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updated 9/27/2010 1:44:02 PM ET 2010-09-27T17:44:02

Guest host: Chuck Todd

Guests: Vaughn Ververs, Richard Wolffe, Amanda Drury, Howard Fineman, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Jon Ralston, Perry Bacon, Jim VandeHei, Jonathan Allen

CHUCK TODD, GUEST HOST:  Politics gone mad.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chuck Todd, in tonight for Chris Matthews. 

Leading off: Politics gone mad.  Today we remember—may be remembered as the day American politics jumped the shark, to borrow a cliche.  When Comedy Central‘s Stephen Colbert came to testify before Congress about the plight of migrant farm workers, he did so in character as a right-wing blowhard cable TV anchor.  It‘s not clear whose reputation took a bigger hit today, Congress‘s or Colbert‘s.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  As we‘ve heard this morning, America‘s farms are presently far too dependent on immigrant labor to pick our fruits and vegetables.  Now, the obvious answer is for all of us to stop eating fruits and vegetables, and if you look at the recent obesity statistics, you‘ll see that many Americans have already started.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  It didn‘t stop at Capitol Hill.  Harry Reid and Sharron Angle supporters actually broke out into a full-on brawl—ready for this? -- at a local Christian school.  Politics gone mad at the top of the show.

Plus, the Republican “Pledge to America.”  What does it really mean?  Some on the right say it‘s pabulum designed to get votes and change nothing.  Some on the left say it‘s nothing more than a smokescreen to disguise radical ideas like privatizing and dismantling Medicare and Social Security.

And the “Comeback kid” with another comeback.  How many of them does he get?  Bill Clinton may be the go-to guy President Obama needs to save him and his party, at least in the Rust Belt states, for 2010.  But ask yourself this.  How appropriate is it for Clinton to be backseat-driving Obama when he‘s bristled over the same thing happening to him in 1994?

Also, finish the following sentence.  The Tea Party is A, tearing apart the Republican Party, or B, energizing the GOP and opening up an enthusiasm gap.  with Democrats.  The answer may tell us a lot about what happens in November.

And you think Democrats and Republicans say nasty things about each other?  Wait until you hear about what former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has to say about the fellow Democrat who wants his old job, Andrew Cuomo.  That‘s in the “Sideshow.”

But of course, the “Sideshow” is the lead today.  We start with more in Nevada, where just like on Capitol Hill, it‘s silly season.  Jon Ralston covers politics for “The Las Vegas Sun” and hosts “Face to Face” on NBC stations in Nevada.  Vaughn Ververs is the politics editor for MSNBC.com.

So look, we got to start with what happened on Capitol Hill.  Here‘s an exchange between Michigan congressman John Conyers and Stephen Colbert today.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN CONYERS (D-MI), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  I‘m asking you to leave the committee room completely and submit your statement instead.

COLBERT:  I‘m here at the invitation of the chairwoman, and if she would like me to remove myself from the hearing room, I‘m happy to do so.  I am only here at her invitation.

CONYERS:  Well—

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA), SUBCOMMITTEE CHAIR:  That is correct.

CONYERS:  -- thank you very much.  That‘s fair enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  OK, Vaughn, let me start with you.  You‘ve been doing this as long as I have, watching the 24/7 news cycle infect Congress, and now it sort of has gone to a level I don‘t think any of us ever thought, where an actor or comedian decides to go in character on Capitol Hill.  What did we witness today?

VAUGHN VERVERS, MSNBC.COM:  Well, I really think that was the sticking point right there, Chuck, because we‘ve seen celebrities parade up in Congress.  Kevin Costner was just up there recently talking about Coast Guard issues.  I mean, they‘re in and out of that place all of the time.  But for Colbert to be there in character was really taking this to an entirely new level and a really bizarre level at that.

Now, I mean, I think what they were trying to do—and you have to give them credit—they were trying to give attention, Zoe Lofgren—

TODD:  Right.

VERVERS:  -- the chairwoman, was trying to get attention for this issue.  She certainly succeeded, but I think that she and other Democrats on the Hill are going to be a little surprised at the negative attention that they get over this, rather than to the issue itself.

TODD:  All right, Jon, I want to go to you in a minute.  Here‘s a little bit more of Colbert testifying today.  Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLBERT:  Now, we all know there is a long tradition of great nations importing foreign workers to do their farm work.  After all, it was the ancient Israelites who built the first food pyramids.  But this is America.  I don‘t want a tomato picked by a Mexican.  I want it picked by an American, then sliced by a Guatemalan and served by a Venezuela in a spa where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  All right, Jon, we‘re going to go to the craziness that you‘re in the middle of in Nevada in a minute, but look, you‘re not here in Washington.  We‘re here—I‘m in New York, Vaughn in Washington.  We‘re seeing this.  And a lot of us, frankly, are offended that sort of an institution that while can get mocked all the time, went down a road that we thought they weren‘t even capable of.  But what are you seeing out in Nevada?  How did you see this from your perch?

JON RALSTON, “LAS VEGAS SUN”:  Wait a second, that‘s a Stephen Colbert character?  That‘s not the real Stephen Colbert?  I‘m shocked to hear that.

(LAUGHTER)

RALSTON:  We didn‘t know that (INAUDIBLE)

TODD:  Right.

