updated 4/3/2007 9:57:33 AM ET 2007-04-03T13:57:33

Guests: Lynn Sweet, Lamar Alexander, Kevin Madden, Ed Rogers, Jenny Backus

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Hillary and Mitt lead the fund-raising race, but bigger news buzzing here in the nation‘s capital.  Red state senator Fred Thompson may enter the presidential race.  Will the star of “Hunt for Red October” be the answer to the Republican‘s hunt for a red November?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.

Tonight, take the money and run.  Senator Hillary Clinton and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney are the big winners in the race for campaign cash.  Clinton‘s team hauled in a record $26 million.  And if you toss in another $10 million transferred from her Senate campaign fund, that‘s a cool $36 million she‘s raised this quarter.  Romney raised $23 million for the first quarter.  The leader of the Republican pack in the popularity ratings, Rudy Giuliani, raised over $15 million, but Senator John McCain raised only $12.5 million.

What does it all mean?  Well, here‘s the bottom line.  Money matters, no matter how much you or I may find this unsavory, it matters because you need it to stay in the race.  It matters because you need it to advertise with on television.  It matters because top consultants are expensive.  And it matters as a sign of intense support around the country.  We‘ll talk about the high cost of campaigning later tonight.

Plus, is Fred Thompson poised to shake up this Republican field of Republican candidates?  We‘ll talk to his friend and fellow Tennessean, Senator Lamar Alexander, who is really pushing this guy to run.

But first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report on the 2008 cash contest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In the first financial test of the presidential campaign, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Mitt Romney both shattered their parties‘ previous fund-raising records.  Romney raised $23 million in the first quarter of 2007, Clinton raised $26 million, and it means that both candidates will be able to flood the airwaves with television ads in expensive primary states like California.

But the big story in both parties is that other candidates will be joining them.  Democratic officials say Barack Obama raised at least $20 million.  The Obama campaign says they will give their official report as early as tomorrow.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  For one, it shows that there‘s going to be more than enough money for all the top candidates to compete in the early states.  And two, there really is no front-runner.

SHUSTER:  On the Republican side, Romney has extensive fund-raising contacts dating back to his stewardship of the Olympic games in Salt Lake City.  But his first quarter haul of $23 million is not that much greater than Rudy Giuliani‘s $15 million.  Giuliani got a late start and raised $10 million last month alone.  Arizona Senator John McCain reported raising $12.5 million dollars for the quarter.  Recently, McCain tried to lower expectations.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think we‘re going to fall somewhat short.  We‘ve been very busy in the Senate on Iraq and other issues, but also, we haven‘t done a good enough job.

SHUSTER:  The quarterly fund-raising numbers are important not just because they will help pay for political ads, but also because they provide a glimpse of the kind of support each candidate has generated in the world of political activists and donors.  The actual numbers are higher this election cycle because the caps have been raised.  A donor can now give a candidate up to $2,300 for the primary, and another $2,300 for the general election, a grand total of $4,600.

Most candidates are collecting money for the primaries, and at this stage, John Edwards is now considered among the top tier on the Democratic side because his first quarter haul, $14 million, signals he will have enough to compete in the early states.

JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m a veteran of this.  I‘m seasoned.  I know what it takes.  And I guess it‘s pretty obvious from my commitment in the (INAUDIBLE) last week or so.  And we‘ve been out here working hard.  And we got our head down, doing the work, proposing ideas.

SHUSTER:  Getting heard over the long haul will not be as easy for Democratic senators Chris Dodd and Joe Biden.  In the first quarter, Dodd raised just $4 million, Biden raised only $3 million.  New Mexico‘s Bill Richardson reported having raised $6 million, and that makes his presidential campaign an early surprise.

TODD:  The governor of New Mexico didn‘t have a Washington lobbyist crowd that he could raise money from, like Joe Biden or Chris Dodd, and he was able to outraise the two Washington guys.  If anybody‘s going to pop from the second tier, Richardson suddenly is looking like that guy.

SHUSTER:  Before this year, the biggest Democratic fund-raising quarter in an off year was the $16 million that Vermont governor Howard Dean raised in the last quarter of 2003.  But the money he brought in, largely over the Internet, did not get him the nomination.  That went to John Kerry.

Republicans remember former Texas senator Phil Gramm.  In 1995, Gramm raised a record amount in the first quarter of that year, only to see Bob Dole capture the Republican nomination the next.

And behind the numbers, there are unanswered questions.  Are the candidates spending money officially and wisely?  Is their campaign lean or top heavy?  Some candidates say the focus on money has gotten out of hand.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AK), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If celebrity and money are the criteria to be president of the United States, then Paris Hilton might be our next president.

SHUSTER (on camera):  Huckabee, of course, was just joking, but the fact remains that campaign fund-raising is a serious business.  And it‘s become especially important in this presidential election because of the early primary battles in big states and because of the burden on the campaigns to show that they will be competitive.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

Let‘s bring in NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell and Lynn Sweet of “The Chicago Sun-Times.”  Andrea, did Hillary raise enough money this quarter and bring in enough from her Senate campaign fund to basically shut the door on opposition?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Absolutely not.  In fact, my information is that Barack Obama may match her or even beat her.  At least, that is from his people.  They are waiting.  They‘re playing coy.  We caught up with him today in New Hampshire.  He‘s not saying yet what his numbers are.  They‘re going to be announcing them in a day or two, perhaps as early as tomorrow.  But the best guidance we have from people in the know in the campaign, Chris, is that he may be as high as $25 million, all of which he can spend on the primary campaign.  And as you know, of that $26 million that she‘s raised, she won‘t say how much of that is primary campaign dollars.  Some of it may be money that she can‘t spend unless she wins the nomination.

