he was much better playing off of the audience. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, then he‘ll be


MATTHEWS:  ... tomorrow night again, if that‘s true.

MITCHELL:  Not necessarily, but maybe he‘s gotten his bearing.  Maybe he now has figured out what the hot-button items are where he can go after... 

MATTHEWS:  So he‘ll imagine applause.  He‘ll imagine an audience out there.

MITCHELL:  He‘ll channel the audience. 


OLIPHANT: I have already memorized his closing speech to show you how easy it is for Bush to do his job tomorrow night. 

Massachusetts liberal, tax and spend, left, big government, flip-flop. 

That‘s it. 

MATTHEWS:  Just keep saying that.

OLIPHANT:  What happened Friday was the repetition of those words were the most important political things the president did on Friday.  On domestic issues, that is all you‘re going to see from him tomorrow.  It‘s easy. 

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s like, these are all-occasion cards.

OLIPHANT:  Kerry has a much tougher job to do tomorrow. 

MATTHEWS:  He has to defend his position on guns, if he has one that is clear.  He has to defend his position on abortion rights again, gay marriage again. 

OLIPHANT:  Much bigger problem. 

MATTHEWS:  So the president always goes right.  That is predictable and successful? 

OLIPHANT:  Absolutely.  If you—you heard Ben earlier.  Bring out the base, a mobilization election. 


OLIPHANT:  Kerry has the opposite strategy.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That means he is kissing the burbs goodbye?  Are you saying that?


MATTHEWS:  No?  Pennsylvania suburbs, Ohio suburbs? 

OLIPHANT:  It‘s kissing the undecided people goodbye and mobilizing

your people.  Kerry is trying to mobilize the undecided, so he has a much

tougher job.  He has to segue from a quick slam of Bush in each answer into

some kind of vision for the future.  So it‘s a two-cushion shot for Kerry,

whereas Bush is coming right at him on all this


MATTHEWS:  OK.  Who will the polls say wins tomorrow night do you say, Tom? 

OLIPHANT:  Pardon me?MATTHEWS:  Who will the polls say wins tomorrow night? 

OLIPHANT:  Oh, Kerry.  But it won‘t matter if Bush does his job politically. 

MATTHEWS:  So he is targeting the conservatives? 

OLIPHANT:  You bet. 

MATTHEWS:  Evangelicals.

OLIPHANT:  This is a mobilization election.

MATTHEWS:  As long as they hear those—as long as bell—and he‘s saying, here‘s the bell.  I‘m ringing it.  You come out and fight this fight.

OLIPHANT:  Bullseye.  Bullseye. 

GINSBERG:  Kerry‘s problem in the states that still matter, the battleground states, is that his position of 20 years in the Senate is a problem for where he wants to go today.  He‘s got the problem between keeping his base happy and appealing to the swing voters that he wants to get out in the target states.  That is why Kerry has a problem. 

REAGAN:  They keep bringing up this 20-year Senate record.  I haven‘t talked to a single person out there, whether these students or people around the neighborhood or whatever, who cares about 20-year Senate—I haven‘t heard that brought up once, not once.


GINSBERG:  People care about the consistency of a candidate.


MATTHEWS:  I want to talk when we come back, about the turnout because

·         the turnout tomorrow night.  It was 62 -- in the first—million people.  This is bigger than any television show.  “Gone with the Wind” the first time maybe, 62 million.  No. 2, last night, the other night, it was, what, 54. 

OLIPHANT:  Lower, 46, a little more than the veep.


MATTHEWS:  OK, somewhere in the middle, 50 million people, or are we thinking it‘s going to top them all?

Back when we come back with our panel.  I want a prediction of the turnout tomorrow night.  I think it might be unbelievable. 

Anyway, political head sites—or Web sites—are heading into tomorrow night‘s debate. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s live coverage from Arizona State University on MSNBC.




MATTHEWS:  I‘m down here in the hot corner with all the ASU students. 

And I‘m about to—I‘m about to interview some undecided voters.

But I want to first of all go to Joe Trippi. 

Hey, Joe, can you hear me?


MATTHEWS:  Joe?  Joe can‘t hear me.

TRIPPI:  I can hear you. 


TRIPPI:  Yes, I can hear you fine, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I can‘t hear Joe.  Joe can hear me.

We‘re going to come back to Joe in a moment.

Let me ask you to talk about these undecided voters.

Who do you think you‘re leaning toward right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, I‘m pretty undecided, but I think, if I had to choose, it would be Kerry because I think he‘s willing to give us more choices, and I think that whenever a president like Bush is trying to take away choices, it‘s never a good thing. 

MATTHEWS:  You, sir? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, I just don‘t know who to vote for.  John Kerry‘s record speaks for itself, and it‘s really hard to know who to vote for. 

