updated 12/19/2007 11:14:09 AM ET 2007-12-19T16:14:09

Guests: Charlie Black, Kay Henderson, Anne Kornblut, Jill Zuckman, Jonathan Capehart, Jennifer Donahue, Sen. John Edwards, Chip Saltzman, Barbara Comstock

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The insurgent.  Can John Edwards win Iowa and then New Hampshire into a three-way race?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  We‘re coming to you tonight from Murphy‘s on the Green in Hanover, New Hampshire, just off the campus of Dartmouth College.  In exactly three weeks, voters here in New Hampshire will cast their ballots in the country‘s first primary, and these races are getting really, really tight.

We spent the day with John Edwards.  We‘ll have our interview with Senator Edwards in just a moment.

On the Republican side, Senator John McCain is fresh off some major newspaper endorsements.  Can McCain really build momentum and win this whole thing?  Will Mike Huckabee‘s win or possible win out in Iowa help McCain in New Hampshire by bringing down Romney out there?  Well, it‘s all connected.  Later, we‘ll talk to a top Republican strategist about the final push in that party.

Plus, there‘s a new “USA Today”/Gallup poll out today.  Let‘s take a look.  Let‘s start with the Republicans.  Giuliani is still in the lead at 27 percent.  Huckabee‘s right behind him at 16 percent.  McCain, Thompson and Romney all have 14, as you can see on the chart.  The race is basically, by the way, just about where it was a month ago, back in November.  Look at the numbers.  They‘re very similar to what they were back a month ago.

In fact, if you look at them now closely, Giuliani is still in the mid-20s, Huckabee‘s in the mid-teens.  It‘s fascinating how little that‘s changed in the last month, with all the fuss.

Let‘s take a look at the Democrats.  Hillary Clinton has a big, and in fact, growing lead over Obama, believe it or not, despite all the hype for Obama—a few points higher, by the way, if you look at the comparison in November from where she was a month ago.  Look, she‘s still on top and she‘s higher than she was.  She‘s up to 45 percent, as opposed to 39.  She‘s got a substantial lead of 18 points.  She was a 15-point leader.  She is growing in our national lead.

Well, we‘re in Hanover, New Hampshire, of course the home of Dartmouth College, among other great things.  It‘s a wonderful town.  It‘s covered in snow up here.  It‘s a beautiful day, but it is cold as you can get.  We spent the day with John Edwards campaigning.  He had Jackson Browne here and Bonnie Raitt with him.  He had a big crowd at the town hall here.  Let‘s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Where are the challenges we face?  Well, there are lots of them, and one of them is the corporate power, and in some cases corporate greed, that have literally taken over the government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  John Edwards doesn‘t like to talk about most polls, except this one.  The CNN poll a couple weeks ago showed him all out by himself, beating all the Republicans.  He‘s the strongest possible Democratic candidate, if he wins the nomination.  Believe it or not, all the hype for Hillary, all the hype for Obama, but if you put somebody in the field against the Republicans, the strongest candidate is the guy we spent the day with.

So let‘s listen to the guy who is now leading in all the numbers as the strongest possible Democratic nominee come next year, John Edwards.  Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Senator, you were talking about the—let me get the right phrase here—the superficial media coverage of this campaign.

EDWARDS:  Hard to believe, isn‘t it.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you mean by that?

EDWARDS:  Well, I‘ll tell you, I think you guys like to cover the glitz.  At least early on, there was a lot of glitz associated with Senator Clinton and Senator Obama.  I think that‘s faded some, to be honest with you, and now I think we‘re getting down to the nitty-gritty.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re looking at you right now.

EDWARDS:  Good!

MATTHEWS:  And I‘m looking at...

EDWARDS:  Keep doing it.

MATTHEWS:  Before we get to New Hampshire, you got to get to Iowa on January 3.

EDWARDS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And it does look like a three-way race out there, and it looks very close.  Let me ask you—you almost won last time in Iowa...

EDWARDS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... because everybody was watching Dick Gephardt, in that case, attack Howard Dean.

EDWARDS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Is that going to happen again, where you have a fight, where Hillary‘s people are out attacking Obama, and you go by them on the right or left?

