Star witness Rick Gates returns to stand. TRANSCRIPT: 8/7/2018, Hardball w Chris Matthews.

Guests: John Podhoretz, Zerlina Maxwell, Anita Kumar

Show: HARDBALL Date: August 7, 2018 Guest: John Podhoretz, Zerlina Maxwell, Anita Kumar

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Something special and still under debate.

That does it for us. We will be back here tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. eastern.

"HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS" starts now.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Enemy at the gates. Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Chris Matthews.

Two big stories ton tight and you can be sure President Trump is paying close attention to both of them.

We are now just minutes away from polls closing in that Ohio special election that could serve as a bell-weather ahead of November`s midterm elections. Republicans now fearing an embarrassing loss in a district that Trump won by 11 points in 2016. Polls though showing it in a dead heat.

We begin tonight though with was also a dramatic day at the trial of Donald trump`s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

Prosecutor star witness, Manafort`s long-time business part Rick Gates was back on the stand and he didn`t hold anything back in his testimony. According to NBC`s Ken Dilanian in his quote "turning what had been a dry case about tax and bank records into a political soap opera."

Today, the defense even challenged Gates regarding an affair he had in London. Of course, most of the day was focused not on the salacious details but the financial ones. Gates describing how under Manafort`s direction he falsified multiple documents about Manafort`s income, a company records in tax violence, all to the benefit of his former boss.

The prosecution also presented various documents including emails with Manafort`s own words showing he had knowledge of the fraudulent activity. And more email Manafort was complaining to Gates about how much he owed in taxes quote "I just saw this WTF. How could I be blindsided like this. This is a disaster."

Defense wasted no time in seeking to undercut Gates` credibility questioning him about the lies he told from the special counsel when he agreed to a plea deal. And for the first time in the trial we heard Donald Trump`s name mentioned in front of the jury. This came from prosecutors presented evidence that Manafort tried to use his leverage in the Trump campaign to get one of his lenders a job in the White House.

With more and all this, I am joined by Ken Dilanian, NBC News national security reporter. He was back in the courtroom today. Philip Bump, political reporter for "The Washington Post" and Joyce Vance, a former U.S. attorney and an MSNBC contributor.

Thank you to all of you.

Ken, let me go to you. Just give us the scene from inside the court report. Last night we had you on and we were saying the question hanging over today was, OK, the defense is going to get a crack in Gates. He has admitted to a lot. Are they going to make him sweat? Are they going to impeach his testimony though? How did it go?

KEN DILANIAN, NBC NEWS INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: They did make him sweat, Steve. They did take a good crack at him. And I think he was a bit wobbly. He did not come across as the most confident witness on cross examination. In fact, right off the bat, they started to again to talk about his lies to the FBI. And he didn`t really seem to own it. He was a little bit wishy-washy.

And Kevin Downing, Paul Manafort`s lawyer, sort of in a methodical and slow cross examination, just went at him and at him and at him. And the impression you got was this Manafort firm was pretty loose for its money. And Gates was not even sure how much he embezzled. (INAUDIBLE) he has embezzled -- he admitted embezzling money from Manafort and padding the expense account. He couldn`t say exactly how much that was. That there was so many wire transfer, some of which he said were legitimate bonuses he was paid for by Manafort but there was no documentation for that.

So I really do think the defense scored some points. But they didn`t really get to the heart of Gates` testimony from this morning which was corroborated by documents and emails. Some of them were from Paul Manafort which clearly showed that Paul Manafort was aware of these foreign bank accounts, of course he was. He had control of them where money was parked outside the reach of U.S. tax authorities.

And then secondly, showed his involvement in alleged bank fraud. And by the end, by 2016 when Manafort was scrambling for money, he barely clearly, according to the testimony, was involved in doctoring a profit and loss statement for their company to overstate the income so that they can get a loan from the bank.

Cross examination has not impeach that testimony, really. They have dinged Mr. Gates` credibility but I have a feeling at the end of the day, the prosecution is going to say look, we don`t like Mr. Gates, but we didn`t pick Gates, Manafort picked Gates. He is our witness. You know, take him for what it is worth but we have other evidence.

KORNACKI: Yes.

I mean, Joyce, you know how these things go as well as anyone. I`m curious, what do you think of that? What Ken is describing, the prosecution has got this, I guess you call him a star witness there. The former business partner, he is turning on him. He has to admit to all of these things as we went through yesterday just too sort of have his testimony stand, maybe he looks uneasy today. Maybe he is hesitant to admit to certain things, to admit to lying like that so bluntly. Does that have an effect on the jury at all?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think Ken is right about the damage hits that Gates took today. But also about where to ultimately end up with this jury.

You know, as a prosecutor putting a cooperating codefendant on the stand, you know he is going to have a little bit of razor burn by the time he get soft. But you hope he is not openly bleeding.

Gates is someplace in between those two. He stumbled a little bit. You need to cooperating codefendant to be forthright about their criminality. And Gates stumbled a little bit on the details.

