Polls close in Virginia Transcript 11/7/17 Hardball with Chris Matthews

Guests: Shannon Pettypiece, Steve Jarding, Annie Linskey, David Catanese

Show: HARDBALL Date: November 7, 2017 Guest: Shannon Pettypiece, Steve Jarding, Annie Linskey, David Catanese

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, "THE BEAT": Talk to us about any of the segments tonight or the results in this big night of election races, which will be covered continuously for the rest of the night. Keep it locked on MSNBC. HARDBALL starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST, HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS: Virginia is for lovers of those old confederate statues. Let`s play "HARDBALL."

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews across the Potomac River from the old dominion. That`s right. Virginia voted today and early exit polls show that three out of five voters - that`s three out of five want the Confederate statues which have been at the heart of the governor`s race left standing.

All eyes are on that marquee race for governor down there between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam, the lieutenant governor.

And right now, NBC News is characterizing that race for governor as too early to call with the polls closed.

But Democrats are bracing themselves for either a comforting victory or, of course, another devastating defeat. Recent polling has shown Northam with a slight edge, but within the margin of error.

Gillespie, a former aide to President George W. Bush has tried to balance his establishment Republican bona fides, while adopting Trumpian tactics to his own self. If he wins, he can provide fellow Republicans with a blueprint on how to campaign in the age of Trump.

But let`s get the very latest from the race right now from our own Steve Kornacki. Steve, what do we know?

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was 7 o` clock. So, the polls just closed in Virginia. We`re still an hour away in New Jersey. As you just showed, we have no actual votes in yet. We`ll keep you posted.

But what can we show you from the exit polls? Let`s take a look at a few of the key questions that we can start to tackle there. First of all, see if we can - let me call up - there it is. OK. That should call it up.

Here we go. The trump factor, starting in Virginia. The president, his approval rating, according to the exit poll, clocks in at 43 percent. By comparison, last time they had a governor`s race in Virginia, four years ago, Barack Obama was the president, his party`s candidate did win, very close race. His number was 46 on election day. Trump`s today coming in at 43 in this exit poll.

Also, New Jersey, you could say, a blue state, not surprisingly 32 percent is the Trump approval rating there.

But keep your eye on this. Even more significant maybe in this New Jersey race, how about Chris Christie. Look at the odyssey for Chris Christie throughout his time as governor. He peaked at 77 percent back during Hurricane Sandy, all the way down today in the exit poll, a 19 percent approval rating for Chris Christie as his Lt. Gov. tries to succeed him there.

But back to Virginia, obviously, the marquee race, something else we can tell you. The story last year in the election of Donald Trump was that social class split among white college, white non-college voters.

What share of the electorate are we talking about here? In this exit poll, at least the data we have right now, 43 percent of the voters in Virginia, white college grads, 26 percent white non-college. You could see that would be if that holds. We`ll see as more numbers comes in.

If that holds, that will be an uptick in white college graduates from 2016. That`s something Democrats wanted to see. And you mentioned it to this question here. Ed Gillespie, he ran on these Trump cultural issues.

The question here, Confederate monuments on government property, should they be removed? Only 36 percent of Virginians in the exit polls said yes. Left in place, 60 percent said leave them be. So, that one is going to get certainly plenty of attention. That was an issue that Ed Gillespie ran on, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Well, thank you very much. Steve Kornacki, we`ll be back to you throughout the evening. Anyway, the governor`s race isn`t the only interesting one to watch in Virginia. All 100 seats in Virginia`s house of delegates are up for grabs today. And Democrats are hoping to gain ground there.

As NBC News reports, "if Democrats surprise and gain ten or more seats in the house of delegates, it would be a sign they are probably on track to take back the US House of Representatives next year.

For more on this and the governor`s race, I`m joined by Jeff Schapiro, politics columnist for "The Richmond Times-Dispatch".

Jeff, thank you so much for joining. What do you smell out there tonight in terms of how this race is going to speak to the country?

JEFF SCHAPIRO, POLITICS COLUMNIST, "THE RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH": The fundamentals in Virginia have always favored the Democrats. To the outside world, this may seem a southern state. But it is a suburban dominated state, in which the majority of people who live here are from somewhere else, whether it`s out of state or overseas.

This has had a moderating effect on the state`s politics, and that`s particularly evident in higher turnout elections. This is why Trump didn`t win Virginia in 2016. And it looks like - excuse me, it looks like Ralph Northam will win it for governor.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about Trump here, how`s he do? Is it that thing where you just get more rural, the more Trump, like the days of Oliver North? We could always tell where the Oliver North signs were going to be on people`s lawns the further you got from D.C. It was pretty simple. Is it not the same with Trump?

SCHAPIRO: Two-thirds of the people who live in Virginia live in cities and suburbs. It`s in those cities and suburbs that the enmity for the president is greatest.

And maybe it`s an accident of geography that Virginia is across the river from you all in Washington, but there is not much that Donald Trump has said or done that hasn`t had an immediate and measured effect on suburban Virginia. Whether it was the perceived Muslim ban, the freeze on federal employment, and the threatened shutdown of the federal government. The president`s gambit to squeeze money from the Democrats for the wall on the border with Mexico.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the house of delegates, the lower house down there in Virginia. Do you think that`s going to give us a reading on how the chances are for the Democrats to pick up the US House next November?

SCHAPIRO: It`s tricky, Mr. Matthews. The legislature in Virginia, when controlled by the Democrats, and now controlled by the Republicans, has elevated to a high art, hyper-partisan gerrymandering.

That goes a long way towards protecting a number of these Republican incumbents. That said, there is 54 of 66 Republican seats contested. And in northern Virginia, where the turnouts are running higher, it`s possible, underscore that, possible, that there could be a wave effect and some of these Republican incumbents in these fast growing, increasingly diverse outer suburbs of D.C. could be in trouble.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Let`s get one thing straight, Jeff. You are the sophisticated gentleman with the bow tie. I`m not Mr. Matthews. I`m Chris Matthews. But thank you for your dignitary tonight.

