updated 12/13/2007 1:12:53 PM ET 2007-12-13T18:12:53

Guests: Rachel Maddow, Matt Continetti, Karen Bradley, Karen Studd, Aaron Barnhart, Howard Kurtz, Holly Bailey, Chris Cillizza, Joan Walsh

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Republicans hold their last Iowa debate.  Will the last person leaving Des Moines please turn out the lights?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Tonight, the last harrumph before Iowa.  Today the Republican candidates faced off for their final debate before the Iowa caucuses.  Mike Huckabee had the big mo going into the debate, boosted by a new poll out today.  Later, we‘ll pick out all the polls apart and talk about the winners and the losers of today‘s debate.

Plus, two body language experts tell us what the candidates were really saying today with their bodies, not with their words, in today‘s debate.

And this is interesting.  The writers‘ strike is no laughing matter to fans of late night television, of course.  But are the candidates getting a free pass?  And how will it affect the voters?  We‘re going to talk about the political impact of the writers‘ strike.

And later: With just 22 days to go until Iowa caucuses, we know you need tonight‘s “Politics Fix.”

But we kick off with today‘s debate itself.  Matt Continetti writes for “The Weekly Standard.”  Rachel Maddow‘s a radio talk show host for Air America.  Rachel, you go first.  I know you‘re on the political left.  Who won on the right today?

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Alan Keyes.  Alan Keyes was the star of this debate today, unexpectedly.  He took over.  A lot of the pundits are trying to ignore him and pretend like he wasn‘t there.  But he was like the—he was the uninvited guest at the party who stole the show.

MATTHEWS:  You are causing trouble here because you don‘t...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I would like to put you—I would like to waterboard you right now because there‘s no way on God‘s earth you believe it!  Let‘s go to Matt for straight answer.  Who won today?

MATT CONTINETTI, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”:  Mitt Romney.  Mitt Romney seemed the most presidential, Chris, I think.  He had the best answer when the imperious moderator asked about which specific government programs he wanted to cancel.  He actually had statistics.  It was pretty effective, I thought.  Alan Keyes was a distraction.  Alan Keyes went after Romney, which I thought was interesting because a lot of people are wondering, Why was Alan Keyes there to begin with?

MATTHEWS:  Well, good question.  He apparently only has one staffer working for him.  He has no campaign.  He has no reality...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... did decide to put him in there.  I guess, Rachel, you got him in there.

MADDOW:  I think that—listen, you know, if I could have, I would have, but I didn‘t have to.  What was important today about Alan Keyes is that Alan Keyes sounds really crazy when he opens his mouth.  He‘s angry.  He‘s eloquent, but he does sound crazy.  But some of the stuff that he was arguing for today, like when he talked about the fact that we have a “national creed,” he sounded nuts.  But it‘s not that different than what Romney has made the case for in his supposedly sober-sounding, sane-sounding case that we ought to not treat religion as a private matter in American politics anymore.  He was an actual truth-teller today in Republican politics.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take a look at the polling now.  I want to start with the polling now.  Here‘s the average of the last couple days in polling out in Iowa, just to give you a sense of how interesting this race has developed.  Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, is running 35 points out there, Huge lead, well, 14 points over Mitt Romney, who was the leader for months after months after months.  Look what he‘s able to do, and the trajectory of this guy is incredible.

Fred Thompson is down, just barely double digits.  Rudy‘s down below that, McCain further down.  But look at the fight at the top.

Matt, I thought today—let‘s take a look at the national numbers to show that Huckabee isn‘t just winning out in Iowa.  Look what he‘s doing nationally.  He‘s now number two in “The Washington Post” poll nationally.  So what he‘s been able to do in Iowa has had such a splash across the country that he‘s winning the cultural right, isn‘t he.

CONTINETTI:  Chris, Huckabee has achieved something that Mitt Romney has not been able to do.  Mitt Romney led in both Iowa and New Hampshire for months, yet was never able to translate those leads in the early states into a national momentum.

MATTHEWS:  How‘s he done it?

CONTINETTI:  Huckabee has done it by—people are finally clueing in, right?  Republican voters, they‘re finally realizing that the election is upon us, so they‘re looking at the candidates.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CONTINETTI:  They‘re starting to look at those early states because those early states decide first, and they see this Huckabee guy.  They like his smile...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

CONTINETTI:  ... they like his jokes.

MATTHEWS:  Rachel, why you think Huckabee‘s been able to move up to number two nationally in the Republican fight without the money or anywhere near the charisma, you might argue, or looks, perhaps you might argue more subjectively, of Governor Romney?

MADDOW:  I think that Huckabee, until 10 days ago, looked kind of pure and kind of—kind of refreshing because nobody had been able to really nail anything on him because nobody had tried that hard.  Nobody was taking him very seriously.  Now that Huckabee looks like he could be a frontrunner, he looks like he could be a real contender, there‘s all of this real low-hanging fruit in his record for stuff for people to attack him on.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MADDOW:  I think those numbers are not going to hold for long.  I think most of the reason that he got these numbers in the first place is process of elimination...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MADDOW:  ... as all of the other candidates took big hits.

MATTHEWS:  I wonder if he isn‘t going to pay a price starting today, when the word got out from “The New York Times” magazine interview this coming weekend—it‘s already out in press, we know about it—that he tried to put out the dirty word on Romney by saying that Mormons believe that Jesus‘ brother is Satan.  I mean, that was—that was a dirty little bit of push polling.  Did you know that they think that Satan is Jesus‘ brother?

CONTINETTI:  Huckabee has brought up this Mormonism issue in a very selective kind of tactical way to highlight the fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon.  It may come back to haunt him.  Of course, he apologized to Romney, he says, after this debate, before those remarks reported in “The New York Times.”

Huckabee is a vulnerable Iowa frontrunner.  And Mitt Romney has heavy money to use on ads, television ads.  Since this debate didn‘t matter much, Chris, I think Iowa and the Republican nomination will be decided on the air, paid TV.  That‘s somewhere that Huckabee can‘t really compete at the moment.

