updated 11/27/2007 11:23:10 AM ET 2007-11-27T16:23:10

Guests: James Pindell, Deroy Murdock, Chrystia Freeland, Jill Zuckman, Chris Cillizza

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The return of Willie Horton.  This time, it‘s Mitt Romney who gets blamed for letting a murderer loose.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  And Welcome to HARDBALL.  Thanksgiving‘s behind us, and the 2008 race for the White House is straight ahead.  It‘s a wonderful time of year, obviously, for people who love and do care about politics.  Only 38 days now to the Iowa caucuses, just 43 days until the New Hampshire primary, and these candidates are as giddy as reindeer.

The big battle tonight, Rudy versus Romney.  Which Republican will remain standing?  And one of the most popular men in—women in the country is in our political spotlight tonight.  Today the Obama campaign announced that Oprah Winfrey will hit the campaign trail hard for Senator Obama in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Finally, major news in Washington.  Trent Lott, the number two Republican in the Senate and a friend of this show, is resigning from the Senate at the end of this year—in fact, before the end of this year.

But we begin tonight with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster and this report on today‘s 2008 action.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Thirty-eight days until the 2008 voting begins, and Mitt Romney is now facing a Willie Horton charge.  Just like another former governor of Massachusetts, Romney‘s being attacked for letting a killer out of jail, a killer who, in Romney‘s case, has now killed again and again.  Sixteen years ago, Daniel Tavares, Jr., butchered his mother with a carving knife and was convicted of manslaughter.  This summer, Tavares was released from prison, and now Tavares is being held again for killing a young honeymooning couple in Washington state.

Romney appointed the judge who overruled another court this year to let Tavares out, a point made repeatedly by Rudy Giuliani.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, FMR NYC MAYOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think that Governor Romney‘s trying to distract attention from what is clearly a mistake that he made.  But you know, the big mistake that he made was crime went up, violent crime, and murder went up while he was governor.

SHUSTER:  Romney has asked the judge in the case to step down.

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I appointed somebody who was a 17-year prosecutor, who had every inclination in every part of her history to suggest that this would be a law and order judge, and this judge made a very bad decision and that‘s why I asked for her to resign.

SHUSTER:  Then Romney turned the tables on Giuliani, hammering him over Bernie Kerik.  Kerik is Giuliani‘s former police commissioner and business partner who Giuliani recommended as director of Homeland Security.  Now Kerik is facing federal criminal corruption charges.

ROMNEY:  ... has been indicted for 16 different actions.  And the idea that Mayor Giuliani would be critical of me in a circumstance where I appointed a person with a law and order record, 17 years as a prosecutor, is really a very strange development.

SHUSTER:  Romney is also accusing Giuliani of making up facts about crime records in Massachusetts.

ROMNEY:  The truth of the matter is that during my administration, the FBI crime statistics show that violent crime was reduced in Massachusetts by 7 percent.  So he‘s wrong again on the facts.  He needs to go back to school and look at the facts.

SHUSTER:  And Romney is also comparing Giuliani to Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

ROMNEY:  He is pro-choice, like Hillary Clinton.  He is in favor of civil union, like Hillary Clinton.  He is in favor of sanctuary cities, like Hillary Clinton.

SHUSTER:  This morning, Giuliani hit back at Romney on MSNBC‘s

“MORNING JOE.”

GIULIANI:  He is really in a glass house.  Everything he attacks somebody else for, he usually has a much worse record.  I mean, he‘s the one who said that he would be to the left of Teddy Kennedy on gay rights.

SHUSTER:  That was a reference to Romney‘s unsuccessful Senate run in 1994.

Meanwhile, Republicans today are still buzzing over Fred Thompson‘s blast at “Fox News Sunday.”  Yesterday, the program featured two conservative pundits trashing Thompson‘s campaign.

FRED THOMPSON (R-TN), FMR SENATOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This has been a constant mantra of Fox, to tell you the truth.  And I saw the promo for this bill, and I think it was kind of—for this show, and it was kind of featuring the New Hampshire poll.  Let‘s put things in context a little bit, to start with.  I‘m...

(CROSSTALK)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS:  I mean...

THOMPSON:  Well, I—I...

WALLACE:  I don‘t know that Fox has been going after you, and I certainly don‘t think Charles Krauthammer...

THOMPSON:  Well, no...

WALLACE:  ... and Fred Barnes...

THOMPSON:  From—from day one, they said I got in too late.  I couldn‘t do it...

WALLACE:  Well, a lot of people besides Fox have said that, sir.

THOMPSON:  Well—well, but I‘m—these are the two you used.

SHUSTER:  Polls show Thompson ahead of Giuliani in Iowa, ahead of Mitt Romney nationally and leading both in the third voting state of South Carolina.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side today, Barack Obama‘s team announced that Oprah Winfrey will campaign with Obama on December 8 and 9 at events in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  People will certainly come to (INAUDIBLE) to see Oprah, and that means that I‘ve got access to more people and, hopefully, can tell them the kind of things that I want to bring about.

SHUSTER:  Hillary Clinton‘s campaign is promising that Iowa voters will see either former President Clinton or her every day between now and the caucuses.

(on camera):  But murder is still an issue that can trump all others during an election.  Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis lost to George H.W. Bush in part because of Willie Horton.  Now the question is, what will happen to Mitt Romney‘s campaign as voters hear more about a killer named Daniel Tavares.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.  Howard Fineman‘s “Newsweek‘s” chief political correspondent and an MSNBC political analysts, and James Pindell is “The Boston Globe‘s” man in New Hampshire.