I was but impressed by your elan, your sophistication and your nuance. Sir, thank you so much. Jeff Schapiro of "The Richmond Times-Dispatch". You haven`t heard that stuff lately.

In the closing days of this race, the polls have tightened. "RealClearPolitics" average has Northam up by 3. I think that`s the number to keep your eye on, about 3, within the margin of error.

Just a month ago, Northam had a 6-point lead. I think it`s closed a little, but not enough, I don`t think, for Gillespie.

Anyway, Hillary Clinton beat Trump in Virginia by 5 points last time around, last year. It was the only southern state that Donald Trump didn`t win. For more on how Democrats are feeling about this race and their party, I am joined by Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez.

Tom Perez, do you know that you have the power to get rid of a presidential nominee when you feel like it? I just heard this from Donna Brazile the other day. Do you have that kind of power?

TOM PEREZ, CHAIRMAN OF THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I didn`t realize that. I better not -

MATTHEWS: I love Donna, but I didn`t know she was that powerful.

PEREZ: I better not catch the cold next week or someone might do that to me.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about this whole race tonight because Virginia is not the old Confederacy, it`s not the old dominion anymore. It`s got a lot of northerners living down there, a lot of single women that work in DC, who are almost all pro-choice, and they`re sensitive about it. You have the African-Americans who are voting in big numbers now. Is that still a state that you guys own?

PEREZ: Well, Virginia is a purple state. There`s no doubt about it.

MATTHEWS: Is it?

PEREZ: That`s why this election will be close.

MATTHEWS: Even with Virginia, the governor and two Democratic senators?

PEREZ: But Virginia is - and 66 Republicans in the house of delegates. And we`re changing that because that was a hyper gerrymander.

And one thing that Mr. Schapiro - I`m going to call you Mr. Matthews tonight.

MATTHEWS: Please. Just don`t do that.

PEREZ: One thing that is so important about this is I think those down ballot races - I spoke to -

MATTHEWS: So, you buy this, this is a leading indicator of what your party can do next November? If you pick up ten seats or so in the assembly there, in the house of delegates, that`s a good sign?

PEREZ: I think it`s a very good sign. And we`ll see what happens tonight. But I met with most, if not all of the challengers. And in the last three or four cycles, Chris, Democrats only contested 45 or so seats. And so, we ceded the other 50, 55.

We have 88 candidates this time. And they are spectacular candidates. And they`re going to drive turnout in their districts. We`re, obviously, not going to win 88 seats, but when you get people out the door -

MATTHEWS: How about the districts in Virginia where Hillary Clinton won last year and you have a Republican incumbent, they must be your happy hunting ground. That`s what you`d like to win.

PEREZ: And there are 17 of them and we need 17 seats to flip the house of delegates. That`s a tall order to get to 17.

MATTHEWS: Will you get 17?

PEREZ: I think that`s a tall order tonight. But I think that - the last time that Democrats won both New Jersey and Virginia governors races was 2005. And we know what happened in 2006.

And the reason we`re winning is because I spent a lot of time in both states, people are talking about healthcare. They see what Donald Trump is doing. That have loved ones who have an opioid addiction issue and they`re seeing this president take away their access.

In Virginia, they haven`t expanded Medicare. Why? Because the Republican- dominated House and Senate have said no. And people understand that.

And Virginia looks a lot like America. The diversity of America.

MATTHEWS: You`re right. Because we`ve got exit polling saying that healthcare is the number one issue in Virginia. So, you`ve nailed that one.

Here`s my problem with your party, by the way. And you know I have a problem, which is you argue about the Republican tax bill, which I think shouldn`t get near passed, but you don`t offer an alternative to rebuild this country.

Why do Democrats fear to talk about construction, jobs, good jobs, railways, fixing up the country and building a big intercontinental railroad system? Doing something that catches up to the rest of the world? Why don`t Democrats support public enterprise?

PEREZ: I do that all the time. The Democratic Party is about bold possibilities. It`s about making sure that we give opportunities in every community for everyone.

MATTHEWS: Stop dithering about what the Republicans are doing and outmatch them.

PEREZ: Amen.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

PEREZ: Chris, it`s always good to be here.

MATTHEWS: Tom Perez, the chair of the Democratic Party. He does not claim the right to remove the nominee for president.

Anyway, President Trump has cast a long shadow over the race, despite having just a 41 percent approval rating in Virginia, not so high. But I think it went up today to 43 in the exits.

Anyway, from Seoul, South Korea, the president urged his supporters to get out and vote for Gillespie. From South Korea, he did. Tweeting, "Ralph Northam will allow crime to be rampant in Virginia. He is weak on crime, weak on our great vets, anti-Second Amendment and has been horrible on the Virginia economy. Vote Ed Gillespie today." That`s from Seoul, South Korea, courtesy of the president.

Gillespie has kept President Trump at arm`s length, however, even if the president hasn`t kept Gillespie at arm`s length on the issues. Will it be enough to win the governor`s seat?

For more, I am joined by Michael Steele, former RNC chair and an MSNBC political analyst. If Donald Trump is such a great president, why won`t Ed Gillespie mention him, Michael?

You chuckle, but it`s a problem. If you like the guy so much and think you ought to get re-elected, re-nominated, whatever, because that seems to be the impulse among 80 percent of Republicans, why not show up with him?

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIR AND MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: That`s not necessarily reflected among candidates who are running around the country, who are going to be running in various races, they`re going to be reflected in the people and their community.

You`ve got to be sensitive to where popular national figure or unpopular national figure stand in your state as well. And so, the focus is - I went through this in 2006 wearing the brand of a party that was not very popular with the American people, and certainly not within my own state.

