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updated 8/13/2012 3:05:30 PM ET 2012-08-13T19:05:30

Guest Host: Michael Smerconish
Guests: Mark Halperin, Jonathan Alter, Milissa Rehberger, Barry Horstman, Ed Rendell, Nate Silver, Jennifer Rubin, D.L. Hughley

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Obama takes the lead.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. Chris Matthews
is off tonight.

Leading off: Polls apart. It`s been a truism of this campaign year
that the election is this close, that it`ll be nip and tuck until November,
that election day may turn into a long election night. And all that may
turn out to be true.

But over the past few days, three major polls -- not tracking polls --
have shown President Obama with a lead of between 7 and 9 points. And one
sure sign that the Romney campaign believes the polls mean trouble came
when an unnamed Romney adviser said polls don`t matter. That`s what you
say when you`re behind.

One way Republicans can even things out is by making it harder for
Democrats to vote. In Ohio, Republicans are actually voting to extend
voting hours in Republican-leaning areas and limit them in Democratic
areas. It sounds far-fetched, I know, but it`s true.

Also, if you want to know who your enemies are in politics, wait to
see who criticizes you when you make a mistake. Mitt Romney`s campaign has
made a few of them lately. And oh, is the right wing going after him now.
Why the right might never trust Romney.

And the very funny D.L. Hughley will tell us how the "Audacity of
Dopes" is ruining America. In fact, that`s half of his title of his new
book. The other half? I can`t say it on TV.

And Stephen Colbert takes Michelle Bachmann`s side -- kind of. He,
quote, "proves" that since Congressman Keith Ellison is a Muslim and a
brother, he must be in the Muslim Brotherhood. That`s in the "Sideshow."

We begin with President Obama`s lead in the polls. Ed Rendell was
governor of Pennsylvania. He`s now an MSNBC political analyst. And Nate
Silver writes the "Fivethirtyeight" blog for "The New York Times."

Gentlemen, take a look at three new polls that have come out in the
past few days. All have the president with wide margins over Mitt Romney.
In the Ipsos Reuters poll, the president leads by 7 points. The CNN/ORC
poll released yesterday also has the president up by 7. That`s a big jump
from a month ago, when the president was up by 3. And according to the
latest Fox News poll, the president leads by 9 points. Last month, the
president was ahead by only 4 in that poll.

The margins are even more dramatic among independent voters. In the
CNN poll, they broke for Obama by 11 points. That`s the same margin in the
Fox News poll.

Nate, I love your blog. I read it all the time. You think perhaps
there`s more to the story. Tell me why you`re not necessarily buying this.

NATE SILVER, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, look, we get about 15 or 20
polls every week, and you`re going to have some outliers as just a fact of
random statistical variance.

If you look at the broad trend in the race, look at the tracking polls
-- Gallup still has the race tied, for instance -- I think Obama has had a
good month. His swing state numbers are pretty solid. But this really
looks to me like it`s still a 2 or 3 or 3.5-point race.

I don`t think the consensus of evidence will point towards a 7 or 9-
point race nor anything based on the economy. To have that much of a game
changer in the mid-summer, when people are watching the Olympics, I think
is not -- is not very likely. Wait until after the conventions to have
real sustained, I think, movement in the polls.

SMERCONISH: And Governor, the polling data was just released, but it
means that those polls were out in the field a couple of days ago, if not
longer. I can`t think of anything that`s transpired in the last week to 10
days that could account for this sort of a swing, can you?

ED RENDELL (D), FMR. PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR: Well, I think the
biggest, most important number is in the CNN poll -- 64 percent of the
people polled said that they didn`t think Mitt Romney -- they thought Mitt
Romney was basically a person who didn`t understand the problems of
ordinary people.

And I think this -- the negative campaign that Obama has waged to try
to define Mitt Romney cumulatively has taken effect. There`s no question
in my mind that`s the case.

I agree with Nate. I`m not sure these numbers nationally are correct,
although they`re certainly very correct in the swing states right now,
where the election will be decided. So I think they have taken a toll on
Mitt Romney.

Now, having said that, I want all of us, particularly we Democrats, to
remember we left Atlanta in 1988, Dukakis versus Bush, 18 points ahead in
all the national polls. So I agree with Nate. Until the convention
speeches, until the debates, until the fall campaign starts to focus, polls
really don`t mean much.

I still believe this is going to be a close election and I still
believe every person who wants to elect or reelect the president had better
vote because this is going to be a very close election.

SMERCONISH: Well, here`s one explanation as to what may be going on
out there. Today`s -- today Politico`s Roger Simon asked a logical
question. Given the state of economy, shouldn`t Romney be ahead by now in
the polls?

And then Roger Simon wrote, "But what do the great gods of politics,
the opinion polls, show? They show a country that still likes Obama more
than it likes Romney, and by quite a bit. And as I have written for years,
I have a simple -- OK, simple-minded way of determining who`s going to win
the presidency. The more likable candidate wins. Not always, but almost
always."

Nate Silver, could it be that simple?