RALSTON:  But seriously, the real problem, of course, is what you know.  People hold Congress in such disrepute already and they think it‘s a joke, and then they see Stephen Colbert go before Congress in character and make comments like the ones you just said?  I mean, I can‘t see how that helps the Democrats.  They can say that they‘re bringing a higher profile to an important issue, but I think people just see it as a comedy show.

TODD:  Yes, and it is.  Here‘s—here‘s even more of Stephen Colbert, Vaughn.  Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLBERT:  I‘ve got to ask, why isn‘t the government doing anything?  Maybe this AG jobs bill would help.  I don‘t know.  Like most members of Congress, I haven‘t read it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  I guess, Vaughn, what I don‘t understand is—look, Stephen Colbert is who he is.  He knew what he was doing and he certainly didn‘t make any pretense that he was going to be anything other than what he was.  Why were all those members of Congress sitting there?  Why didn‘t they leave?  I mean, we heard Conyers try to say that.  Nobody else did, even the Republicans.

VERVERS:  Well, I think that‘s a good question.  In fact, Conyers was

sort of, you know, giving the early warning signal.  I‘m not sure a lot of

members of Congress really got what was going on there today.  I mean, when

Stephen Colbert sits there and talks about entering his footage of his

colonoscopy into the Congressional Record, you would think that that would

sound some alarm bells in their heads.  They seemed to just be playing

along and playing along with this.  And I think Jon exactly right.  I mean,

this is just reinforcing the negative opinions that most people have of

Congress, and I think that they‘re going to be really surprised that they -

this gives—is going to have a lot of backlash against them.

TODD:  Now, Speaker Pelosi was asked about Colbert‘s testimony today. 

Let‘s listen to how she responded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  Do you think it was appropriate he testified today?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  (INAUDIBLE)

appropriate (INAUDIBLE)  He‘s an American, right?  He comes before the committee, has his point of view.  He can bring attention to an important issue like immigration (INAUDIBLE) great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  You know, one thing I‘m wondering about, and I‘ve seen some reaction on Twitter—Jon, you‘re a big user of it, I‘m a big user of it.  Folks have been upset at me when I said, you know, today felt like a day that sort of embarrassed the institution of Congress.  I had some folks argue, I would say, from the—feels like a blue state, red state divide here, from sort of the coastal side of things, saying, Hey, you know what, that‘s what satire does.  Sometimes satire‘s the best way to bring out an issue and bring attention to an issue in a very smart way.

You know, is this one of those things where maybe there is a blue state, red state divide and maybe the heartland is going to look at this and say, This is exactly why we want to throw the bums out?

RALSTON:  Well, I think in the 24/7 world we live in now, Chuck—and you mentioned Twitter and things get posted and they‘re being posted even as we‘re speaking—

TODD:  Right.

RALSTON:  -- I don‘t think this is going to last that long.  But I really think that the problem here is what we talked about earlier, is that immigration is a serious issue, and then you have Stephen Colbert, who is a very, very funny guy.  As a matter of fact, coincidentally, he had the Las Vegas mayor, Oscar Goodman, on his program last night in a farce.  But he‘s a farcical guy.

TODD:  Right.

RALSTON:  And to take an issue like that and have him talking about Mexicans picking tomatoes and then Guatemalans—I think that‘s going to rub both blue state folks and red state folks the wrong way.

TODD:  And let‘s remember this stuff in the Congressional Record—you know, you can‘t see tone.  You can‘t read tone.  Just like you can‘t read tone in e-mail, you can‘t read tone in the Congressional Record.  It‘s going to live forever.

All right, I want to jump to Nevada, Jon.  First we got to show the

video of what happened last night.  Here‘s this fight at a Christian school

I guess nobody was channeling their inner Christian here—between Angle supporters, Harry Reid supporters.  We know that this is—this is a race to the bottom.  In fact, you wrote today—you wrote a column today that basically said you almost see why voters in Nevada are going to put up their hands and not want either one of these guys.  But of course, you have “None of the above” on the ballot.

So tell me this, Jon.  You were there.  What happened?

RALSTON:  It was a very strange crowd, Chuck.  Just to set the stage so people know, this was an hour-long forum.  Harry Reid wasn‘t even there.  He had previously answered set questions.  They had been given them before, and he answered them by videotape.  They played that videotape.  Then Sharron Angle was there.  There were about 800 people there.

Clearly, the Reid folks had sent some people in there and the Democrats had sent some people in there, but both sides were equally unruly.  Certainly, Angle, who was live, was getting heckled.  And then at the end, as she was leaving, there was this scuffle that broke out.  And there are some astonishing pictures on the “Las Vegas Sun‘s” Web site of this man, who apparently was an Angle supporter, throwing a fist right at a woman who was apparently really bothering him and trying to get by him.

Who started it, who knows?  Who cares?  But this is emblematic of this race, Chuck, the kind of passions going on on both sides.  And it‘s not “Go, Sharron” or “Go, Harry.”  It‘s “Kill Sharron” or “Kill Harry.”  The animus that‘s out there in this state toward these candidates is just astonishing.

TODD:  You know, Vaughn, every cycle, we always say, Boy, it‘s never going to get stranger than this and it‘s never going to get stranger than that.  And yet—and this cycle—of course, every election cycle takes on its own personality.  This is one where it feels like all of the venom that you read about on the left and the right is now starting to be actually channeled at rallies.

VERVERS:  Well, and I think you‘ve seen that throughout the campaign, frankly.  You‘ve seen commercials that talk about, you know, Get your arms together and let‘s go against this federal government.  You‘ve heard—

TODD:  Some absurd rhetoric like what Newt Gingrich has used, some crazy rhetoric.