MATTHEWS:  Lynn, why is Obama so slow in giving us his count?

LYNN SWEET, “CHICAGO SUN-TIMES”:  I think they want to have a dramatic splash.  Did not want to cure the headlines with Hillary Clinton.  Also did not want to waste a bunch of money.  They had a bunch of fund-raisers on Saturday and said they wanted to count their checks.  I think that if they really wanted to give a ballpark figure publicly, they could.

The point is—and I agree with Andrea—it‘s is going to be a very robust figure, very close.  The point that we have to look at, though, is who much cash is on hand.  Obama had to spend a lot of money to get a national campaign up and running.  Hillary Clinton has a lot of overhead costs.  And while it‘s nice to look at these figures, you also have to see what they really have to spend from this point on.

MATTHEWS:  Andrea, what does that mean?  Explain to me—maybe I do know, but I don‘t like it.  I find this so unsavory.

MITCHELL:  I know.  It‘s awful.

MATTHEWS:  Here we are, and they‘re going out and killing people around the world to spread democracy, and what are we spreading?  A form of government based on how much money you can raise from rich people mainly.

MITCHELL:  There are a couple of quick points to be made.  This is the end of the public financing system.  None of the major candidates are using it.  They‘re all raising money, raising huge amounts of money, and then they‘ll either self-finance—they‘re not going to take the matching money.  There are no more...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... because Watergate was supposed to stop this pig trough of fund-raising...

MITCHELL:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... and now we won‘t even honor the rules coming out of Watergate.

MITCHELL:  So that‘s one thing to take away from this.  The other thing is, first of all, Lynn is absolutely right, we don‘t know what their burn rate is, how much cash is left...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  ... and both of these candidates have spent a lot.  John Edwards was not shabby at all $14 million.  Bill Richardson is also doing well at $4 million because he is a slow starter and has been busy with the legislature.  Once he gets of his governor‘s responsibilities and gets out there—he‘s doing pretty well.  Chris Dodd did pretty well with $4 million, largely because he‘s the banking chairman on the Senate side.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  He‘s got a lot of financial interests.  So there are a number of contenders.  This means that it all keeps going on, and you conceivably have a situation where all of them keep going and keep this—by the way, we haven‘t really talked probably enough about Mitt Romney and what he‘s achieved.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  He really swamped John McCain.  It shows that there are no real frontrunners.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go to Lynn on that.  Lynn, it seems to me that Romney, who‘s running about 3 percent in the polls, only has rich people behind him because if you look at the amount of money he‘s raised compared to the amount of support he has in the polls, per capita, it looks like they‘re all loaded.

SWEET:  No, first of all, we don‘t know that until we get the breakdown between, you know, all the zip codes and how much is Internet and how much is direct mail.  The biggest story out of this, though, is Mitt Romney because everybody knew that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were going to do well, and it‘s not a surprise that because, you know, the second-tier field are officeholders, that they have enough to, you know, keep them in, even if they don‘t sustain it.

So Mitt Romney is a stealth fund-raiser.  No one expected him to do this well.  It will give him the kind of spotlight he needs to get out there.  You know, he has a whole operation going on.  I visited it in Boston—it‘s on the banks of the Charles—just a few weeks ago.  He‘s got the infrastructure.  He‘s got a lot going on.  This will give him a chance to have people take that look that they haven‘t been willing to do yet.

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s giving the money?

MITCHELL:  And by the way...

MATTHEWS:  Who is giving him—I want to know one thing.  Who are the people giving money to a guy that most people don‘t know in this country?  People even in Massachusetts, who lived up there all through his term as governor, don‘t know the guy.  They find him a stranger.  Who are the people that are warm toward Mitt Romney?  Does anybody know who these money people are?

SWEET:  We‘re going to know exactly—I mean, just so the viewers know, come April 15, we‘ll have the name and address of everyone who‘s donated more than $200.  We could slice and dice it in a hundred demographic ways, through every zip code in the country.  And so there is an answer to that, and that‘s going to be probably a surprise if we find out where the money comes from...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

SWEET:  ... and if it‘s in places that show—that we could, you know, read the tea leaves and show that it will translate into votes, as well as financial support.

MITCHELL:  And by the way...

MATTHEWS:  And...

MITCHELL:  By the way, Bill Richardson was $6 million, and Chris Dodd $9 million.  So those are impressive numbers from guys who are way back in the pack.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you about...

MITCHELL:  There‘s no reason for anyone to drop out.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you about John McCain, Andrea.  John McCain‘s not done well in the polls.  He has been slipping in the polls rather consistently the last couple of months.  Rudy‘s going up, and of course, we‘re going to talk about it, if Fred Thompson gets in this race, who knows how it‘s going to sort out.

MITCHELL:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  But let me ask you about McCain.  Is his number a healthy number?

MITCHELL:  It‘s not nearly a healthy number for someone who‘s been in this campaign that long.  And he‘s over in Iraq, which is his attempt to embrace the toughest issue for him, the issue that I think and most people think has really been dragging him down is his support for the war.  His argument while he‘s been there for the last couple of days, that things are better than we think—perhaps that is a good argument for the Republican base, but it is not persuasive in large portions of the Republican Party.  It‘s not even persuasive to most of his Republican colleagues in the Senate, as you very well know.  So he‘s in a tough place right now.  He doesn‘t have a great argument, campaign argument, and $12 million doesn‘t break the bank, certainly not with Mitt Romney trumping him.

MATTHEWS:  What is Petraeus, General Petraeus saying over there about

what‘s he been telling people about that?