SILVER: It could be in part. If you look at the approval ratings for
Obama, they`re just about break-even now, about 47 percent approve, 47
percent disapprove. And yet he does seem to have a lead of a couple of
points. So you look at the favorability ratings, where he is at or above
50 percent and Romney`s numbers are negative.

So it`s mostly a referendum on the incumbent, but the part that is
more of a personality contest -- who would you like to get a beer with --
Obama may pick up some votes around a margin in an election that is so
close. Winning by, you know, an 2 points, based on likability could flip
the entire outcome in November.

SMERCONISH: Governor Rendell, as you look at the mileposts that are
upcoming in this campaign -- the VP selection, the convention, the debates
-- which presents Governor Romney with the best opportunity to turn this
around?

RENDELL: Well, I think first and foremost -- VP selection will be
important, but I don`t think it`s a game changer. I think the convention
speech is very, very important, that Mitt Romney connect with the American
people in that convention speech. And I think he should talk a lot about
himself, a lot about the things that shaped him. I actually believe he
should talk about his Mormon religion and how his Mormon religion informs
his values and his decision-making process. He should talk about the
importance of his family. And then, yes, he should lay out -- he should
criticize the president, but he should also begin the process of trying to
convince the American people that his plan, his economic plan will actually
work. And he`s got to give them some meat. He`s got to give them some
detail.

But if he makes a terrific convention speech, I think he can wipe away
not all of the battering he`s taken -- because remember, Michael, he was
battered by his Republican opponents pretty badly, too. You know, what did
the -- Rick Perry said "vulture capitalism."

SMERCONISH: Right.

RENDELL: So he`s been battered for a long time. So that convention
speech, I believe, begins the turning around process.

And then in the debates, he has to make the case that he`s the manager
who can turn the economy around. He`s got to say, Barack Obama`s a good
guy, Mr. and Mrs. America, but he hasn`t been able to do the job. Turn to
me.

Does he have an opportunity to do this? Yes. Does the battering he
take (ph) make it harder -- that he`s taken make it harder? Absolutely.

SMERCONISH: Hey, Nate, one last question on these polls. You know,
we tend to fixate, those of us in the media, on the popular vote surveys...

SILVER: Sure.

SMERCONISH: ... but of course, we don`t elect a president by popular
vote. Does a 7 to 9-point lead for Barack Obama comport with what you`re
seeing in an analysis of the Electoral College, or are they at odds?

SILVER: Well, the irony is that until recently, we thought the
Electoral College numbers, the state numbers, were a little better than the
national tracking polls. And they`ve also been more steady. You haven`t
seen a ton of movement in Ohio, say, or Florida. But Obama`s numbers have
held steady there. The fact that the Republican candidate trails now in
almost all polls of Ohio, which is a very slightly GOP-leaning state, is
not good news for him, nor that he trails in more polls than not in Florida
or Virginia.

So really, you know, I think if you look at the state numbers, they
tell you a steadier story about the race, but also one that says Romney has
some work left to do. He maybe does need to start pulling in the lion`s
share of the undecideds and not just breaking even to win the race.

RENDELL: And Michael, look at Pennsylvania.

SMERCONISH: Governor...

RENDELL: The polls there show Obama with an 11-point lead. That`s
what he won by in `08. And given the state of the economy, for him to be
at the same level, it`s incredible.

SMERCONISH: Hey, Governor, Mitt Romney told our own Chuck Todd
yesterday that he would like to see the campaigns put a moratorium on
personal attacks. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I can assure
you our campaign would be helped immensely if we had an agreement between
both campaigns that we were only going to talk about issues and that
attacks based upon business or family or taxes or things of that nature --
that this is just -- that this is...

CHUCK TODD, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/POLITICAL DIR.: So are
you...

ROMNEY: ... a diversion...

TODD: Are you going to throw out -- are you going to throw out a
something, a pledge, or something?

ROMNEY: I would love -- I would love to have (INAUDIBLE) we only talk
about issues. And we could talk about the differences between our
positions and our opponents` positions.

TODD: Are you going to...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: That`s a somewhat ironic challenge, coming from Romney,
because during the primaries, his super-PAC overwhelmed his Republican
opponents with negative ads like this one against Newt Gingrich, which
certainly doesn`t shy away from getting personal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is this man smiling? Because his plan is
working -- brutally attack Mitt Romney and hope Newt Gingrich is his
opponent. Why? Newt has a ton of baggage, like the fact that Gingrich was
fined $300,000 for ethics violations or that he took at least $1.6 million
from Freddie Mac just before it helped cause the economic meltdown. Then
there`s the $37 million Gingrich took from health care and industry groups.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Governor, if one of the issues of the campaign, a major
issue, are tax rates for the wealthy and if you`re wealthy and paid a tax
rate that we`re not quite sure of because you haven`t handed over your tax
returns, how is that not personal, according to anybody`s definition?

RENDELL: Well, the problem with that type of pledge is, number one,
as you said, Mitt Romney has been a practitioner of negative campaigning,
big practitioner.