There is also the disclosure on cross examination that he had an affair in London during this time period. And typically, prosecutors would bring a detail like that out on direct examination but here the judge didn`t give them a ruling on whether that affair would be admissible. And so, the defense have the opportunity to raise it for the first time on cross examination.

But as Ken said, the heart of Gates` testimony backed up by emails and documents was not impeached. Prosecutors, when they close, will have the chance to remind the jury that Gates was Manafort`s pick not theirs. And the jury doesn`t have to like him to credit his testimony.

KORNACKI: Philip, in terms of the political world, the court of public opinion, how is this one -- where does this one land right now? Because, of course, this is officially about Manafort`s business conduct, this is the consulting business, all of his dealing over there in Ukraine and Russia. Trump`s name has mentioned today but this really, the campaign at least officially is peripheral to this. In politics, how is this land something.

PHILIP BUMP, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. No, I think that we tend to, because this is the first actual trial of the Robert Mueller era. This is the first time that we got to chance to see evidence of being triad in the court of law. There is a presumption that this is somehow going to come out as a litmus test on Mueller`s overall investigation.

It is certainly the case that if things don`t go terribly well for the prosecutors, the critics of Mueller will seize upon it and Mueller didn`t do his due diligence. He hasn`t prepare that, you know, he doesn`t have the evidence he needs to bring these charges in the first place. That will be how it is received.

But it is important to step back and recognize that we are talking about a very specific trial with a very specific standards of reasonable doubt which doesn`t exist in the court of public opinion, obviously. And that reasonable doubt has to apply a very specific laws, right. And so, the jury is going to have to make very specific decisions about a thing which doesn`t really impact the broader picture. And I think the important things that came out today were first of all, that revelation that Manafort had tried to hook up a favor for this banker who had given him a loan.

But I think also important to note the broader context, the "New York Times" reporting today that Manafort and Gates did additional work for Ukraine after they helped its president - (INAUDIBLE) President get elected. They kept doing work for him over the years. And that is the bigger picture here is what that relationship was between Manafort, Gates and Ukraine and more broadly Russia? And I think it is important that that be keep in mind as we look at this - the day they have a trial.

KORNACKI: As Ken was describing, it was tensions that run high at times in the courtroom. Also between the judge and the prosecutor. There was an exchange yesterday where Judge TS Ellis suggested that one of the prosecutors was crying.

According to the transcript, the judge said quote "I understand how frustrated you are, in fact there are tears in your eyes right now." And prosecutor Greg Andres responded, there are not tears in my eyes, judge. The judge replied, well, they are watery.

Ken, I have not been through enough trials to know why a judge would start talking to. Read anything into why he seems to be picking on the prosecutor.

DILANIAN: Look, I have talked to a lot of courtroom observers and it is no secret that the prosecution is extremely annoyed with Judge Ellis. Now I have to say, Judge Ellis was far more restrained today. He let prosecutor Greg Andres go through almost his entire direct examinations of Rick Gates without the kind of hectoring and interruptions that we have seen throughout the trial.

But the end of the day, Ellis made a remarkable comment that struck many observers as openly favoring the prosecution when he - the issue was Manafort accounting for his money and Ellis just interjected from the bench. He didn`t account for the money you stole from him or something to that effect, about Gates. Essentially, adopting the defense view of Gates.

I mean, Gates is admitting that he embezzled the money. But it was really sort of reinforcing a defense view of the case and raising questions about the prosecution. A lot of people remarked on that. That it seems that Ellis is openly skeptical of the special counsel`s office.

KORNACKI: Yes.

Joyce, I`m just curious. What is your experience with that in a trial where the judge is maybe giving on clues or potential clues with body language, with comments? Is it reliable barometer that sort of the judge`s behavior in the courtroom, how the judge is actually thinking about this?

VANCE: Judges can influence juries. Sometimes the juries will bond with the judge and read the judge`s signals like that in essence. The incident that Ken is describing is very difficult to contemplate why a federal judge would do this.

On cross examination, the judge interjects just in the middle of the questioning to make a comment that Manafort can`t have been looking at his finances very carefully if Gates managed to embezzle this money from him, as though to imply that Manafort perhaps didn`t know about the tax fraud and bank fraud. It is troubling. It is what it is. Prosecutors have thick skin. They will shake it off and move on.

KORNACKI: It is interesting. When you think of the broader, take a step back here and sort of view of things. Well, if you go back to 2016, when Manafort came into the Trump campaign, and before there was a Mueller, before there was President Trump, before there was an investigation, there were revelations about Manafort, his relationship with Ukraine and Russia back then. It simply, not even anything legal, just simply raised the question of judgment with Donald Trump, should a Presidential candidate, potential President be bringing somebody like this in to his campaign in the first place.

BUMP: Right. And we keep saying, you know, the jury is going to be reminded that Manafort, that Gates, the prosecutors did, we should remember that Trump picked Manafort. No one foisted Manafort upon him except of course that Trump at that point in time was continuing to have a problem with getting establishment Republicans as a part of his team. Manafort is pretty far outside of the establishment and was able to come in and work for no pay which I think was an additional red flag they might have thrown up.