MATTHEWS:  Rachel, I want you to respond to this, both the Huckabee that we see on the platform and the Huckabee we read about as he‘s dropping little poison pills on his rival in private interviews.  Here is today in the debate talking about faith.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AR), FMR GOVERNOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Two overriding principles are you treat others as you wish to be treated.  As it relates in health care, that means that we recognize that a person who is sick shouldn‘t be treated differently because they‘re in poverty than a person who has extraordinary wealth, that we have some sense of balance in how we approach that.  That‘s the essence of what America is about.

The second basic principle is that, Inasmuch as you‘ve done it to the least of these my brethren, you‘ve done it unto me.  As it relates to both health, education or any policy, what it really means is that you go back to what the Founding Fathers said, all of us are created equal, endowed by our creator with those rights, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I guess the question there is, there‘s the good-sounding Huckabee, and then we read in “The New York Times” article the bad-sounding guy who‘s certainly bearing false witness against his Mormon neighbor, if you believe the Mormon church.

MADDOW:  Well, it‘s two sides of the same coin, as far as I can tell.  And the real substantive story here is that almost all of the Republican candidates have argued against the separation of church and state, have argued for it to be less, have argued that it‘s been overdone, that there ought to be more religion in the public sphere and that candidates‘ religion ought not to be just seen as a private matter, which is what Kennedy argued in 1960.

Once you cross that line, one you say that religion ought to be a public matter, yes, you‘re going to get ugly attacks on one another‘s religions, particularly if you‘ve got minority religion candidates in the race.  This is what—this is what American politics look like if you get rid of the separation of church and state.  I feel like this is a civics lesson for all of us.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Matt—I guess we‘ve never really had full separation because the Civil Rights movement was led by ministers, wasn‘t it.

CONTINETTI:  Well, the Republican Party...

MADDOW:  But that‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  ... from this White House.

CONTINETTI:  ... seems to be arguing not against separation of church and state, Chris.  They‘re arguing against the advancement of secularism, as Romney put it.  Some secularists, to his mind, almost want to establish a new religion.  And so that‘s what the candidates are arguing against.  This is a party in which religious faith is very important, and Huckabee has been able to exploit his—his the fact that he‘s an ordained Baptist minister to appeal to these constituencies.  He speaks their language much the same way that Governor George W. Bush spoke the language of Christian conservatives back in 1999 and 2000.

MADDOW:  Making the...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we should take...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Rachel, now that we‘ve raised this issue, just to show there‘s two sides to this debate.  Do you think we should take “In God we trust” off of our currency?

MADDOW:  I think that there‘s no great harm that it‘s doing since it‘s already been there.  I think if we were starting to advocate on it—if we were starting the debate on it right now, I would not argue for that being instituted now.  I think we should accept it as tradition because I don‘t think it‘s doing any harm, but I think there‘s...

MATTHEWS:  How about “One nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance?  Would you get rid of that?

MADDOW:  Again, I‘m not going to go out of my way to drop these things that already exists.  But if we were arguing about it now, I‘d say we do more of a favor to religion and religious freedom in this country to not have mentions of God in our public...

MATTHEWS:  Should we fire...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Should we fire the Senate chaplain and House chaplain in the Congress?  Fire them, get rid of them.  Why pay a salary to somebody who‘s a religious person in the Congress of the United States.  We pay for two of them.  Why should we do it?

MADDOW:  I‘m not arguing for getting rid of traditions that we have inherited.  I‘m not arguing that we ought to have more of them starting now.  I don‘t—listen, I think this is the wrong way to approach the debate because I don‘t think there really is a war of secularists on the United States.  And if Mitt Romney says he‘s going to defend us against the encroaching battalions of secularism, I think he‘s going to be laughed off the political stage.  I don‘t think that‘s a credible...

CONTINETTI:  The fact is, Chris, there are people who want to do all the things that you mentioned.  So Rachel may not want to do them, but there are parties, special interests in America who do want to achieve these goals.  And so the Republican Party has found itself in the position of having to defend public expressions of religion that aren‘t overtly sectarian, for example, and don‘t to the...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CONTINETTI:  ... to any commonsensical view, don‘t erode the separation of church and state.  So Rachel may not want to do them, but there are people who do.  And so Romney‘s going to fight those guys.

MADDOW:  If that‘s all they were fighting for, then there wouldn‘t be controversy about Mitt Romney saying, for example, that he wouldn‘t put a Muslim in his cabinet.  There wouldn‘t be controversy about the Republican candidates calling America a Christian nation.  That‘s the kinds of issues that are substantively what we‘re fighting about.  Whether or not “In God we trust”...

MATTHEWS:  Who did that?  Who did that?

MADDOW:  ... is on the money is a side issue.

MATTHEWS:  Rachel, who said we‘re a Christian nation?

MADDOW:  Almost every Republican candidate has made that claim at one point or another.  I mean, Romney‘s argument centrally in his big speech on religion was that “Freedom requires religion,” and that...

MATTHEWS:  Did he say we‘re a Christian nation?  I think you‘re wrong.

MADDOW:  He didn‘t say we‘re a Christian nation in that speech...

MATTHEWS:  Did anybody say that?  Did anybody say we‘re a Christian nation in this whole campaign?

MADDOW:  In this campaign—that‘s a mainstream claim by Republican politicians.  I can‘t believe...

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m just asking...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You said—you just said that they say this.  I want you to give an example of one who did.

MADDOW:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Name one Republican in this race for president who‘s called this a Christian nation.

CONTINETTI:  I‘ll give an example.  John McCain said we have Judeo-Christian heritage...

MADDOW:  But that‘s different.

CONTINETTI:  ... which is different, absolutely, from what—the kind of thing that Rachel is saying.  It‘s a different idea to express American heritage...