But number two is who defines what`s an issue and what`s personal?
Since tax structure is an important issue, vital issue going forward, is it
relevant as an issue or is it a personal attack that Mitt Romney hasn`t
revealed his taxes which may show that he paid a far, far lower rate or
nothing at all compared to the average American taxpayer? What`s that, is
that an issue, Michael, or is that personal?

SMERCONISH: Nate, does it properly inoculate Romney coming forth with
this pledge that you heard him offer to Chuck Todd so that he looks like
he`s the guy who doesn`t want the campaign to get personal, or do you think
that people will see through some of this?

SILVER: I think voters know it`s going to be a very negative and
nasty campaign, somewhat like it was in 2004. Look, both sides are going
to attack. I think when you have an election this close, you`re going to -
- that`s kind of what they have to do. Remember, even in 1964, when LBJ
led Goldwater by about 30 points in the polls, he ran a horribly negative
campaign anyway. It`s part of politics, for better or for worse, and it`s
not going to get much better when we get to the real stretch run of the
campaign after Labor Day.

SMERCONISH: I`m afraid you`re correct. Thank you, Governor. Thank
you, Nate Silver. We appreciate your being here.

Coming up: Gaming the system. Republicans in Ohio are trying to
extend voting hours in counties that lean Republican and shorten voting
hours in cities and counties that tend to go for Democrats. Sounds crazy,
I know, but it`s happening.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: New poll numbers out of the key battleground state of
Wisconsin. Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard."

According to a new poll from Marquette Law School, President Obama
leads Mitt Romney among likely voters 50 to 45. And that 5-point lead
stretches to 7 among all voters. The poll found that a majority of
Wisconsin voters view President Obama favorably, while Romney`s negatives
outweigh his positives.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL. In the past months, we`ve done
a lot of stories about voting rights and access to voting, whether it be
voter ID in Florida or Pennsylvania, or early voting in Ohio. Now there`s
yet another twist on the early voting fight in Ohio. Early voting has been
extended in Republican-leaning counties and not Democratic-leaning
counties. How`s that possible?

Well, here`s how it works. In counties that voted heavily for McCain,
the two Democrats and the two Republicans that make up the board of
elections voted to extend voting hours. But in heavily Democratic
counties, the two Republicans on the board of elections voted against
extending voting hours, and the Republican secretary of state then broke
the tie.

In the crucial swing state of Ohio, where Obama beat McCain in 2008 by
just 270,000 votes, these early voting limitations in Democratic counties
could tip the election.

Barry Horstman is an investigative reporter for "The Cincinnati
Enquirer" whose latest piece is about partisan early voting. "Time"
magazine`s Mark Halperin, of course, is MSNBC`s senior political analyst.

Mr. Horstman, enough at stake here that it could alter the outcome of
Ohio and potentially the entire presidency?

BARRY HORSTMAN, "CINCINNATI ENQUIRER": Oh, absolutely. The election
everybody likes to point to as this issue is discussed is in 1976, when
Jimmy Carter carried Ohio over Gerald Ford by only about 11,000 votes out
of 4.1 million cast.

If you go forward to 1992, in that election, Bill Clinton carried Ohio
by slightly under 100,000 votes. In 2004, President Bush beat John Kerry
by slightly over 100,000.

Tens of thousands of voters have availed themselves of these early
voting hours in past elections, so you can see very easily this has the
capacity to change the outcome in Ohio, and by consequence, the nation.

SMERCONISH: I know from reading your reporting on the subject that in
defense of not extending in certain of those areas, money gets raised,
financing. Is it possible that there is funding available in certain of
those counties where they could pay for the extended voting, but not in
those counties where this time, they`re scaling back? Does that hold any
water?

HORSTMAN: It doesn`t because we really haven`t heard the counties
themselves say there would be a financial issue with extending hours. I
mean, undeniably, when you`re talking extra weeknight and weekend hours,
some overtime is involved and it might be a fairly substantial amount.

But the complaint is, from the Democrats, this is nothing short of an
attempt to stack the deck in a way that is going to close down an avenue
for voting that many, many Democrats last time found attractive.

They say despite the Republicans` argument about we don`t want to put
an extra burden on already stretched counties, all you have to do is go
back to 2008 and look at those long lines that were stretching around
blocks in board of elections headquarters. it was a very predominantly
black crowd. And the Republicans are going to do anything they can to
prevent that from happening easily this time.

SMERCONISH: Mark Halperin, I know of no scenario where Mitt Romney is
elected president of the United States without capturing Ohio, but I don`t
have your expertise. Am I right? Am I being melodramatic when I say that?

MARK HALPERIN, "TIME," MSNBC SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: No, he needs
Ohio. And you know, Barry`s done a great piece and great coverage of this
issue. And I think since 2000, we in our business have succeeded in upping
our game on how to cover these issues fairly and completely. What`s failed
is the political process.

The situation in Ohio, given the importance of the stage and the --
and the reality that Barry writes about in his piece, is probably the worst
in the country and the most dangerous to the country having faith in what
happens in election night in terms of the result.