But you are right, this is -- Donald Trump had insisted that he was going to hire only the best people at one point in time. Paul Manafort ran his campaign for a series of months. And regardless of what happens in this trial, there is already enough out there that has been brought to the public`s attention to further sort of impugn Donald Trump`s judgment in terms of who he hires. And then, I mean, there is no way in which this is possibly good for President Trump.

KORNACKI: Right. Manafort certainly had been a name at one point in Republican politics just for about two decades ago I think and then suddenly there he was back in the middle of things.

Philip Bump, Joyce Vance and Ken Dilanian, thank you all for being with us.

And coming up, Rudy Giuliani says the President`s lawyers are reluctant to let their client sit down with Mueller if there are any questions at all on obstruction of justice. The two sides have been an impasse for months now. Are we finally reaching the breaking points?

Plus, we mentioned it at the top, polls in less than 20 minutes are going to close in that big special election out in Ohio. Can the Democrats flip a district that has been in Republican hands for decades now? A district draws to of course that President Trump won by 11 points. Trump making a raise a referendum on himself. He was campaigning for the Republican in the home stretch of the campaign. We are going to be over at the big board as the polls closed. We are going to bring you all of the early numbers as they come in. Some election excitement, some election drama.

This is HARDBALL where the election action is tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: NBC News has exclusive confirmed that the Trump administration is considering a proposal that would make it harder for legal immigrants to get green cards or to become citizens. These new restrictions would move applicants to the back of the line if they have ever use of popular public assistance program like the children`s health insurance program, food stamps, even Obamacare.

Immigration rights advocates say the move will force illegal immigrants choose between obtaining status as American citizens or providing food and health care for their families.

Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

President Trump continues to stew over Mueller`s investigation while his lawyers wrestle with a key question whether to provide testimony to the special counsel.

Rudy Giuliani speaking with the "Washington Post" said that they were likely to quote "rebuff Mueller`s latest offer of a Presidential interview that would include questions about possible obstruction of justice."

President Trump and his lawyers have been discussing what to say in a draft letter that they expect to send to Mueller either today or tomorrow. According to "USA Today," President`s lawyers are worried that prosecutors may set a perjury trap for the President. "The Washington Post" reported yesterday that Giuliani has convinced Trump that Mueller doesn`t have a case against him. However, Trump insiders tell "Axios" that they believe the President will wind up giving an interview to Mueller because "he just can`t help himself," quote there.

For more, I am joined by Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for "Axios" and Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS News Hour.

Jonathan, I understand you just spoke with Rudy Giuliani. What is the latest you are hearing from him?

JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: I spoke to mayor Giuliani a couple of hours ago. And they won`t get the letter out to Robert Mueller today but likely tomorrow. There are two areas in which they have major concerns. They don`t want Trump to be asked questions about why he fired James Comey and they don`t want Trump to be asked questions about the conversation he had with James Comey regarding Michael Flynn. When Comey says that Trump told him if he could find a way to see that he doesn`t investigate Flynn.

Rudy Giuliani considers both of those questions a perjury trap. And he says that Trump has answered them, you know, in public and in other places so doesn`t wanting to go under oath to answer them.

But besides that, it sounds like they are not ruling out answering questions that relate to obstruction of justice. In other -- they are not putting a hard, you know, hard and fast rule about no questions surrounding obstruction of justice. But those are obviously two of the pretty substantial, when you talk about obstruction of justice, those are two fairly central, you know, stories that would have to be reconciled.

So anyway, we are still at an impasse. They are still debating doing. But Trump wants to do the interview. And again, whenever we have talked to people who have spoken to the President, they say that he is eager to sit down with them. So the question is, can his lawyers, you know, restrain him from doing that. I don`t know.

KORNACKI: It is a fascinating dynamic.

Yamiche, in terms of what Mueller, what the special counsel, what his team might think of this. What is your sense to that? If the offer from the President`s team is sure, go ahead and talk to him, don`t talk to him about firing Comey. Don`t talk to him about the conversation with Comey. Do you think that is anything that Mueller would be willing to work with?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWS HOUR: Well, I think it is really - I think they are still trying to figure out whether or not that is something that they would do. I talked to Rudy Giuliani myself as well. And he vacillated every day from the President is more likely to sit down with Mueller to saying, you know, today he is not feeling as though he is going to be able to sit down. And (INAUDIBLE) because in his conversations with Robert Mueller`s team, he is starting to feel as though, he doesn`t want -- he is getting nervous, essentially.

The President, I think everyone - a lot of reporters that reported, I have talked to people, the President wants to clear his name. He feels as though he can get in the room, he can sit down, he can talk to Mueller. This is a President who has gone with his gut who really thinks that he understands how to work a room.

But Rudy Giuliani and the President`s other lawyers are very worried about whether or not Mueller is going to stick to those things. It is a central question of whether or not he fired James Comey to stop the Mueller -- the Mueller probe. And there`s this idea -- or -- I`m sorry -- to stop the looking -- looking into Russia and looking into the connections with Russia and his campaign.