(CROSSTALK)

CONTINETTI:  ... than it is to make identity politics, as some people do on the religious right.  There‘s no question about that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at Romney on the issue.  Here‘s Romney avoiding what everybody in politics will always avoid, having to choose between two desirable identifications.  Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We‘re not going to get the White House nor strengthen America unless we can pull together the coalition of conservatives and conservative thought that has made us successful as a party.  And that‘s social conservatives, it‘s also economic conservatives and foreign policy and defense conservatives.  Those three together form the three legs of the Republican stool that allowed Ronald Reagan to get elected and allowed our party to have strength over the last several decades.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it looks to me like, Matt—and then Rachel—that whatever your politics coming into this conversation, you two, it looks to me like Huckabee is beating Romney for the title of Christian conservative or cultural conservative candidate.

CONTINETTI:  Oh, I think he‘s already beat Romney for that title.  And this is forcing Romney to an interesting position.  You know, in 2006, Chris, Mitt Romney was running as the turnaround artist.  That‘s who he was.  He changed the Olympics.  He came into Massachusetts.  He was able to get this health care reform.

MATTHEWS:  He was pro-gay rights.  He was...

(CROSSTALK)

CONTINETTI:  Well, when he was running for governor in ‘02, he sure was.  But he was a turnaround artist in terms of business and in terms of large enterprises and...

MATTHEWS:  And he changed uniforms.

CONTINETTI:  That‘s how he was going to be president.

MATTHEWS:  Why‘d he change uniforms?

CONTINETTI:  Because George Allen lost his Senate race in 2006, so Mitt Romney saw a spot.  He was now going to run as the cultural conservative in the race.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CONTINETTI:  But it never fit well.  Now there is an actual, authentic cultural conservative.  His name is Mike Huckabee.  I think this frees up Mitt Romney, Chris, to run as the turnaround artist.

MATTHEWS:  You are so smart!  Rachel, what do you think of Mitt Romney?

CONTINETTI:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Mitt Romney really believes what he says, or he‘s just—he‘s just cross-dressing politically here?

MADDOW:  I think that Mitt Romney does not have a great record of picking a position and sticking with it.  I mean, that‘s been the story of his rise to national prominence, is the way he‘s flopped on, supposedly, issues of principle.

But I think the really interesting dynamic here is the way the definition of cultural conservative is changing.  If Mike Huckabee were so comfortable with the mantle of being the real cultural conservative in this race, then he wouldn‘t be having any problem with the stuff that‘s being dug out of his record now about being very vocally anti-gay...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MADDOW:  ... being particularly nasty about the issue of HIV and AIDS, some of the other stuff he said that might have fit very comfortably in Republican cultural conservatism in 2004 that now seems a little bit mean.

MATTHEWS:  And I think he has to win in the suburbs, as you know, where—in the big cities, where people don‘t have the same views as that.

Let‘s take a look at “Driving Miss Judi,” it‘s been called.  Here‘s Rudy Giuliani being questioned.  Finally in this debate, something fascinating came up here about the expenses he paid as the New York mayor on behalf of the taxpayer to give security to his then girlfriend, Judith Nathan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, FMR NYC MAYOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The reality is that all that information was available and known to people, known six years ago.  And I would make sure that government was transparent.  My government in New York City was so transparent that they knew every single thing I did almost every time I did it.

So I would be extremely—I would be extremely open.  I‘m used to it. 

I‘m used to being analyzed.  I haven‘t had a perfect life.  I wish I had.  And I do the best that I can to learn from my mistakes.  But as far as, you know, open—open, transparent government, I think I‘ve had both an open, transparent government and an open, transparent life, and it allows you to lead, then, with honesty and truth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So are there things could you have done in this situation that would have been more open and not raised these concerns about obscuring public...

GIULIANI:  No.  The reality—the reality is that this was a bookkeeping practice.  The way it was done actually made it more available to Freedom of Information Act requests.  Had it been done just in the police department, nobody would ever have found it.  And everything that was laid out a few weeks ago had been laid out six years ago, very well known.  Some of the things that I wish, if I had led a perfect life, would have happened differently.  But it was all very well known.  And on the issue of transparency, I can‘t think of a public figure that‘s had a more transparent life than I‘ve had.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Rudy Giuliani, transparent in the way he accounted for those security costs.

CONTINETTI:  Chris, you‘ve got the body language experts coming on in the next block.  They‘re going to tell you Giuliani in that answer, his shoulders were drooping, he seemed weary, he seemed tired.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

CONTINETTI:  He needs to change the conversation.  He‘s been on defense for weeks now.  He needs to change it and go on offense.

MATTHEWS:  Rachel, your thoughts about whether the loft commission in New York was an appropriate place to charge the costs of the security detail on Judi Nathan.

MADDOW:  That was some astonishing gymnastics, wasn‘t it, that he specifically wanted the accounting to be done through the office of the advocate for people with disabilities and the office of the lawyers for people who can‘t afford them and the loft board so that these things would be easier to find in the future through the Freedom of Information Act process.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MADDOW:  I mean, that is—that bullies belief.  It‘s just incredible...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

MADDOW:  ... that that would be his line on this.

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll put down as a major contributor, by the way, Rachel, to the Alan Keyes campaign after tonight.

MADDOW:  Oh, yes.  I‘m going for...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  By the way, you‘re his second campaign worker.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, Matt Continetti, Rachel Maddow, thank you for joining us.

Coming up: What were the candidates in today‘s debate really saying?  Maybe it‘s more interesting than what they actually voiced.  It must have been.  We‘ll analyze their body language—as I said, it‘s got to be more interesting than their language—and find out what all that means.  Today‘s debate was not a great piece of work.  I‘m calling it “the last harrumph” because these guys have said all they have to say in this debate.  It‘s over.

We‘ll be right back to talk about how Hillary is out to catch up with Barack.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We heard what the candidates had to say this afternoon and what they were saying with their body language.  That‘s the question we want answered right now.  Karen Bradley and Karen Studd, two Karens, our body language and professors at the University of Maryland and George Mason respectively.

Karen Studd, and you, Karen Bradley, let‘s take a look here at what we see here with Romney and Thompson just a few moments ago in that debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  Gasoline‘s expensive.  Home heating oil, particularly in the Northeast, is very difficult for folks.  Health care costs are going through the roof.  Education costs and higher education are overwhelming.  And as a result, we need to reduce the burden on middle-income families in this country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  OK.  A little snappier, gentlemen.  Senator Thompson?

