updated 12/4/2007 11:35:55 AM ET 2007-12-04T16:35:55

Guests: Sen. John McCain, John Neffinger, Chris Cillizza, Linda Douglass, Jill Zuckman

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The political world turns upside down.  Obama rises to the top in Iowa.  Hillary goes negative to stop him.  While, Obama out-charms Hillary, Huckabee out-Gods Romney.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  One month out to Iowa now, and a new “Des Moines Register” poll puts challenger Barack Obama in the lead among Democrats.  He‘s jumped 6 points since October.  And on the Republican side, Mike Huckabee‘s moved to the front of the pack, up 12 points since October.  Tonight, things are going wild in Iowa.

Plus: Who do you like, Hillary or Romney, Huckabee or Romney or Giuliani?  The likability factor in presidential politics.

And Senator Larry Craig told the world he‘s not gay and never has been gay.  Now five gay men come forward with graphic new allegations against the senator.  We have the details and the tapes.

But we begin with the changing landscape in Iowa and HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Exactly one month until the Iowa caucuses, and those latest polls in the Hawkeye State showing Obama ahead of Clinton and Huckabee leading Romney have prompted a change in tactics in both races.  Hillary Clinton is ditching her above-the-fray approach and is now hammering Obama directly.  Over the weekend, Clinton told reporters, quote, “I have been for months on the receiving end of rather consistent attacks.”  Well, now the fun part starts.  And Sunday on CBS, Clinton‘s campaign spokesman accused Obama of campaign finance violations.

HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN:  He has been using and operating a so-called leadership PAC in apparent contravention of campaign finance laws.

SHUSTER:  Obama answered with a dig of his own.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Folks from some of the other campaigns are reading the polls and starting to get stressed and issuing a whole range of outlandish accusations.

SHUSTER:  The accusations went into overdrive yesterday when Obama twice said that his presidential ambitions were relatively new compared to the ambitions of Clinton.

OBAMA:  I have not been planning to run for president for however number of years some of the other candidates have been planning for it.

SHUSTER:  Hillary Clinton‘s campaign team was so infuriated by that remark, they issued this press release attacking Obama because, quote, “Fifteen years ago, Senator Obama told his brother-in-law he was planning to run for president.  But the Clinton attack on Obama didn‘t stop there. 

Quote, “In kindergarten, Senator Obama wrote an essay titled ‘I want to

become president.‘

Swinging at Obama‘s character with material from his kindergarten class would have been unimaginable for the Clinton team a few months ago.  But Clinton appears to have lost significant support from her key base, women.  According to the “Des Moines Register” poll, in October, Clinton had a 13-point lead over Obama among women.  Now it‘s Obama with a 5-point edge.  What happened?

OBAMA:  I can‘t tell whether she was for it or against it.

SHUSTER:  Obama seized on Clinton‘s equivocations in the October debate and appears to be convincing voters that he is the best agent of change.  Clinton has also been hurt on occasion by her husband.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Even though I approved of Afghanistan and opposed Iraq from the beginning...

SHUSTER:  Last week‘s much criticized claim by President Clinton that he always opposed the Iraq war reminded voters of Clintonian-style verbal parsing.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AR), FMR GOVERNOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It‘s a different day for us, for sure.

SHUSTER:  Meanwhile, on the Republican side, with Mike Huckabee surging in the GOP race in Iowa, Mitt Romney is having to do things he once wanted to avoid.  First, he is ratcheting up his attacks on Huckabee, thereby elevating Huckabee‘s status.

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Are we going to say that kids that are here illegally are going to get a special deal?  Are they going to get a deal better than other kids?  Do they get benefits by virtue of coming here illegally?

SHUSTER:  More significant, Romney is now planning on giving a speech this week addressing his Mormonism.  Six weeks ago, Romney told CBS he wasn‘t sure such a speech would be necessary.

ROMNEY:  But maybe down the road, there‘ll be a speech.  Just haven‘t made a final decision on that.

SHUSTER:  It brings to mind Jack Kennedy‘s speech in Texas in 1960 addressing concerns about Kennedy‘s Catholicism.

SEN. JOHN F. KENNEDY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Now, there is nothing in my religious faith that prevents me from executing my oath of office.  If I thought that there was, I wouldn‘t take it.

SHUSTER:  Mike Huckabee has been surging in Iowa due to strong debate performances but also because of quiet but lingering questions by evangelicals about Romney‘s Mormonism.  This weekend, Huckabee passed on an opportunity to answer them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is Mitt Romney a Christian?

HUCKABEE:  You know, Mitt Romney has to answer that.  Nobody can answer for another person—for you, for me.  We all have to personally answer for what our faith is.

SHUSTER (on camera):  All of this, whether it‘s Huckabee challenging Romney or Obama ahead of Clinton, seems to be turning conventional wisdom on its head, and it‘s reinforcing the idea that what‘s conventional wisdom now could change again a month from now.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  Republican presidential candidate John McCain just won the endorsement New Hampshire‘s “Manchester Union Leader.”  Senator, congratulations on winning what looked to be a dramatic endorsement from the paper that used to run things up there.  Do they still have the clout they once had?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Of course they do. 

Even more.  It will decide the election in my favor.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  No, I—look, I think—I think “The Union Leader” is still widely respected.  It‘s, as you know, statewide, and has a great deal of impact.  And I think it has even more impact when we have a crowded field that‘s pretty well bunched up.  So I‘m very grateful for “The Union Leader” and Joe McQuaid.