MATTHEWS:  Who did you vote for four years ago? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who did I vote for four years ago?  I didn‘t vote. 

I was too young.  I wasn‘t 18. 

MATTHEWS:  Who are you leaning toward? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, the president has shown good leadership, so I think I‘m going to vote for the president.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t know who I am going to vote for, but


MATTHEWS:  Well, have you given it much thought?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.  Well, I think John Kerry has been too flip-flop on the issues and I think George Bush has been too ultraconservative.  So, hopefully, that the debate will help me change my mind and hopefully I will find somebody to vote for that will be good. 

MATTHEWS:  If I made you choose right now, this split second, who would you vote for? 





I am going to vote for—I am leaning more towards Bush, just because, in a time of crisis, I don‘t see it‘s a good idea to change midway through.  We need to stay on task. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I am undecided because I really respect George Bush‘s faith.  I share a Christian faith with him.  But I agree more with Kerry on some of the issues.  I am leaning more towards Bush, but I‘m still thinking about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Tomorrow night‘s debate, will it impact


MATTHEWS:  Oh, go ahead.  You‘re next. 


I‘ll tell you why I‘m undecided.  This is Phoenix.  This is the last debate.  We can‘t make a final decision.  This is Phoenix.  If the two candidates is that close, if the two candidates tell us the truth and they mean what they say, then you‘ll see the one rise from the ashes, like the phoenix, and we‘ll have a victor. 


MATTHEWS:  Do you have a candidate?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, I have to say, if I‘m leaning, I lean towards Kerry right now.  I voted for Bush in 2000, but he hasn‘t, in my opinion, effectively talked about domestic issues.  The war is important.  And I think it‘s the most important thing, but they‘ve both been talking about that for a year.  Let‘s hear about the domestic issues.

MATTHEWS:  What is your issue you want to hear about tomorrow? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My main issue is, personally, I have a humanity feeling for the Palestinians.  And both sides, they both have the same thing.  But I think Kerry is just saying that he doesn‘t want a Palestinian state because he‘s—two and two. 


MATTHEWS:  He is against a Palestinian state? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did you hear John Edwards—John Edwards‘ debate?  He was saying that Israel deserves to block—to defend themselves.  And as long as that is happening, I don‘t think that you would see the Palestinians really having a state.  I mean, it‘s sad.


MATTHEWS:  I think they are both on record supporting the road map. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This debate is going to tell a lot. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you. 

What would you like to hear about to decide your vote? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, as a teacher, I would like to hear more about education.  I am getting really tired of hearing all about the war.  I know where they stand on that.  I would like to hear more about some of the other issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the president did a good job with his No Child Left Behind program? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think there are some good points and some bad points to it.  We discuss it a lot at teachers‘ lounges.  And, yes, so, we are still undecided about that. 

MATTHEWS:  Was is your big issue you want to hear about? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right now, Social Security, because I want to know how much money am I going to be have to be paying so you can retire when you get to that certain age. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, a lot.  I want every nickel you got, buddy.





MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go.  Are you worried it being distributed—what are you worried about with Social Security?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I am more worried about it being undistributed, like, for example, I‘m worried about privatization of Social Security.  It should be from the government.  We put in our money early in our lives to be taken care of later on.  The government should take care of that.  We should not have to take care of that, in general. 

MATTHEWS:  So you think that the Social Security system should be left the way it is? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It needs changes, but not drastic changes, such as privatization in Social Security. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you.

Your issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The biggest issue for me in terms of what they haven‘t talked about yet, but I‘d like to see them address tomorrow, is definitely gay marriage, because, like she said, we know where they stand on the war. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you for or against it? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I am for it, because—sorry.

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.  Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I was just got say, because he talks a lot about how important liberty is. 


MATTHEWS:  But they have pretty much taken their positions on it.  The president has basically said he wants a constitutional amendment.  John Kerry says he is not for it, but he doesn‘t want a constitutional amendment to ban it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Which is what kind of leaves me undecided, because though I know where Bush stands, Kerry has been pretty weak.


MATTHEWS:  You definitely know where Bush stands.

Do most people feel they know where President Bush stands on everything? 


MATTHEWS:  How many people think that John Kerry is unclear on his positions? 


MATTHEWS:  What issue do you want to hear about tomorrow in terms of your indecision?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I agree with him also.  I think we really need to strive as Americans to maintain our freedoms.  And like that...

MATTHEWS:  What freedom are you concerned might be jeopardized by the election of either of the candidates? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, I am concerned that gays won‘t have the right to be married.  I‘m concerned that women won‘t have the right...