FRED THOMPSON (R-TN), FMR SENATOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  My goal is to get it—my goal is to get into Mitt Romney‘s situation, where I don‘t have to worry about taxes anymore.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY:  (INAUDIBLE) to get into your situation.

THOMPSON:  Well, you know, you‘re getting to be a pretty good actor.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Karen Bradley, what is Thompson—what are they up to, those guys, with their bods?

KAREN BRADLEY, BODY LANGUAGE ANALYST:  They are having an authentic moment.  And we haven‘t seen very much authentic movement from Fred Thompson. 

Mitt Romney tends to be fairly restricted.  He stays in this very vertical place, and he is having a good time up there.  He‘s very upbeat.  And we saw Fred Thompson move from this head-forward moment to having a good.  And they had a little moment of interaction at the end of it that says, here are two genuine people.  It‘s a really lovely moment.

MATTHEWS:  I wonder about that.  I wonder about that Romney and how very formal he is, and very perfectly attired, how he does not move his body at all. 

Karen Studd, what do you make of that? 

KAREN STUDD, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY:  Well, I mean, he‘s very...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not exactly an animated person. 

STUDD:  Well, he‘s very vertically erect.  And I think he‘s—he comes across as being stable because of that.  And, you know, it is all about me, and I can do it, and firm resolve, and very, very upbeat.

MATTHEWS:  He went to anchorman school, didn‘t he?

STUDD:  Yes.  And also very upbeat, always putting the positive... 

MATTHEWS:  What about Thompson, who is out there, this big, lunking guy—or hunking—hunking—how do you say that?  Hulking.  Hulking. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a hulking figure.  He moves his body a bit there, didn‘t he?  I thought he wasn‘t so languorous as usual there.

STUDD:  No.

As Karen said, that was just like this really animated moment for him. 

Suddenly, there was this dynamic quality came about, and he...

(CROSSTALK)

STUDD:  Here we have a guy that I grew up with, I think.  I went to school with the Dorenzi (ph) brothers.  I went to school with this guy, too. 

(LAUGHTER)

STUDD:  This is Giuliani, a guy from the neighborhoods.  Let‘s watch him. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  A flatter tax, a simpler a tax that you could file on one page as an option would be a good idea.  Reducing the corporate taxes I suggested, reducing income tax rates across the board, which would mostly benefit the middle class, that‘s where the focus should be.  But we have got to reduce taxes across the board.  And we should give the death penalty to the death tax.  That really is a very unfair tax. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  There, he‘s going for the rich people.  They want to keep the full legacy.  What else is he doing with that paper, waving that paper in the air?  What was that all about?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What was that all about?

STUDD:  That was, I would say, kind of the opposite of what we saw before, that authentic moment. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STUDD:  This was kind of inauthentic.  He didn‘t even look...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Like, you think he had his hand on that paper long before that answer.

STUDD:  Yes.  And he didn‘t even look at the paper, and he put it back down so perfunctorily.  It was dismissed, you know, on to the next thing. 

BRADLEY:  He‘s an impulsive guy.  You know, there‘s a lot of jumping on to the point and making his point.  Sometimes, he doesn‘t finish his point, though.  And he does not necessarily follow through, which makes one wonder about follow-through with him. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think big-city manners, like he has got, the New York cab driver thing, quick, brief, blunt, like me sometimes, is that off-putting to people from the rural areas? 

BRADLEY:  It may be. 

Well, you know, again, this—movement analysis is something that everybody does. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BRADLEY:  We all do it.  And everybody has their own personal response to it.  People like these candidates because of who they are, what kind of style they put out there.  And what people need to be doing, people in Iowa...

MATTHEWS:  I agree with that.

I remember the time that Al Gore went right in his face with George Bush, the president now.  I think it cost him a lot of votes. 

BRADLEY:  It did.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at Governor Huckabee here on the issue of faith. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The two overriding principles are, you treat others as you wish to be treated. 

As it relates in health care, that means that we recognize that a person who is sick shouldn‘t be treated differently, because they‘re in poverty, than a person who has extraordinary wealth, that we have some sense of balance in how we approach that.

That‘s the essence of what America is about. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That serious—you know, Bill Clinton does that when he talks about not having had sex with that person.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And he closes the eyes and he gets real treacly, post-nasal-drip, the whole thing.  What is that?  Do people believe that stuff? 

BRADLEY:  Well, Mike Huckabee has a lot of authenticity.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BRADLEY:  He has a lot of what we call support for what he‘s saying.  He has a mobile face, but it‘s connected up with what he‘s saying.  And it‘s connected up with his...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is it training or is it belief? 

BRADLEY:  Well, he is a minister, right?  So, he has had experience doing this.  He‘s had experience bringing the flock in. 

STUDD:  Yes, there‘s a lot of congruence to his movement, that there‘s a lot of complexity to it, so the dynamic range is—is varied.  The phrasing is varied.  So, he has a lot possibilities.  And he—he really connects with people through his movement. 

MATTHEWS:  You think he‘s working?

STUDD:  Oh, I think that his movement is really one of the things that is—that is enabling him to affect—you know, getting connected to people. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you ladies saying, as professionals, that, if you just watched him and didn‘t hear a word, or you didn‘t speak the English language, that you would still connect with this guy? 

BRADLEY:  Absolutely.  We don‘t—you know, it is not necessarily important that, you know, you agree with what he‘s saying.  People feel brought in.  He is the kind of person you would go and tell your problems to.  If he was your minister, you would go, and he would listen. 

MATTHEWS:  You know that?

BRADLEY:  Yes, oh, yes.

MATTHEWS:  By what?  By the reading of his body, you can tell he‘s a listener?

BRADLEY:  Well, I don‘t think that we are—I don‘t think we‘re the only ones who know that. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BRADLEY:  I think that‘s why he‘s doing well in Iowa.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m being Socratic, but I am impressed. 

We have to have you back, because I think there‘s something going on here. 