MITCHELL:  Well, it‘s a good thing you bring that out.  He‘s been telling senators—he had, in fact, a closed-circuit briefing for the senators, Democrats as well as Republicans, and he is telling them that he will report some progress, that he hopes to be able to report some progress by August.  And in turn, what many Republican senators are saying, Chris, is that if there isn‘t real progress by the end of the summer, that‘s when there are going to really break with the president, that they‘re going along with this surge out of respect for the generals.  But in his closed briefing—they went over to the Pentagon and had that briefing, Democrats as well as Republican senators, and he made it clear to them that he thinks he can report some progress.

MATTHEWS:  Lynn, let‘s talk for a minute—because I want to talk when we come back about Fred Thompson.  It looks to me—and this is my seat-of-the-pants judgment—he looks like the daddy figure the Republican Party has been looking around for.  He looks classic wise man.  He has gravitas.  He‘s no Dan Quayle, a guy when he says something‘s got that Colin Powell feature, where you just sort of trust him.  Is he going to jump in this race and take over?

SWEET:  Gut feeling is yes.  I saw him this weekend at some of the Gridiron festivities, and I‘ve been talking to some people around him, and I think that as long as there‘s—he perceives a gap in the Republican field, where there‘s no one that has a lock as a solid frontrunner, it just creates a good excuse for him to get in.  And he‘s been able to stay out of this money race.  Because he‘s getting in late, he could just take his time now and see how things shake down.  But I think it is a very serious possibility that he‘s going to get in, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Andrea, looking at the Republican side of things, is there a gap out there politically...

MITCHELL:  Oh, absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  ... for a guy like Fred?

MITCHELL:  Absolutely.  And as you know, Howard Baker and other Republicans—you‘ve been talking to some of his former colleagues in the Senate—the Tennessee Republican senators are strongly behind him, and others, as well.  He‘s got good conservative credentials.  I think has an 85 percent conservative ranking for his voting.  And there‘s been a hunger out there in the conservative part of the Republican Party.  They are concerned about Giuliani on some social issues.  They—some of them, the evangelicals, really don‘t like Giuliani‘s marriage record...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  ... or multiple marriage record.  And they‘ve never really trusted John McCain.

MATTHEWS:  Well, two looks a lot less than three, doesn‘t it, after a while.

Anyway, thank you, Andrea Mitchell.

MITCHELL:  You bet.

MATTHEWS:  Lynn Sweet, thank you.  You‘re going to stay with us. 

Andrea, thank you for joining us.

Coming up: What‘s Mitt Romney going to do with all that money?  We‘re going to ask his spokesman, Kevin Madden.  And later: Is Fred Thompson getting into this race?  It sure looks like it.  We‘re going to ask Tennessee senator Lamar Alexander, who‘s pushing him.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Lynn Sweet of “The Chicago Sun-Times.”

Lynn, what is this Romney thing all about?  I guess—I‘ve lived in Washington.  I‘ve been involved up in Boston.  I‘ve come from Philadelphia.  I‘ve worked in campaigns in Utah, Brooklyn.  I worked for a San Francisco newspaper for years.  I don‘t know who Mitt Romney is.  To me, he‘s lived in another universe from where I‘ve lived.  Who is this guy?

SWEET:  For one thing, he can sing very well.  I heard him at a dinner this weekend.  He‘s got a great voice.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

SWEET:  But more seriously, what he‘s done is that he‘s—he‘s the outsider, Chris.  And if this is going to be the year of the fresh face, where the outsider argument makes sense, he has credentials, but he‘s still an outsider.  Sounds a little bit like the Barack Obama theory, too, that...

MATTHEWS:  But Obama has a position on the war in Iraq.  He‘s against it.  This doesn‘t seem to have a position or an interest in foreign policy or in where America stands in the world.  I have never heard him say a word on it.

SWEET:  And I am not arguing against that, but I‘m just saying in terms of the—this I think is—he‘s going to show that people have a sense of wanting something new and different, but he still has a credential.  He‘s been a governor...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SWEET:  ... of a state.  And I think people will like the idea that he‘s run the Olympics just because it shows that you can operate something.  The thing that I think will be confusing to people is that, oh, the Republican candidate was the governor of Massachusetts?  Remember, just the last election, the one before it, when Republicans say Massachusetts, the next word they usually add next to it—I thought they were programmed—is to say “liberal.”

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SWEET:  And so that, I think, will be a little confusing, too, and just...

MATTHEWS:  Well, is he consistent?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is he a consistent political figure in terms of his positions in Massachusetts...

SWEET:  No, of course...

MATTHEWS:  ... and now?

SWEET:  Well, look at the choice issue alone.  He jokes about it, but I think that‘s a big deal, when on something that important to the base Republican vote...

MATTHEWS:  Three years ago, he was pro-choice.

SWEET:  Yes.  And now he‘s not.  Now, people, on that one issue alone, they understand people disagree.  I have covered abortion for many years.  Voters who care about this single issue, if you‘re a single-issue voter, what you don‘t like is somebody who you perceive as changing or flip-flopping for expedient reasons.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SWEET:  I‘m not saying that is his reason, but if there is ever an issue I covered where people just want to know where you stand and believe you on it, that‘s the one issue.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I‘m still thinking that the Republicans are looking.  I think they‘re in Filene‘s Basement and the shoes don‘t fit, and they keep looking around for something that‘s going to fit that they like...

SWEET:  They‘re shopping.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re still shopping.  That‘s what I think among the Republican Party.  And right now, Rudy‘s the pair of shoes they‘ll go home with if they have to, but they‘re not happy with it.  They want to have some other alternative.