So, I think there`s this idea that, if he -- if he says that he`s not going to ask them about, why did you fire James Comey, that`s a key question. I mean, it`d be -- I think it`d be hard to say whether or not Robert Mueller is actually going to say, yes, I won`t ask you that question, because isn`t that the question everybody wants to know?

Isn`t that also what Lester Holt asked the president and why he got into so much trouble in the first place?

KORNACKI: Well, Senator Lindsey Graham, who golfed with the president over the weekend, told a room of Republicans last night that he warned President Trump that ending the Mueller investigation would jeopardize the party`s chances in November.

Graham, the South Carolina Republican, was asked by an audience member if he was willing to end of the probe. Here`s that exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why don`t the two of you step up and stop the Mueller investigation?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, did Trump ask that question?

(LAUGHTER)

GRAHAM: He must have mentioned that about 20 times.

I told the president, I know you don`t like it. I know you feel put upon it. You just got to ride it out.

I want to win in November. If we stop the Mueller probe tomorrow, you wouldn`t be able to talk about anything else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Well, Jonathan, I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about this dynamic of the president, how much this is on his mind, how intent he is on at least potentially sitting down, if he gets a chance, with Mueller and sharing his side of the story.

If Giuliani were to craft some kind of a deal, some kind of an arrangement with Mueller, and, OK, you get the president, but X is off-limits, is Giuliani worried, do you pick up on it at all, that, hey, if you throw Trump in there, all bets are off when it comes to whatever deal you strike?

SWAN: I haven`t had that from Rudy Giuliani`s mouth, but it would be irrational of him not to be worried about that.

Once -- all the presidents advisers, if you get them privately and talk to them, they all know that one you start talking to Trump, once you get him rolling, anything could come out of his mouth.

And, frankly, that`s why, as a reporter, some of the most effective interviewers of Trump are actually the people who go in quite gently, throw him a few softballs, get him rolling, and then start to ask some really -- questions, because, again, once you get -- once he gets up a head of steam, he`s not -- he doesn`t respect guardrails.

And there`s not a lot of discipline in terms of, oh, no, we have discussed beforehand that this is off-limits. It`s just as likely, I could imagine, if he`s in a room with Mueller and gets asked a question, that he will -- he will take the bait.

So I don`t know for a fact that Rudy Giuliani`s worried about that, but it will be irrational of him not to be.

KORNACKI: It`s almost the exact opposite. You think, 20 years ago, Bill Clinton, when the tapes of his testimony came out, he was so precise, so lawyerly, so disciplined in how he answered those.

Some people said too precise, too disciplined. That`s where we got into that whole meaning of the word is bit, but he was certainly ready to talk to lawyers.

Yamiche, something that jumped out at me in that clip we just showed of Lindsey Graham talking to those Republicans, the Republican audience, when Graham says, hey, is that Trump asking that question, it sounds like Trump in his public rhetoric on Mueller, on the investigation, he keeps calling it the witch-hunt -- that`s a roomful Republicans there -- it sounds like from his certainly reached the base of his party with that message.

ALCINDOR: Well, I want to say two things.

First, I talked to some lawyers who were on the Clinton legal team. And they said the number one thing that they did was make sure that the president -- that President Clinton wasn`t worried about the special investigation and wasn`t focused on that.

In this case, Trump is obviously completely obsessed with it. He`s always talking about. He`s always thinking about it. But to your question on whether or not this goes to Republican goals, and whether or not this might even help them in the midterms, the president is giving his -- his base vocabulary that they can use to get anger and to really motivate people, this idea of witch-hunt, this idea of a hoax.

They`re simple words that he used, much like crooked, that he can then tell people in very simple sentences, they`re out to get me, they`re out to get our goals, they`re out to get the person that you put your trust in, which is President Trump.

So I think there`s this idea that Republicans feel as though -- at least the president does feel as though this might actually help them in the midterm. And I have to say, when I talked to the Democrats out in the country, yes, they`re worried about the Russia investigation. But they`re also worried about the economy, they`re worried about all these other thing.

So Russia sometimes get lost -- gets lost in the shuffle. So President Trump could benefit from the idea that people can`t keep up with all the kind of stories that are coming out about Russia every day.

KORNACKI: Right. And that`s interesting, too, because as a backdrop, the A-block on this show that we just went through before this, Jonathan, was about another piece of this whole Russia story. And that`s Manafort and the trial that`s -- that`s going on right now.

And, again, this is about Manafort, his business dealings. Trump`s name was mentioned today, but this has not been much about the campaign so far. That issue, though, of the ongoing Manafort trial, when you talk to Giuliani, when you talk to Trump folks, is that something you get a sense they`re keeping a close eye on?

Are they saying anything about that?

SWAN: They are keeping a very close eye on it.

But the key question that hasn`t been answered and that I think is the ultimate question here is, why did Paul Manafort join that campaign? And I have spoken to people who worked on the campaign and worked with Manafort, and they still -- some of them still feel like they don`t know the answer to that question.