Let me go with you, Howard.  It seems to me we‘re watching the rerun of history from the 1998 campaign.  Here we have a governor of Massachusetts, a former governor, who‘s now getting nailed because he had a role in letting a murderer out of jail who went and killed two people.  And the last time around, it was Willie Horton who raped and robbed a woman—or robbed and raped.  This time around, he killed two young people.  Look at this guy here, not exactly a friendly face at the beach there.  And—well, that was another face that wasn‘t so friendly.  That was Willie Horton himself, who‘s still serving time now in Jessup in Maryland here for assorted crimes and I assume parole violation.  I‘m sure rape qualifies.

Howard, politically it puts Romney in the position of being pinned, it seems to me.

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I‘ve always thought his deeper problem of the two problems he has—that is, being a Mormon, which could be a problem in the Bible Belt, and being from Massachusetts—that Massachusetts is the bigger problem, and that comes into play again here.  The court system of Massachusetts, that was the problem with Mike Dukakis, the car—so-called card-carrying member of the ACLU.  This is the problem that Mitt Romney now has.

And Rudy Giuliani is running as the law and order candidate both abroad and at home.  And as the law and order candidate, he‘s in a strong position to attack Romney.~  It‘s the best argument that Rudy has for himself and the weakest point that Romney has.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go to James Pindell.  What do you think, James?  Up there in New Hampshire, is this going to cut, this question?  I know Republicans in New Hampshire are conservatives.  They‘re either new conservatives or old ones, either old Yanks or Irish and Italian guys who moved up there because they couldn‘t stand “taxachusetts” and its liberals.  Are they going to like Romney‘s record on this murder case?

JAMES PINDELL, “BOSTON GLOBE”:  Well, whether it‘s right or whether it‘s wrong, the sense up here is that this is a story that will last a couple of days.  Clearly, it‘s not one that is good for Mitt Romney.  It clearly puts him on the defensive.

But I think what is so interesting about this whole weekend is how instructive it was to where this race really is.  This race, number one, is taking place in New Hampshire.  For Iowa—for Democrats, Iowa is the definitive state.  It‘s the state that will define that race.  But in New Hampshire, this is where the Republican race will be defined.

And we see a couple of things going on, of course.  Number one, Mitt Romney‘s (SIC) growing in his lead, according to the recent polls.  Mitt Romney (SIC) dropped to third place.  He clearly needs to be more aggressive.  And obviously, he‘s going there on taxes.  But because of this issue on crime came up, and obviously, appealed to his core values and what he‘s able to run on, we‘re not surprised that this rings up, as well.

So I think the whole thing is very instructive about where this race really is.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s Governor Romney himself responding to the murder story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  I‘m glad that he‘s going to be prosecuted, presumably, in a state that has the death penalty.  I wish the state of Massachusetts had the death penalty that I fought for.  And had we had the kind of sentences handed down to this man based upon killing his mother, this issue would have never come up.  But I do believe that the judge made a very severe error, given all the facts combined, and that suggests that she‘s not in a position where she should continue as a superior court judge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s, of course, damage control.  That‘s Governor Romney trying to say that he wants the judge he appointed to resign.  But of course, the damage is done, two people are dead.  Here‘s Mayor Giuliani hitting Romney on the matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI:  I think one of the Boston newspapers pointed this out about two months ago, that he had a very bad record, really, in dealing with crime.  So I think it...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... question about Commissioner Mr. Kerik?

GIULIANI:  Oh, you can question people about anything.  I think it‘s -

I think that this whole appointment of a judge goes to a much bigger point, that Governor Romney had a very poor record in dealing with murder and violent crime as governor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s look at this politically right now.  It seems to me that what‘s going on is that Huckabee‘s got a good shot of knocking off Romney in Iowa now.  If he does that, he‘s knocked Governor Romney off the horse.  Rudy sees his opportunity to hit him while he‘s on the ground, maybe come in a strong second in New Hampshire and be in poised position to win in South Carolina and begin to win this whole election.  It seems to me that‘s what the game is for Rudy.

FINEMAN:  I think that‘s exactly right, Chris, because the old Republican coalition is divided into three parts—the law and order, tough guy candidate, which is Rudy, the values candidate, which is increasingly Mike Huckabee...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  ... he‘s the real deal on that.  And then you have Libertarian candidates, maybe Fred Thompson, maybe even Ron Paul doing well in a place like New Hampshire, which probably helps Giuliani, in the end, because it allows him to focus on his core constituency.  That‘s exactly what Giuliani‘s up to right here.  And Romney, who is trying to be all things to all people, may end up being nobody to anybody.

MATTHEWS:  So the people looking for a tough guy leader are going to Rudy.

FINEMAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  They know who they like, in a time of crime fear...

FINEMAN:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  ... and terrorism fear, that makes sense.

FINEMAN:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to James.  Your thoughts on how this is shaping up?  Look at the whole picture now, Iowa coming up quickly right after Christmas, and then, of course, New Hampshire, as you say, is now the center of the storm for the Republicans.

PINDELL:  That‘s absolutely right.  I think one thing you have to

mention, though, is that Rudy Giuliani, in the last two weeks up here on

the ground, and not only just in staffing and visits, but also on TV, he‘s

there‘s a renewed focus on New Hampshire that really began about two weeks ago, and he‘s beginning to make a serious play for this state.  At the same time, you obviously have the John McCain revival, which may only be limited to New Hampshire, but it is very genuine.  It is very real.