But there are other states like your Pennsylvania, like Florida, like
others where we`ve got a real problem. And if we have bad luck on election
night, it could be a disaster that makes 2000 look like a tea party.
That`s a little joke...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: ... as we`ve been reporting and you`ve been reporting and
we`re all discussing, Ohio`s not alone. There are moves afoot in nearly
three dozen states or changes that have already been made. And I`m curious
whether Mark Halperin in his reporting has uncovered any signs of
coordination among the states that are all tweaking their voting
requirements.

HALPERIN: I don`t know that it`s coordinated nationally, but you`ve
seen some officials -- again, in Pennsylvania, some Republican officials
being, I think, more open than they probably mean to be about what their
intention is.

Republicans always are worried about voter fraud and people voting
improperly. Democrats tend to be more worried about equal access to the
polls. I think Republicans clearly have gotten the upper hand in making
some of these law changes, in some of these positions, like having a
Republican secretary of state behave in a way that benefits Republicans. I
think they`ve gotten the upper hand this cycle.

And again, the tragedy of this for the country is we need to have
faith in the result on election night. You can`t have a perfect election,
but people shouldn`t think that the system is rigged and stacked in favor
of one party or the other.

SMERCONISH: Barry, I understand that in the Buckeye State, you have
88 boards of election. Why not uniformity across the state?

HORSTMAN: Well, the argument you hear made there is if you impose a
statewide imperative on all 88 counties, then you do get into some of the
local financial problems that could enter into this.

So they decided it`s better to leave it in the hands of the individual
counties to make this on a pre -- a county-by-county basis. The difficulty
is, the secretary of state has said his tiebreaking votes against allowing
extra hours in the major urban areas that went heavily for Obama in 2008,
he said that`s a step toward ensuring uniformity statewide.

In fact, in the greater Cincinnati area, you only have to look to two
suburban counties, Butler and Warren, which are very heavily Republican-
leaning and went very strongly for McCain. He did not intervene in those
cases, because in those counties, the Democrats went along with Republicans
in allowing the extra hours.

The Democrats feel as if they`re more or less being penalized for
saying, of course let`s make voting easy. We will allow extension of hours
anywhere, whereas Republicans are being much more selective and much more
strategic in how they approach that.

SMERCONISH: The chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party has
said reportedly that voting access will not be restricted -- quote -- "This
year, every registered voter will get an absentee ballot application, so
that people can vote 24/7 from home for weeks before the election. There
will be plenty of hours to vote early. It`s just not true that we`re
trying to restrict access."

Mark Halperin, is that enough of a remedial pressure, that every
person in the recipient of an absentee ballot application? Does that make
up for what we`re talking about?

HALPERIN: Not completely.

One of the things the Republicans not only in Ohio, but generally, say
is, look, if you`re going to vote, you have got to take responsibility for
it. If you get bad advice in your polling place or if you miss a deadline,
that`s your problem. You have got to fix it.

Democrats would like to see a little bit more ease in access. And,
for instance, if your poll worker gives you bad information about how to
cast your ballot, which ballot to take, you shouldn`t be penalized, that we
should err on the side of access.

So it`s great that Ohio is doing that in terms of absentee voting, but
I think, in general, as long as we have the right monitors in place and the
conditions in place, it should be easier to vote and not harder to vote.

SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, thank you.

Thank you, Barry Horstman. Thank you for your reporting.

Thank you, Mark Halperin, as well.

Up next: Michele Bachmann gets some backup on her absurd accusations
about the Muslim Brotherhood from none other of than Stephen Colbert. You
will want to see this. It`s in the "Sideshow."

And if you want to follow me on Twitter, you know all you need to do
is figure out how to spell Smerconish.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Back to HARDBALL. Now for the "Sideshow."

First up, Florida Tea Party Congressman Allen West is taking hits in a
Democratic super PAC ad from American Sunrise. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, POLITICAL AD)

NARRATOR: Allen West fancies himself a fighter. Maybe so. West has
socked it to seniors, voting to end Medicare as we know it. He`s whacked
women with his votes for huge cuts in women`s health care funding. And
he`s mauled middle-class families by supporting a budget plan that would
cut taxes on the rich, while eliminating our tax breaks for college tuition
and mortgages.

Allen West is a fighter, all right, but it`s time for us to fight back
and knock him out of Congress once and for all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Congressman West wrote to his voters to say the ad --
quote -- "plays on stereotypes and fear to divide Americans and it cheapens
the very real and tragic occurrences of violence against women and
seniors."

Next, Stephen Colbert took up Congresswoman Michele Bachmann`s mission
to expose the nonexistent Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of the federal
government. In an interview with Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison last
night, Colbert tried to connect the dots. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE COLBERT REPORT")

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Are you a Muslim?

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: Yes, sir.

COLBERT: Do you have siblings?

(LAUGHTER)

ELLISON: Yes, sir.

COLBERT: So you are literally a Muslim brother?

(LAUGHTER)

ELLISON: I guess.

COLBERT: You realize that I have just caught you.