But you still forge ahead and you make your case to those folks about the issues that they care about, which I think Ed Gillespie did masterfully.

MATTHEWS: You`re not on the sidelines in this race, Michael. Don`t talk like you are on the sidelines because you are in there fishing in troubled waters. I know what you are up to. You are trying to get African- Americans Democrats not to vote Democrat -

STEELE: No. Stop it. Stop it. I`m not going to let you go. You`re not going to sit here and get away with that. That`s not what I`m doing at all. I have not done that at all. And anyone who says that, including "POLITICO" are dead wrong.

The fact of the matter is that myself and J.C. Watts who was on this program last night made it clear last night that the concerns that we raised was the way the Democratic Party and this Democratic candidate treated the African-American candidate for lieutenant governor. And the type of literature they put out that was two-faced, where he was on the literature when it went to certain neighborhoods in the northern parts of Virginia and he was off the literature in other parts of Virginia.

MATTHEWS: I thought that was because he wasn`t in good straights with the international laborers unions?

STEELE: Oh, Chris, please. Spare me. Come on. Stop it. Because not in good straights with the unions, really? You tell me you think it`s OK. Chris, you`re going to tell me -

MATTHEWS: You say (INAUDIBLE) and you are here arguing the issue, which is to say -

STEELE: Well, I`m just saying, the fact that you just want to side step it because you know daggone well that if a Republican put up two pamphlets, one showing a black candidate and the other one taking that black candidate off his pamphlet that you would be screaming to high heavens.

So, you`re not going to get away with it. You`re not going to play this game. It`s important that black Republicans push back on it.

MATTHEWS: I share such suspicions as those you just voiced. I just wanted to know whether you are in this fight or you`re watching it. Which is it?

STEELE: Oh, I`m in the fight for Ed, absolutely. No. There`s no doubt about it.

MATTHEWS: That`s what I wanted to know. And you`re making your points, thank you. Michael Steele, as always, well done with some charm.

We`ll be tracking by the way the returns from Virginia all night long tonight. Again, NBC News is characterizing the governor`s race, polls have closed, but it`s too early to call.

We`ll be right back with the bombshell news on the Russian investigation. There is always some Russian. There is Trump campaign foreign adviser. Carter Page says he coordinated with top campaign officials, five of them, before and after his trip to Moscow last July after maintaining he made the trip as a private citizen and he met with top Russian officials while he was there.

The glue gets thicker and stronger between the Russians and the Trumpees. This is Trump`s long-time bodyguard who`s interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee. Trump doesn`t like that guy being interviewed. I can tell you.

And this is "HARDBALL" where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re getting word right now that President Trump attempted a trip to the Demilitarized Zone, the 30th Parallel between North and South Korea, but he was turned back by not problem of - military problems, but bad weather.

NBC`s Kelly O`Donnell joins us now from Seoul with the story. Kelly, it looks like sunshine over there right now?

KELLY O`DONNELL, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE AND CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is heavy fog here, Chris. And this is a breaking development because, in advance of this trip, the White House had said President Trump would not go to the Demilitarized Zone.

Vice president Mike Pence had visited when he did an Asian tour earlier in the administration. So, this was an important and surprise development that has now fallen apart.

The pool, traveling with the president, had this information and it was held for a period of time as they made an attempt with Marine One to get to the Demilitarized Zone. They were turned back due to fog, restaged, tried to go again and then determined what we call a weather call that they would not be able to make this trip.

It would have been important, especially because the layout at the roughly 150-mile strip between North Korea and South Korea is a place where, according to those other lawmakers who have visited and people like Mike Pence, you can look right into the eyes of North Korean soldiers who are staged on the other side.

There was an enormous uptick of security around President Trump for this attempt that did not succeed due to weather. Obviously, the president had tried to make this a surprise, in part, because of the security threats that would be inherent for this kind of a visit.

And leading up to this attempt, President Trump had notably turned the volume down on his own rhetoric, not repeating some of his more belligerent provocative language that we have seen from him back in the United States. Much more toned down while here in Seoul.

Of course, Seoul itself is only roughly 35 miles from the North Korean border. So, this was an attempt to make a surprise visit, which would have been an opportunity for the president to look right into North Korea, a show of strength, perhaps, certainly an opportunity for him to get some perspective.

But, apparently, weather has foiled that attempt for President Trump to be right on the border with North Korea. Chris?

MATTHEWS: Great reporting from Kelly O`Donnell in Seoul, South Korea.

The latest in the Russian investigation and much more as we are trying to - or actually starting to see very early results in the Virginia governor`s race. Right now, the governor`s race, we`re calling it too early to call. Back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We continue to watch that Virginia governor`s race right now, but there`s new information tonight on the Russian investigation.

The newly released transcript of Carter Page`s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee last week reveals more about the former Trump campaign adviser`s trip to Moscow in July of 2016, right in the middle of the campaign.

Page said under oath that, prior to making the trip, he informed five -- that`s five -- campaign officials of his travel plans, including Jeff Sessions, the future A.G., and Hope Hicks, the future White House communications director -- and both serve the administration -- as well as then campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

While Page said he traveled as a private citizen to give a speech at the university in Moscow, an e-mail shows he offers to coordinate the details of his speech with the campaign.

The transcript also reveals that, after his event in Moscow, Page reported to campaign officials in an e-mail that, "I will send you guys a readout soon regarding some incredible insights and outreach I have received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the presidential administration here" -- close quote.

While Page told the committee he did not recall what he said about adding new language to the RNC platform on Ukraine before the convention, an e- mail shows Page congratulating his colleagues in the campaign after the change was made -- quote -- "As for the Ukraine amendment, excellent work."

I`m joined right now by Ken Dilanian, an investigative reporter with NBC News. Shannon Pettypiece is White House correspondent for Bloomberg News. And Robert Costa is national political reporter with "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst.

Ken, it`s great to have you on.