And in this state, you also have to talk about Ron Paul.  Ron Paul still ahead of Fred Thompson...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

PINDELL:  ... and Mike Huckabee in this state.  I was with him last week.  There is a definite feeling that he is a genuine guy.  You know, obviously, this is the “Live free or die” state.  And you know, I think, at the end of the day, I think what you‘re going to find here is that this is where the frontrunners are matching.  I like to say it‘s like a heavyweight fight.  If the heavyweight fighters decide they‘re going to be in Vegas, don‘t look at Madison Square Garden.  The heavyweight fighters—Rudy Giuliani now two weeks ago saying he‘s going to be in New Hampshire -- - this is where the fight is.

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you.  Here‘s Hillary Clinton, by the way.  We have another fight on the Democratic side.  Of course, it‘s Hillary Clinton.  And for the first time, she‘s taking direct shots at Obama‘s foreign policy experience.  She‘s getting raw now, no longer the surrogates, no longer Howard Wolfson, no longer Evan Bayh doing the dirty work or—or what was that guy‘s name...

FINEMAN:  Tom Vilsack.

MATTHEWS:  ... Tom Vilsack, who never...

PINDELL:  Tom Vilsack...

MATTHEWS:  ... was seen again, apparently.  Those days are over.  Here she is doing her own gut-punching.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  With all due respect, I don‘t think living in a foreign country between the ages of 6 and 10 is foreign policy experience.  I think having the first-hand experience with so many leaders that I have had over the last 15 years equips me to be a president who can start on day one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, she looks like Grace Kelly in that picture, but she‘s fighting like Muhammad Ali.  Here‘s Obama firing back on the same topic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  If she wants to tout her experience by having visited countries, that‘s fine.  I don‘t think that Madeleine Albright would think that Hillary Clinton was the face of foreign policy during the Clinton administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s got this sarcasm thing down.  He says—he likes saying things like, James and Howard, I wasn‘t aware that she was secretary of the treasury in this administration.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Now he‘s saying, I wasn‘t aware that she was secretary of state.  Hillary‘s claiming all these roles that she played while her husband was formally president, but she was actually doing a lot.

FINEMAN:  You got to watch it.  The dynamics of this race...

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  No, the dynamics of this race is changing because Obama is at ease and has a sense of humor which is not only cutting but liberating, whereas Hillary is her humorless self.  She‘s standing in the middle of the ring—to pursue the fighting analogy—and Obama is dancing all around her right now.

MATTHEWS:  James, would you take Hillary‘s side here and...

PINDELL:  You know what—you know what...

MATTHEWS:  ... explain what she‘s doing well here, as she‘s dealing with the untoured (ph) situation of a lot of guys attacking her.

PINDELL:  Well, you know, what also has changed here, quite frankly, is polling.  Barack Obama is now up in Iowa.  What‘s remarkable—remember when she was at the Iowa Jefferson Jackson dinner, saying how, Well, everyone—all these Democrats may attack me, but I‘m only going to attack Republicans.  A poll comes out showing him ahead.  Ten days later, she‘s on the attack.  She‘s certainly feeling it.  I was with her earlier today.  She is putting out more endorsements in New Hampshire.  She‘s trying to make this state her firewall.  But there‘s no doubt that the tone has changed, and she‘s clearly on the attack when she said she wasn‘t going to be.

MATTHEWS:  Well, James, how is she going to use her husband?  Because I think it‘s getting tricky to use Bill Clinton these days.  You don‘t want to need him.  It‘s good to have him as an ally, but you don‘t want to look like you‘re in need of him, do you.

PINDELL:  Well, here‘s what I think is interesting, obviously, about her husband, which is something that‘s been going on for this entire year, which is, you want—if you‘re going to be in politics—and it‘s something you know well know, Chris—you attack your opponent‘s strength.  And who‘s the strength?  Bill Clinton.  He‘s both her greatest strength and her greatest weakness.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I have been saying for weeks.

PINDELL:  And if we‘re going to—if we‘re going to bring up Bill Clinton, we can bring up all the bad things.

MATTHEWS:  All right.  I‘d hit the cavalry before it attacks.  Anyway, thank you very much, Howard Fineman, and thank you, James Pindell.

Tune in tonight at 7:00 Eastern for the HARDBALL “Power Rankings.”  We‘ll have a special edition of that tonight as we tell you which candidate showed strength this week and who lost.  You can probably tell from what we‘ve talking about with the reporting so far, a lot of big action this week.  This campaign is under way, as I say.  As I said in the opening, the reindeer are giddy.

Coming up: As the fight for the White House keeps up on both sides, tonight the Republicans have even more to worry about, winning—boy, they‘re losing people in the Senate.  They are leaving by the back door.  Six U.S. senators from the Republican side of the aisle are leaving this year.  Remember the world‘s most greatest deliberative body?  Well, apparently they don‘t like it that much because they‘re leaving it.  That‘s because Trent Lott, a political heavyweight, announced today that he‘s leaving.  He‘s one of that six-pack of Republicans who‘s heading out to pasture.  How difficult will it be for Republicans to hold onto the Senate when nobody‘s sticking around?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY WHIP:  Let me make it clear.  There are no problems.  I feel fine.  I may look my 66 years, but I honestly feel good.  And I get up every day believing that I can maybe have a positive effect on what we do in the Senate.  I like being a happy warrior.  I don‘t like some of the negativism that we‘re dealing with now.  But that‘s—that‘s life, and that‘s the role, I guess, of politics sometimes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that tells you obviously nothing.  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was Republican senator Trent Lott.  We‘ve got to get him here on the HARDBALL show to answer these questions.  Why are you leaving?  Didn‘t you always want to be a senator?  What happened, Senator Lott?  Why are you guys all leaving?