MATTHEWS:  What did you say in the editorial board that the others didn‘t?  You must have—you must have gotten to their erogenous zone or something.  What did you do to turn these guys on?

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  You know, I don‘t know except that I‘ve been up to New Hampshire a lot, as you know, Chris, in 2004 and 2006, 2002, so I‘ve gotten to know the folks there at “The Union Leader.”  But I think that it‘s pretty clear, to them anyway, that I‘m the only conservative that can defeat Senator Clinton, and so, anyway, I‘m grateful.  You have to ask them, but I‘m grateful for their endorsement.

MATTHEWS:  I want to ask you about Iowa for a second before we get back to New Hampshire.  Let‘s take a look at the latest “Des Moines Register” poll out in Iowa, having the first contest on the 3rd of January.  Huckabee is leading the Republican pack out there right now.  He‘s gone way up, a 17-point jump from October.  Romney‘s slipped to second place.  What‘s Huckabee‘s strength?  Is he simply the guy who‘s willing to talk most about God, calling himself in paid advertising “the Christian leader”?  I mean, I‘ve never seen anything like this in America before, this flagrant out-Godding each other.

MCCAIN:  What I have found about Mike Huckabee, Chris, is that he‘s a very congenial, very decent guy.  I‘ve had the chance to get to know him.  He and I did a 90-minute forum together on health care.  And I‘ve found him to be a pretty decent guy.  And he‘s able to articulate.  And frankly, you know, I think he‘s proving that debates matter.  The line he had about Jesus had enough sense not to run for political office was an excellent line, you know, at the response to that question about whether...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MCCAIN:  ... what would Jesus do on capital punishment.  So I think he‘s come across on the debates as a very congenial, pleasant, very good, thoughtful guy, I think is probably what‘s had a lot of the impact.

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve never heard you run as anything but than a secular candidate.  I know you‘re a Christian.  I know you‘re a Baptist, a practicing Baptist.  You go to church.  And I never heard you use religion as a way to get ahead.  Now, these questions that have been thrown at the candidates, especially in that CNN debate—and I admit we asked the question way back when about evolution.  But these questions are getting very liturgical.  How literal do you take the Constitution?  (SIC)  Where did Jesus stand on capital punishment?  I mean, this is beginning to look what the Constitution calls a religious test and proscribes, bans, really, in Article 6 of the Constitution.  Why are candidates for the presidency being asked religious questions?

MCCAIN:  First of all, I‘m sure you meant, Do you take the Bible literally, not the Constitution literally, but I know what you meant.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m sorry.  That is a different question.  Maybe that‘s the right question to be asking, how much of a strict constructionist you are.  But we‘re asking strict constructionist questions of the Scriptures.

MCCAIN:  Sure.  I think that people know that the religious base of the party is still an important part of it.  I was a bit disappointed, to tell you the truth, at the debate, we didn‘t ask more questions about education, about health care, about the economy, about the subprime lending issue, about—you know, a lot of the economic and other issues.  But you know, they‘re free to ask the questions that they want to.

But there certainly was an abundance of those that sort of had to do with the social conservatives.  But you know, I don‘t like the questions.  But I think maybe in the next debate I‘d like to see more emphasis on health care, education, the economy, subprime lending, all of these issues that I think most Americans are concerned more about.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me lead you into a trap here, Senator because I‘ve interviewed you so many times.  Could it be that you‘re the genuine article, that people have taken a look at Rudy and they find questions about his—the way in which he presented the budgetary information in New York City when he was mayor, especially the security costs of his private life, that Romney‘s rather mobile on the issue of some of these social questions, that the other candidates, like Huckabee, may be popular in the Bible Belt or in that middle part of the country, but they won‘t sell on the East Coast or in the big suburbs.

What is your advantage over the other candidates at this point in December?

MCCAIN:  Well, I think it is that most voters haven‘t made up their minds, particularly here in New Hampshire.  I think that‘s an advantage that I have because I think I know how to outcampaign them.

I think the other thing is that I‘m going to make a strong pitch, as I have, that we‘re in two wars.  We‘re facing radical Islamic extremism, the great challenge of that, and I have proven my experience and judgment in addressing these national security issues, as well as being a solid conservative, as well as being, I think, the conservative best able to defeat Senator Clinton.  That‘s going to be my pitch, my friend.

MATTHEWS:  Are you the strongest successor to President Bush?  In other words, if you like Bush, are you the best person to pick to succeed him?

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  I—I know I‘m the best person to succeed him.

MATTHEWS:  No, if you‘re...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... should the Bushies vote for you because you‘re the closest thing to keeping him in for a third term?

MCCAIN:  I hope they would vote for me because they recognize the challenges, particularly in national security.  But look, I have supported the president on some issues.  I strongly disagreed with him on the previous strategy that was employed by Rumsfeld, as you know.  I strongly opposed the failure to veto the spending bills.  But there are other areas, such as No Child Left Behind and others, that I supported the president.  And so I think—I think they‘ll largely judge me on my record.

MATTHEWS:  But it seems like you‘re the one that‘s the most gutsy in talking about the war.  I mean, we just had a two-hour-and-50-minute debate at CNN, and I think I think Bush‘s name—the president‘s name came up twice.  The Iraq war was hardly mentioned.  It was all about immigration.  You‘re the one that keeps bringing back the fact we‘re a country at war.