(LAUGHTER)

COLBERT: I have just caught you in a lie.

ELLISON: Look, that`s a whole other organization in Egypt. And I
don`t have anything to do with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: As usual, Colbert finds the funny in the ridiculous.

Finally: a whisper campaign out West? Earlier this week, suggestive
mailers were sent out by Arizona Congressman Ben Quayle`s opponent,
Congressman David Schweikert. Now, the mailers say Quayle -- quote --
"goes both ways."

But on the back of the mailer, it says "on important conservative
issues." That`s a pretty important distinction. A Quayle spokeswoman
responded -- quote -- "The mailer is utterly false regarding Congressman
Quayle, but accurately demonstrates the two sides of Dave Schweikert, the
usual dishonesty and lies combined with a sleazy smear tactic."

Schweikert`s campaign tells HARDBALL they won`t apologize.

Up next: The conservative base is getting increasingly anxious with
the Romney campaign, especially after the series of mistakes they have made
lately. If the right can`t trust him, who can?

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I`m Milissa Rehberger.
Here`s what happening.

Attorney General Eric Holder spoke to the mourners gathered in Oak
Creek, Wisconsin, as they paid their final respects to the six people
killed at a Sikh temple. Authorities say Wade Michael Page, a white
supremacist, was the sole gunman in last weekend`s attack.

A new report says corn farmers could face their lowest crop yields in
17 years, due to the drought plaguing much of the U.S.

And stocks ended the week higher. The Dow gained 42, the S&P rose
three, and the Nasdaq was up two -- now back to HARDBALL.

SMERCONISH: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

You know times are tough when even your own teammates aren`t with you.
And Mitt Romney is learning that lesson this week, after a rough couple of
days. Conservatives don`t trust him, and many of them are telling him he`d
better stay to the right, stop the health care talk, pick Paul Ryan for
V.P.

Here was Laura Ingraham this morning issuing a warning call on her
radio program.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE LAURA INGRAHAM SHOW")

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I might be the skunk at the
picnic, but I`m going to say it. I`m going to say it clearly. Romney`s
losing.

I don`t pretend to have all the answers, but I know one thing.
Conservatism wins.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: So can Romney gain the trust of the right?

Jennifer Rubin writes the "Washington Post" blog Right Turn and is a
contributor to CNBC`s "Kudlow Report." Jonathan Alter is a Bloomberg View
columnist, as well as an MSNBC political analyst.

Jennifer, you wrote yesterday that this week was -- quote -- "a lesson
that the campaign dare not be oblivious to deep-seated grievances and
sensitivities from conservative foot soldiers."

I keep wondering what exactly -- and I`m aware, of course, of the
comment from Andrea Saul. But what exactly has gone astray? I haven`t
seen any sign of Mitt Romney tacking toward the middle, which I thought he
would do and needs to do in order to win independents.

JENNIFER RUBIN, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, he is a
center-right candidate. The Republicans nominated the least conservative
person that was running.

So there is a degree of nervousness, as there is in any arranged
marriage, that the person you have been set up for is going to do you
wrong. And conservatives are known for having candidates do them wrong
once elected.

There was a little scuffle this week. I wrote on it rather
extensively in terms of the foreign policy personnel. But I think two
things are important. First of all, the conservatives have been very
pleased with two developments. One, he went overseas and he stood firmly
behind Israel, very important in the conservative movement these days.

And, two, he has really stood up for free enterprise and for small
business, which really oppressed conservatives. I also would urge that
your viewers take a look at some of the polls and take a look at the
Resurgent poll, which I wrote about today.

It shows that conservatives and specifically Republicans who are going
to vote are incredibly optimistic, incredibly excited and enthusiastic.
They want to go and vote, whether it`s voting for Mitt Romney or whether
it`s voting against Obama. They have an enthusiasm advantage on the right,
which is not going away.

And despite these little scuffles, despite people to-ing and fro-
interesting, Romney is going to have a tremendous turnout, as the
Republicans did in 2010. That`s one of the reasons, I think, why Obama is
going so negative.

SMERCONISH: Jonathan Alter, that causes me -- Jonathan Alter, that
causes me to ask if any of this really matters, because, as Jennifer is
pointing out, the conservatives are coming out to vote. Their antipathy
toward Obama is such that wild horses aren`t going to keep them away.

So, what is the net effect of what we`re talking about.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it`s a
leadership test for Mitt Romney. Is he their prisoner or is he their
leader?

And he has not pivoted to the center, as so many people expected him
to do. He`s not gone for independent voters. And so recent polls have
shown that he`s losing independent voters. He can`t win the election
without independent voters.

But if he moves too much to the center on things like health care, he
will alienate the base and perhaps dampen turnout. But I agree that the
anti-Obama feeling is so strong that most conservatives will turn out
anyway, which allows him the opportunity, I think, to move a little more
than he has.

And you could argue that maybe the conservatives` bark is worse than
its bite in this election, since the turnout will be heavy. But, again,
Romney has to show that he is their leader.