Six Republican senators are leaving this year, none of them running for reelection.  This makes it very tough for the Republicans.  You know, there‘s two fights going on in Washington next year, as you know.  One is for the presidency.  The other‘s for who gets to write the laws, decide, at least  formally, whether we go to war or not.  And now you got the Republican Party just sort of skipping town.

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, the only...

MATTHEWS:  Chuck Todd, by the way, our political...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It wasn‘t in the script.  I‘m sorry.  They forgot to put it in.

TODD:  Oh, that‘s OK.

MATTHEWS:  You know, when the script writers are on...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  When the script writers are on strike, you know, we don‘t know what to say around here.

TODD:  I thought they were the first ones to know something.  I better go check.

No, when you look at—when you look at the—you ask a Republican around        town, What‘s the most likely thing you‘re going to win back, the House, the Senate or the White House, and they say the White House, that that‘s the only thing they have a chance at—these guys are walking away.  You mentioned six retirements.  You have—we‘re getting close to two dozen House retirements.  They‘re up to 16.  There‘s going to be more.  It makes it impossible for...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at these guys.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  John Warner‘s one of the great senators of all.  He is right out of “Advise and Consent” or “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”  He is the classic grandee.  He‘s leaving, I think, because of age.  I think he just figures he has served his time, having been in there many years. 

TODD:  Right, since the ‘70s.

MATTHEWS:  And Pete Domenici the same.  You couldn‘t argue much.  Larry Craig is leaving for the obvious reason, and total embarrassment.  At least he should be. 

And then you have got Chuck Hagel, who everybody in the media seems to like and gets a lot of good press. 

TODD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And you got Allard from Colorado. 

TODD:  Both Allard and Hagel, these guys that made their living—you know, you talk about—Trent Lott, I think, always wanted to be in the Senate. 

Guys like Allard and Hagel made a bunch of money, had a real private sector life, said, OK, I will come be a senator for two means.  And they pledged for it.  And then they‘re walking away.  But it wasn‘t their life‘s passion. 

But the other guys, it was their life‘s passion.  You get the feeling Pete Domenici thought about—his whole life—about being a United States senator.  Same with John Warner.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  Same with Trent Lott. 

You know, this happened—look, I think this—this is—this is what happened, you know, the 2006 wipeout.  They—they look ahead.  They‘re not having a good time. 

You know, Democrats had to deal with this same problem in 1995, right after...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... leading indicator of the fact that we‘re watching a partisan—a partisan change of power in this country?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That, coming down the road, for better or worse...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... for better or worse, down the road, the Democratic stock is going to be a lot higher because Republicans are selling?

TODD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re basically cashing out.  They‘re saying, I can‘t hold these seats.  I don‘t want to hold these seats, because we will never get power back again.  I will never be a chairman again.  I will never be majority leader again.  I‘m getting out of here. 

And what does that do to recruitment? 

TODD:  It‘s a huge morale issue. 

I mean, look, the—the irony is that it‘s so short-sighted.  In 1995, Democrats, these Senate Democrats, they were—I mean, the guys had left, Bill Bradley, Paul Simon, Jim—James Exon, these were guys, they looked at the tea leaves, they said Clinton is a goner.  No way he can win reelection.  It‘s going to be another wipeout.  Ninety-four was just a precursor. 

Well, what happened?  Clinton turned things around.  Democrats actually probably could have picked up Senate seats, but all these guys left.  They had a poor job getting guys to run.  So, they end up losing Senate seats, even though their presidential candidate actually won in an electoral landslide. 

So, you—you have the shortsighted morale problem.  But it—it—it‘s—it—it feeds into the other—they‘re—they‘re not finding—there‘s a front-page story in “The New York Times” today about how Republicans are desperately searching for self-funders.  Why?  What does that mean? 

MATTHEWS:  You know what I‘m seeing?

TODD:  They don‘t have any money to fund these races.          

MATTHEWS:  I‘m older than you, Chuck.  And I grew up in a country that had great senators.  We had Everett Dirksen.  We had Barry Goldwater.  We had people like that, Hubert Humphrey, incredible senators.  To be a senator was one of the greatest things you could imagine—Hugh Scott, even, from Pennsylvania, all kinds of people, Jack Javits, incredible people. 

When you went to the Hill as a—as a kid coming down here, as a high school kid, to visit the Capitol, you couldn‘t wait to walk by and see these amazing names on the doors. 

TODD:  Well, you know who ruined it?  You know who ruined it? 

MATTHEWS:  I wonder whether we are going to get the kind of people to run anymore like this. 

TODD:  Well, you know who ruined it? 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what‘s changing. 

TODD:  C-SPAN ruined it.  The minute they put cameras into that place, that‘s what a lot...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  A lot of these guys—they put the cameras into that place, and they created this idea that they all were always having to be on message, talking about politics, talking about worrying ups and up-and-down votes, worrying about winning and losing, and that, as soon as you peeled back that curtain, it got rid of that whole, you know, glorification of the Senate. 

It could very well be—I mean, the good old days are always the good old days, until you‘re no longer in them anymore. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

TODD:  It could be that the Senate was never a lot of fun, that it wasn‘t much of a job or this or that.  But the minute cameras went into that place...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think the only way to see the great American Senate, the world‘s greatest deliberative body, is to get an old copy of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” or another great movie, “Advise and Consent,” with Charles Laughton and Walter Pidgeon. 

But I haven‘t seen Walter Pidgeon walk by here lately.

Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd. 