It seems to me if President Bush was running for a third term, that‘s what he would have to be doing, too.  You are out there all alone in defending, basically, the modified Bush policy, as you‘ve helped to modify it.

MCCAIN:  Yes, but I would also submit that it‘s a drastic change from the failed strategy of Rumsfeld...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MCCAIN:  ... which I opposed earlier, which no other Republican candidate did.  They—in fact, as you know, I was criticized severely for being disloyal to Rumsfeld and/or the president.  So I‘ve tried to point out that I had that judgment gained by experience.

But it is interesting that the Iraq war has sort of faded, although we‘re still in a big fight in Congress, and maybe that‘s a symptom of the success.  But I still think we got a long way to go in Iraq.  I mean, we‘ve got al Qaeda on the run, but they‘re by no means beaten.

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re going to win in New Hampshire and then back it up with a big win in South Carolina and knock this whole thing apart.

MCCAIN:  You figure that (ph) we‘re still working in Iowa.  Hope springs eternal, my dear friend.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I hope we get out there in the race to see you.  We got to get some—we got to get some campaign money for ourselves here at MSNBC and get out and cover you.  I want to watch the last hurrah.  Well, maybe the second to last hurrah of John McCain.  Thank you very much, Senator, for coming on.

MCCAIN:  Thanks, Chris.  See you.

MATTHEWS:  Coming up tonight at 7:00 Eastern, the HARDBALL “Power Rankings”as we tell you which candidate showed strength this week and who lost it.

And up next, the likability factor.  What‘s behind the rise of Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  So how important is the candidates‘ -- I love this word—likability?  John Neffinger makes a living coaching people on how to talk in front of groups.  His clients are mostly business people, but he‘s also coached some Democratic candidates, just to make everything square here.

John, let me ask you about a couple things.  First of all, let me go through some numbers we just got.  These are what we call the internals on the Iowa—the “Des Moines Register” poll that just came out on Sunday that showed Hillary Clinton falling behind or actually falling into sort of even place, statistically, with Barack Obama.

JOHN NEFFINGER, COMMUNICATIONS ANALYST:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  And of course, Huckabee is zooming ahead there.  Let‘s take a look at a poll.  This is on who‘s the most ego-driven of all the candidates on the Democratic side, and it shows Hillary up there with the most ego-driven -- 52 percent say that Hillary‘s the most driven by ego.  That doesn‘t sound like an attractive trait in a country that sort of still harbors the notion that we pick our president, they don‘t pick themselves.

NEFFINGER:  Yes, not particularly, Chris.  What‘s going on here is when you see Hillary out on the campaign trail, you can tell that even though she‘s driven to want to succeed here, she‘s not necessarily having a great time doing it, in stark contrast, of course, to Bill, who loved nothing better than to shake hands all night.

So if she‘s not driven by really enjoying the process, that leaves a question.  What is it that she‘s doing this for?  Now, of course, her supporters would say that‘s because she‘s on a mission.  She really wants to help the country.  She wants to make it a better place, et cetera.  But for a lot of people, they suspect that this is a little bit of an ego trip for her, not too surprisingly.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at the likability question.  In Iowa, Obama is the most likable Democrat, way ahead of Clinton.  How is that historically important?  Look at these numbers here -- 33, 26 down (ph).  Hillary‘s way down in 14.  That‘s not a high number.  That‘s 1 in 7 Democrats.

NEFFINGER:  Not at all.  And you‘re right to invoke history here, Chris.  If you go back several elections, you see that the most likable candidate is usually the one who wins.  In fact, you have to go back I think all the way to Dukakis versus Bush the first to find a hiccup there where the data doesn‘t line up.  The reason for this...

MATTHEWS:  I think that you got to go back to ‘72, actually, and McGovern and Nixon.

NEFFINGER:  Back to ‘72?

MATTHEWS:  I think so, yes.

NEFFINGER:  Could well be...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You got to go pretty far back.  You make your point, though.

NEFFINGER:  Yes, well—and the reason, if you—there‘s some very interesting research on this, but without delving too much into the numbers and the experiments, you can think about it this way.  Swing voters, who are usually going to decide the election one way or the other, by definition, they‘re not that committed to the policy perspective of either side.

So the question is, What is it that they‘re using to determine who it is they want to be their next president?  And for folks who aren‘t that into the policy, one of the things that they‘re choosing with a president is not just somebody to make policy but also someone they‘re going to have to see on their TV, hear on their radio, talk to with their friends and kids about for the next four years.  So it‘s a real quality of life issue to them if they like the person or not.  So likability is pretty important.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I agree.  I agree you have to turn person on and watch him for eight years.

NEFFINGER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  What about Hillary Clinton?  You talked earlier to some people on our program—our producers—about the fact that you believe that Hillary‘s—the drubbing she‘s taken over the years...

NEFFINGER:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... on shows like Jay Leno or Letterman...

NEFFINGER:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... over the years, she‘s been the punchline of so many jokes...

NEFFINGER:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... that that—you think that may have added up. 

NEFFINGER:  I think more than anybody else on “The Tonight Show” might

might actually be accurate. 

And that tells you two things.  One, in—in itself, it‘s not good for her, right?  Because she‘s repeatedly being invoked as the butt of jokes.  But the other issue here is, why is she such a good foil for joke writers?  That‘s—the answer is because her demeanor comes across as someone who doesn‘t take a joke very well, somebody who it‘s funny to make fun of. 