Can you just give me a full picture now? Take some time. What do we know about Carter Page, his relationship with the Trump campaign? For months, if not a year now, he said, oh, I was a private citizen on a tourist visa, whatever, acting like he had nothing to do with Trump and his plan to become president and deal with Russia his way.

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: that`s right, Chris.

So I think his testimony moves the story forward in two important dimensions. One, we have confirmed once and for all that he did meet with senior Russian government and business officials after he suggested for a month, as you said, that he did not. He met with a deputy prime minister, who passed on his good wishes to Trump.

He met with the number two person at a major oil and gas company. This was a high-level trip. And while Carter Page may say he was taking it in his personal capacity, it seems fairly obvious that the reason these important Russians were meeting with Carter Page was because he was Trump`s foreign policy adviser.

The second thing this testimony shows is that he coordinated this trip with the campaign. He sought permission from these senior campaign officials. And one of them, J.D. Gordon, told NBC News today that he tried to block the trip because he didn`t think it was a good idea for Carter Page to go, and Page went around him to other officials, who green-lighted it.

And then, lastly, we know that he reported back about the success of the trip and the coordination and the conversations he had with these Russian officials. He told the campaign about it.

So, if we believe -- and it seems fairly clear that Carter Page was somebody that Russians were trying to use to infiltrate the Trump campaign, Russians were trying to seduce, recruit, whatever verb you want to use. It`s very clear that seniors in the Trump campaign were on notice that this was going on. They either didn`t understand it or disregarded it -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Ken.

Let me go to Shannon right now about the implications.

It seems to me, you are talking the question -- I don`t think it`s a question anymore -- the idea of collusion between the Russians and the Trump people, when they changed the platform, the plank dealing with Ukraine to a pro-Russian position, and then they go back, good work, excellent work back and forth, it sounds to me like they`re doing the work of a collusion.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, BLOOMBERG NEWS: That is certainly how some people are interpreting all this.

MATTHEWS: I don`t know how you don`t interpret it that way. You are doing stuff that they want done. And you are getting -- you are giving credit to those who got it done for you.

PETTYPIECE: And the story keeps changing, and we keep peeling back layers of this story.

Like the meeting about adoption, that turned out to be a meeting about sanctions. Like Carter Page, who was just supposed to be a list on a name, and then -- or a name on a list of foreign policy advisers. Then everyone forgot about him.

And then we -- come out all these contacts, like George Papadopoulos. Who is that? I couldn`t remember who that was.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PETTYPIECE: And then, again, all of these campaign contacts, and like I think we will probably find additional information about this campaign platform.

MATTHEWS: Well, Robert, this whole problem is this unpeeling of an onion, basically, where we just keep unpeeling it, unpeeling it.

Trump`s position from the beginning has been there was no Russian attempt to intervene in our election. That`s fallen away a long time ago.

Then there was no connection between us and them. And you can see this flirtation back and forth involving Sessions an Carter Page and all these guys.

How does Trump look with a straight face to somebody like you, who covers him, and say -- and stick to that original position, there was no relationship?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hard to say.

And we have been waiting so long, because, watching the special counsel, it`s hard to speculate what Bob Mueller is up to. But we are seeing a lot of action this week on Capitol Hill. You are seeing the congressional committees publishing the transcript with Carter Page.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

COSTA: But what this really tells us, if you look at that list you put up on the screen of the five people he was talking to inside of the campaign, the most important person, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general.

MATTHEWS: He says there was no relationship.

COSTA: But he is coming to Capitol Hill next week to testify before the Judiciary Committee. Democrats are going to have tough questions for the attorney general about the whole scope of that relationship with Carter Page.

MATTHEWS: Well, Shannon, it seems that is -- beautifully set up by Robert -- one of those moments where like Bill Clinton goes in for his grand jury testimony, when you know what the situation is. You know there is a conflict between what he said before and what he has to answer for.

And it gets into this language, what do you mean is, is, and those things. Do you remember any relationship? Well, not that was reached to conclusion.

But he -- the way he was saying it before, Sessions was, we never met, we never did anything. It turns out, we met, we met, we met. And then he says, well, there`s no discussions about collusion. Well, they did discuss collusion.

PETTYPIECE: Right.

MATTHEWS: And they did discuss what the Russians wanted.

PETTYPIECE: I think there`s going to be a debate over what`s a meeting, which almost came up with Carter Page.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PETTYPIECE: Well, I mean, we met in passing. I don`t necessarily call that a meeting.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PETTYPIECE: What`s a meeting?

Where, you know, we`re getting down...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Well, we now know that he has admitted that he was in a meeting where head to shut off Papadopoulos and tell him to close down his argument for a deal for another meeting.

We know it all went on. How close are we getting to an argument here that there was collusion, Robert?

COSTA: There was this outer rim of the campaign. It`s arguable.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Trump had nothing to do with this?

COSTA: Well, I`m not ready to say that at all.

I think you look at Sam Clovis and George Papadopoulos, all these people who were kind of inside of the campaign, but not talking to Trump daily. They were still in the campaign. And they were having all of these meetings.

And what Bob Mueller and investigators on Capitol Hill are trying to piece together, where is the real network here? Where is the connection? Who knew what?

MATTHEWS: History lesson, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, all those guys went down before Nixon went down.

PETTYPIECE: Well, don`t forget we still have Manafort and Flynn out there. And there`s a lot of speculation about a Flynn indictment coming, and then I think more is to come on Manafort.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: OK, what do you know about the Flynn indictment coming? Are they going to squeeze them man -- the father to protect the son? What are they trying to get out of this guy?

It was done in the Rosenberg case. You threaten one part of the family and say, we`re going to go after the part you love. You can save that part. You can`t save yourself, so make the deal.

PETTYPIECE: Well, we have seen Mueller moving in a very smart, methodical way. So, that`s certainly the type of thing you would see a seasoned prosecutor like this do.