BRADLEY:  Oh, yes.

MATTHEWS:  I think that—and, by your—by your body language...

BRADLEY:  Every single time...

MATTHEWS:  ... reading, you think the winner of  this campaign so far is Huckabee?

BRADLEY:  Well, he is certainly winning in Iowa.  People are agreeing with us.

But I think, in every past campaign that we have seen that we have looked at, it is the candidate who is the most accessible, the most accommodating, the most—and has the most...

MATTHEWS:  And he does that with his presentation? 

BRADLEY:  Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

STUDD:  Oh, yes, yes, the dynamic range, the three-dimensionality of their body language, all of those things. 

(CROSSTALK)

BRADLEY:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m surrounded by wise people.  Thank you. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I like your authoritarian—I‘m sorry—authoritative attitudes. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  No, you know what you‘re talking about.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think it is very interesting. 

Well, you‘re right, because he‘s winning.

Anyway, Karen Bradley and Karen Studd. 

Up next:  With Hillary slipping in the polls, what‘s Bill Clinton got up his sleeve? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Let‘s go looking for some trouble. 

Bill Clinton isn‘t happy.  Today‘s “New York Daily News” reports that the former president doesn‘t like Hillary‘s campaign operation one bit, and thinks it may be blowing her election. 

Here it is in true tabloid lingo—quote—“Alarmed by his wife‘s slide in the polls and disarray within her backbiting campaign, a beside-himself Bill Clinton has leaped atop the barricades and is furiously plotting a cure or a coup.”

Well, say what you will about the former president.  He knows his politics.  He can smell victory and he can smell defeat.  He has known both, and he can smell the difference. 

Meanwhile, the kneecappers are still out there, the Hillary hatchet men doing their little work on the man whose name they dare not speak, Barack Obama. 

Billy Shaheen, co-chairman of Hillary‘s New Hampshire campaign, is trying to make an issue out of Obama‘s admission that he used drugs when he was younger—quote—and this is from Hillary‘s man in New Hampshire—

“The Republicans are not going to give up without a fight.  And one of the things they are certainly going to jump on is Obama‘s drug use.”

You mean the way Democrats jumped on George Bush‘s drug use?  Which they didn‘t. 

Next, Rudy Giuliani‘s son Andrew talks about his dad in a new interview with “The Duke Chronicle.”

Here‘s what he said—quote—“For them to say I have no

relationship with my father is flat-out wrong.  They took a 20-minute

interview and spun it in the direction that they wanted it.  It‘s not any -

it‘s not nothing—it‘s not anything new to say that ‘The New York Times‘ is not in my father‘s corner, and they did a good job of proving that.  I wasn‘t careful enough in watching my words and gave them too much rope to hang myself with.”

Finally, it is time for the HARDBALL “Big Number.”  President Bush is not above using the power of the pardon, as we know.  In fact, he just granted pardons to an election-law violator, some carjackers, drug dealers, illegal gamblers, thieves, even a moonshiner.  How many pardons did he grant?  Twenty-nine.  How Scooter Libby, a huge HARDBALL fan, wishes today‘s HARDBALL “Big Number” was 30. 

This is the most loyal White House aide, by the way—Scooter is—since G. Gordon Liddy.  Maybe they should form a law firm, Libby and Liddy. 

Today‘s big HARDBALL number: 29.

Up next:  With the late-night comedians in reruns, are the presidential candidates reaping the benefits of the writers strike?  They used to get skewered night after night.  Who is getting the biggest pass right now?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Rebecca Jarvis with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks ended a volatile day on the plus side.  After soaring 272 points this morning, and being down 113 points this afternoon, the Dow closed with a 41-point gain.  The S&P 500 was up almost nine.  And the Nasdaq gained almost 19 points. 

Stocks surged after a surprise move by the Federal Reserve, which disappointed investors yesterday with a modest quarter-point cut in interest rates, but created optimism today by announcing it is joining with four other central banks to inject more money into the global banking system to combat the severe credit crunch. 

However, that optimism was dampened when Bank of America, Wachovia, and PNC Bank warned of more loan losses and write-downs in the fourth quarter.

And oil prices soared on the move by the Fed and as inventories fell. 

Crude jumped $4.37 in New York, closing at $94.39 a barrel.

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Presidential candidates, as we all know, have always been a great source of material and a great target of attack for late-tonight talk show hosts.  But, with the writers strike now in its sixth week, are the top candidates benefiting by not getting skewered every night on the late-night monologues? 

Howard Kurtz is the top media columnist in the country, I think.  He‘s with “The Washington Post.”  He‘s the author of a great new book, “Reality Show.”  And Aaron Barnhart is a TV critic for the great “Kansas City Star,” once worked in by Ernest Hemingway, of course. 

AARON BARNHART, TELEVISION CRITIC, “KANSAS CITY STAR”:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  We all know that one. 

Let‘s take a look at some of this.  Let‘s go right to the cuts.  I mean, let‘s look at what‘s being put on the air right now—or what we are missing, rather. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”:  But it seems the tiff—T-I-F-F—little tiff...

KEVIN EUBANKS, BAND LEADER:  Oh, OK.

LENO:  ... between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has really heated up since their last argument at the last Democratic debate.  They have become distant. They barely speak to each other now.  And, when they do, when they do speak, it is really icy, or as Hillary calls that, marriage. 

(LAUGHTER)

LENO:  Yes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, God.

Well, that was Leno, of course.  And he‘s one of are the softer guys out there. 

Howie, is Hillary benefiting from the lack of “Leno,” the lack of “Letterman”? 

HOWARD KURTZ, MEDIA COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Absolutely. 

Can you imagine what Jon Stewart would do with Hillary beating up on Barack Obama? 

MATTHEWS:  Look what he did to me. 

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ:  Well, but there was that.

MATTHEWS:  Stewart is tough.

KURTZ:  But, you know, Hillary goes after Barack Obama for writing an essay in kindergarten about how he wants to be president.  What would “The Daily Show” do with that?  What would Colbert do with Mike Huckabee in a “New York Times” piece just out today talking about whether or not Mormonism involves saying that Jesus and Satan are brothers? 