SWEET:  But using—but using your analogy, this money gives Romney the ability, you know, so if people want to try on the suit, they can at least—they‘re going into the Romney store now to look at what the product line is.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I just remember...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Remember the old dog food—and they had great advertising and put a lot of money into promotion, and they couldn‘t sell the dog food, and the guy came along and explained why.  He said, The dogs don‘t like it.

SWEET:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Lynn Sweet of “The Chicago Sun-Times.”

SWEET:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

Up next, Mitt Romney may be down in the polls at about 3 percent, but look at the money‘s brought in, $20 million.  What‘s he going to do with it?  Can he turn his numbers around wit those dollar signs?  We‘ll be right back with Kevin Madden, who‘s speaking in this campaign for Mitt Romney.

You‘re watching hardball on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

When it comes to having a shot at winning the White House, it is all about:  Show me the money.  At least tonight it is.  Mitt Romney is showing off his ability.  He raised $23 million in the first quarter of this year, to lead the pack, including the guys with much better poll numbers, including John McCain and Giuliani.

Let‘s talk to his top spokesman.

Let me ask you, Kevin Madden, who we have known before.  He used to work on Capitol Hill.

Kevin, thanks for joining us.

KEVIN MADDEN, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN:  Thanks for having me.

MATTHEWS:  I need a fill, as we say in journalism, on Mitt Romney. 

What is his appeal? 

MADDEN:  Well, you know, I think his appeal is two things. 

You know, he is somebody who has a resume and a record of turning things around, whether it was in the Olympics of 2002, or whether it was coming in and taking over a $3 million deficit in Massachusetts, and wiping away—wiping it away without having to raise taxes.  That is a big thing for people. 

And, when people are looking for a sort of management style now, and they‘re looking for somebody who is going to the same to Washington, they look at Mitt Romney.

And, secondly, when we go out there and we talk to donors, and we go out there and we to talk voters, and you go out there and talk to Republicans across the country, what they really want to know is:  What is your message for leading the country?

And, by and large, Mitt Romney‘s message is an optimistic one.  It is one that, it‘s about change.  It‘s about taking Washington and shaking it upside down and making it work again.  And that is why you‘re seeing not only grassroots Republican right now, but you‘re seeing it with financial support from Republicans across the country.

MATTHEWS:  You haven‘t mentioned Iraq.  Mention it. 

MADDEN:  Well, Iraq is definitely a big issue. 

I have had the luxury of going out and traveling around with the governor and meeting many voters.  And people want to know, what is it that you are going to do in Iraq?  How are we going to fix the problems that we face there?  How are we going to rise to the challenge?  And how are you going to make the situation better there?

Because, ultimately, stability in the region is not only important to America.  It‘s important to the world.  And the governor, you know, he talks about going out there and seeing what we can do.  We were underplanned.  We were undermanaged.  And we need to look at the problems that we have and how do we make it better.  You know, someone like Mitt Romney has exactly the resume to do that.

MATTHEWS:  You mean it‘s a management problem?  It‘s not an ideologic

he is saying it‘s a management issue; it wasn‘t whether we should have gone or not; it was how we managed it now that we have gone? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Just a minute.

MADDEN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Presidents have to lead with ideas and points of view and world views.  Is his world view the same as Bush‘s?  Would he have taken us into Iraq?

MADDEN:  Well, when he goes out and across the country and he talks to people, we talk about the global jihad.  We have to recognize the threat that we were facing when we went into Iraq and what we sought to eradicate.  Now that we are there, and we have made mistakes, what can we do right?  And we can we do in order to take what is essentially a global jihad?  We have these—this threat from Islamofascists.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but you‘re skipping.  You‘re doing what a lot of people do.  I understand why you‘re doing it...

MADDEN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... but stop doing it.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Talk about Iraq, not the global jihad.  Was he—does your candidate, yes or no...

MADDEN:  That‘s important, Chris.  That‘s an important..

MATTHEWS:  No.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN:  That‘s an important message that the governor brings.

MATTHEWS:  Does your candidate support the decision that President Bush made in 2003 to go into Iraq?  Does he support that decision?

MADDEN:  He does.  He does support that decision, right.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So, what‘s the difference between the two men, between him and the guy we have now?

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN:  Well, here‘s what you can‘t extract.  You can‘t extract the fact that Iraq right now is a larger part of a global war against jihad, and that we have to win there, and we have to have both the political stability—we have to have the military stability there in order to make the world a safer place.  He‘s the right person to do that.

MATTHEWS:  But he would have taken us into Iraq, and what would he have done differently? 

MADDEN:  Look, I think what the governor has said to people when he goes out and campaigns is, look, we understand there is a unique threat in the post-9/11 world, that Saddam Hussein, from all the intelligence, pointed at—pointed to the fact that he may have had weapons of mass destruction and that we had to act. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What evidence did we have—I hate to go over this again, but I have to with each candidate.  What evidence did we have that he had nuclear weapons?  What evidence did we have?  Nobody—I just want to know what you‘re talking about.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN:  If you go back and look at the debate that we had, and you look at the fact that U.N. looked at intelligence, that—that everybody on Capitol Hill within the Intelligence Committees looked at this intelligence, and they all made the collective decision that Saddam Hussein posed a threat in a post-9/11 world, we had to act.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why are you skipping that we went into the war...

MADDEN:  And now that we have made that decision...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This is frustrating. 

MADDEN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you just talking, or can you answer the question?  Do you have any evidence that he had nuclear weapons or was building nuclear weapons?  Because I can‘t find it in all the evidence to this day.  Where is it?

