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SECAUCUS, NJ - March 2, 2006 - “Hardball with Chris Matthews” and MSNBC.com head down to Memphis for a weekend of rough-and-tumble Republican politics as America begins picking the next president at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference (SRLC). “The Hotline” presidential “straw vote” will give Americans the very first look at who’s hot and who’s not in the race for the Republican nomination for president in 2008.   “Hardball” kicks off its coverage of the 2008 race for the White House with a live Hardball edition Friday on MSNBC (at 5, 7 and 11 p.m. ET), non-stop blogging, and a special Monday web only post-game show.

Direct from the lobby of the historic Peabody Hotel in Memphis, “Hardball” and MSNBC.com bring the country its first size-up of the Republican slate of presidential hopefuls. Chris Matthews will be there to interview them all including Senator John McCain, Senator George Allen, Governor Mitt Romney, Senator Bill Frist and many others. 

“Hardball” will kick off coverage Friday with three live shows at 5, 7 and 11 pm (ET) featuring the contenders and the important GOP players, including the Chairman of the GOP Ken Mehlman.  Newsweek managing editor and a native Tennessean Jon Meacham will join Matthews to provide analysis and commentary, as well as “Newsweek’s” Howard Fineman and “The Hotline’s” Editor-in-Chief, Chuck Todd.  Matthews and the “Hardball” team including correspondent David Shuster will provide live coverage all weekend for MSNBC and provide updates for Weekend Nightly News and The Today Show.  On Saturday night, “Hardball” unveils the results of “The Hotline’s” straw poll of presidential candidates exclusively on MSNBC.com.  (In 1998, George W. Bush won the poll and went on to win the presidency).

MSNBC.com’s National Affairs Writer Tom Curry will provide original reporting beginning with a preview of each of the contenders, then showcase all of the big speeches online followed by analysis. Armed with a digital camera and his laptop, Curry leads Hardblogger’s constant flow of news, dish, and dirt along with the rest of the Hardblogger live team.  Plus, Matthews’s exclusive online interviews and analysis give web users a side-by-side size-up of the top GOP candidates for president.

“The road to the Republican nomination and even the White House, begins with the SRLC in Memphis,” said Matthews.  “Decision 2008 will be a fascinating contest and the first time in 56 years that neither a sitting president nor a vice president is vying for the White House.  We are ready to assess the historic significance and context of this race.” “The immediacy of the Web component on MSNBC.com will allow us to bring viewers even closer to the action on a minute by minute basis.”

Chris Matthews is host of “Hardball with Chris Matthews.” In addition to his work for MSNBC, Matthews hosts “The Chris Matthews Show,” a syndicated weekly news program produced by NBC News and distributed by NBC Universal Television Distribution.

Tammy Haddad is the Executive Producer of “Hardball with Chris Matthews” and MSNBC’s Primetime Political Director, Bill Wolff is the Vice President of Primetime, Gary Seidman is the Political Editor of MSNBC.com and Jennifer Sizemore is the Managing Editor of MSNBC.com.

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