What would Leno do with the New York City cops protecting Judy Nathan while she is walking her dog?  These candidates are all getting amnesty from the... 

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ:  ... the very rigorous...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, let‘s—let me go...

KURTZ:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Aaron, Aaron, tell me what is the more dangerous duo.  Is this Letterman and Leno of my generation, or the hot new guys, Jon Stewart and Colbert?  Who has got more power in terms of hurting a candidate or helping him, if they ever choose to? 

BARNHART:  Oh, totally, Stewart and Colbert, because for the simple reason that they have writers writing most of their shows for them, whereas Leno and Letterman are only occupying, what, two or three, four jokes at most in their monologues.... 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BARNHART:  ... whereas, if Letterman...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But are the voters watching “Leno” and “Letterman,” rather than the kids? 

BARNHART:  Well, the kids are watching it.  But, you know, kids over 18 voted, last I checked.  And that‘s the—that‘s the deal, is that...

MATTHEWS:  Did they?  Check again. 

BARNHART:  ... the Pew poll...

(LAUGHTER)

BARNHART:  Well, but the Pew poll—well, not as much the over-60s are. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BARNHART:  But the Pew poll showed that, for kids under the age of 40, and young viewers, that—that they are not only watching Leno and Letterman and Stewart and Colbert; they are considering these guys their primary source for news and information. 

And that‘s a huge change from back in the days when candidates might go on Johnny Carson‘s show.  These guys—you know, when kids are looking for information about the candidates, they are not picking up the newspapers.  They may not even be reading political Web sites. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

BARNHART:  They are watching these shows.

MATTHEWS:  They are skimming.  I know how they do it.  They skim the pop culture by just watching this.  They do get a sense of what‘s going on.  I wonder whether it encourages anybody to vote, after you have watched a bunch of these shows. 

But here is Jay Leno taking a shot at Hillary. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)

LENO:  All the other Democratic candidates are continuing to attack Hillary Clinton.  In fact, in the debates the other night, they accused Hillary Clinton of trying to have things both ways, which is ironic, because Bill has been trying to talk her into that for years. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I don‘t know what he‘s talking about. 

Let‘s go to this thing here.  Now, if you look at the numbers here, they are incredible, Howie.  Look at these numbers of all the people that had jokes lobbed in their direction.  Catch the tally here. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Hillary Clinton, no surprise, 198 shots she has had to take.  And I bet they are not positive.  Giuliani at 84, about half that.  Down to Romney—Romney.  Then Obama has gotten light treatment.  McCain gets light treatment.  Edwards gets hardly noticed. 

Is it better to be noticed and whacked at or ignored, Howard? 

KURTZ:  Well, nobody wants to be ignored. 

But, you know, if it is a slow week, you come out and you talk about the Clintons and is Bill going to start dating again?  I mean, it is just natural material for comedians. 

But here is why it is important, beyond those shows, Chris.  I write in “Reality Show” about the impact that Jon Stewart is having on the traditional network newscasts. 

Here is a quick example.  A couple of months ago, Hillary, you remember, did all five Sunday morning shows.  And whenever anyone asked her a reasonably tough question...

MATTHEWS:  That was called the full Ginsburg, right?

KURTZ:  Yes, after...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Because of the guy who was the lawyer for...

KURTZ:  Monica Lewinsky‘s lawyer.

MATTHEWS:  Lewinsky.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ:  And after any reasonably tough questions, she would go, ha, ha, ha, ha.

So, Jon Stewart spliced all that laughter together and—and made a bit out of it.  And that ended up being played on “The CBS Evening News.”  They are all now adopting the “Daily Show” technique of using videotape to illustrate the absurdity of politics. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KURTZ:  So, these guys are having an impact—or they did when they were on the air—beyond what they do just on their own programs.

BARNHART:  In fact, I was in—I‘m right here at MSNBC in New York, actually, today.  And I‘m interviewing—did an interview with Keith Olbermann. 

And we were talking about the fact that, like, he is like one of the few guys on television right now doing jokes about political candidates.  They are not being done by writers, guild writers.  And—and I‘m not—

I‘m sure he does not want to make a big deal out of it, but, you know, he is writing jokes.  You know, the “Worst Person in the World...”

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BARNHART:  ... that‘s a—that‘s a three-minute comedy routine. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you quickly—we don‘t have much time.

First of all, let‘s take a look at a—here‘s a “Daily Show” shot from Jon Stewart, of course, against Hillary. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART”)

JON STEWART, HOST, “THE DAILY SHOW”:  Not that Hillary did herself any favors. 

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I am not in favor of this rush for war, but I‘m also not in favor of doing nothing. 

I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do it.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  No, no, no. 

You said—you said yes...

CLINTON:  No.

DODD:  ... you thought it made sense to do it.

CLINTON:  No, I didn‘t, Chris. 

I think Charlie is being very courageous in moving forward.  I don‘t agree with all the details. 

TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR:  So, in principle, you would be in favor of looking at a 4 percent sur-tax.

CLINTON:  No, I didn‘t say that, Tim. 

STEWART:  I didn‘t.  You might say I‘m on the fence about it, Tim—not that I support a fence.  Even though, I think it is an excellent idea that I oppose—opport (ph).  I oppose support it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Never knock the possibility that this is for real.  I remember—we are old enough to remember Gerry Ford.  When Chevy Chase did him on “Saturday Night Live” probably removed him from serious consideration.  It made him look likes a klutz. 

KURTZ:  The reason remember that humor works is that it gets at the nub of something.  It is not just a quick, cheap laugh. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s based on truth.

KURTZ:  It is based on caricature of something that‘s very real.  I‘m sure that Hillary Clinton is looking forward to the late night comics coming back on the air about November 2008. 

MATTHEWS:  Is she a natural target because she is so pure and good? 

Do they pick sides, these guys? 