They have seen that he came in, worked for no money, was in extreme amounts of debts, beholden to oligarchs. And I still feel like we don`t know the answer to that, and we don`t know what conversations still that he had during that campaign.

So there is a nervousness about Manafort, but I would say, if you`re starting to create a hierarchy of nervousness, the Michael Cohen situation was much higher on the anxiety level than Manafort.

I hear Michael Cohen`s name invoked far more often than I hear Paul Manafort`s.

KORNACKI: Yes, that`s fascinating.

And, again, Yamiche, just quickly, in terms of the political fallout here, we`re on the eve of midterm elections. We got a special election with polls closing any minute now.

ALCINDOR: Yes. There`s a special election happening.

But, to Jonathan`s point, when it comes to, is the president worried about the Manafort trial, it has to be nerve-racking for the president to watch Rick Gates, who was supposed to be seen as Paul Manafort`s Robin to his Batman, turn on him, testify about him.

I bet you he`s also wondering whether or not Michael Cohen can be that to him. So I think there`s this idea that he -- that there`s some real justification when they see him -- when they see somebody testifying about their old boss and about the crimes that they committed together.

KORNACKI: All right, Yamiche Alcindor, Jonathan Swan, thanks to both of you.

And up next, we are minutes away from poll closing time in Ohio.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

And let me finish the countdown, three, two, one, 7:30, ladies and gentlemen.

Let`s go to it`s, 7:30 on the dot in Ohio. And that means polls are now closed in the last major special election test before the big November midterms.

And this thing has turned into a doozy in the homestretch. You got Troy Balderson, the Republican. This is a Republican district. Trump, of course, won it by double digits. We know that.

But he is in a dogfight with Danny O`Connor, the Democrat. We have had polls coming into this thing showing a dead-even race. So the polls are now closed. They are going to start coming in, the results will, I think pretty fast.

We might have a few-minute delay here to start get them going -- to get them going a little bit. I`m a little too excited here, maybe.

But I think, in the next two, two-and-a-half-hours or so, this picture is really going to come into focus. One thing I want to caution everybody about up front, though, is, there`s a lot of early voting.

If you think back to that Pennsylvania district, the last time we had a real big one of these a few months ago, not really any early voting in Pennsylvania. In Ohio, a very different story.

And we certainly see, and we certainly expect the early vote that comes in, and will be counted first, it is probably going to favor O`Connor, probably by a lot. So one thing to keep in mind, if O`Connor jumps out to what looks like a massive lead here, probably going to get a lot closer.

Doesn`t mean he`s not going to win, but probably going to be a little misleading there at the beginning. That`s one thing to keep in mind. But, again, as these results start coming in, a sprawling district here, but remember this.

Just here in these two counties, a little bit of Franklin County, that`s the Columbus -- sort of Columbus suburbs. There`s a little bit of Columbus itself is in there, in Delaware County, very high-income suburban area, 60 percent -- at least 60 percent of all the votes in the district are going to come right out of here.

You got a lot of rural areas outside. You go out here. This is where Zanesville is. This is Balderson`s part of the district. Remember, last night, Balderson, he closed his campaign by saying, hey, folks -- he was talking to folks in Zanesville. He said, hey, folks in Zanesville, we don`t want someone from Franklin County representing us.

Big cultural divide there between the suburbs, higher-income, white college, professional, folks who weren`t too impressed with Trump in 2016. This is the one part, Franklin County, where Hillary Clinton won, and won big over Trump. That`s where Democrats, that`s where all O`Connor has to do really well, and really drive turnout tonight.

Complete opposite story in the rest of the district. Trump improved on Mitt Romney by between 15 and 30 points in the rest of this district. So, it`s sort of a tale of two districts, a tale of two Americas in a lot of ways. And we`re going to get some clues here, I think, about those Trump surge areas.

We saw them in 2016. Are we still going to see them? Are they still surging towards the Republicans down, or are they receding at all, and, again, that area that really kind of rejected Trump, in Franklin County here, a little bit in Delaware? Trump won it, but not -- did not get a good number for a Republican. Is there still that energy? is there even more energy on the Democratic side?

So, again, we don`t have -- I was hoping, as I stood here, we would start getting some numbers. We don`t have any numbers in yet. But they will -- they will start coming in very soon.

And, again, we will be here all night with that.

And I think we have -- let me see. We have Garrett Haake? Is that right?

Yes, we do.

Garrett Haake, he`s on the ground in the district we`re talking about here, Garrett Haake in Columbus, Danny O`Connor headquarters in Franklin County.

Garrett, set the stage. What what`s going on out there? GARRETT HAAKE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Steve, as you just mentioned, the polls just closed.

They are getting ready to open the doors here. Not a lot of folks in the room yet. But there is -- to the questions you just asked, the question about excitement on the Democratic side is the much easier one to answer. I have been around in the district here the last couple of days.

The excitement around Danny O`Connor is definitely real. His campaign has been trying to take advantage of every little bit of strain, every little crack, every little door that`s left open by the Republicans here.