VERVERS:  That‘s right.  And you know, as a result of the campaigns using that kind of rhetoric, what do we expect to start happening, other than open brawls at campaign events?

TODD:  You know, at one point, you do wonder if this is going to actually start turning people off.  You know, the irony of what Colbert‘s doing, they‘re—he and Jon Stewart are trying to have this rally on the Mall for sanity, and of course, Colbert today in many ways contributed to the insanity.

Vaughn, before I let you go, we got a new feature that we‘re all teaming up on on MSNBC.com.  We call it the “Voter Confidence Index.”  Tell us more about it.

VERVERS:  Well, what we‘re trying to do with this, Chuck, is measure kind of the impact of some of this anger that we see out there.  We‘ve taken the average of big poll questions that these national major polls ask commonly, and we‘ve averaged them together and we‘ve come up with a number that sort of illustrates where the feeling, the mood of the country is.  Negative is bad, positive is good.

President Obama started out with very high ratings.  He‘s now down to negative 38.  We‘ve also taken that back and we‘ve looked at how those numbers stack up historically to other mid-term elections.  He‘s—right now, the president and his party are about the same level as Bill Clinton was in 1994, a little bit better shape, in fact.  They‘re worse off than where President Bush was in 2006.

We‘re not trying to be predictive of this.

TODD:  Right.

VERVERS:  We‘re just trying to give people a way to look at what‘s going on, what that could mean—

TODD:  Right.

VERVERS:  -- for the mid-term elections and what it‘s meant in the past.

TODD:  Well, it‘s sort of like our Dow Jones ticker right there on the politics page of MSNBC.com.  Anyway, Vaughn Ververs, editor of—the political editor at MSNBC.com and Jon Ralston, who‘s got a front row seat and can actually use boxing cliche to cover a Senate race and mean it!

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  Anyway, thank you both.

Coming up, the latest poll numbers plus that GOP “Pledge to America.”  Conservatives say it‘s too modest.  Liberals say it‘s a smokescreen for radical change.  We‘re going to try to figure both sides out on this one.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Top White House adviser David Axelrod, who was President Obama‘s main architect of his election victory in 2008, will leave the White House next year and return to Chicago to work on the president‘s re-election campaign.  Axelrod, who calls himself a Chicagoan on assignment, though he was born in New York, has long made it clear that he misses his acquired hometown and would return before the end of Obama‘s four-year term.  He‘s going to go back to Chicago to restart the campaign.

Of course, we‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  All right, welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time for the HARDBALL “Scoreboard.”  Let‘s check in on the latest polls in the tight races around the country.  We‘re going to start in California.  A new Field poll shows Democratic senator Barbara Boxer leading ex-Hewlett-Packard CEO Republican Carly Fiorina 47-41.

In Florida, Democrat Alex Sink has a 7-point edge over Republican Rick Scott in the governor‘s race, 47 to 40, according to a new Mason-Dixon poll.  Now to New York.  A new Marist poll finds Democrat Andrew Cuomo leading Republican Carl Paladino by a large margin among likely voters, 52 to 33.  Starting to wonder if that Quinnipiac poll, by the way, was a big outlier.

Finally, that big brawling Senate race in Nevada, Senate majority leader Harry Reid and Republican candidate Sharron Angle are tied at 43.  That‘s in a “Las Vegas Review Journal” Mason-Dixon poll.  We shall see. 

“None of the above” is the one number that matters in Nevada most.

Anyway, we‘re going to continue to check the HARDBALL “Scoreboard” on all of the big races each night leading up to election day.  And we‘re only picking the polls that we know have a long track record of being accurate in those states.

Now, time now for more on the House Republicans‘ “Pledge to America.”  Here‘s California Republican congressman Kevin McCarthy today on a show I‘m a little bit familiar with, “THE DAILY RUNDOWN.”  Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY ®, CALIFORNIA:  The one thing you have to realize—it‘s not a platform for the party.  We have a platform.  These are bills that can be taken up today.  And if you look at the 42 pages of where you go through, specifically lays out each and every bill of where it goes.  This is something that could be taken up now when we can‘t—when we won‘t lead (ph).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  All right, so will this help the Republicans in November?  Does it help Democrats by giving them something to bash?  Let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe and “The Washington Post‘s” Perry Bacon.

Richard, I‘m going to start with you.  It does seem as if there‘s a lot of criticism being leveled at this “Pledge to America” not from Democrats, but from Republicans, from conservatives who are wondering either, one, Why did you put anything out and make yourself a target, and two, What you put out was too milquetoast.  Right?

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it‘s not a rallying cry, is it, if you‘re taking this kind of heat.  I think it points to two things.  First of all, this is a talking point for Republicans.  It says they have an agenda.  People need to kind of take off the table the criticism that there‘s no plan out there.  And as you heard, they reckon this is a plan that you can move forward with.

That‘s important, but it also begs comparisons with 1994, which encourages all of us to say that‘s the benchmark.  Can they make 54-seat gains in the House?

TODD:  Right.

WOLFFE:  And if they‘re not, they‘re going to fall short.  So the 1994 comparison may not be helpful.  The other thing that this points to, I‘m afraid, negatively here, is how unruly the House Republican caucus is going to be after November because these ideological splits are ready to burst out into the open—

TODD:  Right.

WOLFFE:  -- if they haven‘t already.