BARNHART:  No.  They are making fun of people because they look—they are women doing man‘s jobs, goes back to the 1800s.  That‘s not a new story.  But let‘s extenuate the positive as well.  What we are missing out is an opportunity for the candidates to go on to these late night talk shows.  Can you imagine Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey doing a dual sit down with Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show?”  They can‘t do that right now because there is no “Tonight Show.” 

That‘s the other role that talk shows have traditionally played in boosting candidate‘s campaigns. 

KURTZ:  When Imus went back on the air, first two days, four presidential candidates went on.  They wanted that forum. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, is there a natural target of comedy?  I‘m just looking down this list, Giuliani, clearly the Judy Nathan—Driving Miss Judy is clearly an easy shot.  Your girlfriend gets a police detail, which really means she gets a driver.  That‘s easy.  We all get it. 

BARNHART:  Yes.  But, you know what‘s different about this campaign is how much humor can be news driven.  We were just talking about that.  If somebody does something goofy on television and you can splice it together or just pull something off of Youtube—it does not have to be high quality.  Then you can make the substance of what the message of the candidate, like a flip-flop.  There is nothing wrong with making fun of a candidate for being on—straddling the fence.  That‘s what voters are looking for.  In that sense, comedy is coming toward news in a way that it did not back when you were just making Janet Reno jokes. 

MATTHEWS:  Can I ask a serious question?  A lot of people, you know, in college—my daughter is in college.  She says every night the kids in the dorm turn on these shows and watch Stewart and then they watch Colbert.  They just do.  Now, if you—if everything on those shows is basically ragging on politics, and making fun of politicians and knocking them as jokes and clowns, does that encourage young people, who have to begin to become citizens, become citizens, or does it encourage them to say these guys are a bunch of clowns?  What does it do? 

KURTZ:  I think it encourages them to look more critically at what politicians and what media people do.  Media—Journalists are the biggest butts of the jokes. 

MATTHEWS:  Does it encourage them to engage or disengage? 

KURTZ:  Both Stewart and Colbert have told me that you wouldn‘t get the jokes if you didn‘t have some familiarity with the news.

MATTHEWS:  Would it get them to vote? 

KURTZ:  Not necessarily. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think? 

BARNHART:  Politics gets people to vote.  If the issues are real and they are meaningful to them—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  No.  If they are—you are getting—if you are getting all your politics through satire, does that encourage you to engage or laugh? 

BARNHART:  If it engages you, that‘s the key, I think.  I think just getting people to watch these shows and—I think that today‘s voter who is under the age of 30, say, is better informed than someone 15 years ago, who was just getting a bunch of Dan Quail jokes.  I don‘t think there‘s much—

MATTHEWS:  Are they voting? 

BARNHART:  We have to go to the polls for that.  At some point it‘s going to matter to them, because they are going to grow up and have kids.  They‘re going to have a mortgage and it‘s going to matter. 

MATTHEWS:  I wonder about bloggers and the people laugh at jokes are getting into a passive mode.  You have to get up, put some clothes.  You‘ve got to go out and find where they vote.  You‘ve got to do the—it is complicated registering to vote.  It‘s very hard—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  It was better.  Thank you, Howard.  I‘m still mad at Jon Stewart.  Thank you.  Up next, can anyone—by the way, the name of your book is—

KURTZ:  “Reality Show.”

MATTHEWS:  “Reality Show,” great writer.  Up next, can anyone catch up with Huckabee in Iowa?  It looks like they can.  We will talk about who won and who lost today‘s big debate.  Plus, the Democrats take the stage tomorrow.  It is all ahead in the politics fix.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  Time now for our politics fix with our round table, “Newsweek‘s” holly Bailey and Joan Walsh of Salon.com.  Let‘s take a look at the Iowa numbers right now.  These are Real Clear Politics.  They are a running average of how the Democrats are doing in the Iowa caucus just three weeks from now.  We have Obama at 30.  We have Hillary at 28.  This is a running average of the last week or so.  Edwards still within contention at 21 and Richardson off the pace and Biden still further off the pace. 

Holly, it looks to me like that race is wide open.  Obama and Hillary, with Hillary trying to come back with the help of Bill. 

HOLLY BAILEY, “NEWSWEEK”:  Absolutely.  And, you know, I think everybody expected this would happen.  The polls have been tightening for months.  That‘s what will make the debate tomorrow interesting.  

MATTHEWS:  Tightening meaning Obama is coming up and Hillary is not going up. 

BAILEY:  Right.  And John Edwards is staying in the same place.  You know, this is what will make the debate interesting tomorrow.  The format of the GOP debate today was just nobody could strike and so we‘ll have to see what happens tomorrow.  

MATTHEWS:  There wasn‘t much action today.  Joan, did you watch—

We‘ll get to the Republicans in a minute.  The Democrats are clearly hot right now.  Let‘s take a look at the national Democrat numbers.  This has Hillary with a 30 point lead.  This is the “Washington Post”/ABC poll.  A huge advantage for her.  It does not seem like her problems in Iowa and New Hampshire and in South Carolina and in Nevada have translated to her national appeal, I guess primarily among women. 

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  Well, I think that the women‘s vote is still strong for her, Chris.  But, you know, I think over time, if these trends hold, you will start to see it reflected in the national polls.  I really do pay attention to the Real Clear Politics compilation.  That‘s what I believe when I start to see Obama pull ahead.  Then I do believe she has more to worry about. 

But she has a strong organization there.  They are going to make changes.  They have a lot of people on the ground.  I think it is still all about what happens on actual caucus day. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Chris Cillizza, who joins from us WashingtonPost.com.  Chris, you are out there in Des Moines.  Does it feel tight right now, with Hillary off the mark a little bit?  Not doing so well and Obama pressing ahead? 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, you know, Chris, what I think you see and hear—everybody says it is going to be a very close race, but I think that the essence of it is people feel like Obama is moving up and Hillary is either staying steady or moving down.  Again, you are talking about gradations within a very small amount of votes.  Everybody I talked in every campaign says look, we still think it will be a competitive three-way race.  But Obama clearly has the momentum.  And as Mike Huckabee has shown on the other side, momentum does matter a whole heck of a lot. 