You mentioned that Franklin County gaffe from the other night. Well, they O`Connor campaign sent out 60,000 text messages to what they think are their voters in Franklin County today, trying to make sure they were aware of it, they knew where to go vote. They knew to try to take advantage of it.

The other question that you raised about enthusiasm for Donald Trump, that`s really, I think, the bigger question here. Does anything about the -- Donald Trump`s huge numbers in the outer parts of this district transfer to Troy Balderson? He is nobody`s Donald Trump. He will never be confused with Donald Trump.

But having that rally here Saturday gave some of Donald Trump`s voters an excuse to pay attention to this race. It reminded them that it was even happening. And how much of that enthusiasm for the president by his base is transferable to this Republican candidate, who shares little in common with him, besides an R behind his name, I think is going to be the big question in determining who actually wins here.

Balderson has the math. O`Connor has the momentum.

KORNACKI: Yes, it is so fascinating, Garrett. And we`re going to be going to you, I`m sure, quite a bit tonight.

And, again, we are waiting for the first returns to start trickling in here from the 12th District.

Again, just to -- we have mentioned this a lot. Just to put this in some perspective here, the district, the history here, the last time a Democrat won an election for Congress from this district, from some version of this district was in 1980.

Weirdly enough, it was the Reagan landslide of 1980, but a Democrat won the seat, held it for one term, and was unseated two years later by a 30-year- old state senator from Westerville, Ohio, by the name of John Kasich.

And John Kasich, of course, went on to a long career in the House, now governor of Ohio. So this is the Kasich district as well. Garrett talking a little bit about the political history there.

Again, we are just waiting on the returns. I was hoping we might get the very first -- it`s like waiting for Dixville Notch in New Hampshire. I was hoping for the first nine or 10 votes to come in, in this segment. Unfortunately, they`re not in yet.

But, believe me, we`re going to be all on top of it as soon as they start rolling in. And we`re going to be on all night. If not on the network, we`re certainly going to be on the Twitter feed following all of this. So, please make sure you stay with us.

Again, the polls are now closed.

And the Roundtable is going to be joining us next.

Thank you to Garrett Haake out there in Ohio. We will be talking to him a lot tonight.

The Roundtable is going to be here to talk much more about what is on the line, what is at stake, as they begin the vote-counting in Ohio 12.

That`s coming up after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Republicans have to wake up. If they`re not -- if they`re not going to be a brake on this -- on this guy, then we vote for the other side.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Partly a backlash against Trump, because it`s -- it`s kind of, I don`t know, embarrassing, I think, for -- all of us to see the kind of shenanigans that are going on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m really not happy with the way politics are going in our country right now. And I really believe we need a change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Those three Ohio voters saying they voted for Democrat Danny O`Connor today to send a message of change to Washington, especially when it comes to President Trump.

The results of tonight`s race could be seen as an indicator whether the Trump factor will do more harm than good for Republican candidates in November.

Let`s bring in the HARDBALL Roundtable. John Podhoretz, editor at "Commentary Magazine", Zerlina Maxwell, the director of progressive programming for Sirius XM, and Anita Kumar is a White House correspondent for "McClatchy News".

Thanks to all of you for being with us.

I stood there waiting, waiting, waiting for numbers to come in. We get to the commercial, immediately numbers come in. I want to read these and then just get you guys to start reacting because we got a live election here. We`ve got the early vote coming from Franklin County.

Now, Franklin County is a third of the district. This is Columbus, the immediate Columbus suburbs. We said the early votes going to favor the Democrat O`Connor and we said Franklin is the big Democratic County here. So, no surprise O`Connor`s ahead, but he wins the early vote 80 to 19 percent here.

Now, here is potentially why that`s significant I want to put all sorts of asterisks on this because this is the only number we have right now. We believe and this is an estimate, we believe that in 2016, in the early vote in Franklin County, Donald Trump got about 32 percent.

So, the Republican tonight running at 19 percent. This is an estimate I`m giving you the 2016 number, it might have been a little lower than that, but there`s reason to look at that and suspect this is a number that early first number we`re getting that makes Democrats optimistic at the least.

JOHN PODHORETZ, EDITOR, COMMENTARY MAGAZINE: OK, so this is the problem for Republicans in November and in this election, which is that it`s a bank shot to get people to vote for you to support Trump in other words if you`re going to vote for Trump in, you vote for Trump.

Going out on a hot August day to vote for some guy named Balderson you barely heard of in order to send a message to the world that you like Donald Trump, that`s a big hall where has it`s pretty easy to say, go out and vote for me, Danny O`Connor because I`m going to stop Trump.

So, that`s a direct shot. The other is a bank shot. Bank shots generally are not that successful.

KORNACKI: And we say Franklin County suburbs -- again, however this all shakes out, I`m just looking at this number even if Balderson finds a number that wins elsewhere, this is telling me, boy, the energy of the Democratic base in the heart of the Democratic portion of this district.

ZERLINA MAXWELL, PROGRESSIVE PROGRAMMING, SIRIUS XM: That mirrors what we`ve seen over the course of the past year and a half where you see Democrats organizing engaging in and doing a lot of work around registering new people to vote and registering young voters.