TODD:  You know, Perry, let me read you something that Club for Growth‘s Andy Roth (ph) wrote on his blog.  He says, “This new pledge was silent on earmarks and spending, and therefore the pledge has no teeth.”

Look, we can go on and on with different critiques on this.  And Perry, one of the pieces of reporting I understand was out there—my old colleague over at “National Journal,” Major Garrett, said this was a John Boehner document and that Eric Cantor has actually been kind of silent on it, supportive of it.  But not everybody inside the House Republican caucus thought putting this out was a good idea, and then if you‘re going to do it, watering it down so that it was only something that everybody could agree on.

PERRY BACON, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Yes.  There‘s been three criticisms of it.  You know, people outside of the caucus, mainly.  Social conservatives wanted more to be said about gay marriage and issues like that.  You have had people in the Republican conference who wanted a balanced budget amendment, kind of a formal, we have to budget every year.

And you also had people who wanted some specific plans on Social Security and Medicare, saying, here‘s how we‘re going to balance the budget in the long term.

The Republican decided to opt against all—not do any of those things, mainly because this is coming out before the election, and they wanted to make sure they protected themselves from any issue Obama can really attack and the Democrats can really attack.

TODD:  Right. 

BACON:  So, it was very political in method.  And it probably won‘t be what they will be doing by this time next year if they‘re controlling Congress. 

TODD:  You know, here‘s—Richard, here‘s John Boehner answering a question at Thursday‘s event.  And it‘s a quote I think we‘re going to see in paid television advertising.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Legislatively, how do you plan to honor families, traditional marriage, life, and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core of our American values?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER:  I think, if you look at House Republicans over the course of the last year, two years or, for that matter, the last 10 years, you will see that, by and large, we have supported those pro-family traditional values issues. 

And the point we make in this preamble to our pledge is that we are not going to be any different than what we have been.  We are going to stand up for those things that we believe in. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  We are not going to be any different than what we have been. 

Richard Wolffe, you hear the White House was giddy when they heard that comment.  And this goes to the criticism, for instance, Pat Buchanan was saying yesterday, which was you gave something for the Democrats to run against.  And, of course, now John Boehner just gave them a quote to use in TV ads. 

WOLFFE:  Sure they did. 

And remember how George W. Bush packaged himself in 2000, as a different kind of Republican.  Well, this is the kind of opposite, isn‘t it?  It‘s the same old Republican.  And he was talking about social issues.  Of course, it‘s not about the economic policies, which the White House would prefer to talk about. 

TODD:  Of course.

WOLFFE:  But if you are just coming back with the same old, same old, that‘s not what voters really are working for.  They want to throw all of the incumbents out.  They want change to business as usual. 

And I don‘t know how more of the same, even if it‘s slightly different from what we have got now, is what people want to hear.  They want radically new things, most of all on the economy.  I don‘t think either the family stuff or going back to the past is a winning message in either case. 

TODD:  You know, Perry—

BACON:  To be fair, I—Chuck, just to interrupt, I think that the Republicans were trying to say they‘re not going to do very much. 

In their defense, they were trying to say we‘re going to—Obama‘s done a lot.  We‘re going to do very little. 

TODD:  Right. 

BACON:  They wanted to put out a document that basically said we‘re for the same things we always were.  Now let‘s talk about why Obama and the Democrats are bad.  That‘s what they were trying to do.  So it‘s not as if they were really looking for new policy in the first place. 

TODD:  Well, look, it‘s clear that they felt pushed into this, right?  They either felt pushed into by us in the media.  That‘s what some will say.  They felt pushed into by, as Richard, you brought up, the 1994 -- the Contract With America, the fact that there were so many comparisons to that time period.

And they thought, well, geez, if Newt Gingrich could do this, then certainly I, John Boehner, and the House Republican leadership can do this. 

But I guess the big difference is—and, Richard, you pointed this out, but I want this question to both of you and Perry—the organizing force in 1994 was Newt Gingrich.  The organizing force in 2010 for the Republicans, if they take over, is the grassroots. 

And I think that‘s the complaint here, is that that‘s not reflected in this pledge. 

Richard? 

WOLFFE:  Yes, and it‘s not reflected because which part of the grassroots force are they channeling here? 

It‘s—clearly, people want to talk about the economy.  And is that the deficit side?  Is it the tax cut side?  Is it health care?  The one new piece of this is actually the Obama piece of this. 

TODD:  Right. 

WOLFFE:  It‘s repealing health care.  They‘re going to run into a chain saw on the deficit questions, because, technically, health care lowers the deficit. 

TODD:  Right. 

WOLFFE:  So, I—I don‘t know which part of the Tea Party they want to channel here, other than the winning part, the motivation part.  You don‘t want to mess with that. 

TODD:  Perry, what did we learn potentially from this episode, watching all this, watching a little bit of this back and forth inside the Republican—the fact is, this could be gone in a couple of days.  We might not be talking about it as much.  The campaigns might run away from it.

But what did we learn about how the House Republicans can govern, the leadership, vs. the rank and file? 

BACON:  Two things. 

One, we learned from watching Boehner‘s answer to that question about moral values, which was that—is that they are very nervous about how to talk about abortion, gay marriage, those kinds of issues.  He clearly did not really know what to say about that, beyond, we‘re for what we have always been for, which was not a great answer. 