Up next—most people wouldn‘t recognize him—the White House is still on the defensive, after former Press Secretary Scott McClellan charged—confessed, you could say—that President Bush himself was involved—those were his words—in covering up the outing of a CIA operative.     

More of that and other political scuttlebutt when we come back on

HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the latest politics we haven‘t yet mentioned.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino is still trying to put down that published confession by longtime Bush spokesman Scott McClellan that the president himself was one of those involved in pushing the lie that the White House hadn‘t leaked the identity of a CIA operative. 

She says that Bush would not knowingly push false information to the public.  But how about the fact, which is on the record, that he, Bush, allowed months to pass as his people, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, lied and denied they did the leaking?  Can anyone, friend, foe or indifferent, say with a straight face that the Bush White House didn‘t stand with Rove, Libby, and Cheney in the face of accusations that a trial and a jury determined were true?

Let McClellan‘s own confession stand until he corrects it himself—quote—“I had unknowingly passed along false information.  And five of the highest-ranking people in the administration were involved in my doing so, Rove, Libby, the vice president, the president‘s chief of staff, and the president himself”—close quote.

Can John McCain hang on to his maverick credibility, even as he trumpets support for the war in Iraq?  Maybe he can. 

Take a look at this new ad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Since I have been in Washington, I have made a lot of people angry.  I made defense contractors angry when I blew the whistle on a $30 billion boondoggle, and the culprits were sent to jail. 

I upset the special interests and Washington lobbyists when I passed campaign finance reform.  I made the Pentagon angry when I criticized Rumsfeld‘s Iraq strategy.  And I upset the media when I supported the strategy that‘s now succeeding. 

I angered the big spenders in Congress when I called for earmark and spending reform, no more $233 million bridges to nowhere or $74 million for peanut storage in a defense spending bill. 

I didn‘t go to Washington to win the Mr. Congeniality award.  I went to Washington to serve my country. 

I might not like the business-as-usual crowd in Washington, but I love America.  I love her enough to make some people angry. 

I‘m John McCain, and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, speaking of Republicans, take a look at a couple of hecklers at an event called Politics and Eggs held in New Hampshire today. 

Who were those masked men?  Let‘s just say the masks are those of Rudy Giuliani and Bernie Kerik, the guy Mayor Giuliani pushed to protect America‘s homeland security. 

Finally, Al Gore was at the White House today, along with other Nobel Prize winners, in a private meeting with the president.  He talked about global warming.  He also refused to get hooked into the obvious question. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  Tell the truth.  You ever miss this place...

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION:  ... at moments—at intimate moments like this? 

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When you leave this beat, I‘m going to ask you. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it was the closest Bush and Gore had been together since this geeky debate moment back in 2000. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OCTOBER 17, 2000)

GORE:  I specifically would like to know whether Governor Bush will support the Dingell-Norwood bill, which is the main one pending.

Jim Lehrer, Moderator:  Governor Bush, you may answer that if you would like, but also I would like to know how you see the differences between the two of you, and we need to move on.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, the difference is, is that I can get it done, that I can get something positive done on behalf of the people.  That‘s what the question in this campaign is about.  It‘s not only what‘s your philosophy and what‘s your position on issues, but can you get things done?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Boy, when he put that head down, that was a killer. 

Up next—he said, “What about Dingell-Norwood?”  They cut that off. 

That was the best Gore bad response.

Anyway, we will get back into what “Newsweek” was trying to do today with its cover story on Rudy Giuliani. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Bertha Coombs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Another major self-off has put Wall Street past the threshold for what is considered a market correction.  All three major indexes are more than 10 percent down from their highs in October. 

The Dow Jones industrials plunged 237 points today.  The S&P 500 fell 33, while the Nasdaq dropped 55 -- today‘s sell-off prompted by concerns about the credit markets and the economy.  CNBC has learned Citigroup, which is expected to record more credit-related losses, is planning its second round of large-scale layoffs in less than a year.  People inside Citigroup describe the pending job cuts as massive, saying they could reach 45,000.  Last April, Citigroup cut 17,000 jobs.

And oil traded over $99 a barrel, then retreated—crude closing in New York at $97.11 -- and 70 cents a barrel, down 48 cents for the day, on the heels of CNBC‘s Melissa Francis reporting that Saudi Arabia is increasing production. 

That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  As Rudy Giuliani begins to take on Governor Romney, the latest “Newsweek” magazine is running a cover story this week on the former mayor entitled “Rudy‘s Roots: How Growing Up in a Family of Cops and Hoods Shaped Giuliani‘s Moral Universe.”

Is this a fair headline?  But could the profile of his childhood also help bolster his tough-guy image? 

Mike Barnicle is an MSNBC political analyst.  And Deroy Murdock is with “The National Review.” 

OK, Deroy, do you think it was a fair cover to tie Mayor Giuliani to hoods?

DEROY MURDOCK, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  I thought that was rather unfair. 

I think Giuliani ought to be judged on his own actions, not any behavior, or misbehavior, as the case may be, of his relatives in years past.  And the article really did not get into what he did as a prosecutor, in terms of putting away members of the mafia commission, members of the Lucchese and Gambino families, putting away people in the “pizza connection” case. 

What Rudy was able to do, because of his, I think, Italian-American background, was to go into these courtrooms, and without anyone thinking, well, this is some effort to get Italians or anything like that, he was—actually was able to put away a lot of members of the mafia, used the RICO laws to lock them up, and really make a difference, in terms of getting the mob from being a major influence in New York City into being a—sort of a minor distraction, practically, at this point. 