EDWARDS:  I have no idea.  I mean, there‘s been some fussing going on between them.  I just got to—I know what to do in Iowa.  I know how to close there.  People there want to see you speak from your gut.  They want to see passion and energy.  They want it to be real.  And when I talk about doing something about corporate power and how it‘s affecting the government, they respond.

MATTHEWS:  You are the third candidate in terms of all the publicity. 

That‘s true.

EDWARDS:  That‘s true.

MATTHEWS:  But you are the strongest ideological candidate, it seems like.  You‘ve got a real populist message.

EDWARDS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  The others I‘m not sure about.

EDWARDS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Why—give me the John Edwards difference.

EDWARDS:  I‘m the guy who‘s going to fight for the change we need, not talk about it, not try to maneuver my way through a system that I think is broken.  I‘m going to fight for the change.  I‘ve been doing it for 54 years of my life.  And I‘m the one they can count on to stand up for them.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Hillary is corrupt?

EDWARDS:  No, I don‘t think Hillary is corrupt.

MATTHEWS:  You think she‘s part of the corrupt system?

EDWARDS:  I think the system is corrupt and the system doesn‘t work.

MATTHEWS:  Is she part of it?

EDWARDS:  Well, she defends it, I mean, but saying she‘s part of it is a little tough.  But I think she defends it, and I don‘t think we should defend it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you—you‘re suggesting that she‘s comfortable with a negotiating stance with people who that are always going to take it away from you.

EDWARDS:  We disagree about that.  I mean, I disagree with her and I disagree with Senator Obama about it.  Senator Obama also says—you know, he‘s a good guy, but he—and he doesn‘t defend the system.  He also says, like I do, the system is broken.  But he says that at the same time that he says he‘ll sit at the table with drug companies, oil companies and insurance companies and compromise.  It will never work.  Those people aren‘t going to voluntarily give their power away.

MATTHEWS:  How do you walk into Washington and say to the congressmen and senators, who have entrenched power, If you don‘t give health care to the average person, I‘m taking your health care away from you?  What constitutional tool or weapon do you have to take away their health insurance, the senators?

MATTHEWS:  The tool you have is the bully pulpit because think about the position of some congressman who says he‘s going to protect his own health care and not give health care to the people he represents.  And then I can go into his congressional district and say, I want you to know what your congressman—as president, using the bully pulpit, I want you to know what your congressman‘s doing.  He‘s defending his own health care, but he won‘t provide health care for you.

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to do that to John Dingell?

EDWARDS:  I‘ll do it...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not going to go after these guys!

EDWARDS:  Chris, the Democrats...

MATTHEWS:  They‘ll laugh at you.

EDWARDS:  The Democrats are going to vote for it.  We‘re talking about the Republicans.  And yes, I‘ll stand up.  But let me be really...

MATTHEWS:  But every one of these districts is gerrymandered.  They can‘t get beaten.  You know you can‘t go into inner cities and knock off some of these guys that have been there forever.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not true that they—well, it‘s not true that they all can‘t be beaten.  There are a lot of them that can be beaten.  And the second thing I‘d say is—just to be really clear, the battle, though, is not with politicians.  I think shaking them up a little bit is a good thing.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re threatening to take away their health care.

EDWARDS:  True, and I‘ll follow through on it.  But the goal here is to get health care for the American people, not to fight with politicians.  And I think when you intensify the pressure on them, you do that.

But I want to go back.  The real battle here is with the corporate entrenched interests—insurance companies, oil companies, drug companies.  The battle is not with politicians.

MATTHEWS:  You know what I hear?  The minute the Democrats get the House back, the Congress back—I mean, the presidency back...

EDWARDS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... then Washington real estate is going to go through the roof because every one of the insurance companies, every one of the corporations in America, every trade association, everyone is going to start building up to the hilt their Washington offices to take you on or whoever wins.

EDWARDS:  Yes, that may be true.  So be it.  Those people, however much money and power they have today, it is nowhere close to the power that the American people have.  The sovereign power in this country rests with America and the American people.

MATTHEWS:  Harry Truman was tougher than you, wasn‘t he?