The second thing is, they know what they‘re against.  They‘re against Obama‘s health care plan.  They‘re against a lot of things the president and the Democrats have done.  But the document makes clear they‘re not sure what they‘re for, beyond making the government smaller in fairly undefined ways.

The question next year will be, if they‘re in charge, what do they do in March?  Once they try to repeal the health care bill, and Obama says that we‘re not going to do that, what do they do when they have to actually solve problems? 

TODD:  Right. 

BACON:  And they have not necessarily said what they‘re going to do yet.  That‘s what I think is the most important thing this document says. 

TODD:  Hey, Richard, does John Boehner own this document, meaning—and own this idea? 

That was the implication of “The National Journal”‘s reporting on this, Major Garrett‘s reporting, that, hey, this is Boehner‘s.  And does this mean that he already starts out as sort of a speaker that‘s going to be, if he becomes speaker, that is going to be so answerable to the grassroots that he won‘t be able to even cut a deal with the Senate majority leader, whether it‘s Reid or McConnell, or with the president, without somehow being—potentially making sure he doesn‘t lose his own caucus?

WOLFFE:  I think this is going to be a really tough job. 

Normally, the discipline questions come in for the Senate side.  In the House here, he‘s going to have trouble with this big class of freshmen coming in, if all the predictions are correct.  And, at the same time, he‘s got to worry about all those young guns pointing at him, the people who have been criticizing him on the message.

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFFE:  If he falls short of 54, those young guns are going to be trained right on him.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  There are a lot of speakers in waiting besides John Boehner, at least when they look in the mirror. 

Anyway, Richard Wolffe, Perry Bacon, thank you, both. 

Coming up:  New York Governor Chris Christie is a true gentleman not afraid of a fight, especially to defend a lady.  That‘s in the “Sideshow.”  But, today feels like an entire show that got turned into a sideshow.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  All right, back to HARDBALL.

The “politics as spectacle” theme continues here in the “Sideshow.”

This week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was campaign out in California with Meg Whitman when a heckler interrupted Whitman‘s speech.  Christie was quick to jump in. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SHOUTING)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE ®, NEW JERSEY:  Hey.  Hey, listen.  Hey, listen.  You—hey, listen.  You know what?  You want to yell, yell at me, but don‘t give her a hard time. 

We are here.  We are here talking about the future of the state of California and the future of our country.  And you know what?  And you know what?  And you know what?  Let me tell you—let me tell you this.

You know what?  It is people who raise their voices and yell and scream like you that are dividing this country.  We are here to bring this country together, not to divide it. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Christie‘s services are in demand anywhere.  California‘s just the first stop on his 11-state political tour.  He says he‘s not thinking about running for president in 2012.  Let‘s see how 2010 goes.

Moving to New York, pot, meet kettle.  Ex-Governor Eliot Spitzer apparently publicly whacked at Andrew Cuomo, the fellow Democrat who is running for his old job.  Spitzer said yesterday—quote—“Everybody knows that, behind the scenes, Cuomo is the dirtiest, nastiest political player out there.  And that is his reputation from years in Washington.”

This is coming from the guy who himself had to resign over his own personal scandal.  Ouch. 

Finally, the White House sends it regrets.  Check out today‘s lead item in “Page Six.”  “Obama trio planning to skip ex-Budget Director Peter Orszag‘s wedding.”

The paper reports that Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod, and Rahm Emanuel all made last-minute cancellations, apparently because of a “New York Times” column Orszag wrote this month.  It made the case for extending all the Bush tax cuts, a big departure from the president‘s official position.

Orszag‘s wedding to ABC correspondent Bianna Golodryga is set for tomorrow in Manhattan.  I think the snub has a lot more to do with something that is not about that column, and may have to do with how they worked together in the White House. 

Now for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

It started with Lisa Murkowski up in Alaska.  Now Delaware‘s Mike Castle is reportedly conducting polls to see how he would do as a write-in candidate.  Well, they face long odds.  There‘s been just one senator that‘s been elected as a write-in.  How long ago was it?  1954. 

The candidate?  Longtime South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond -- 56 years since the last—and only—successful write-in Senate campaign, 1954, tonight‘s very daunting “Big Number.” 

Anyway, coming up, Bill Clinton is back and back and back, stronger and more influential than ever.  How did that happen?  That‘s next.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANDA DRURY, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Mandy Drury with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Well, the bulls were really loose on Wall Street for the first time in days, the Dow Jones soaring 197 points, the S&P 500 climbing by 23, and the Nasdaq surging 54.  Stocks closing out their fourth week in a row in the green on encouraging readings on durable goods orders and business spending, also a surprise jump in German business sentiment.

Multinationals like Caterpillar, Alcoa, Boeing, and GE all leading the Dow higher, boosted by a weakening dollar.

Well, ditto for gold, hitting a new record high, nearly $1,300 an ounce.  Industrial and transport stocks like CSX benefiting from that upbeat report on the business climate in Germany. 

Well, Nike shares surging on strong earnings built on growing demand in China and emerging markets.  And Brazil‘s state-owned oil company, Petrobras, raised about $70 billion in the largest IPO in history.  Petrobras is now the second largest oil company in the world, after ExxonMobil. 

Well, that‘s it from CNBC for now.  We are first in business worldwide.  Now it‘s back to HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”) 

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  Please welcome President Bill Clinton, ladies and gentlemen. 