And I think the article should have talked about that, rather than try to raise questions about behavior perhaps of his relatives some decades ago. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the title, Mike—Mike Barnicle—“Growing Up Giuliani,” like in “Growing Up Gotti”?

Was there an attempt there to tie him in the—in the editorial—headline writing, I should say, to his background, to his ethnic background? 

MIKE BARNICLE, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, you know, Evan Thomas would probably tell you that he doesn‘t write the headlines, Evan writing the “Newsweek” piece, along with Suzanne Smalley, Chris. 

But, having read the piece, it could have been written about you or me.  It could have been written about anyone growing up ethnic, Catholic, in a big city, in the Eastern Coast of the United States in the 1950s. 

You could almost see Chazz Palmintieri coming through the piece in “A Bronx Tale,” a great, wonderful movie.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  But, you know, it doesn‘t hurt Rudy Giuliani. 

What it does, I think, it points out the need for more reporting on who Rudy Giuliani is, because he has this sense of certainty about him.  I was up in New Hampshire today.  People like his sense of certainty. 

But there‘s a very thin line between certainty and stubbornness.  And it‘s going to—we should keep looking at this guy and wondering, you know, exactly what his sense of loyalty does mean.  We have seen it in one sense with Bernard Kerik.  But does Rudy Giuliani want to be secretary of defense?  Does he also want to be secretary of treasury, or does he just want to be president?  We have got to find out about him. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you, go back to you, Deroy.

It seems to me that Rudy Giuliani keeps coming through again and again as a tough guy.  And with all the marks that have been put on him by the press—and fairly enough, I guess—all the facts are relevant—and all the—I guess all your ethnic family backgrounds are, to some extent, relevant, although I have been one of those people that, when I read a biography of somebody, I can‘t wait to get through who the guy‘s grandfather was.  I can‘t wait to get through who his parents are.  I want to know who he or she is.  That‘s the way I read journal—I read biography.

But, apparently, “Newsweek” went after his roots and all. 

Here‘s the question.  Has this guy got the stuff to get through this? 

MURDOCK:  I think what was interesting...

MATTHEWS:  Deroy.

MURDOCK:  Yes, I think what‘s kind of interesting about this article, as you describe it, it‘s almost like Freudian psychology, you know, put Rudy down on a psychoanalysis couch and look into his deep, deep inner thoughts.

MATTHEWS:  I think reading this article may give me a sense of why in fact he‘s got this tough persona that I think is part of the reason why he stayed at the top of the polls for all these many months, about a year or so already, coming—coming out of the background that he did. 

No one say he came from a—a very pampered, silver-spoon-in-his-mouth type background, as—as other presidents have done.  That may give a sense as to why he‘s got the kind of demeanor and the toughness that I think made him a success as mayor and I think will make him a success on this campaign trail. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Mike, when I was reading the “Newsweek” piece—and you just read it, I know—all that Catholic school education, the Christian Brothers, all the philosophy he took, all the Thomas Aquinas, I kept thinking over and over again, I went to school with this guy. 

This is what I went through school.  I had the Christian Brothers for four years in a big city. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know what it‘s like to go to school with a lot of Italian guys, I mean, guys like him, if you want to be a—if you want to be a caricature writer about it, although it‘s always dangerous.

It is a tough background.  It is a mean streets background.  You grow up in a tough neighborhood, you have to fight to keep the neighborhood clean.  The Italian-Americans are the people that rub the graffiti off the walls when somebody puts it on the wall.  They‘re the ones that won‘t move out of the neighborhood when it changes.  They‘re the ones that really do fight for the city.  They try to keep it straight and narrow.  They are straight-and-narrow people. 

BARNICLE:  Chris, part of his...

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me it‘s a plus.

BARNICLE:  Chris, part of his appeal, especially from Manchester down south to the Massachusetts border, encompasses exactly those attributes, the discipline, the authority figures that you would cede to, getting cracked upon the skull of the head by the Christian brothers, or, in my case, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart.  You bring that along with you in life.

The question for Rudy Giuliani—and now the New Hampshire primary is pivotal, because he senses Romney‘s weakness up there and he‘s moving on New Hampshire.  It will be interesting to watch that play out.  The question is—again, I get back to it—who is this guy and what would he be like as president?  Because the world is not the corner of Broadway and 42nd.  You can‘t throw enough elbows around in the Middle East without getting us in trouble.  We‘ve got to find out more about him. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about—Deroy, I know you‘re like Rudy.  so let‘s talk about Romney in that context.  It seems to me Governor Romney is getting hit with a blank shot here.  He‘s being blamed for a judge he appointed who over-ruled another judge and let a guy out who was in jail, in prison for 16 years for butchering his mother.  And he was on his way out.  He got hit for assaulting a couple of corrections officers.  They still let him out, over-ruling another judge, this judge that Romney appointed. 

Now, Romney‘s now saying to the judge to resign because you did wrong here.  Is this a Willie Horton situation? 

MURDOCK:  I think it could be a Willie Horton type situation.  It is sort of two fold.  One is that Romney, in fact, appointed this judge who let this guy go.  He went out to the Seattle area, killed a young couple, ages 28 and 30, in cold blood, allegedly shot them in their heads and now they‘re no longer with us.  So I think that obviously represents a tremendous outrage. 

But if you look at his actual crime record as governor, it was really rather lackluster.  For example, murders went up about 7.5 percent in Massachusetts while Romney was governor.  And here in New York City, homicides fell 67 percent.  Overall crime went down about seven percent—about eight percent, I think it is, in Massachusetts.  But the overall crime level in New York City fell about 57 percent.