MATTHEWS:  That poll we just showed, the “Des Moines Register” poll, by the way, I went and checked it and saw how good it was four years ago, Holly and everybody, before the election about three or four days.  They had it right.  They had the order of finish right.  So they were pretty darned good.  Of course, we have three weeks rather than a few days now, but it shows that the pollers, they know how to filter out who is going to show up, which I find interesting.  They have figured that out. 

Let‘s switch to the Republicans now.  I want to go to the question about the Republican debate today.  Did anybody think that debate was worth a damn, just generally?  Yes or no?  Did anybody think it was worth a damn for anybody? 

BAILEY:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  I didn‘t either.  I thought the moderation was a little too strict, to put it lightly, too narrow.  There wasn‘t much give and take.  And they seemed to have avoided interesting topics on purpose, Chris, like, let‘s not let this get to interesting. 

CILLIZZA:  It wasn‘t a debate.  You know, I wrote that it was a debate only in the loosest definition of that word.  It was really a discussion of their policy proposals and their statements on the stump, delivered one by one by one by one. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it would have been more interesting, Holly—would it have been more interesting television if it was done by e-mail, if we just actually watched them typing?  I think it might have been more interesting.

BAILEY:  Honestly, the most interesting thing about the debate was the videos that they showed, the interviews that Iowa Public Television had already done.  And I—just—it was painful to watch. 

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me, Joan, that this could have been an opportunity for Huckabee to get the scab ripped off about his recent shot against Governor Romney‘s religion, where he said in the Mormon religion—he says, like almost in a push pull, isn‘t it true that they think that Satan was Jesus‘ brother?  Well, that to me is an attack.  The fact that he didn‘t really have to respond to that on television today was a win for him.  The nature of this debate was confining to the point it denied the main story of the day. 

WALSH:  He absolutely won the debate because of that.  You are right. 

It was a missed opportunity for all of us.  You have a brand-new race.  It

may be too late.  It may be that Huckabee has the momentum and that he

wins.  But we really need to know more about him.  You should have had

questions about that comment.  You should have had questions about religion

and why he calls himself a Christian leader, generally.  And you also

should have had questions about foreign policy.  He still has not answered

he, in fact, got his answer wrong about why he didn‘t know about the NIE last week.  We know nothing about his foreign policy. 

MATTHEWS:  Joan, the hottest issue in Iowa, based on the polling, is immigration, and the moderators said, we will not talk about immigration in this debate. 

We will be right back with the round table. 

CILLIZZA:  Or Iraq, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  All the big issues.  Let‘s only talk about the issues that people don‘t care about.  We will be right back with HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK):

MATTHEWS:  We are back with the politics fix.  Let‘s take a look at some of Huckabee‘s work today.  Here he is talking in a way to show us his sophistication in the matter of education. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We have 6,000 kids every day drop out of this country.  They don‘t drop out because they are dumb.  They drop out because they are bored to death.  They are in a 19th century education system in a 21st century world.  If we really are serious, then, first of all, we make sure that we build a curriculum around their interests, rather than just push them into something they don‘t care. 

Second thing, unleash weapons of mass instruction.  I‘m a passionate, ardent supporter of having music and art in every school for every student at every grade level because—let me make sure you understand why.  It is not frivolous.  It‘s because if we don‘t develop the right side of the brain with the same level of attention as we do the left, which is the logical side, we end up with an unbalanced, bored student, which is exactly what we have done, and we are dropping students out of our system because of it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Holly? 

BAILEY:  I think that is part of the reason he is leading in Iowa.  People like to hear that stuff.  He does not sound like any of the other candidates.  But, you know, it is interesting, nobody hit him on that.  I mean, another missed opportunity for some of the other candidates. 

MATTHEWS:  What could they have said? 

BAILEY:  They could have said that a president doesn‘t decide that stuff.  Where are you going to get money to pay for that?  We hear it on the campaign trail a lot, but not at this debate. 

MATTHEWS:  Joan, they could have also mentioned the fact—as you are talking about the logical side of the brain, have you considered evolution.  He‘s the same guy that believes it was seven days and I think that‘s OK.  That‘s religious belief.  but to believe that in a scientific fashion and to claim you are into the nuances of right and left brain power is a bit of a clash, maybe. 

WALSH:  What kind of science are you going to teach?  Yes, I think that music and art stuff is great.  I would like to see more music and art in the schools.  It is, again, his effort to look like an open-minded guy and a compassionate conservative.  I have no reason to believe that he‘s not compassionate.  But it is a little—it sounds a little flaky and really did open up many more questions about what he believes the public schools should be teaching.  And, again, a real missed opportunity. 

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s Governor Romney explaining his shift towards the pro-life position. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This audience and the whole nation has heard time and time again the fact that I was effectively pro-choice when I ran for office, when I became governor of Massachusetts.  The first time a bill came to my desk that dealt with life, I simply could not side with taking life.  And I came on the side of life every bill that came to my desk, every issue that related to protecting the sanctity of life.  I came down on the side of life. 

I‘m pro-life.  I‘m not going to apologize for becoming pro-life.  Ronald Reagan followed the same course, as did Henry Hyde and George Herbert Walker Bush, and I‘m proud to be pro-life. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Chris Cillizza, that claim doesn‘t seem to be working with people who want the pure thing. 

CILLIZZA:  The problem for Romney is even in his ad that he is running that attacks Huckabee, the start of that ad, it says good family men, former governors, both pro-life.  The problem is that people seem to want someone who has a longer and more consistent record on that issue than Romney can present.  You know, he said in an interview that I did with him a few weeks ago, Chris, look, if how long you have been pro-life matters to you, there are other candidates in the field.  Well, I think he may not have realized the wisdom of that.  I think there‘s Mike Huckabee and a lot of people are picking him. 

MATTHEWS:  Chris Cillizza, thank you.  Holly Bailey, thank you.  And Joan Walsh, thank you.  Tomorrow, coverage of the Democratic debate, starting at 1:30 Eastern.  We‘ll be on at HARDBALL at 7:00 tomorrow, and 5:00.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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