EDWARDS:  No!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Harry Truman said he‘s going to bring health care to the people.  Hillary Clinton says she‘s going to bring health care to the people.

EDWARDS:  Yes?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  What was wrong with them?

MATTHEWS:  Well, first of all, they were living in a different environment.  I mean, if you look at what‘s happening with health care today, as opposed to what was happening, for example, when Senator Clinton did it, the health care system has gotten much worse.  We‘ve got 47 million people without coverage.  The costs are through the roof.  I think we‘re in a place where the American people are ripe for this change.  They just need a leader who‘ll stand up.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about you and winning this election.

EDWARDS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  The way the calendar works, it‘s pretty simple.  Right after Christmas, even right up to New Year‘s, after that Christmas week, right away Iowa.

EDWARDS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  How do you knock off Barack Obama in Iowa?

EDWARDS:  The Iowa caucus goers who know me and trust me need to see me in there, fighting on their behalf and energizing them.  And they are going to see from me an energy and a passion that they will respond to because this is not—there‘s nothing academic about this for me.  It is my life experience that drives what I‘m saying.

MATTHEWS:  I have a sense that your people are rougher guys.  They‘re labor guys.  They‘re tougher.  They get in there with their sharp elbows.  They can show up at these caucuses in Iowa, and the bloggers and the more intellectual crowd, the more academics the like of Barack Obama might be intimidated that night.  Do you think you‘ve got a rougher crowd that can actually run that show that night because of the kinds of people you got?

EDWARDS:  I think I got working people and I think...

MATTHEWS:  They‘re tougher.

EDWARDS:  They‘re tough and they‘re organized, and they will be at the caucus standing up for me.

MATTHEWS:  What makes them different?  I‘m trying to figure it out.  Are they tougher, more working class, more willing to walk into a room where they‘re not popular, more willing to go out at night in the cold?  Why are they better than the smart intellectual kid who‘s for Obama?

EDWARDS:  Well, I‘m not saying they‘re better, they‘re just different. 

And...

MATTHEWS:  But how are they tougher?

EDWARDS:  Because they‘ve been through these battles before in their lives.  They had to fight their way up to the place they are now.  They literally fight for survival every day.  There‘s not much that intimidates them or scares them.  They come from the same place I come from, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this election.

EDWARDS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Last question.  The president of the United States—what‘s he—what‘s about him, when you get up in the morning and you have to start your day, that you don‘t like?

EDWARDS:  That I don‘t like?

MATTHEWS:  This president.

EDWARDS:  There‘s not much I do like.  I mean, I...

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) turns you on and says, I got to beat this system, I got to change this country?  When you say change, you mean change from what that you don‘t like?

MATTHEWS:  Change from a system that protects the most power—the most powerful money interests in America against the interests of most Americans.  Very simple.  There are very specific examples of it—not having universal health care, not attacking global warming, tax code tilted to the rich and the powerful, trade policy that‘s the same way.

MATTHEWS:  You skipped Iraq.

EDWARDS:  No, I didn‘t mean to skip Iraq.  Iraq‘s important.  But the war in Iraq is something I‘m going to bring to an end, and we‘re not going to have—during the time we‘re still there, we won‘t have Blackwater and people like Blackwater roaming around over there lawless.

MATTHEWS:  Why are you different than Hillary?  Because every time you have a dispute—I just watched you in this big speech right in here.  It was impressive.  And you made it clear that you weren‘t going to leave a residual combat force in Iraq, like Hillary wants to do.  Why does she want to do it, and why don‘t you?  What‘s the difference on policy here about Iraq?

EDWARDS:  On Iraq?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

EDWARDS:  I think that we have to end the occupation and...

MATTHEWS:  And Hillary doesn‘t.

EDWARDS:  ... that means—well, she says she‘ll keep combat troops there and continue combat missions.  That means there‘s got to be somewhere for those troops to be housed, so I assume there will be bases there.  To me, doing those things continues the occupation, and this occupation needs to be ended.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about your electability because I did notice that after you dumped all over what you called—let me get the right phrase—the superficial media...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I was in the back of the room and I was thinking, Well, that‘s not me.  (INAUDIBLE)

EDWARDS:  No, of course not!