That‘s why, earlier in the campaign, when they did the—the spoofs of “The Sopranos” and when she had that YouTube video making fun of her singing the Pledge of Allegiance—or not being able to sing...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

NEFFINGER:  ... whatever it was, the national anthem, all of that was very effective in beginning... 

MATTHEWS:  I thought it worked. 

NEFFINGER:  ... to warm up her image.

MATTHEWS:  I thought—I thought it made her like—I think it made her more likable.

NEFFINGER:  Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s stay on the other side.

Rudy Giuliani is the most ego-driven Republican.  Same deal with him. 

NEFFINGER:  Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm. 

MATTHEWS:  It seems like the New Yorkers are the most ego-driven...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... at least loosely defined New Yorkers. 

NEFFINGER:  What does that say about us?  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And then you have—and most popular, it looks like, and most likable, you have got Romney and Huckabee, who happen to be leading in the polls out there. 

NEFFINGER:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  So, that is certainly consistent with the results out there so far. 

NEFFINGER:  Absolutely. 

And that‘s no surprise.  If you think about it, Romney has been paying a lot of money to make sure his smiling face is all over the state of Iowa for many, many months now.  Huckabee, though, that is the big story in terms of likability here. 

Just these last couple of debates, he has been so warm and so personable and so engaging in a way that we‘re not used to seeing political candidates be.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

NEFFINGER:  For the most part, they‘re talking about policy all the time.  But this guy comes on...

MATTHEWS:  You know, even when I—John...

NEFFINGER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... even when I argue with the guy, I can‘t get to dislike him.  He‘s very...

NEFFINGER:  Yes.  You still like him. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And he always comes off as very likable on this program. 

NEFFINGER:  Yes.  You can‘t not like the guy. 

MATTHEWS:  Anyway...

NEFFINGER:  It is really something. 

MATTHEWS:  He looks like Kevin Spacey, don‘t you think? 

NEFFINGER:  Yes, he does. 

MATTHEWS:  I think so.

NEFFINGER:  He might have to lose a little bit more weight before they really...

(LAUGHTER)

NEFFINGER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, please come back.  I like these ineffables, these intangibles. 

NEFFINGER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you very much, John Neffinger.

NEFFINGER:  Absolutely.  We will keep track of them. 

MATTHEWS:  Still ahead:  Senator Larry Craig—speaking of ineffable

back in the news.  New reports that five more gay men have come out and told that newspaper out there, “The Iowa Statesman”—“Iowa Statesman”—that they have had dealings with this guy. 

Up next:  Hillary Clinton describes the relationship she hopes to have with voters in a very surprising way. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Let‘s take a look at what else is going on out there.

Let‘s begin in Venezuela.  Well, President Hugo Chavez asked his country‘s voters to dump its Democratic constitution and put him in as president for life.  In a squeaker, voters rejected Chavez‘s call for a socialist state with him totally in charge. 

Democracy, si.  Chavez, no mas.  Or at least no mas after ‘12.  He is still going to be in office for another few years. 

Fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy, who had won the Democratic nomination after winning in a big primary in heavily Protestant West Virginia, was concerned that his Roman Catholicism might still keep him from the presidency. 

When former President Harry Truman, a Democrat, got quoted telling the Republicans to—quote—“Go to hell,” Kennedy wrote him the following:

“Dear Mr. President, I have noted with interest your suggestion as to where those who vote for my opponent should go.  While I understand and sympathize with your deep motivation, I think it is important that our side try to refrain from raising the religious issue.”

When Kennedy gave that famous speech, the best in his campaign, down in Texas to a powerful group of Protestant ministers, his young advance man, the future party chairman, Bob Strauss, got the job, as Bob put it, of picking the—quote—“meanest, nastiest-looking ministers, to put them out front in the first row,” thereby making Kennedy look like the Christian facing the lions. 

It‘s a true story. 

Maybe Mitt Romney can pick up some of those cues from Jack Kennedy. 

Here is Hillary Clinton Sunday in Iowa. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  So, you see, I want a long-term relationship. 

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON:  I don‘t want to just have a one-night stand with all of you. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is this how we talk now, one-night stand?  Who is writing her stuff? 

Anyway, and now the HARDBALL “Big Number.”

With a pending court case and a looming congressional probe, Larry Craig is still a U.S. senator from Idaho.  Months after saying it was his intent to resign, Craig is beyond stalling.  He is just plain staying, saying he will retire when his term ends in January of 2009. 

Today‘s “Idaho Statesman” reports on five more men who say they either had sex with Craig or were approached by him. 

And that brings us to tonight‘s “Big Number”: eight.  That‘s the total number of men, including three accounts reported in August, plus the new five, who say they had sex with Craig or were solicited by him. 

Sorry about that one. 

Up next, we will hear from some of the men making those stunning new accusations against the conservative senator from Idaho. 

And, later, what it is about Hillary and Romney that is turning off Iowa voters? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARY THOMPSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Mary Thompson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.” 

Stocks closing lower this Monday, hurt by figures showing slow growth in manufacturing in November.  The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 57 points.  The S&P 500 fell eight.  And the Nasdaq lost 23. 

Oil prices rising today, amid signs OPEC will reject a production increase at a meeting on Wednesday.  Crude climbed 60 cents in New York, closing at $89.31 a barrel. 