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Bill Clinton this week showed that he moves with equal ease from late-show guest to political strategist.  In fact, here‘s his advice to Democrats in this midterm. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think that the Democrats ought to put on one card no more than five and no fewer than three things that will be their priorities.  We have still got a chance here.  We have got 30 days to have an honest debate. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  President Clinton is an in-demand campaigner, especially for Democrats in some of Midwest Rust Belt regions.  Can he make the difference for Democrats? 

Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst.  Jim VandeHei is executive editor of Politico.

Howard, let me start with you. 

Let‘s see.  It is interesting to me to watch Bill Clinton, in essence, second-guessing some of the folks in the White House about strategy for this midterm.  He‘s supportive of everything in the White House.  I‘m not saying he‘s being critical of them, but he‘s second-guessing the strategy, when he frankly had the same problem in 1994, and there were people second-guessing, though not so publicly. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, there were. 

There was a whole generation of Kennedy people, for example, who thought they knew more about Washington and politics even than Bill Clinton did.  There were some people on the Hill back in the days when Hill people were independent forces and not thought of just as appendages of their interest groups.

TODD:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  And they were all saying, you know, the Clintons are in over their head.  They don‘t know what they‘re doing.  They‘re not communicating. 

I think one of the things Bill Clinton should have said here, which he admitted elsewhere, is that they—when you get to become president, you assume in the first year or so that everybody‘s listening, that everybody understands, everybody knows your motives, everybody knows your successes and failures. 

That‘s not true, and it wasn‘t even true back then.  And Bill Clinton learned after ‘94 that he had to campaign relentlessly to say what his accomplishments were and to say what his goals were.  And that is what he now telling Obama that Obama should do.

TODD:  You know, Jim VandeHei, your partner in crime over there at Politico, John Harris, of course, is maybe one of the best observers of Clinton, of Bill Clinton.  And he‘s had a couple of tour de forces this week. 

And the one earlier this week where he pointed out—where he reported that Bill Clinton—he said—it was repeating an old adage—an adage about a transformation he thought Newt Gingrich delivered in 1994, which basically erases the Tip O‘Neill “all politics is local,” when, frankly, he basically made—he said, look, Gingrich nationalized it, and guess what?  He was basically was saying all politics is nationalized now. 

JIM VANDEHEI, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, POLITICO:  Right, which I think a lot of people the Hill don‘t agree with.  He‘s arguing that, since that election, that they have all been essentially national elections, even for these congressional races.

TODD:  Right. 

VANDEHEI:  It‘s probably true this year, because I think the national issue is that there‘s a ton of frustration with the size and scope of government and the unemployment rate. 

And his advice isn‘t that exotic or even that original, to say, hey, you have got to come up with a couple ideas that resonate with voters.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Sure.

VANDEHEI:  Like, no duh.  Everybody knows they have to come up with something that—that‘s going to appeal to—to voters. 

The problem is that the clock is ticking.

TODD:  Right. 

VANDEHEI:  And there aren‘t that many Democrats who are ready to come back and say, hey, let‘s come up with three things that all of us agree on and see if we can turn this into a national campaign.  It‘s a little late in the game I think for that advice.

TODD:  You know, Howard, what is it—you know, this Clinton advice, is it helpful to the Democrats right now to hear this, him going public like this, or is it something that frankly the folks in the Obama White House and folks running for—on the ballot this year, thinking, hey, big dog, we know you‘re a great political strategist, but don‘t go public now, please?

FINEMAN:  Yes, it‘s kind of mixed.  I think they would much rather at the White House, that Bill Clinton was out there just campaigning and saying good things about Obama and saying it‘s Democrats holding the majority is important and getting out there and doing that, rather than sounding like, you know, Mike Shanahan, the coach of the Redskins, you know?

There‘s always been mixed feeling and mixed emotions.  Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign obviously was running against the Clintons.  As president, he should be doing more to cite Bill Clinton‘s record and the Democrats‘ record from the ‘90s.

TODD:  Right.

FINEMAN:  He should be saying, look, this is what Democrats do.  This is how we roll, this is what we did in the ‘90s.

TODD:  Right.

FINEMAN:  And we‘re going to do it again.  But to do that, he has to retroactively praise the Clintons in a way that Barack Obama has never been comfortable doing.

TODD:  Right.

FINEMAN:  It‘s a mixed relationship.  Obama should be bragging more about Clinton, and Clinton should be just out campaigning for Obama, not giving advice from the sidelines.

FINEMAN:  Well, here‘s President Clinton on the Tea Party.  Jim, I want you to respond to it after.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  In their purest form, the Tea Partiers are saying, “I‘ve been let down by big business and government.  I want reform in both.”  But the founders of the Tea Party movement tend to be pretty far right extremists whose want—their goal is to destroy the power of government to mediate the power of corporations.  And I don‘t really that is a sustainable position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  You know, Jim, what‘s interesting, to watch him diagnose this in the Tea Party, sort of just separate out the organizers from the grassroots and reminding me actually, I remember Bill Clinton did an interesting response one time to the phrase “compassionate conservatism” during the 2000 campaign that he was clearly trying to send a message to Al Gore, here‘s how you respond to Bush.  Gore didn‘t take it.  This is where he‘s at his best, which is sort of being able to take—to message for the Democratic Party in a way that usually Republicans are better at.

VANDEHEI:  I think that‘s correct.  And I actually the way he can be most useful to Democrats in the final weeks is actually to get out there and go fire up some of the Democrats.  If you break down the polling, Democrats have some very acute problems with African-American voters, working class voters.  If you look at their level of enthusiasm, when you look at the cross tabs on these polls, it‘s low and they have to figure out a way to reverse that.  It‘s going to be low voter turnout.