MATTHEWS: He`s frightening.

Anyway, thank you, Ken Dilanian, sir. Thank you, Shannon Pettypiece and Robert Costa.

We`re still tracking, of course -- we`re going to going to do it throughout the next -- the results coming in from Virginia in that hot governor`s race.

Again, NBC News -- this gets kind of dull, doesn`t it? -- characterizing the governor`s race as too early to call. It`s only 7:30. Of course, it`s too early.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Polls in Virginia right now have closed for over an hour, a half-hour now, and we are watching the returns coming in, in that governor`s race, which is, we`re saying, too early to call right now.

Well, both -- we could have known that, because this is going to be a close race.

Both Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie face a set of demographic challenges in tonight`s race in Virginia, where political divisions are reflected along geographic lines. No surprise there.

To win, Northam needs to run up the score in Northern Virginia, which is a lot like the rest of the country, it`s is not very Southern, which has a large population center of people all over the country and a Democratic stronghold, largely, I say, because there of so many single women.

In turn, for Gillespie to win, he needs to offset that margin in the rural parts of the commonwealth, where people have Southern accents in places like Western Virginia.

For more, let`s check back with the expert, Steve Kornacki.

Steve, tell me if I`m right or wrong. But it seems like that is the way we look at it.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Northern Virginia is the place to look. And that`s where I want to kind of dig a little deeper here.

And we are starting to get some numbers. Now, keep in mind, look, Gillespie is leading statewide right now. We do know that it tends to be Northern Virginia, that comes in, the bulk of it comes in late. Keep that in mind.

But let`s focus on those counties right outside the Washington, D.C., basically talking about -- sorry -- I should get this pen selected -- basically talking about -- well, I shouldn`t -- it -- God -- all right.

Anyway, 25 percent or so of the vote is going to come from those counties right outside of Washington, D.C. Now, here`s the thing to be looking at.

When we showed you those exit polls earlier, we showed almost half the college-educated white vote was going to Northam. That`s a very high number for a Democrat to be getting. And that immediately sets alarm bells off, saying, boy, are the Democrats doing even better than expected in these Northern Virginia suburbs?

Let me give you something where we`re starting to get -- if I can get this thing to work. It seems to have frozen.

I`m going to give you the numbers.

Prince William County, we`re starting to get some numbers. That`s right here on the map, Northern Virginia. Now, keep this in mind. Ed Gillespie ran for the Senate three years ago in Virginia. In this county, Prince William, he lost by only three points. His goal was to be competitive there tonight, not necessarily win, be competitive.

But, last year, this county swung hard against Trump. Trump lost it by 21. We don`t have all the votes in there right now. But right now you have Gillespie trailing by 29 points in the votes that have been counted so far.

So the question here for Gillespie was, could he bring it back to more of a 2014 level in Northern Virginia, or was he going to be stuck with the Trump stigma? Early indications may be pointing in that direction.

MATTHEWS: So he`s getting what -- Gillespie is getting the Trump vote?

KORNACKI: No, Gillespie is getting the stigma in Northern Virginia, because he ran as that sort of Bush-style Republican in 2014. He couldn`t win Northern Virginia. But he could keep the losses in check.

MATTHEWS: I understand.

Getting the Trump vote is not a good thing in Virginia.

KORNACKI: Right.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, thank you so much, Steve Kornacki.

I`m joined right now by Steve Jarding, who a Democratic strategist from down there, author of "Foxes in the Henhouse: How the Republicans Stole the South and the Heartland and What the Democrats Must Do to Run `em Out," and Cornell Belcher, of course, also a Democratic strategist and an MSNBC political analyst.

Gentleman, let me get your two schools of thought on this. I was amazed over the last couple weeks, Steve, that the Gillespie, who is all wrong for Virginia, he`s from -- he`s Catholic U up in Washington. He grew up in New Jersey. He`s establishment. He`s a lifelong lobbyist. He`s part of the Republican leadership in the RNC.

There is nothing Southern about him, really. And he`s up against this guy Northam, who, whatever you say about him, has a nice Southern accent and seems homegrown. And yet these numbers keep coming out as it`s close.

What do you make, Steve, make of it? STEVE JARDING, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think a part of what you are seeing, Chris, is the Trump folks are fired up.

They do -- they`re going to turn out all the time. I don`t see them going anywhere. They are going to keep turning out. And they`re going to turn out for a Republican.

So, Gillespie has that. What you have seen Gillespie try to do in Virginia is try to moderate himself in many ways, not in all ways. Obviously, the moving of the monuments and things like that play into that base.

But I think he is trying to have his cake and eat it too a little bit, where I`m going to keep that Trump base, but I`m going to try to eat into Northern Virginia and hopefully keep the lieutenant governor down, win big enough in Southwest and Southside Virginia, where Republicans traditionally have done well.

But you saw Mark Warner in `01, you saw Jim Webb do well in Southside and Southwest. So, Democrats have evened the score there a little bit.

But I think Gillespie`s strategy is make myself look safe to enough voters, and then rely on the base to come in without having to do too much to keep them. And he`s made it a close race. MATTHEWS: Well, let me you ask the first question. I will ask the same question to Steve, first to you.

Northam, the Democratic nominee, he`s also lieutenant governor, was he wise to say tear down all the Confederate statues right up front? That was the first thing he did. Was he smart to do that politically, Steve?

JARDING: Well, I guess we will find out shortly, right, Chris.

I think the polls in Virginia, at least the ones I have seen, most Virginians say don`t tear them down.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We have an exit poll that just came in. It`s probably based on early voting today, but it does say 60 percent of the state say leave them alone, leave them standing.

Cornell, what is your thinking about this, politically? Was it a smart move to challenge the old order that much?

CORNELL BELCHER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, my thinking is, look, if that`s what you believe, take the stand and fight for it.