Ford posting better-than-expected auto sales for November, sales up four-tenths-of-a-percent.  But GM sales fell 11 percent and Chrysler‘s dropped 2 percent. 

Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson says an agreement is near on a proposal to help thousands of at-risk homeowners avoiding foreclosures by temporarily freezing their mortgage rates.  Officials say one of the last issues to be resolved is the exact length of time rates will be frozen. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LARRY CRAIG ®, IDAHO:  Let me be clear.  I am not gay.  I never have been gay. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, of course, that‘s Idaho Senator Larry Craig on August 28 of this year, following his arrest and guilty plea to disorderly conduct after he was caught in a sex sting operation in a men‘s room at the Minneapolis/Saint Paul Airport.

Now five gay men have come forward, telling “The Idaho Statesman” newspaper they have had sex with Craig or he made advances toward them or whatever.  The men say they were—they‘re telling the stories because they‘re offended by the senator‘s denials, calling him a hypocrite.  They‘re gay guys.  They want to know why he doesn‘t admit he is one and why he keeps voting on the anti-gay side of so many bills. 

In a statement to the Associated Press, the senator said the report was completely false. 

Joining us now is blogger Mike Rogers from blogactive.com. 

Sir? 

MIKE ROGERS, BLOGACTIVE.COM:  Hi, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here you are and here with—what do you make about the motivation—let‘s—generally speaking—of the gay community, of gay men in this case, who are willing to come forward and—and give details of a relationship or an attempted relationship by this U.S.  senator? 

ROGERS:  You know, every time I see one of these cases, Chris, it‘s the same thing over and over, where there‘s the initial news report.  Then, a few months later, or half-a-year later, or a year later, out comes another report. 

And then there is a string of people who come forward and say, their frustration isn‘t that they had sexual encounters with the individual.  Their frustration is that the individual is not being honest and now is kind of continuing to throw the gay community under the bus, while they‘re out there denying these allegations, is what people—has people frustrated, in many cases. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s listen to one those who is alleging he had a relationship with—with Senator Craig. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MIKE JONES, MALE ESCORT:  Well, what made me change my mind, what really kind of angered me, was when he reneged—when I heard rumors that he was reneging on his resignation.

When I started seeing blurbs where Craig may actually not resign, that‘s when I contacted you guys, because that‘s when I started getting, like, this is not right.  He was doing the right thing to resign.  But now that he‘s going to backtrack and renege on that, that‘s not right, because I knew this guy was hypocrite.

(END AUDIO CLIP) 

MATTHEWS:  Well, yes.  That‘s it, huh? 

ROGERS:  Well, that‘s one of the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How strong is this urge about hypocrisy, when, in fact, I suppose there are men, straight men, who have had relations with their assistants or whatever or whatever women they meet and—in business or in social life, and they have a relationship, and they would rather keep it secret.

ROGERS:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  And the woman who is involved with the guy probably says, well, he shouldn‘t have done it, maybe, but I wanted to do it.  So, I will keep it secret. 

ROGERS:  Well, the problem is that it is hypocrisy.

MATTHEWS:  And they don‘t expect the guy to put out—no, just listen.

ROGERS:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  But the straight guy is not going to be issuing bulletins: 

I strayed.  One night, I had too many beers back in 1998. 

He‘s not putting out bulletins.

So, why are you holding gay men to a different standard, to be blunt? 

ROGERS:  I‘m not holding gay men to a different standard, Chris. 

What I‘m trying to do is hold people in elected positions of power to a standard.  And whether they‘re straight men, like David Vitter, or whether they‘re men like Kevin Brady in Texas, who drove drunk, and pled guilty, and is still in the House, or men like Larry Craig, I just want people to not be hypocrites, where they want a different set of rules for themselves than they do for other people. 

I could care less.  I—listen, you and I both know there‘s a lot more people in that building fooling around than any of us are reporting are or the rumors and... 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I always go with the Kinsey numbers.  And I figure the House of Representatives is representative. 

ROGERS:  Well, I—and I‘m...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And I always figure the Senate is representative, too. 

But let me ask you about this about—suppose a guy like Larry Craig, just to try to get this straight, what we‘re trying to figure out, the arguments people like yourself make when they come forward with this information, which is obviously very embarrassing to a guy like Senator Craig. 

ROGERS:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  If he had a liberal voting record, for example, if he was voting very positively on issues of civil union...

ROGERS:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  ... maybe not all the way over, but pretty positively...

ROGERS:  Don‘t ask/don‘t tell or...

MATTHEWS:  He was trying to take a position which was humane and passionate—compassionate conservative, even...

ROGERS:  I never would have reported on him. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  I had—in fact, I had...

MATTHEWS:  So, it‘s the voting record? 

ROGERS:  It‘s—it‘s the hypocrisy.  It is the rank hypocrisy where Larry Craig tells a constituent—two weeks after he pleads guilty for having sex in a Minneapolis bathroom, he tells a constituent that gay and lesbian people should be—continue to be discharged from the military. 

So, that‘s the problem, the hypocrisy. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Well, let‘s go to—let‘s go to a big journalist here.  “Idaho Statesman” reporter Dan Popkey joins us now on the phone from Boise. 

Dan, tell us about how you put this story together and why it is popping right now. 

DAN POPKEY, “THE IDAHO STATESMAN”:  Well, in the week after the senator made the statement that you opened up with, the “I am not gay” statement, I heard from a couple of men who said that they had been solicited by him or had—well, had been solicited by him. 