You know, Grover Norquist put it really well. He said, all we need is
somebody with enough digits to sign bills that we have passed. And if
that`s -- if that`s what they are expecting their president to be, he
should be disabuse them of that notion if he wants to get props for being a
strong leader.

RUBIN: The reason, Jonathan, that he hasn`t had to pivot is that he`s
already in the center-right.

He is, for example, on Social Security reform, not proposing
individual accounts. That was a big thing for the right. On, for example
tax reform, did -- never got behind a flat tax reform. This is a
mainstream conservative.

ALTER: No, he`s not.

RUBIN: And -- yes, he is.

ALTER: He`s not in the center-right.

RUBIN: In the scheme of all of the folks that you on the left like
once they have lost elections, he is...

ALTER: The center of gravity -- the center of gravity has moved so
far to the right that maybe you could say...

RUBIN: Well, the country as well. That`s what we saw in 2010.
That`s right. The country is more conservative than it was in 2008.

(CROSSTALK)

ALTER: Jennifer, maybe you could make the argument...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Let me get in on this. Let me get in on this, if I
might.

Jennifer, we led the program tonight with poll results -- and you`re
familiar with them, for sure -- from both FOX and CNN that show that
Governor Romney trails by between seven and nine points in the popular
vote, and by as many as 11 among independents.

It seems to me that if the criticism from the likes of Laura Ingraham
or Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, because I have watched and heard them all
this week say things condemning of the Romney campaign over these recent
issues, if those comments are successful in keeping Romney to the far right
-- and I agree with Jonathan -- that`s where I think he`s run thus far --
then he never closes that 11-point gap with independents.

ALTER: Right.

SMERCONISH: And by listening to these folks, he loses the campaign.
What`s wrong with that logic?

ALTER: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIN: Well, two things.

First of all, you point to two polls, both of which have a very strong
advantage in turnout for Democrats. If you talk to the Romney campaign and
if you talk to the Obama campaign, they think the electorate is going to
look a lot more like 2010, 2004, which is an even division between
Republicans and Democrats.

The polls that you just pointed to have an advantage plus-seven, plus-
11. Those are not realistic polls, nor are they polls of likely voters. I
think when you look at the polls that do try to zero in on more likely
voters and when you look at an electorate that`s a little bit more
balanced, as it is expected to be, those numbers are much closer.

And I think we are now beginning the point in the election where those
famous independents, the ones that slosh around in the middle in every
election, begin to perk up. And the Romney campaign thinks they are going
to have a successful convention. They think they`re going to be good in
the debates.

So I think anyone who really takes national polls seriously in the
month of August probably isn`t too sophisticated.

ALTER: I agree with that.

SMERCONISH: Jonathan, Jonathan, Jonathan, does this all boost the
odds of Paul Ryan becoming the pick? I mean, that would quell the
discontent on the right.

ALTER: Yes, it would.

Look, Ryan`s advantage is, he`s young, he`s very bright, and he would
satisfy all the conservatives and unify the Republican Party.

The disadvantage is that he is ideologically and will pull Romney
ideologically far out of the mainstream of American politics. The Ryan
plan, which will come to the fore, is very unpopular in its particulars.
It`s a radical plan.

It dramatically cuts taxes further for the wealthy. It cuts $800
billion out of Medicaid, which helps the poor and seniors -- Medicaid helps
a lot of seniors -- as well as voucherizing Medicare. These are very
problematic in the fall campaign.

And so the Romney campaign has to make a decision. Does it want to
have essentially a Medicare campaign going forward? And I would imagine
that might be very perilous for them.

SMERCONISH: Jennifer, let me show you what conservative blogger Erick
Erickson responded to Romney`s spokesperson Andrea Saul`s comments earlier
this week.

He tweeted the following: "OMG. This might just be the moment Mitt
Romney lost the election. Wow."

I have a question for you.

RUBIN: Yes.

SMERCONISH: The folks that I have talked about on the right thus far,
whether it`s Erick Erickson or Limbaugh or Coulter or Laura Ingraham, would
they rather lose this election than see Mitt Romney win the election by
running a more moderate campaign designed to reach that 11-point gap where
he trails among independents?

RUBIN: Well, I don`t pretend to plum the mind of Erick Erickson. If
he had his way, I think Rick Perry would be the nominee. So let`s put him
aside.

I think there`s two things going on. First of all, Paul Ryan is not
some whacked out right winger. He runs from a district that has voted
Democratic for president in every year since 2004. His Medicare plan --

ALTER: His family is among the richest in the district.

RUBIN: Excuse me. It`s the Ryan Medicare plan. His tax plan does
not cut tax rates for the rich. It cuts rates for everyone. So, I think
once --

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Hold it. I really want an answer to this question,
because I wonder about it. Would folks on the right, the far right, the
prognosticators, pundits and talking heads I`m addressing, rather lose the
election than have Mitt Romney win it as a moderate? I maintain the guy
who was the governor of Massachusetts would be winning this race if he were
running as he governed in Massachusetts. But that unless he moves in that
direction, he will lose this campaign. And I`d love Jennifer Rubin to
respond to that thought process.