And I think he has proven in the past in that Pennsylvania special election—

TODD:  Right.

VANDEHEI:  -- not long ago, that he‘s very effective in certain districts and certain states.  And Lord knows there‘s a ton out there where Democrats could use him.  And I think that‘s where you‘ll see him play a bigger and bigger role.

I think the messaging—I think it‘s just late for the messaging.  I don‘t think you can change the—you can‘t change the trajectory of the campaign.  What you can change is: do you have the money, do you have the ads, and do you have people fired up at that moment when they‘re going to vote, to actually get out there and do it.

TODD:  Howard Fineman, very quickly before we go—

FINEMAN:  Sure.

TODD:  -- Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton, who‘s a—who was a—who‘s been a better ex-president strategist, political strategist, for their own party?

FINEMAN:  Probably Nixon, so far.  Let‘s see how Bill Clinton does in the last few weeks.  And they also say, Chuck, that I‘m joining “The Huffington Post” as senior political editor, I know you‘re probably confused about how else to identify me, but that says it now.

TODD:  I will do that.  You know what?  I love a man with a lot of titles.  I like guys with a lot of titles.  Anyway—

FINEMAN:  Well, I‘m shedding some—I‘m shedding some and adopting some.

TODD:  All right.  Well, Howard Fineman of “The Huffington Post,” an MSNBC political analyst—an all around great guy, Jim Vandehei—

VANDEHEI:  Thanks.

TODD:  -- the better looking half of VandeHarris, right?

FINEMAN:  Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  OK.  Good deal.  Thank you both.

Up next: Are the Tea Partiers destroying the Republican Party or reenergizing it in a way that they haven‘t seen in a long, long time?  We‘ll talk about it.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  New York‘s 23rd congressional district may be headed for—ready for this—another contentious three-way race.  In November—in September, Matt Doheny won the Republican nomination on September 14th.  Well, Doug Hoffman, once the darling of the Tea Party movement has finally conceded to a very close primary contest.

But now, Hoffman has pledged to stay in the race and run on the conservative party‘s ballot.  He won that primary.

Well, that could mean the Democrat, Bill Owens, the incumbent, could win again because conservatives split the vote for the second time in less than two years.  Remember, that was a big special election.  It looks like history may repeat itself again and again in New York‘s 23rd congressional district.

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we are back.

Is the Tea Party destroying the Republican Party or is it breathing life back into the GOP?

Charles Krauthammer writes today “the big political story of the year is that a spontaneous and quite anarchic movement with no recognized leadership or discernible organization has been merged with such relative ease into the Republican Party.  It planted its flag within the party, and, with its remarkable energy, created this enthusiasm gap.”

Lawrence O‘Donnell is host of “THE LAST WORD,” which debuts this coming Monday at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

And Jonathan Allen is with “Politico.”

So, Jonathan—because Lawrence also gives us the last word, I‘m going to always let somebody else have to get the first word here.  So, Jonathan, I guess I would say, Charles Krauthammer is positing that these folks in the Tea Party movement weren‘t Republicans before these last two years.  That‘s not what polling has showed, is it?

JONATHAN ALLEN, POLITICO:  It really isn‘t, Chuck.  I think a lot of these people are disillusioned Republicans from the past, the type of people who described themselves as conservatives first and sometimes Republicans.

But, you know, if you‘re a political strategist of the Republican Party in the midterm election when most people don‘t vote, I think you take the energy of the Tea Party.

TODD:  Right.

ALLEN:  You take them voting for Republican candidates and hope for the best.

TODD:  Hey, Lawrence, isn‘t this what happens when political parties lose, that in the following election, basically, the base is what energizes it?  We saw it—we‘ve seen it happen inside of the Democratic Party before.  We‘ve seen it inside the Republican Party, frankly, multiple times.  Isn‘t this, in many ways, history repeating itself?

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST, “THE LAST WORD”:  Yes.  I mean, this is exactly the kind of energy that the Democrats had in 2006 and then again in 2008, because they had something—they had a regime to overthrow in the Congress, and then, you know, in the White House.  And so, there is no energy in politics like the “throw the bums out” energy.  And the side that has that, especially in midterms, is a very difficult side to bet against.

TODD:  You know, Jonathan, on the—on what‘s going on inside of Tea Party movement, I guess the other thing that Krauthammer says is that they sort of planted their flag and I think that what we saw with the roll out of this “Pledge to America,” and we saw frankly a rise up in disagreement, I would say, under the anti-establishment conservative press, right, if you want to talk about the blogosphere—the folks based in Washington—

“National Review,” “Weekly Standard”—like the pledge.  It was the folks, the conservative writers outside of Washington, instead are going, “Wait a minute, guys, you don‘t get it.”

ALLEN:  Well, it certainly doesn‘t have all the things that the Tea Partiers want—certainly not the social conservatives.  It‘s almost silent on social conservative issues.  It doesn‘t deal with immigration, which is one of the big issues for Tea Partiers across the country and other folks who‘ve been drawn to the anti-Obama field.

But I think that Republicans believe that they‘re going to be able to hold onto those folks for the next five or six weeks anyway, and that this pledge will be something that they can point to as a plan but not something that dominates the conversation.