One of them was in a restroom.  And, subsequently, we were able to confirm that he contemporaneously told that story to his uncle, a retired Army major. 

So, we just—we sort of were collecting string.  And you ask, you know, why did it pop now?  We—several of the sources were not—were very reluctant to talk in—in—about this until after his reversal on the resignation vow. 

MATTHEWS:  I got you.

POPKEY:  And, so, we did a lot of work trying to check out their backgrounds and run public records checks and so forth.  And it wasn‘t really ready until now is why we published it now. 

MATTHEWS:  You put a lot of raunchy stuff in there about—I mean, I‘m not saying it‘s not accurate, because it clearly has the—the scent of reality—about him having sexual relations on the—on the sly with a guy, and another one, too, where he paid him $20 or $200 in different circumstances, and, after those relationships, he seemed rather cold about the person he just dealt with sexually.  He treated them like meat, basically, and said so. 

Those are amazing accounts.  Was that part of your thinking, that this guy is just a callous sort of person? 

POPKEY:  Oh, no, not really.  I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, you put it in.  It doesn‘t really relate to a person‘s political position, but you threw in the part that really makes him look like, just to generalize here, a bad guy. 

POPKEY:  That was not the—the intent, to make—to look—make him look like a bad, insensitive guy.  These were the accounts of men who have come forward to us.  They were explaining why they were willing to have their names out there. 

And you have to remember, our—our first story in August, after the guilty plea came out, we didn‘t have—our three sources were all unnamed.  We have four named stories...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  

(CROSSTALK)

POPKEY:  ... persons in Sunday‘s piece. 

And I—and I think, in—in order for the reader to judge the credibility of those accounts, they need to hear what motivates them.  And part of what motivates them, I think, at least in a couple of cases, is—is the way they were treated. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think you‘re right there.  It does explain the providence of these reports. 

Let me ask you, Mike, what do you think about this? 

ROGERS:  Well, let me start off by saying that I worked with Dan, and he interviewed me.  And I have had nothing but complete and utter respect for the job that he, as the leading political reporter in the state and at “The Statesman,” have done. 

And I, as a blogger, have felt wonderful about how they took my work and really have the courage to pick up that work, and for Dan and Vickie (ph), the folks up there, to—to really go forward. 

I think that these stories are extraordinary.  I have heard Mr.  Phillips interviewed a number of times, David Phillips.  I absolutely would have no question anything about his story.  It seems, head to toe, legitimate. 

As I said, I have a few questions about Mike Jones‘ story.  But, overall, certainly, there is no question that... 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s the one that has—alleged he‘s had relations with both Ted Haggard, who got in huge trouble...

ROGERS:  Right, and Senator Craig.

MATTHEWS:  ... the televangelist, and the senator. 

It seems too...

ROGERS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  I mean, this guy is rather prolific. 

ROGERS:  The—the coincidence is astonishing. 

MATTHEWS:  But we have to do this, in all fairness. 

Senator Larry Craig has put out this statement.  It is an article—he wrote about the article.

Quote: “It is unfortunate that ‘The Idaho Statesman‘ newspaper has chosen to continue to lower itself to the standards of what can best be described as tabloid journalism.  Like its previous coverage, these latest allegations are completely false and have no basis in reality.  In fact, the paper itself states that these baseless accusations contain no definitive evidence, yet they still decided to print them anyway.   However, despite the fact ‘The Idaho Statesman‘ has decided to pursue its own agenda and print these falsehoods without any facts to back them up, I won‘t let this paper‘s—this paper‘s attempt to malign my name stop me from continuing my work.”

Excuse me!  Dan, what is the senator‘s argument for why he reneged on his decision to leave gently and go into that good night and leave us all with this story behind us? 

POPKEY:  Well, he said circumstances changed and he wound up finding support in the Senate for him to stay.  And he realized after he went back that first very difficult week in the middle of September that he could do his job, despite having—well, he didn‘t really talk about this—but despite having lost his ranking member positions on his various committees. 

MATTHEWS:  What does your reporting tell you about how well a job he‘s been doing as an effective senator since this unfortunate publicity? 

POPKEY:  Well, it‘s mixed.  You know, he no longer has the staff he had as ranking member.  He—several people on his staff have left.  And, you know, he‘s the guy at the end of the ladder now, when it comes to questioning witnesses in the committee.  I don‘t think there is any question that a clout has been seriously eroded.  I mean, look at who brought the ethics complaint against him.  It was the five members of the Republican leadership. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  I have to tell you, I have to wonder about the ability but also the fortitude of his press secretary.  What a job to have to explain this sort of thing.  Anyway, thank you.  I got to run.  Thank you, Mike, for joining us.  Thank you, Dan Popkey.  Thank you. 

Up next, with Hillary slipping and Obama rising, can she find her footing by going on the attack?  We have a brand new poll to tell you about from “USA Today.”  It just came out.  The round table is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I don‘t think people want a lot of talk about change.  I think they want someone with a real record, a doer, not a talker.  And after eight years of incompetence, they don‘t want false hopes.  They want real results. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Let‘s bring in the round table, the “Chicago Tribune‘s” Jill Zuckman is in New Hampshire, as is Chris Cillizza of theWashingtonPost.com.  We‘re here moderating with me—a discussion, by the way, with John McCain tonight in—you‘re up there doing a Southern New Hampshire University round table.  Anyway, Linda Douglass is with me from the “National Journal,” of course. 