MATTHEWS:  Do you consider that an American freedom, even though it‘s never been the case before?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I do.  I believe in freedom for every party, every person in America. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we should create a new freedom there? 


MATTHEWS:  Because it was never a freedom before.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, I do.  I believe in expanding freedoms, not taking them away. 

MATTHEWS:  So you think the federal government should legalize—should—or leave it up to the states?  Suppose a state doesn‘t want to have gay marriage?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It should be up to the states, I suppose. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There still need to be federal benefits.  You can‘t—if you leave it up to the states, where do the federal benefits that every other married couple gets come in? 

MATTHEWS:  How come every time there‘s a state—you‘re an advocate -

·         every time a state like Missouri or California gets to vote on this issue, the issue goes down in utter defeat, four and five to one? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think because


MATTHEWS:  In other words, would you be happy to leave it up to the states if every time there is a vote on gay marriage, it goes down to a thumping defeat? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  As long as, one, we stay away from a federal amendment that eliminates it as a possibility. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t mind getting beaten in every state, except



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t think it is going to always be beaten in every state.  I think, as you said, freedom is an evolution.  And maybe right now, that is what the vote is, but it‘s not always going to be like that.

MATTHEWS:  You think people are changing? 



MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re right.  I agree with you completely.


MATTHEWS:  Education.  Education.  Gay marriage.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The family.  Gay marriage should be—go ahead and be gay.  That‘s OK.  But just don‘t let it interfere with the family, OK?  That is the most important thing in any nation. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘ll be right back with more discussion of tomorrow night‘s debate and the election itself.  Lots of opinions here.  Lots of topics people care about.

Back.  We‘ll get Joe Trippi when we come back.




MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s live coverage of the third and final presidential debate.

MSNBC‘s analyst Joe Trippi served as campaign manager for Howard Dean‘s presidential campaign.  I‘m going to try again to hear from Joe. 

Joe, you there? 

TRIPPI:  I‘m here, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Joe, let me ask you about this rumor that was floating around the blogs the other night.  And there was a picture, in fact, in the paper the other day about the president having some kind of wiring device in his back, like we have here and I have in my hear that I am talking to you through or listening to you through.  What is that story?  Is that just lunatic behavior or is there an actual story there? 

TRIPPI:  Well, they had that picture.  There definitely was some weird thing on the back of the president showing up through his jacket.  And that made its way all over the blogosphere.  And I don‘t think people really think it happened, but it kind of became really good fodder around the Net and around the blogosphere for the last three or four days. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, do you think it‘s going to do the kind of thing it did with Dan Rather and push him, hit him hard?  Is this going to actually gain currency or are we going to get to have get more than just a buzz out of this thing? 


MATTHEWS:  And how do we get to the bottom of it? 

TRIPPI:  I think a lot of bloggers are going to be watching, really looking at any signs in the debate tomorrow of a similar object back there, but I don‘t think we are ever going to get to the bottom of it. 

I think a lot of bloggers are talking about how if it—if the president was, indeed, wired, whoever was at the other end did a horrible job of briefing him on what to say.  But, you know, there were some really weird moments.

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll give you an example how powerful this is, because people still believe in the African-American community that there were roadblocks set up in Florida, actual roadblocks set up stopping people from voting down there, and there were traffic jams and all kinds of efforts to try to physically keep them from the voting booths. 

I think a lot of people believe that because it was part of that early buzz that night.

TRIPPI:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this going to be one of those stories that lingers because it was reported in this weird way through the blogging world? 

TRIPPI:  No, I really don‘t think so. 

I think it could if there‘s something like that that happens at

tomorrow night‘s debate, if there‘s another weird object on the governor‘s

·         on the president‘s back.  But I don‘t think—I just don‘t think it‘s going to have much legs.  I think that people are moving on to other things on the Net now, like in David Shuster‘s report on Sinclair and the John Kerry documentary that Sinclair wants to run. 

They are now moving fervently to try to shut Sinclair‘s advertisers down.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

TRIPPI:  And I think they‘re gaining success at that.  And that‘s a

big push that has now moved.  They‘re sort of moving off of this thing with

the president‘s


MATTHEWS:  But the Sinclair thing is going to happen, right?  They are going to show that documentary.  It‘s going to happen, right?

TRIPPI:  I think they plan on it right now, but I think they have no idea the fervor that they have created on the Internet and how there‘s a groundswell of organizing on the blogosphere to go after Sinclair‘s advertisers and ask them to pull their ads.  And that could have a really bad effect on Sinclair. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Joe, thank you very much, Joe Trippi. 

TRIPPI:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to have another hour to go here at Arizona State University.  And we‘re coming back right with our panel. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL live from Tempe, Arizona, on MSNBC.





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