TODD:  All right.  We‘re going to be—take a break right here.  More with Lawrence O‘Donnell and Jonathan Allen in just a moment.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, TV HOST:  My great-grandfather did not travel across 4,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean to see this country overrun by immigrants.  He did it because he killed a man back in Ireland.  That‘s the rumor.  I don‘t know if that‘s true.  I‘d like to have that stricken from the record.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  All right.  We are back with Lawrence O‘Donnell and Jonathan Allen.

Lawrence, you worked on Capitol Hill, as a staffer for one of the most famous senators, maybe ever, in the 20th century, Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  I ask you—was today a good day or a bad day for the institution of the United States Congress?

O‘DONNELL:  I‘ve been asking myself that all day, Chuck.  You know, at the Senate Finance Committee where I scheduled the witnesses, I will say that I never, ever would have had a witness like this.  And one of the reasons is—we never needed to get attention for our hearings.  It was the most important committee using the most important subjects.  However, when the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law wants—

TODD:  By the way, you‘ve got to correct.  Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes.

TODD:  I know, well done.

O‘DONNELL:  When they want to get the cameras there, there is only one way.  And so, he did bring attention to an issue and he broke character to certain point and made a serious point about this.  He brought attention to an issue that otherwise would have gotten none, but it seems, in most the coverage, the attention is all about him.

TODD:  You know, I guess I‘ve got ask Jonathan—Borat has done this.  I mean, is that what we saw today, the borating of Congress?  I mean, did Congress get the joke?

ALLEN:  You know, I‘m not sure that Congress did get the joke.  We‘ve heard a lot of this talk from Democrats who are trying to cover-up afterwards.  You know, he brought attention to the issue, but I think that Lawrence made the point there.  He brought more attention to himself that the issue.  I think, you know, to some extent, he made not only a mockery of Congress, which can be done in small ways, appropriately.

TODD:  Sure.

ALLEN:  But this is a rather large way.  But also, in a way, kind of the issue because if you—this is a serious issue, the plague of migrant farm workers, and here he is making jokes and a lot of them fairly lewd jokes.  I know you can‘t play them because it‘s a family show here, but I‘m sure they‘ll be replayed on Comedy Central or Pay-Per-View at some point.

TODD:  Over and over again.

O‘DONNELL:  But, you know, he also—he also reminded them of the biblical passage, “Whatever you did for the least of my brothers,” and then he went on to say, it seems like the least of my brothers right now, a lot of people have the least of brothers right now because of the economy‘s so bad and he didn‘t want to take any hardship away from all the other unemployed, but he‘s made the point that the least of our brothers are these migrant workers and made the point that they suffer and have no rights.  There‘s a—there is a section of this presentation of his that was very serious.

Chuck, the most fascinate thing for me—

TODD:  I don‘t—yes?

O‘DONNELL:  -- was Chairman Conyers tried to get rid of him when he came in and discovered that the subcommittee chairwoman had invited a comedian to the hearing.  That was for me the great part.

TODD:  What if Al Franken was in character in the U.S. Senate?  What if he decided to be Stuart Smalley in the Senate?

O‘DONNELL:  Never going to happen.

TODD:  I understand that he—well you say, I know, never going to happen.  I guess what I‘m asking, Lawrence, is, you know, I understand this whole—we‘ve sort of merging reality and celebrity into one now.  This is what the 21st century media culture is, whether it‘s “Dancing with the Stars” or “The Colbert Report” or whatever it is.  I just—I‘m asking you, is this good for the system, bad for the system, or is it simply the system?

O‘DONNELL:  Oh, I think the system can take it.  And you saw the conflict, John Conyers, the full chairman, with all the—

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Long time, right.  The guy‘s been in Congress for decades.

O‘DONNELL:  -- shows up and basically says, “What is this guy doing here,” and literally says to Colbert, basically, “Get out of here, leave, I don‘t want to hear your statement.”  And then the subcommittee chairwoman has to come in and explain, “Well, I invited him.”  I mean, that to me was one the most absurdist moments I‘ve ever seen just—and knowing way that chairmanships work, that to me was stunning.

TODD:  That he didn‘t—

ALLEN:  Well, she‘s already—

TODD:  Go ahead, Jon.

(CROSSTALK)

ALLEN:  -- Speaker Pelosi.  Zoe Lofgren had told Speaker Pelosi what she planned to do, so I think she probably felt like she had the permission to do it over and above Chairman Conyers.

TODD:  You know, and, Lawrence, I want to ask is—I‘m going to get you get the last word because you‘re going to get the last word—I want you to promote your show.

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s in my contract, Chuck.

TODD:  Don‘t get—don‘t get me wrong, you‘re going to get the last word.  But I guess, is it fair to say—here we had a comedian testifying on Capitol Hill, we had an actual brawl breakout on a U.S. Senate debate, we have Chris Christie yelling at audience members, you know, is this—is this campaign 2010 in a nutshell?

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s what it‘s coming down to.  And as you know, Chuck, in that at final month, the tension builds everywhere in both parties.

TODD:  Right.

O‘DONNELL:  Every word, every move is scrutinized.  The pressure increases every day on these things.  And I think—that‘s what Conyers was responding to.  I think that he was walking in there saying, “Hey, wait a minute, we‘re in a campaign season.  Is this a crazy thing for us to do?”

TODD:  OK.  That‘s the last word.  Lawrence O‘Donnell, Jonathan Allen of the “Politico”—thanks so much.  Go heroines (ph).  Go statesman.  I‘ll see you tomorrow.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

Right now, time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

           

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