Let me all share with you a brand new poll that just came out.  It‘s the “USA Today” poll.  We don‘t even have a graphic of it yet.  There it is.  Giuliani, since mid—actually since early November—that‘s about a month ago—has dropped from 34 points nationally down to 25.  Hillary Clinton has gone from 50 down to 39.  So we have big drops in the two major people, the leaders.  Linda Douglass? 

LINDA DOUGLASS, “THE NATIONAL JOURNAL”:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  It shows that Iowa debating and Iowa fighting has a national power. 

DOUGLASS:  And it‘s bound to.  We‘re getting very close to the time where people are actually going to be voting.  We‘re getting close to the time when people are actually paying attention to all this.  What is interesting about the Democrats poll is Hillary Clinton is definitely dropping in a national poll.  But it doesn‘t show that Barack Obama is rising. 

So, in other words, it is showing that people are pulling away from her, at least according to this poll.  But it doesn‘t necessarily show yet that he‘s benefiting. 

MATTHEWS:  What did she do wrong six weeks ago?  I‘m going to stick to this.  When Tim Russert interviewed her and Brian Williams interviewed her and the other candidates in Philadelphia at Drexel University six weeks ago, something happened so dramatically bad that people like Mark Penn and Mandy and the rest of them blew the whistle.  They started attacking the moderator.  They attacked the other candidates.  What do you think happened in that hour?  Or those two hours? 

DOUGLASS:  I think whenever a candidate does something that reinforces a concern that you have about them in the first place, that opens up a huge set of problems.  In her case, it was a matter of equivocating, of not getting a straight answer.  She wouldn‘t answer the question on driver‘s licenses for illegal immigrants.  It just tapped into the very fear that some voters have about Hillary Clinton, which is she and also, of course, her husband can‘t give a straight answer to a question, which is why she‘s now trying to attack Barack Obama on whether he‘s truthful or not, which is a very interesting line of attack. 

MATTHEWS:  That is such a local political thing to do.  That is a—go ahead, Jill. 

JILL ZUCKMAN, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Well, I was just going to say that I thought Senator Clinton‘s national numbers have been astronomical for so long, they were not really based in reality.  They were more about name ID.  So it is not that surprising to me that they‘re going to drop.  But they obviously coincide with her struggle in Iowa to stay on top. 

MATTHEWS:  Chris? 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  And, Chris, just to quickly add to Jill‘s point, look, there is no—American people may not admit to this, but everyone knows people like a race.  No one likes a blowout.  When you‘re watching an NBA basketball game and one team is up 30 points, you go out and get a beer and nachos.  When it‘s a two-point race, you‘re glued to your seat.  People like this.  I think there is a natural tightening. 

I don‘t think that takes away from the fact, however, that that—the point you make, which is that Hillary clearly has had a rough last six weeks.  Now, at least it‘s not the six weeks leading right up to the caucuses, if you‘re for her.  But she has a month, basically, to try and right this ship.  You know, she‘s moving almost everyone in her campaign to Iowa, showing how important that is.  But I don‘t think it‘s destructive.  I do, however, think it‘s clearly a dip in her campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to the Republican side and look at Rudy Giuliani, who is down to—he‘s down to 25.  You know, the thing about the Giuliani number is although he‘s gone down from 34 a month ago down to 25, he is still the leader.  No one else—well Huckabee has gone up to 16.  Everybody else seems to have flattened out.  Nothing seems to be happening on the Republican side except Mike Huckabee, Chris. 

CILLIZZA:  Well, Chris, what I was going to say is, to be honest, the best thing that could happen for Rudy Giuliani, in my opinion, is the rise of Mike Huckabee.  Mike Huckabee pulls from most voters that Mitt Romney is appealing to, social conservative voters in Iowa.  Those are the people who are not likely to ever be with Rudy Giuliani, because of his position on gay rights, because of his position on abortion.  The more Huckabee can pull from those Romney voters—heck, if Huckabee wins in Iowa, that comes very close to derailing the Mitt Romney formula for winning this nomination.  Low and behold, who steps in to that void?  Rudy Giuliani.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think, Linda?  You‘re shaking you head positively. 

DOUGLASS:  Well, I do think he‘s right.  I think Chris is absolutely right about Huckabee.  Huckabee also is another thing to some of the Republican voters.  He‘s a candidate who is truly conservative, at least on the social issues.  They‘re certainly complaining about his tax record in Arkansas.  He is very likable.  This is somebody you can like. 

Republican voters have been expressing a great lack of enthusiasm throughout this campaign for their field of candidates.  They keep going from one to the other, saying, can I like this guy or not?  Now, Giuliani has had some negative publicity in the last several days.  That appears to have taken place since this poll has happened.  So this is probably just reflecting the kind of tightening that‘s going to happen when you find somebody that you might be able to settle on, especially if you‘re a social conservative.  And they‘re so important in the primary. 

MATTHEWS:  Jill, is this Huckabee phenomenon tracing its way up to New Hampshire? 

ZUCKMAN:  Well, I think that he is not your typical New Hampshire kind of guy.  I don‘t think voters here would necessarily gravitate to somebody who is so socially conservative.  But he‘s definitely—voters here are taking a look at him.  He has earned that from how well he‘s done in Iowa. 