RUBIN: I`m sure there are people out there because they get better
ratings or because they get more clicks on the blog would like to go down
in flames. But I think the overwhelming number of conservatives have, as
Jonathan said, such antipathy towards Barack Obama that that really trumps
any concern they have about Mitt Romney.

So, no, I don`t think they would rather lose. And more importantly
the people who vote don`t want to lose. Pundits wish they were a majority
of the country -- unfortunately were not, are we, Jonathan?

So I think in the conservative body politic, there`s no sense of
cutting off your nose to spite your face.

MERCONISH: Thank you both. Thank you, Jennifer Rubin. Thank you,
Jonathan Alter, as always.

Up next, the very funny D.L. Hughley will be with us. His new book is
all about politics even if I can`t say its title on TV.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. may be back to work soon.
The congressman disappeared on a secret medical leave of absence two months
ago. But now, his wife says he`ll be home by September 1st and will
campaign vigorously for re-election.

Jackson is being treated for depression and medical issues at the Mayo
Clinic.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are also those
who claim that our reform efforts would ensure illegal immigrants. This
too is false. The reforms -- the reforms I`m proposing would not apply to
those here illegally.

REP. JOE WILSON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You lie.

OBAMA: It`s not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: We`re back.

We all remember that infamous bit of disrespect by Congressman Joe
Wilson as the president addressed a joint session of Congress back in 2009.

Well, comedian D.L. Hughley says the president`s response to that
shaped his presidency and not for the good. In his new book, Hughley
tackles the sensitive subjects of politics and race and how they define our
current political moment. Does President Obama need to learn how to stand
up to bullies better?

The book is called "I Want You to Shut the blank Up: How the Audacity
of Dopes is Ruining America."

And D.L. Hughley joins us now.

Easy for you to say, D.L., because you had to contend with Bubba
Rankin as a kid. And the president, he had it easy in Hawaii. Who is
Bubba Rankin and how could the president have learned from that kind of an
experience?

D.L. HUGHLEY, "I WANT YOU TO SHUT THE F-- UP": I think that everybody
at least has had some level of experience with, a bigger, stronger guy who
was determined to do what most bullies do which is pick on the weakest,
easiest target. And he was that guy for me.

And I think I learned as much from him about myself as I ever did from
a lot of books -- let`s face it, I`ve never read a lot of books. But
obviously Bubba Rankin was instrumental in teaching me and shaping the way
that I see the world.

And I think that one thing you learn from the bullies is tactics and
you learned that reason doesn`t tend to work with them.

SMERCONISH: So you depict the president in the book as Carlton Banks.
Are you getting a workout from the community in the way in which you`ve
presented the president in that regard?

HUGHLEY: I think that the kind of comparison was I thought more
people hoped for a Wesley Snipes and what we got was a Carlton Banks. And
I think he`s incredibly -- let`s face it, a Wesley Snipes could not have
gotten elected. But I think he is an incredibly thoughtful and
intellectual guy. I think that those kinds of -- I think he thinks like
intellectuals do. And they tend to think they can reason with people who
are patently unreasonable.

SMERCONISH: You got to hang with Mitt Romney in a green room, but you
didn`t come away saying wow what a smart guy. You came away saying
something else. What was that?

HUGHLEY: I think I say what even Republican operatives say. He is
the most empty vessel of a human being -- I think he`s the worst
presidential candidate I have seen in my life time, and I`m saying
specifically -- not because he`s a bad human being.

But I think he doesn`t seem to have a core. I think he seems
entitled. I think he seems aloof. I think when he went over to England
and he basically -- the British came away saying that he was arrogant and
boring. That`s quite a compliment considering they are the people who
invented arrogant and boring.

SMERCONISH: You have respect, and I know how you use the word in the
book. It`s not meant derisively. D.L. Hughley has respect for guys to
hustle. I, too, have respect for guys who hustle. We don`t mean it in a
nefarious way. We mean guys who make or say stuff happen. Isn`t Romney a
guy who has made stuff happened?

HUGHLEY: Well, if you consider being on third base and walking to
home plate making stuff happen, then I guess he does. I think that
obviously, he has -- you know, obviously, he`s done well. And I think he`s
done well with a pretty good head start. Whereas the guys I`m referring to
not being able to take not very much of anything and make pretty
substantive gains.

And I think that he doesn`t -- when I think of hustler, I certainly
don`t think of him. I think of people who find a way despite all the odds
to kind of triumph, or to kind of get through. I think my father was a
hustler. I think a lot of the cats that shaped the way I see the world
were hustlers. I think that Bill Clinton was a hustler.

So, I think that people who find a way, despite the circumstance,
seeing negative, to find a way to persevere and make things happened.

SMERCONISH: In the book, I love this part -- you talk about how
Clinton went back to work after the whole school as if nothing had
happened. And you said, only a black dude is going to be able to do that.

HUGHLEY: Yes, only a black dude can go back to work after he gets
fired, like nothing happened. I think that, and obviously you see in 20
years, you know, almost two decades after he`s been out of office, to be --
I think we were talking about this earlier, he is positive has never been
higher. He`s still relevant on the international scene and on the national
scene.