So I think Romney has a lot of explaining to do, not just on this one particular very tragic case, but on his overall crime record, which I think is rather lackluster. 

MATTHEWS:  Mike, I‘ve never seen it, so tell me, why does Mitt Romney have appeal in New Hampshire among Republicans?  What is it?  I‘ve never been able to figure it out.  What is it? 

BARNICLE:  Well, I think that the appeal he has among Republicans in New Hampshire might be overrated.  A lot of it is familiarity.  He‘s a nice guy.  He‘s a terrific campaigner.  But Giuliani—again, you can sense that Giuliani is moving on him in New Hampshire.  He‘s already started a lot of advertising in the Boston markets, which saturate southern New Hampshire.  Clearly, the Giuliani campaign sense a weakness there in Romney. 

Romney is the king of vanilla ice cream.  He drinks Vanilla Coke and he looks vanilla and he sounds vanilla on the stump. 

MURDOCK:  That helps.  The other thing that helps a lot is spending about 200,000 dollars a week for advertising in New Hampshire.  He‘s been on the air there for months.  That‘s part of the reason why, I think, his numbers—

MATTHEWS:  You know what I remember, guys? 

BARNICLE:  He‘s got to win New Hampshire. 

MATTHEWS:  I remember that Pat Buchanan beat Bob Dole up there.  That‘s all I remember.  But I do remember that.  I remember that McCain beat Bush.  The maverick tough guy looks better.  Anyway, thank you.  I like gritty.  I think they do, too.  Anyway, thank you Mike Barnicle.  And thank you Deroy Murdock.

Up next, more on the Rudy-Romney fight with the round table.  Plus, Oprah Winfrey, talk about somebody who carries weight—and I mean positively.  She‘s going to hit the campaign trail for Barack Obama.  Four major events in December.  Santa Claus is coming to town.  There she is.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Time for the HARDBALL big number that tells a big story.  Tonight our number‘s four.  That‘s the number of major campaign spectacles that Oprah Winfrey is going to headline for Barack Obama on Decembers 8th and 9th, that big weekend.  Can he keep his momentum going?  Can she get votes the way she sells books?  Four events in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina.  Tonight‘s big number, four, the number of Oprah events for Barack Obama.

Let‘s go straight to our round table, Chris Cillizza of the “Washington Post,” Chrystia Freeland of the “Financial Times,” and Jill Zuckman of the “Chicago Tribune.” 

Jill, you‘re sitting in front of me.  This fight that is now getting very personal.  It‘s getting to be about who the person is.  Is Romney a lackadaisical liberal governor of Massachusetts who lets people out, who appoints judges who let people who kill people and kill again, because he‘s just like Mike Dukakis, no matter what he says now?  Has Rudy Giuliani got a personal problem with all his marriages that shows you shouldn‘t be president if you‘re the upstanding Republican you ought to be? 

Those are the issues here.  They‘re getting raw. 

JILL ZUCKMAN, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Well, certainly Rudy Giuliani wants people to believe exactly what you said about Romney, and Romney wants to make sure that the voters know that Rudy Giuliani is not as conservative—socially, personally conservative. 

MATTHEWS:  No, he‘s saying the guy has messed around, basically.  He‘s saying, you can‘t just say you‘ve made mistakes in life and still want to be president.  Let me bring in Chrystia here.  It seems to me when Romney started ripping the bark off Giuliani the other day, he‘s now saying the guy‘s no good.  He‘s the guy who has had three marriages.  You know, he announced the divorce of one wife while he was at a press conference and she didn‘t even know about it.  He‘s getting very personal here about Rudy Giuliani‘s personhood. 

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, “THE FINANCIAL TIMES”:  I think that‘s absolutely right.  And what is going to be really, really interesting is to see how much people care.  Because I think what we thought, you know, in the past eight years is, people really do care about—especially Republicans—care about the personal lives of their presidential candidate.  They really, really care about social values as they are lived.  At least, that‘s what the Republicans have been saying. 

And so far that doesn‘t seem to matter with Rudy Giuliani. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m with you on that assessment, Chrystia, because I think Republicans care about leadership, toughness, law and order, and victory.  Let me go to Chris Cillizza.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  You know, Chris, I was just going to say, I‘ll add one other thing they care about, not having Hillary Clinton in the White House.  I still think that‘s Rudy Giuliani‘s best argument to why he should be elected.  I think people are willing to overlook a lot of things when they look at polling and it shows Rudy Giuliani running even or a little bit behind or a little bit ahead of Senator Clinton, when many of the other people running for the Republican nomination are well behind her. 

I think she is, in the minds of many Republican primary voters, the greater evil.  That‘s the one that they want to avoid.  They‘re willing to overlook the sort of lesser, venial sins to get rid of Senator Clinton. 

MATTHEWS:  What about my theory that you go on a subway at 3:00 in the morning—you‘re the only one there; you‘re scared as hell because there‘s nobody else on the subway, literally no one else, and a big tough cop gets on the subway with you.  Maybe nasty looking cop, a guy that doesn‘t exactly remember the Miranda Rights of the guy he‘s going after?  Don‘t you feel a little safer?  Or do you?  It depends who you are, I guess.

CILLIZZA:  I think especially after September 11th, I think this country was reminded, or in some cases just put for the first time, the fact that this is the potential.  We are under real threat. 