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN:  I‘m not here as a national security expert on what... 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MADDEN:  ... the intelligence was at post-9/11.

MATTHEWS:  Because it‘s the number-one issue on this program and around the country...

MADDEN:  It is the number-one issue.

MATTHEWS:  ... how we got ourselves into Iraq.  And you sell your candidate effectively as an efficiency expert, a guy who ran a good Olympics, the guy who balanced a budget.

And I am simply saying, how does his thinking defer or coincide with President Bush or the Democrats?  How is he uniquely the best president-elect?

MADDEN:  I think what—right.

I think what makes him unique, Chris, is that he recognizes that there were mistakes made.  He recognizes that we do have enormous challenges going ahead, that what is going on in Iraq now is just as important as what is going on with the global jihad that we face across the globe. 

You have to understand that.  You have to recognize it.  You have to understand the variables that are at play. 

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN:  And, then, as a manager, as somebody who is an important leader and has a vision for taking the fight to the terrorists, that he is the person who is going to lead America to a stronger future. 

Now, that all sounds like platitude, but what is most important is that you do have somebody who recognizes this as a threat, and recognizes the challenges we face.  And it is very different from the Democratic world view.  When you look at people who just use words like “hope” and “wish,” that is not what is going to—that is not what is going to eradicate Islamofascism across the globe. 

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN:  That‘s not what is going to help us challenge the terrorists.

MATTHEWS:  Mike (sic), I want to give you a big, fat pitch, a gopher pitch, like they say in baseball, right down the middle, a fastball. 

(LAUGHTER)

MADDEN:  Please.

MATTHEWS:  How would Governor Romney have handled Katrina differently than it was handled under this administration?  There‘s a fat opportunity to talk about efficiency and management.  Go ahead. 

MADDEN:  Right. 

Well, I think what you have to do is build partnerships.  Most importantly, I think what happened with—with Katrina is that there wasn‘t the planning phase that was going on with both the—with the private and the public partnerships.

I have talked to Governor Romney about this.  And he thinks that we had to do down there was, we had to identify opportunities, where not just government as a solution.  But where is the private sector going to play a role in helping thousands of people who were stranded, thousands of people who needed help, who needed rescue, who needed food, and who needed clothing? 

And it is that kind of unique perspective which he takes to the job of being president. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, I wish he was running the operation down there from day one. 

MADDEN:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you very much, Kevin Madden...

MADDEN:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  ... spokesman for the Romney campaign.  Congratulations on your top new position.

Up next:  Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander on whether his friend—I mean his friend—Fred Thompson is going to run for president and shake this Republican fight wide open. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks closed higher this Monday session, with the Dow Jones industrial average gaining almost 28 points, the S&P 500 up more than three-and-a-half, the Nasdaq gaining just fractionally. 

Manufacturing increased in March, but at a lower-than-expected rate, signaling that economic growth may be slowing. 

Subprime mortgage lender New Century Financial filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection today and immediately fired 3,200 employees.  That‘s more than 50 percent of its work force.

Billionaire real estate mogul Sam Zell reached an $8.2 billion deal to buy The Tribune Company, owner of 14 TV stations, leading newspapers, including “The L.A. Times” and “Chicago Tribune,” as well as the Chicago Cubs.  Tribune will sell the Cubs after the 2007 season. 

And private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company agreed to buy credit card payment processor First Data Corp. for about $25.5 billion dollars.  It‘s the second biggest leveraged buyout ever. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Many Republicans are not satisfied with their current crop of 2008 candidates for president.  Will former Senator Fred Thompson, currently an actor on NBC‘s “Law & Order,” jump into the race?  And, if he does, will he win? 

Here to shed some light on it is Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a friend of Fred Thompson‘s. 

Well, sir, can use to shed some light on the thinking of Fred Thompson? 

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER ®, TENNESSEE:  Well, not much, Chris. 

He‘s thinking about it.  He‘s seriously considering it.  But, to me, the more interesting thing is, so many other people are.  This is the closest thing to a genuine draft I have seen since I have been in politics. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, who is behind it?

ALEXANDER:  I‘m not sure.  I hear it everywhere.  I hear it on the plane flying from Tennessee to Washington.  I hear at Washington cocktail parties.  I hear people across the country talking about it. 

I had a group of ladies from Iowa who I met 10 years ago when I ran for president in the other day, and they said:  Well, we‘re not committed.  Give him our phone number. 

MATTHEWS:  What is it about Fred Thompson?  Is it his look, his voice, his Southerness, his celebrity from television and movies?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  What works for this guy? 

ALEXANDER:  Well, it‘s part of all that.

I mean, the most obvious part is, he just has what all—he makes every politician jealous.  I mean, he has got a commanding bearing and a commanding presidents—presence that—that attracts attention. 

When he ran for the Senate in 1984, he ran against a very good congressman, Jim Cooper.  As soon as Fred went on television, the race was over. 

But what also I think is attractive, he‘s a serious person.  He‘s got conservative principles.  And, as Republicans are looking for a conservative candidate, they look at Fred and they see—they like what they see. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about Hillary.  Could he beat Hillary Clinton? 

ALEXANDER:  Well, who knows, but I think would have as good a chance as anyone.  He certainly would in Tennessee and in the South.  And he has the kind of broad appeal and independent attitude that I think would serve him very well in a general election. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, years ago, I wrote an article—I‘m sure it was politically incorrect—for “The New Republic,” saying the Democratic Party is the mommy party, because it looks out for health, education, welfare, child enrichment, those sorts of things.  And the Republican Party is the daddy party.  It locks the door at night.  It‘s good on defense, law and order, that sort of thing.