I think Democrats have suffered far too long by being mealymouthed and trying to take it -- have it both ways.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but is it worth losing an election? Is it something to die for? Is it a fight worth dying for?

BELCHER: He`s not -- Chris, he is not going to lose an -- he is not going to lose an election in Virginia fighting for -- you know, saying that take down the Confederate Flags.

This is a state, by the way, Chris, that Obama won back-to-back majorities, and Hillary Clinton, who was not the best candidate, also carried, what, four or five points. And we have two Democratic sitting senators and Terry McAuliffe as governor.

I don`t think Democrats should play defensive in a state like Virginia. If he believes we should take down the Confederate monuments, well, then he should fight for it and make his case. Don`t try to have it both ways.

MATTHEWS: Where are you on that?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I want to ask Cornell, because I want to ask everybody. I`m going to ask you the same question, Steve.

We know have battlefields in Virginia, lots of them. And you have got the Bull Runs. You have got all kinds of stuff out in Virginia. Much of the war was fought in Virginia. Should you take the Confederate monuments off of the battlefield, Cornell? Just leave the Northern...

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: The truth of the matter is -- the truth of the matter is, even among African-American voters, when we did polling with minority voters in Virginia, they don`t see it as the top issue concern for them, right? They are much more concerned with...

MATTHEWS: How about you? I`m nailing you here, Cornell. I want an answer. Where do you stand on taking them off the battlefield?

BELCHER: With me? Absolutely. Absolutely.

Let me be perfectly clear.

MATTHEWS: I`m listening.

BELCHER: I think they were traitors to the United States of America, and that should come down, period. That`s how I feel.

MATTHEWS: I think you are not running for office. When you run for office, let me know, because that`s got a lot of nerve behind it.

Steve, where are you on this? Keep the statues up or take them down?

JARDING: Well, listen, I respect the side that says that`s a part of our history. I get it. We got a lot history in museums. I think you can put them in museums.

I think you can honor our history and still not disparage what the South tried to do, that the South tried to split the Union.

So I think the bigger issue, though, honestly, Chris, is that Democrats very often let these single polarizing issues define them. This race is not about that. Republicans are voting against health care. They`re voting against food stamps. They`re voting against programs for education, for their kids.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

JARDING: Look at what Trump is doing on education. The Republicans in Congress have done nothing, nothing to put money in the pockets of working Americans.

(CROSSTALK)

JARDING: ... talking about?

MATTHEWS: I`m going to talk about what I think about the statues.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: I think Hollywood is guilty. Hollywood, starting in the `30s, started building up the old South that never existed. It was all this, what`s her name, Scarlett O`Hara, and all that nonsense about the wonders and joys of the old South.

They never showed the slaves being beaten, put in chains. You never saw a slave in chains. All those movies were romanticized crap to make the old white tyranny look good. Anyway, it was awful. And we were brought up on that propaganda.

Anyway, thank you.

I don`t know why we were.

Thank you, Steve Jarding and Cornell Belcher.

I`m closer to you than you think, Cornell.

Up next: the HARDBALL Roundtable on the two big contests of the evening, including that race for -- I don`t think it`s much of a race for Jersey governor, because I think Christie really stunk up that state.

Polls close at the top of the hour on that one.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

You continue to watch the governor`s race down in Virginia, across the river from here, which NBC News has characterized, as I said, two early to call. The polls just closed at 7:00 Eastern.

Anyway, meanwhile, the other big race for governor tonight, not exactly a squeaker, we don`t think, is in New Jersey, where polls were closed at 8:00 Eastern.

I am joined right now by the roundtable tonight, Annie Linskey, chief national correspondent for "The Boston Globe", you love it when I say your name. And Vivian Salama is a reporter for NBC News, our own. And David Catanese is a senior politics writer with "U.S. News and World Report".

David, you were making a point before, that this Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, we`re all watching, it`s the marquee election, is not exactly got the same cut of the jib as Donald J. Trump.

DAVID CATANESE, SENIOR POLITICS WRITER, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: No, he`s a establishment Republican. He`s a former Republican National Committee chairman. He`s a lobbyist. I mean, this was a party guy. Now, he tries - -

MATTHEWS: He`s also a Northerner.

CATANESE: He`s a North -- he`s from New Jersey.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CATANESE: But he also, you know, he tried to use the Trump playbook late in the game, using cultural issues.

MATTHEWS: Name them.

CATANESE: Confederate statues, saying they should be kept up, talking about gangs.

MATTHEWS: MS-13.

CATANESE: MS-13 gangs.

MATTHEWS: Saying that the Democratic candidate was against outlawing sanctuary cities, he was like voting negatively to make a point.

CATANESE: Right. And also, allowing felons out, you know, out of prison.

MATTHEWS: We are looking, by the way, at the early, it is not a call, but we`re looking at the row boat. In these, to the experts of Virginia that have educated me all day, it`s not a surprise that Ed Gillespie will get the boat in from rural areas faster, ironically, they got an earlier vote.

CATANESE: Good numbers I think for Northam, because usually, southern Virginia pours in first.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

CATANESE: And a Republican always has a lead, right, a three, four-point lead, and then we see northern --

MATTHEWS: A winner for an hour or two.

CATANESE: He`s a winner for an hour or two, and then Northern Virginia --

MATTHEWS: They always do the raw vote, since I watched the Nixon-Kennedy in the `60s, don`t pay attention to the raw vote. But we have to give you the news -- Vivian.

VIVIAN SALAMA, NBC NEWS REPORTER: I mean, so what we see in Virginia, traditionally, the year after a presidential election, is they will often go for a party not in the White House, and so, with the exception of McAuliffe`s second term.

MATTHEWS: Like buyer`s remorse.

SALAMA: Whatever you want to call it, that has been the pattern so far. And so, whether or not we`re going to see that again, we don`t know, but, you know, President Obama had really kind of dominated and pushed that state into the blue area for a while and then obviously now, you know, President Trump is trying to sway it back.