MATTHEWS:  No, no, I‘m not just talking—I‘m not one of these people who thinks terrorism, terrorism, terrorism, 24/7.  I know it‘s a problem.  But I think the 24/7 problem, if you live in a big city, is crime and murder.  Here it is rearing its head again.  Let‘s take a look at Giuliani going after Romney. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI:  I think one of the Boston newspapers pointed this out about two months ago, that he had a very bad record really in dealing with crime.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So do you think it‘s unfair for him to question you about Commissioner Kerik?

GIULIANI:  You can question people about anything.  I think that this whole appointment of a judge goes to a much bigger point, that Governor Romney had a very poor record in dealing with murder and violent crime as governor. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you think, Jill? 

ZUCKMAN:  I think this is a big positive. 

MATTHEWS:  You represent a Chicago newspaper.  It‘s a big city.  Big city people worry about crime. 

ZUCKMAN:  Absolutely, people worry about crime.  I think most people who pay a little bit of attention know that Giuliani took office as mayor, and he took a zero tolerance approach to crime in New York City.  And he improved things there.  People started coming back to visit the city.  People could walk around wherever they wanted.  There was a big difference. 

And I think he does get credit for that.  And it‘s a plus in his column. 

If he can make Romney look like the opposite, then, you know, Romney‘s going to have a problem. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s an old argument that he‘s an S.O.B., but he‘s our S.O.B.  I wouldn‘t apply that too directly to any candidate for president.  But I wonder, Chrystia, if that isn‘t part of the thinking here. 

FREELAND:  Sure, I think you‘re absolutely right.  Just to take your subway analogy, I think the other thing that people worry about is if someone forecloses on their home.  That‘s an issue we haven‘t really seen raised too much in the Rudy-Romney debate.  I think as we move into 2008, and the economy looks a lot grimmer, that‘s going to be another really important battleground. 

MATTHEWS:  Which of these two top Republicans is least likely to give you an extension?  I don‘t see a whole lot of heart from either of these guys.  We‘ll be right back.  Can you imagine Romney?  Let me look at the tables first.  We‘ll be right back with the round table.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table.  Chris Cillizza, what‘s going on with Hillary Clinton?  In all fairness, she has to run a general election campaign the same exact time she‘s running a primary campaign.  She‘s setting herself up to be the Democratic nominee for president.  She can‘t veer to the left on issues like the war.  She has to maintain a centrist position.  At the same time, it seems like she‘s getting cut off from the left and the change factor is hurting her a lot. 

CILLIZZA:  Chris, I think you‘re right.  She has a unique challenge in that everyone already assumes she‘s going to be the nominee.  So, in some ways, she has to act like it in order to win the primary nomination.  But the more she looks like she‘s electable in a general election may be the better chance she has of winning the primary. 

I actually think for the vast majority of this campaign she‘s successfully quieted problems on the left.  You know, the war in Iraq and her vote for the 2002 use of force resolution was supposed to be the centerpiece at the start of Barack Obama‘s campaign on why we needed different leadership.  It‘s really fallen off in a lot of ways.  We see him talking about Iran.  We see him talking about, you know, just change more generally.  We need a different—the status quo is no longer acceptable, John Edwards, let‘s not trade our corporate Republicans for their corporate Democrats. 

But you don‘t see Iraq as much.  The problem she has is of late—is that a lot of people who haven‘t been all that focused on the race are starting to focus more, starting to look around.  It doesn‘t mean they don‘t come back to Senator Clinton as the best option.  But they‘re looking around.  They‘re taking a look at Obama. I think, Especially in Iowa, I think it would be a mistake to write off John Edwards.  I still think—every poll that I‘ve seen shows it basically a statistical dead heat between Obama, Edwards and Clinton.  

MATTHEWS:  You know, Chrystia, and everybody, and Jill, and Chris, I believe Hillary Clinton voted for the war resolution back in 2002 for the same reason her husband supported it back in 1990 -- back in, what was it, ‘90-91, the first Gulf War, because they thought it might turn out well.  They didn‘t want to be off the bandwagon when it went to victory.  You can‘t be against a war that turns out well.  I think Hillary has always calculated in the back of her mind, starting in 2002 when she voted for the resolution, hey, this war may make it.  I don‘t want to be one of those McGovernites, one of those lefties who opposed it. 

Now she must be thinking, since things have calmed down a bit in Baghdad, that maybe she put the right ticket.  She bought the right ticket. 

FREELAND:  I‘m sure she is thinking that.  I think you‘re absolutely right.  I think she has always been very conscious as a Democrat, maybe particularly as woman, that she doesn‘t want to seem soft.  She wants to be sure that when history judges, that she‘s not judged on the wrong side. 

One thing that I think is really interesting that Obama has been doing

successfully—it‘s been surprising to me it‘s taken him so long—is to

really go after Senator Clinton on her claiming that Bill Clinton‘s time in

the White House was time that she was in government, too.  He‘s made a few

reference to the fact that she wasn‘t secretary of state, she wasn‘t

secretary of the treasury.  That‘s been really effective. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here he is right now, Obama taking a crack at Hillary, once again ripping the bark off, saying she can‘t claim to be secretary of treasury, secretary of state, secretary of defense, all the things she‘s claimed. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  If she wants to tout her experience by having visited countries, that‘s fine.  I don‘t think that Madeleine Albright would think that Hillary Clinton was the face of foreign policy during the Clinton administration. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  He dryly allowed. 

FREELAND:  And then Senator Clinton came right back and said, well, I don‘t think living over-seas for four years when you‘re ten years old is great foreign policy experience. 

MATTHEWS:  So whack a 10-year-old.  Anyway, thank you Chris Cillizza, Chrystia Freeland, Jill Zuckman.  In one hour, it‘s the HARDBALL Power Rankings.  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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