Fred Thompson strikes me as the ultimate daddy. 

ALEXANDER:  Well, he looks the part. 

I mean, if you‘re—one of the things I think about the presidency is, this is someone we have to watch almost all day, every day, for four years or for eight years.  This is somebody we have got to feel comfortable with, someone who we expect to persuade, at least half of us, that he is right a lot of the time.

And people like watching Fred.  They listen to him.  They pay attention to him.  When he comes in a room, they want to know what he has to say.  They‘re drawn to the idea of his candidacy.  That is a big asset in a presidential race. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, one of my theories of politics, Senator—and you probably will be careful about this, because you‘re representing the incumbent administration—but every presidential election, when we fill the vacancy, when we pick a new president, as we have to do this time, we seek to solve the problem we have right now, where, you know, Truman was a little—he had a little problem with his Kansas City background, and he couldn‘t get us out of Korea, so we brought in Ike, clean as a whistle, clean as a hound‘s tooth.

Ike got a little old by 60 by those standards, and Kennedy came in as the youngest guy.  Clinton has his problem with Monica, so we bring in a guy with a nice marriage, a nice stable marriage, who goes to bed at 9:30 every night.  What‘s his name?  George W. Bush.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Now we have a challenge, which is to fill the vacancy we have now. 

What do you see—and I know you won‘t answer this—what is the problem we have now that Fred Thompson solves?

ALEXANDER:  I think the opportunity we—I think, as we look at the presidency for the future, we‘re looking for a commanding presence to lead our country, someone who we can look at him in the morning, or her, and say, I feel more comfortable because he or she is there. 

And Fred instinctively causes that feeling in people who watch him. 

MATTHEWS:  Would he—would he run well up north, in the decisive states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan? 

ALEXANDER:  Well, I can tell you this much.

He—whenever I—when I was a candidate a few years ago in Iowa and New Hampshire, in states up north, when I would bring Fred to New Hampshire or to Iowa, he would draw a huge crowd.  People wanted to see him.  And they listened to him.  And they wanted to have him back.  So, I think the answer is yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I am always surprised by curious behavior.  We‘re watching him, by the way, on the set of “Law & Order” go through his paces there. 

Let me ask you about—why was he so earnest and involved with the defense fund, the legal defense fund of Scooter Libby, who is now facing—well, he is trying to appeal his case.  He was convicted for perjury and obstruction involving—involved with that whole CIA leak case?  Why did Fred Thompson, who apparently never even knew Scooter Libby—why did he get involved in that? 

ALEXANDER:  I don‘t—I haven‘t talked to him about it. 

But Fred—Fred was a former assistant United States attorney.  He was the Republican Watergate counsel.  He was my special counsel when I was sworn in early and the governor was selling pardons.

I think he thought Scooter Libby got a raw deal, that he was indicted, when the United States attorney knew that somebody else had disclosed the leak, and he didn‘t think it was right for the case to be brought.  And so he said so. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Let me ask you about if he doesn‘t get in the race.  Do you have any excitement about any of the other candidates?  I mean, if you can‘t get your colleague...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... the man you succeeded in office as the senator down there, can you—can Rudy win Tennessee?  Can—can the other candidate?  Can Mitt Romney win down there?  Can John McCain win your state handily? 

ALEXANDER:  I have a preference, usually, Chris, for governors.  I‘m a little biased on that.  I‘m impressed with our candidates.  I like Mitt Romney.  I think he‘s got a lot of capacity.  I like Governor Huckabee of Arkansas.  I think he has got a chance to be a dark horse. 

I think Rudy Giuliani and John McCain are exceptional individuals.  So I think we have some good candidates, but it‘s very unusual for there to be candidates of that stature and the race to be this wide open, and there so be so much talk about somebody else, namely Fred Thompson.  He has got an extraordinary opportunity.  It seems like the less he does, the more appealing he is. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he should make his move now, if he‘s going to make it?  Or would you recommend that he puts off the announcement?  People think—I read this today—that Obama, some people think, got in too early, and may have exposed him to early, that he would be better off to wait until people got a little more bored with Hillary or whoever else was running.  Do you think Fred Thompson should wait a bit before he throws his hat in the ring, if he does chose to do so.?

ALEXANDER:  I think he ought to wait.  You know, Colonel Parker, who used to manage Elvis Presley, only let him make one record a year for a long time, and that was way back in the ‘50s.  I think Fred may have a chance to run a very unconventional campaign, which would mean Labor Day on.  And he‘d have to treat Labor Day like D-Day, use the time between now and then to do almost nothing publicly, and to make a great plan, and then jump in at Labor Day and see what happens. 

Not very many human beings can withstand the exposure that the enormous amount of television today gives to any individual, and the idea that somebody could be out there for a year or two is going to wear anybody out.  We‘re going to get tired of almost anybody.  So I would counsel him to wait. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he can afford to skip the early debates?  They begin as early as may, the Reagan Library Debate.  Do you think he can skip those early debates when all of the other candidates will be there and he not be there, and still come in and say, I want to win this thing? 

ALEXANDER:  Sure, I do.  George W. Bush skipped most of those debates.  He got the nomination fairly easily, as it turned out.  So I think by fall people will be looking for something new, and if Fred is well prepared, and he‘s as good a candidate as some people think he will be, as I think he will be, then he will have an opportunity to compete. 

MATTHEWS:  So I can put you down, Senator Lamar Alexander, as preferring either a governor or an actor. 

ALEXANDER:  A governor or somebody who looks like one. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. 