Whether or not he is successful or not, it depends. Whether or not that`s an indication of how he has been doing, it`s too early to tell I think.

MATTHEWS: In some states like Massachusetts that when you vote for governor, you don`t vote ideologically, in Utah, for years, they elect a Democratic governor just to balance things off for the Republican senators, Massachusetts, regular or every other time picks a Republican even though it`s a liberal state.

ANNIE LINSKEY, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Virginia is like that. They can pick Republican governors. They did, Bob McDonnell.

LINSKEY: You know, I do think, you know, you`ve got to say here, Northam is not exactly the most dynamic candidate. I mean, you know, certainly, the fundamentals are looking good tonight for him, you know? But I mean, my goodness, it felt a little big to me like --

MATTHEWS: Tim Kaine is not very dynamic, but he`s very popular. Anyway, let`s go to New Jersey where polls closed at the top of hour, reporters captured Governor Christie engaging in an argument, I like Christie fighting, with a voter outside his polling collection.

Let`s watch a portion of that action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: It`s easier to sit here and complain. It`s easier to sit --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t have the money like you.

CHRISTIE: Oh, really, I`m sure, I`m sure. Easier to sit here and complain, but you know what, that`s the joy of public service. It`s serving folks, it`s serving folks --

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE: Yes, it`s serving folks like you that is really such a unique joy. It really is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Why does he like to fight with anybody who wants to fight?

CATANESE: This is a final bow.

MATTHEWS: There`s a Sinatra quality here. If you want to fight, I`ll fight with you, you know?

CATANESE: This is a guy with a what 15 percent approval rating in Virginia. He never gave --

MATTHEWS: She wants to be a part of --

CATANESE: Well, she was the lieutenant -- you know, he gave his lieutenant governor virtually no chance at his race.

MATTHEWS: Guadagno, yes. Why did she run? Does anybody know why she --

CATANESE: He`s lieutenant governor. She was next in lean to run. They didn`t have anyone else.

MATTHEWS: She got her head bashed in, gale force headwinds here, right?

CATANESE: Yes, a super storm, you might say.

MATTHEWS: Been there.

CATANESE: It`s going to be tough for her tonight. I think that`s an easy win for the Democrats.

MATTHEWS: Right now, I`m looking at something and it`s fascinated me, I have been saying for the Democrats to win the Congress back, win the House of Representatives, they probably won`t get the Senate. They need double digits in the national polls because the way the gerrymandering and also issues with Democratic votes tend to be crowded in the big cities. They got it. They`re up to double digits right, and they got the highest spread in recorded history practically right now.

They can win the House back if things continue the way they`re going.

LINSKEY: Well, you know, Democrats managed to mess these moments up, you know, time and time again, they still need a message. And they still need to be -- look at the Georgia --

MATTHEWS: He said, we got one? I said, yes, that`s --

LINSKEY: What is it?

MATTHEWS: I know it.

LINSKEY: Exactly right. They have this problem again and again. I think they have got, the party has a lot of work to do if they want to. It`s a mess.

MATTHEWS: They think it`s a seesaw. If Trump goes down, they go up. They think it`s automatic. That`s why they`re planning so careful.

SALAMA: The other question is whether the Democrats can rally behind a leader? The party is in disarray. Well, exactly, is there someone that can really kind of rally the troops and say, let`s do this together? Have a unified message to get the party together again after what happened last year? That`s the big question going forward.

MATTHEWS: We`re not even there.

SALAMA: Not even close.

MATTHEWS: There are so many freshmen and sophomore, but there`s no obvious presidential candidate except Joe Biden.

CATANESSE: I would not over-read the results of tonight to say it`s going to mean anything about 2018. Remember in 2013, Terry McAuliffe won --

MATTHEWS: You are telling people not to stay up tonight and watch all night?

CATANESE: No, I`m trying to stay up and watch all night.

MATTHEWS: There is a seat there, it goes down into a dangerous hole in the ground.

CATANESE: Wow. All right. No, I mean, look, Terry McAuliffe won the governorship in 2013, Republican in the 2014 rallied. They had a great mid-term year.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: In all the papers across the country, top of the fold of the East Coast of what happens tonight in Virginia, I do think it counts, I think the delegate races count a lot. If Hillary is able to win in a delegate race, where she run for president? Look out, I`m talking up big.

Annie Linskey, she`ll be talking it up in "The Globe". Vivian Salama, thank you, my colleague. And David Catanese, who is a pessimist about news value and the polls in New Jersey will be closed at the top of the hour, that`s 8:00 p.m. Eastern. We`ll get the first look at who will succeed Chris Christie. That state cannot wait to succeed Chris Christie, the Garden State. That`s coming up with 8:00 Eastern.

And the vote keeps pouring in, in Virginia, more than 30 percent in now. NBC says this race still too early to call.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Well, up next, we`re going to take a look at the election that transformed American politics. My colleague Lawrence O`Donnell is here with a look at his new book about the 1968 presidential election. As the returns continue tonight to come in for the Virginia governor`s race, we`ll be covering them.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let`s get one more look at Virginia governor`s race right now. It`s being counted. Steve Kornacki joins us.

STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Chris, I mean, we could tell you Democrats are looking at what they`re seeing right now, they are feeling very good. Let me give you a microcosm of what it is. We talked about northern Virginia. Look, Democrats always do well here in northern Virginia. Trump got absolutely buried. The challenge for Gillespie coming until was, just don`t get buried like Trump did.

Here`s a perfect example what was we`re seeing in northern Virginia. Look at this, Loudoun County here, what you see, Northam the Democrat winning by 20. What was the margin in this county last year? It was Hillary Clinton by 17 over Donald Trump. This is worse than Trump.

And, by the way, when Ed Gillespie ran in the same county for the U.S. Senate three years ago, he won it. He won it by a few hundred votes. And tonight he`s losing by 20. He`s losing it worse than Trump.