And I think it`s specifically it`s because of everybody knew he was
slick. But he also had enough components that people could respect. I
think he found a way to get stuff done. I think Reagan, you know, worked
with O`Neill. He found a way to get stuff done. Clinton and Gingrich,
they seemed adversarial, they found a way to get stuff done.

I think it`s the ability to cut through all the stuff going on and
find a way to move forward and make things happen.

SMERCONISH: Hey, D.L., you had some strong words on another
controversial topic. The flap over Chick-fil-A last week. Evangelical
leaders, as you know, like Mike Huckabee declared Chick-fil-A appreciation
day, after gay activists protested the fast food chain for comments by its
president, Dan Cathy, attacking gay marriage.

Then you wrote a letter to the restaurant chain, in part saying,
"You`ve been speaking with a fork tongue, spewing hate instead of frying
love. So Chick-fil-A, baby, I guess what I`m struggling to say as I fight
back the tears and wipe the grease from my fingers is this, it`s not that I
don`t love you. We know that`s not true. I know I`ll never find another
like you, but we`re growing in two different directions. I`m afraid I
won`t be able to see you anymore."

What thoughts can you add to that about Chick-fil-A?

HUGHLEY: Well, I think obviously Mr. Cathy has a right to his opinion
and it`s a very strong one. It`s one from both his mouth and his money.
And I have not opposed it. I am for the right to speak and to voice your
opinion.

I also think that anybody who`s so arrogant that he believe that he
has the answers that God has, you can control your life and God speaks in
your life and that is well and good. I applaud him for that. But to
actually believe that not only does he speak for him but he can actually
impart his view on -- enforce his view on somebody else, seems patently
unreasonable to me. And Lord knows I`m going to miss the chicken sandwich,
I hate to say it on national TV.

SMERCONISH: D.L. --

HUGHLEY: So, I feel a sense of resentment he made me break up with
one of my favorite snacks.

SMERCONISH: D.L., I enjoyed the book immensely. What I like about it
the most is I think you defy labels. We`ve only got 30 seconds left
together.

How do you characterize yourself if people ask about your politics?

HUGHLEY: I try to be a man, stand for what I believe in, I try to say
what I believe, I try to be my own captain of my own team, I try to have my
own thoughts and I try to stand for the things I believe. And I think that
most of all, if I`m nothing else, I try to be as human and humane as
possible.

SMERCONISH: D.L. Hughley, many thanks.

HUGHLEY: Thank you, man.

SMERCONISH: Here`s the book, it`s called, "I Want You to Shut the
blank Up." We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Hey, let me finish tonight with this. John Harwood wrote
an interesting piece this week for "The New York Times", in which he
discussed the difficulty that pollsters are having in this presidential
cycle, as they try to reach one segment of the electorate, those who rely
exclusively on cell phones.

Harwood pointed out that Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster, and
Peter Hart, his Democratic counterpart, they conducted the NBC News/"Wall
Street Journal" poll, that they recently increased the proportion of
respondents who rely exclusively on cell phones to 30 percent from 25
percent.

And to home in on them, the pollsters ended calls answered on cell
phones if the respondents said they also had a landline. These voters,
they tend to be more Democratic in their political views than those with
landlines.

Well, it occurs to me that there are other nonpolitical ramifications
to our tendency to rely on cell phones only. Namely, that total reliance
on our individual phones actually limits communication. And you can trace
this to the days when the only phone ringing in the house was a house
phone, usually in the kitchen. Whoever was closest, picked it up,
exchanged greetings with the person at the other end of the line, and then
handed it off to the caller`s intended recipient, usually after somebody
shouted out, "phone".

Today, my kids, they don`t move a muscle when our land line rings.
We`re all reliant on our own devices. For me, that`s an iPhone, laptop,
and desktop computer. But I don`t use any of those to reach out to the
people on the periphery of my own social network.

Give you a great example. My in-laws, sure, we`re congenial at the
Thanksgiving table, but we don`t call one another. Apart from semi-annual
visits, ours was the sort of relationship kept in tact when I served as an
intermediary for communications with my wife by phone.

Or consider the case of your daughter`s boyfriend or son`s girlfriend.
Remember how you used to get your first impression of him or her? Their
phone manner. Hello, Mr. Smernikoff (ph) -- you immediately knew if he was
courteous. Maybe he`d say, "May I please speak with?" You knew if he had
a personality, "Hey, did you hear the one about?"

You got a hunch as to whether he was appropriate -- "Oh, no, sir, I
would never dream of that." And whether he was smart, "I loved your
HARDBALL commentary."

Well, now, you`ve never heard of him until he shows up at the front
door. It`s the same with your kids` entire social circle and your
husband`s boss and your wife`s book club. The only person who get to know
these people is the one who deals directly with them.

But those days are over. Who knew the old rotary dial was the axle
through which all the spokes in the family and social network were
connected.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us. Have a great
weekend.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
END

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