Up next, what is all this money for?  Can these candidates spend their way to victory?  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  As the presidential campaign‘s candidates count their money, let‘s find out why it counts and what the campaigns are going to do with all those bucks.  Jenny Backus is a Democratic campaign consultant.  Ed Roger is a former adviser to President Bush One.  Let‘s start with Republicans and the money.  I was impressed, I won‘t say positively or negatively, but impressed by the fact that Mitt Romney, who is getting nowhere in the polling, has hauled—Is this LDS money, Mormon money?  Is it that connection?  Is it business money?  Where is all the loot coming from? 

ED ROGERS, FORMER BUSH 41 ADVISOR:  Well, it is impressive.  You critique performance at this stage of the game in three ways.  Number one, money, number two, endorsements, number three, straw polls.  He won this round, good for him. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did he win?  What‘s his appeal?

ROGERS:  You raise money in politics by asking for it.  He‘s done a good job of having a good organization, of making an effective presentation and asking for money.  Good for him. 

JENNY BACKUS, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT:  I think that the sub-story here is how the giants have fallen.  I mean, John McCain is gone as the front runner of this race.  Hillary Clinton did a great job on the D side, raised a lot of money, but she also was not as way far ahead as we all thought she was going to be at this point time.  I think, as far as the Republican side, what a chaotic mess it is, which is why your Fred Thompson interview was pretty timely in this sense. 

ROGERS:  We don‘t always nominate the early fund raising leader, Senator McCain, John Connally—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  There are things I do not know answers to and I have people on the show to answer the questions.  I don‘t know what is the ability about.  Why was Mitt Romney, a relatively unknown figure in most of the country, able to raise so many millions of dollars?  I‘m just asking an open question.

ROGERS:  He makes a good presentation.

MATTHEWS:  You mean in the room or on the phone?

ROGERS:  No, in the room, on the phone, behind the podium, he makes the best impression.  He makes the best presentation of anybody in the field and he has done more asking than anyone else.  He has a better facility for himself to ask, and he has a better organization to ask. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Jenny, here is the question:  We know growing up in this country that most campaigns are about arguments, ideas, philosophies.  It seems like Mitt Romney is offering a different kind of appeal.  He is not running on a different point of view than the president.  I couldn‘t get that out of his spokesman, Michael.  I mean, he‘s not running on a different philosophy or defending the Republican philosophy, necessarily.  He is saying, I am an efficiency expert.  I can make it work better.  That is different than I‘ve seen anybody run.

BACKUS:  But I think he is also subtly and not directly running on a I am not from Washington platform, which is still the message that won for Democrats in 2006. 

MATTHEWS:  Where is he from? 

BACKUS:  That‘s a big question.  Where is he from what does he stand for, that is the other question I have.  Are they giving money to Mitt Romney—

ROGERS:  I think being they is an advantage he has at this time. 

BACKUS:  Well that‘s the thing.  I mean, I do think that he does sort of check the box of a president that looks like central casting. 

MATTHEWS:  He does look that.  Let me ask you both about Fred Thompson.  Let‘s talk about a guy who does not have the hair and all that stuff.  He looks totally different, Fred Thompson.  I remember first seeing him, like everybody else, in those character roles he played, “Hunt For Red October,” those kinds of movies.  He played the southern lawyer in one of those movies. 

He is very commanding as a grown-up, as I said, a daddy figure.  He has lost most of his hair.  And he has—what‘s it?  gravitas is the only word I can think of.  Is that what they do not have in the other candidates, grown up gravitas? 

ROGERS:  With the demise of Frist and Allen in our party, there is a hole in the ideological and geographic base of our party.  Fred Thompson stylistically fits in their very nice.  Whether or not it‘s got traction and he can sustain the marathon of the campaign remains to be seen, but ideologically, stylistically—exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  You are from the south.  Your party is increasingly based electorally in the deep south.  He is from Tennessee.  You are from what state?

ROGERS:  Alabama. 

MATTHEWS:  So, is there a need for a southern accent in this race? 

ROGERS:  It helps.  It helps early on.  A lot of delegates are going to come coming from Dixie.  A lot of money comes from Dixie.  And a lot of our ideological guidance comes from the Sun Belt, no question. 

BACKUS:  He also gives a things that‘s new for the Republicans.  I mean, John McCain is looking old and tired.  Rudy and Mitt, like, what are they doing in this party?  There are Massachusetts liberals or New York liberals.  You do not have a traditional Republican.  Fred Thompson is a Richie Cunningham, 1950‘s—

MATTHEWS:  I‘m finding synchronicity here.  It‘s scary.  Jenny‘s backing you up on this.  Do you think he will get in?  It sounds like he‘s getting close.  Bob Novak, the prince of darkness, in his column today—and Bob is a great reporter—says he thinks he is getting in. 

ROGERS:  I do not know why he wouldn‘t.  There is no downside for Fred Thompson to run for president. 

MATTHEWS:  He has to give up his career as an actor for a little while. 

ROGERS:  If you don‘t run up a big debt, it‘s never a bad career to run for president of the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Listen to what I heard this weekend: he would have to give up the Paul Harvey succession, which is one of the great opportunities in broadcasting, replace Paul Harvey on ABC radio.  If he has to give that up, that is a price to pay. 

ROGERS:  Does he have to give it up and or defer it? 

MATTHEWS:  How much longer can it last?  I mean, Paul‘s got to stay in there until he‘s ready.

(CROSS TALK)

BACKUS:  There‘s still a career after you run.  I do think he is sort of the Obama—

MATTHEWS:  The cost free run for public office; I‘ve never seen it before.  But you say you don‘t lose a point by running. 