And so, I think that what you`re seeing in terms of the early vote is just confirmation of what we`re already knew in the sense that Democrats are engaged and active and they want like John said to come out and vote for a Democrat and say, I want you to go stop Trump.

KORNACKI: Yes. And, Anita, the message that John talks about the difficulty Republicans have of trying to sort of match the energy that is really is talking about and we`ll see -- we`ll see as the results start coming in, we looked at the rural parts of this district. We look at boulder since home county there where Zanesville is, we may see a surge, we may end up saying, wow, the Republicans were just as excited.

But what is it? From a Republican standpoint, what do you think -- how do they motivate voters this way?

ANITA KUMAR, MCCLATCHY NEWS: Well, I mean, it`s hard clearly, but that`s why you saw President Trump there just the other day, that`s why you saw Vice President Pence there, that`s why you see them talking all about that, the president supports me, this is the Trump agenda.

Now, he`s not really a Trump guy I think we talked about there before. But at this point, he`s a Trump guy, right? So Trump`s putting himself all in to Trump tweets, he loves that he has that power to kind of motivate people, he says that if he tweets something, people will go out and do it and they might do it.

PODHORETZ: But the tweets that have worked for Trump are tweets and Republican primaries between Republicans. The idea that a Trump tweet will drive a low intensity, low information voter who would vote Republican if he were going to vote to the polls, that is not only untested, I think we have no reason to believe that he`s any different from any other president which is to say that when the midterms come going out and saying vote for this guy to support me is something that doesn`t really work. It hasn`t worked for hardly anybody.

KUMAR: Well, the thing is, it is kind of untested, right? A lot of the what we`ve seen in the cycle are the primaries, so we`ve had a few special elections and they`ve mostly gone the same, you know, the Republicans have held or the Democratic health except for one. So, we don`t actually know, right?

There`s a lot of enthusiasm and this will be a big test.

KORNACKI: The other thing that I`m interested in seeing as the results start to come in, Zerlina, is we talk so much about the energy of the Democratic base, the other half of this district, the other story here is this -- I wish I was at the map to sort of show folks this but this jumped out at me. Zanesville, Muskingum County, it`s called in there, Trump won it by 30 points, that portion of the county that`s in the district, Obama won it.

It went from Obama barely carrying it to Trump by 30. You talk about those Obama Trump voters --

MAXWELL: Right.

KORNACKI: -- this is a district that`s chock-full of them.

MAXWELL: Yes, there`s a lot of factors at play in terms of those folks who voted for President Obama. Maybe they didn`t vote for Democrats ever before and they chose to vote for President Obama, putting a lot of stock in that hope and change message.

But I also think that you know when you have counties that -- and sections of a district precincts that are predominantly white and working-class, that`s going to have a different dynamic at the polls than a more diverse district.

So, we`re talking specifically today about these different districts that are more rural. But they`re all that also means in this specific case, that they`re also more white. And so, there was there was a lot of talk about economic anxiety, meaning being the reason that people flipped from Obama to Trump.

But I`m here to say that it wasn`t economic anxiety, there`s a lot of data now that shows that there was racial resentment at play in that perhaps, yes, you had some anxiety that had to do with your pocketbook. So, I mean, who doesn`t, right?

But the core of that was really an anxiety over the browning and the emerging majority of black and brown people in this country.

PODHORETZ: In 2012, the Obama campaign and ancillary organizations spent a hundred million dollars in this state in the summer of 2012 with one message, Bain Capital screwing you, you`re a guy, this hedge fund guy is killing you.

And those -- a lot of those voters who voted for Trump in 2016 because they would naturally have been Republican voters, that message rang a bell with them and they crossed the aisle and they voted for Obama a bunch of them. And now, they sort of return to the fold in some ways in 2016.

The problem here is that Trump is not on the ballot. Romney`s not on the ballot. Obama`s not on the ballot.

It`s a guy named Balderson and a guy named O`Connor and the guy named O`Connor has the advantage of having a very clear and simple message which is, vote for me to stop him. And Balderson doesn`t have the message.

KORNACKI: And that is, Anita, that is the age-old message that works in midterm elections, it`ll work until it doesn`t work one of these days I guess. But you`re the opposition party. You don`t control everything and you basically say to voters, you know what, how about a check?

KUMAR: Right. I mean, that`s totally true, and look at what is happening in Washington with President Trump. He`s all over the place with a million things. He has no one cohesive message.

You know, he should be talking about one thing, the economy, or you know whatever health care. But you see him tweet about everything. You see him talking about ten different things.

And so, if you`re saying I just don`t like politics anymore, I just don`t like what`s going on in Washington, you might say, OK, let me go with this new guy, let me try it out.

KORNACKI: And we mentioned this too earlier in the hour. The Republican candidate here, Troy Balderson, he tried to close out the race by ginning up enthusiasm in his hometown of Zanesville, we say that`s a largely rural part of the -- you know, Zanesville is a sort of a small city but it`s rural around there. That`s the eastern part of the district.