We are seeing this throughout northern Virginia in the returns we`re seeing right now. The Gillespie goal was, don`t get buried like Trump. He may get buried worse than Trump.

MATTHEWS: Whoa. Looks like Northam.

Anyway, thank you, Steve Kornacki.

1968 was a tumultuous year in American politics. In his new book "Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics", my colleague Lawrence O`Donnell writes the 1960s were a decade like no other, a high-speed kaleidoscope of the civil rights movement, assassinations, Bob Dylan, the Vietnam War, hippies, and American`s first anti-war movement.

I`m joined right now by himself, Lawrence O`Donnell, host of "THE LAST WORD" on MSNBC.

It`s an honor to have you on, Lawrence. So, you know, I think Bill Clinton once said, if you like the `60s you`re probably a Democrat. If you hated the `60s, you`re probably a Republican. Reflect on that, because this is a big-picture book.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST, THE LAST WORD: Well, sure, because the `60s was probably the single most high-speed culture change, societal change, political change of the 20th century, by far it was. For example, Chris, as you know, no guy`s hair looked the same, no one at any age between 1960 and 1970. People thought differently. People who were segregationists in 1960 were not by 1970.

And so, what you saw was a kind of progress that some people wanted to hold back as they always do with this kind of progress. And so, the Democrats were perceived as the party by the time you get to 1968 who were leading that kind of progress.

And as you know, Chris, about of that, if someone told you they were Republican, you didn`t know if that person was a liberal or a conservative.

MATTHEWS: That`s true.

O`DONNELL: If someone said they were a Democrat, you didn`t know if that person was a liberal or a segregationist. All that started to clarify and get locked in cement in 1968, so that now if you say you`re a Democrat, everyone thinks they know everything that you think about everything.

MATTHEWS: How did we have such exciting prospects for `68 coming in with Gene McCarthy in late `67, and Bobby Kennedy joined the fight, Johnson quitting? How did we end up with two dull candidates, unexciting candidates like Nixon and Hubert Humphrey? How did we end up sort of a downer at the end of the year?

O`DONNELL: Well, it`s the assassination that put us on the -- the Bobby Kennedy assassination that put us on that inevitable road to Hubert Humphrey on the Democrats` side. But what that campaign began with, Chris, was bravery, was a senator standing up and saying, I`m going to run against the president of my own party. That was something that was unheard of. And it was done by this obscure senator at the time, Gene McCarthy. Everyone was surprised when he did it.

As you know, Bobby Kennedy thought about running before Gene McCarthy announced. And Bobby decided against it. Then he was never comfortable with his decision, he kept going back and forth. Gene McCarthy had some success in New Hampshire.

And Chris, I was in high school. I thought Gene McCarthy won New Hampshire. And I thought that for decades after the fact.

MATTHEWS: Yes, that`s the way it played.

O`DONNELL: Because that`s the way it played. Turns out he came in a very strong second, as you know, Bobby Kennedy jumps into the race, Lyndon Johnson says, I quit, because as you know, Chris, every single possible candidate in 1968, every one of them, was worried about one candidate. And that one candidate was Bobby Kennedy.

Nixon was afraid of him.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

O`DONNELL: LBJ was afraid of him. Gene McCarthy was afraid of him.

MATTHEWS: Yes, I got that, I know that.

O`DONNELL: Everyone was.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about the results. I voted for Humphrey. But I thought I did so because of civil rights and because I thought Ed Muskie was one hell of a running mate. You probably did too.

I thought Nixon, Tricky Dickey, would get us out of the war, he`d say that`s the Democrat war, I`m getting the hell out of that stupid war, and yet he gets in there, and thanks to Henry Kissinger, he prolongs it for an entire term, half the Americans killed in that war are killed after Nixon comes to office.

That was not what the voters voted for. They did not vote for Nixon to keep that war going four more years. They voted for him to say, I`ve got a secret plan to get out of this thing.

O`DONNELL: Exactly. He had that Trump -- Trump was saying last year, I`ll beat ISIS, I can do this, the generals can`t do it but I can, I know how to do it. He kept, of course that plan a secret because he didn`t have one.

Nixon implied that he had a secret plan to end that war, but he got obsessed with the same thing that LBJ was obsessed with, and eventually destroyed LBJ, and that was, I don`t want to be the first president to lose a war.

MATTHEWS: You`re so right.

O`DONNELL: And so, Nixon spent all that time trying to come up with an image that looked like he wasn`t losing a war, which we did definitely lose.

MATTHEWS: Yes, well said. Well written, of course.

Lawrence O`Donnell, the book once again is "Playing with Fire", great title, "The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics".

Thank you, Lawrence.

Let me finish tonight with this lore that Lawrence reflects of the late 1960s. This is not new to me. Ever since living through that time, I`ve felt the pull of a time when there was a zest in the air, an edge of excitement, especially in those weeks of the late 1967 and early 1968 when I marched to the Pentagon, an anti-war march, and watched the great good fight, as Lawrence mentioned, between Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy.

My children have picked up on this lore of the 1960s, asked me about it, how we lived it. The fun we had, the craziness of some of it. And let`s be honest, the music and the characters were the best ever, not just the tragic figures of our time. Dr. Martin Luther King and the Kennedy brothers, but Bob Dylan, great songs like "Eve of Destruction."

Now, it`s all coming closer again and for the best of reasons, I think. People of all ages are feeling the pull of a time when leaders spoke of values, when people sat around and argued the great issues of war and peace, and the individual versus the nation. We look with envy at a time when people thought big and put their competing hopes aside.

Well, tonight, today, we have a president who never speaks of right or wrong, who never cites a moral compass for himself or our country are. He acts as if the only thing that matters on this earth is the act itself, his act.

That`s HARDBALL for now.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2017 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2017 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.