ROGERS:  Defer income.

BACKUS:  I think he is like the Obama of the Republicans.  He is sort of a wish fulfillment now.

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll tell you one thing.  In the business I am in, which is covering politics and loving politics, and routing for a really good contest of ideas, I want him in.  We‘ll be right back with Ed Rogers and Jenny Backus.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We are back with Democratic campaign consultant Jenny Backus.  No relation to Jim Backus, right?

BACKUS:  Nope.

MATTHEWS:  And Ed Rogers, no relation to Mr. Rogers, a former advisor to the first President Bush.  You know, I am fascinated by only this issue, Hillary Clinton has raised a ton of money, 26 million dollars, in one quarter.  It you used to be what you ran a whole campaign on, fairly recently.  And she has also got ten million from her Senate fund.  She has put in that.  So she has 36 million.  Obama is playing his cards close.  He is apparently not going to announce for a day or two how much he‘s raised.  What‘ his game? 

BACKUS:  I think it‘s a smart game. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the game?

BACKUS:  The game is to get their own story, their own pop when they go.  And it‘s also to find out when Hillary is going to come up with her primary versus general election dollars.

MATTHEWS:  OK, is he going to be able to show—Do you, think reading the tea leaf, that he has enough to match her? 

BACKUS:  I think that it‘s going to be very, very close.  I think that‘s why you didn‘t hear—

ROGERS:  That will be a big story.  I mean, I have been dismissive of Obama.  I think he is lightweight.  But a lightweight with 24 million dollars is maybe not as light as I suspected. 

MATTHEWS:  You have such Republican values, Ed Rogers.  In other words, the guy writes a book, he‘s got a hell of a biography, and you say, no but he‘s got some cash in his pocket.   

ROGERS:  The only thing he‘s ever done in his life is write two books about himself.  Forget that guy.  He is not credible.  But suddenly he‘s put together 20 plus million dollars -- 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the other guy, the other people in the race.  Apparently Richardson has a got a few bucks here.

BACKUS:  Yes, Richardson did very well.

MATTHEWS:  He is a guy I think might break into the top tier. 

BACKUS:  He has a chance.  I mean, there is the first tier.  Hillary did I call it awe but not shock.  She did 26 million dollars, which is amazing.  However, it‘s only three million more than Mitt got, and she hasn‘t split it up between what she can use in the primary and what she can use in the general.  Obama will come out with a number that I think will surprise us.  I am hearing that they are going to have a lot of individual donations, tens of thousands of ---  

MATTHEWS:  OK, Edwards, is it all trial lawyer money?

ROGERS:  He‘s a loser today.

BACKUS:  No, no, Edwards came up with three million dollars online. 

It‘s different online money than I think you are seeing from other people. 

I think Edwards did better than people thought. 

(CROSS TALK)

BACKUS:  No, he didn‘t.  No one expected that.  No one expected Edwards to be in second place after Obama‘s lift.  The lower three candidates are all looking to be the alternative to Hillary and Obama. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this showing off or does this really matter, this money thing? 

BACKUS:  Here‘s where it matters, it matters because it gives you a sense of what the races look like.  It doesn‘t necessarily matter with how much money they have in the bank. 

MATTHEWS:  Today we have Governor Corzine, former Senator Corzine of New Jersey, sign a bill to move the New Jersey primary up to February 5th.  Is this going to be just a big cash machine?  You put your money into those early big primary states, like California, lots of TV advertising.  And somebody like Hillary Clinton, who is known pretty well, is pretty well respected, with some problems,  she can just buy this thing?  Why can‘t she do that?

BACKUS:  No, I disagree.  The big primaries moving up are going to make the little states more important.  And how you win in the little states—

(CROSS TALK)  

BACKUS:  It‘s field and organization.

MATTHEWS:  Suppose Hillary loses Iowa, loses Nevada, loses New Hampshire, loses South Carolina, and then wins big in California? 

BACKUS:  That doesn‘t work.  It won‘t happen with the way that momentum works.

ROGERS:  If it happened that way, she would still be alive.  But it won‘t happen that way.  It used to be you could beat expectations in an early primary, have a spike, and actually direct mail fund-raising, live off the land for a while, and keep going.

MATTHEWS:  You underestimate the Clintons.

ROGERS:  You can‘t do that any more. 

MATTHEWS:  I could see Bill coming on television the night of the New Hampshire primaries, she comes in fifth—she won‘t—and he will say, you know, Hillary, just wait until we get to California. 

ROGERS:  He will be the first one to disappear on her, by the way.

MATTHEWS:  Oh come on.

BACKUS:  That‘s not fair.  This election is about winnability for us and electability.  It always is on our side. 

ROGERS:  And you think Obama and Hillary are your best chances?  Mark Warner, where is he?  He would have won.

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, the big winners today in the money race are Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton, do we agree?

BACKUS:  I think Mitt Romney and I think Hillary Clinton, but we have not seen Obama‘s numbers yet.  

ROGERS:  If Obama is at 20 plus, he is a big winner. 

MATTHEWS:  But why is he sitting on it?  I talked to his people this afternoon, and they said they will let us know in two or three days because they are still counting the money.  You can count money over the phone in three seconds, can‘t you?

BACKUS:  Internet money, and they are dividing it up between primary and general. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, maybe you‘re right.  You say he is going to match her? 

BACKUS:  I think it will be close. 

ROGERS:  That will be impressive.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you Mr. Rogers and thank you Miss Backus.  Play HARDBALL with us again Tuesday.  Guests will include Senator John Kerry and Theresa Heinz Kerry.  They are both coming here.  Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

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