MATTHEWS:  I just wonder whether a city—a state like New Hampshire, which has had a lot of Yankees it in, you know, Congregationalists, old line Calvinists, Protestants, and a lot of Catholics, would know what to make of this guy from Arkansas, who is very churchy. 

CILLIZZA:  Well, Chris -- 

MATTHEWS:  Yes? 

CILLIZZA:  Chris, I was just going to say, remember that even when Fred Thompson, a Tennessee senator who was preaching himself as sort of the conservative in this race—even when he was at his acme, at his highest point in New Hampshire, he was still in third or fourth place.  I think Jill is exactly right.  Southerners don‘t necessarily sell all that well in New Hampshire, especially someone—of course Bill Clinton pretty sold well.  Let me put a caveat in that. 

MATTHEWS:  He had other factors besides churchiness. 

CILLIZZA:  Right.  He‘s a exception to almost every rule.  But, you know, I think, especially someone who is focused on social conservatives as much as Huckabee, this is a state, “Live Free or Die.”  They don‘t like taxes.  The more Huckabee gets hit on that tax record, I think it may blunt some of the momentum he is building in Iowa. 

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t go to vote in the church bus.  Anyway, we‘ll be right back with the round table.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the panel.  According to the new “Des Moines Register” poll that juts came out right now, Hillary Clinton is seen as the most ego driven of all the Democratic candidates, way ahead of everyone else.  When asked who is the most likable, Barack Obama won, on the most likable.  You‘ve got Barack up there.  Hillary—look at these numbers, 52 percent of Iowa Democrats think that she is ego driven, and 14 percent like her.  Linda Douglass, 52 -- I mean it‘s incredible.  They think she is an ego maniac and only one in seven like her.  This is one of the most well known women in the country.  Is this the most famous woman we don‘t know? 

DOUGLASS:  First of all, the ego driven question is a very interesting question.  Both Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton are people who do not hesitate to use the word I in connection with why they‘re strong.  I‘m strong.  I can take a punch.  I can run a tough campaign.  But the likability question, I think, is really important.  There was an emerging conventional wisdom for a little while after the “Washington Post” poll that showed that both Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani were not trusted and yet had the highest numbers.  And there was speculation that maybe likability isn‘t going to matter anymore, you know, maybe somebody like Richard Nixon could be elected again. 

I don‘t believe that.  I still think—and, of course, you know, Bush, people voted for him because they liked him and some of them have buyers remorse.  But I think it is still really important for voters to like the candidate.  It‘s a very big issue that she knows she has to tackle. 

MATTHEWS:  Jill Zuckman, that question—go ahead.  Your thoughts? 

ZUCKMAN:  It‘s important, but it‘s not a death sentence for her, I don‘t think.  And you just have to look back to 2004 and John Kerry.  Most voters did not particularly care for him.  He wasn‘t very warm.  He just didn‘t connect.  And, yet, they came to the conclusion that he was the most electable of all the Democratic candidates.  So right now voters are going through this, and they may think that they would rather have a beer with Barack Obama, but it‘s not clear where they‘re going to come out when we get to caucus day. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you really think they want to have a beer with the guy or like him? 

ZUCKMAN:  I think they‘re pretty much the same thing. 

MATTHEWS:  I think we‘ve given up on the beer.  I personally think we‘ve given up on the beer, myself.  We‘re lucky to like the guy when he‘s on television, let alone being in a bar with him.  Chris Cillizza, likability, but this other one, this ego driven thing?  That‘s a way of saying, I don‘t like the person, I think. 

CILLIZZA:  Yes, you know, I—you know, I think it‘s funny.  In both of these races we see something very similar.  The front-runner nationally, Clinton and Giuliani, their argument is almost solely hinged on electability.  Giuliani is never going to be, and I think he knows this—he‘s never going to be the warm and fuzzy guy who you want to send a Christmas card or expect a Christmas card from. 

His argument is there is a greater bad guy out there named Hillary Clinton.  And I‘m the one who can beat her.  Well, the Clinton argument is I‘m the only one who can take back the White House.  I think on the Democratic side especially, we‘re going to find out on January 3rd how badly Democrats want the White House back.  Because I do think for Hillary Clinton to win—I don‘t think all of her supporters are like this, but I do think for her to win, there are going to be some people out there who hold their nose and vote for her. 

And she needs those people who may not like her, quote, unquote, but respect her, and think she can do the best job in order to win in Iowa, in order to win in New Hampshire, in order to win beyond that. 

DOUGLASS:  I just want to throw-in—what she‘s doing right now is a gamble, because she really is doing some very tough attacks on Barack Obama, as I was mentioning earlier, questioning his character, questioning his honesty.  She questioned his honesty and said well, you know, he is sort of lying about whether he‘s always wanted to run for president all his life.  You know, he wrote an essay when he was in Kindergarten and then in the third grade saying he wanted to run for president. 

MATTHEWS:  That is so petty.  Everybody as a kid has dreams.  That is not the same as a plan. 

DOUGLASS:  But it‘s a dangerous game for her, as she tries to be both likable and really negative against him at the same time. 

MATTHEWS:  I have never heard of op-research going back to Kindergarten before.  Anyway, thank you Jill Zuckman.  Thank you Chris Cillizza.  Thank you Linda Douglass.  In one hour it‘s the HARDBALL power rankings.  We‘ll have them for you at 7:00 Eastern.  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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