Balderson taking a shot at his opponent in a large percentage of voters in the district as shown in this video circulated by the O`Connor campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TROY BALDERSON (R), CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS, 12TH DISTRICT OHIO: We don`t want somebody from Franklin County representing us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: And a third of the districts voters, of course, as we`ve been telling you, come from Franklin County, which consists of Columbus, some neighborhoods of Columbus and the Columbus suburbs, Balderson tried to explain his gaffe today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: At American pride last night, did you say that you didn`t want someone from Franklin County?

BALDERSON: I`m going to work for this whole congressional district. That`s what I`m going to work for.

REPORTER: OK, do you want to elaborate that on that at all?

BALDERSON: Just go work for the whole district, that`s what I`m going to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI: So interesting to play that and then see those early. But it was early vote, so they haven`t heard this. But Franklin County not looking good right.

That said my serious question, John, is this -- that`s a gaffe you`re not supposed to say that as a candidate, but he is also speaking about a reality the Republican Party right now, this is a party that`s going much more towards the Zanesvilles of the world and the Columbus suburbs of the world.

PODHORETZ: Right. Well, that`s good if you`re in a district that doesn`t have the Columbus suburbs in it. I mean, that`s the answer. The answer is most districts are, you know, the country is polarizing, so a lot of these congressional districts are getting more and more what they were and less it -- with less and less diverse views in them.

This is a weird district in that it is like a classic -- it`s structured even though it`s serve or 10-plus or something like that, it`s more structured the way districts were when you really could have a race on your hands if somebody made a big mistake like this maybe 24 hours after if you have people going "I don`t know who I`m going to vote for now".

I don`t know the midterm like this and a special like this, turnouts going to be low I think. I mean, I know that we`ve had crazy high turnout and some of these specials, but -- I mean, in the middle of August?

KORNACKI: Yes, that`s -- listen, we`re going to go and get a fresh look at the numbers here in a minute and see, you know, maybe we got a little bit more. I think you`ve seen him on the bottom of your screen there, a few more votes coming in. They`re going to start coming in fast and furious right now. We`ll be over at the board for an update here in a second.

John Podhoretz, Zerlina Maxwell, Anita Kumar, thank you all for joining us.

And as I said, right back to the big board after this. There are the latest numbers. They`ll probably change by the time we come back from the break.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

I said the numbers would change while you were gone, and they did change. Here we go. We got about 35,000 that are counted so far. O`Connor, the Democrat -- again we said early vote, you`re seeing a lot of early vote here, so we certainly expected O`Connor to be ahead early, to be ahead sizably early. So, what does this mean?

We can show you we said let me take you through what we know right now what we`ve seen so far. So, again, start here in Columbus, the immediate Columbus suburbs. Franklin County, a third of the vote is going to come out of here. What are we seeing? We are seeing the early vote.

So, again, we knew Democrats we`re going to be -- Hillary Clinton won this part of the county by 20 points overall. She certainly did much better in the early vote. We knew this would be big for the Democrats.

I think this in the early vote, if you had to say -- if you had to guess this sort of thing, O`Connor probably doing even a little better than Democrats hoped in the early vote here in Franklin County, we`ll see what election day brings. We are getting returns. Early votes it looks like from elsewhere.

How about here? Newark, Licking County, right outside -- now, this is -- this was a big Trump County. You are looking at the early vote here. Now, we saw Republicans do much better in 2016 on election day then in the early vote.

So, again, you got a fair number of votes coming out of here. You got Balderson leading the early vote, you`d expect this I think to get a lot better for him as the election day vote comes in. So, you`re seeing a pretty big gap there between what you get in terms of O`Connor doing great in those early votes in the core Democratic area but you get right outside of that into the area where Trump was running up the score and you`re starting to get a very different story.

Let`s look -- I haven`t seen this yet. This is the area -- this is the county where Zanesville is, as part of Muskingum is in this district, this is Balderson`s part, Trump won it by 30 points.

Again, we`re probably -- we are probably looking at the early vote, I got a check, but I believe we`d be looking at the early vote here and again Balderson running 61-38. That`s a good start for him if that`s the early vote in his home county. Again, the margin here for Trump in all the vote in 2016 was 30 points.

And again, we remind you, this is a place Obama actually won this pocket of the district back in 2012. Here`s a big one. I want to see what it says Delaware County, wealthy suburbs, Trump won this overall by 16 in 2016.

I believe this will be the early vote here. OK, this is the biggest wildcard I think. You`ve got O`Connor ahead probably in the early vote coming out of Delaware. Again, the Republicans tend to do a lot better in the election day voting so take these with a grain of salt, but you got O`Connor right here in a place that Hillary Clinton lost 55-39. I think we`re probably looking at the early vote there anyway.

We`re just getting started here. Stay tuned and MSNBC all night we`re going to be tracking the returns as they continue to come in.

You`re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI: Basically, I got 10 seconds to tell you, this looks like all the early vote. The question now, the same day vote it`s starting to come in.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

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