MATTHEWS:  This is the big shots.

EDWARDS:  Of course not.

MATTHEWS:  Then about 10 minutes later, you changed tune from knocking the media and the pundits and the polls to say, I did find one poll I liked.

EDWARDS:  There wasn‘t just one I liked!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, come on!  The poll you liked is the one that we talked a lot about on HARDBALL a week or so ago, which shows that, ironically, despite the fact you haven‘t gotten the media glare, the klieg lights, that you are the best bet to beat the Republicans.

EDWARDS:  Yes.  I think the evidence of that is overwhelming.  I beat them all and I beat them all consistently.

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think?

EDWARDS:  I think people in rural America, small town America, respond to me.  I think in the South, a place the Democrats traditionally have trouble, they respond to me.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

EDWARDS:  In the Midwest.  I think this message of change and fighting for them is something they respond to.

MATTHEWS:  You know, you‘ve a Southern accent.

EDWARDS:  That‘s for sure.

MATTHEWS:  You got soft eyes—not eyes...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... but you speak with—I went to North Carolina.  I know the accent.

EDWARDS:  Soft letter “I.”

MATTHEWS:  Soft letter “I.”

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You have a nice, charming Southern rural manner.  You grew up as a mill worker‘s son, and you have all those backgrounds in church life.  And yet when I hear you talk and I hear Huckabee, Mike Huckabee talk, he talks like he‘s a religious Christmas card right now.  It‘s all about religion.

EDWARDS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And you talk about struggle and economics and class and unfairness, but you don‘t—you don‘t cite the Lord the way he does.  Why not?  What‘s your thinking?  Why are you different than Mike Huckabee?  You‘re both rural guys.  You both came up the hard way, maybe you more than him, and yet he talks God all the time and you don‘t.  I listened to you in here, very passionate speech.  You talked about giving the breaks to people who need them against the big shots, and you didn‘t, as a populist, ever talk about God.  Why not?

EDWARDS:  Well, God and my faith are enormously important to me personally.  They‘ve gotten me through—my faith in the Lord has gotten me through some very, very difficult times in my own life.  But I don‘t think it‘s my job as either a presidential candidate or president of the United States to impose my faith on anybody.

MATTHEWS:  And so it shouldn‘t be part of this election.

EDWARDS:  If I get asked about it, I‘ll answer the question honestly.  I‘ll tell anybody how important my faith is to me every single day.  But it‘s not something that I think is my job as president or presidential candidate.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s healthy in America for a candidate to devote so much of his presentation to a sectarian argument about Christianity?

EDWARDS:  Well, it‘s not what I‘d do.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

EDWARDS:  Thank you very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Well, finding the difference between the candidates, that‘s my job.  Coming up, we‘ll check out the tightening race out in Iowa on the Republican side with top campaign strategists from the Huckabee, Romney and the McCain camps.  The big guys are going to come here to tell how they‘re going to win this baby.

Plus, much more from here in New Hampshire, where singers Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne took the stage for John Edwards.

You‘re watching HARDBALL from the campaign trail in Hanover, New Hampshire, only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think Edwards can do it.

MATTHEWS:  You think he can beat the Republicans in the general.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think so.

MATTHEWS:  And Hillary can‘t.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t think so.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think he‘s a great guy.  I think he‘s a wonderful leader for the country, and I agree with most of his positions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re up here talking to people.  We‘re in Hanover, New Hampshire.  It‘s only 16 days until Iowa, 21 days until New Hampshire.  That‘s not counting, of course, Christmas and New Year‘s all in between.

The Republican race seems like anyone‘s game right now, and I mean it.  Let‘s take a look—let‘s go right to it.  Chip Saltzman is the campaign manager for Mike Huckabee, who‘s doing so well in Iowa.  Barbara Comstock is the Washington expert and national political expert.  She‘s senior adviser with the Mitt Romney campaign.  And Charlie Black, another veteran I‘ve known for a thousand years.  Thank you.  You‘re with McCain.

Let me ask you this, Chip.  You‘ve been told that your candidate has to apologize for saying that George Bush is engaging in an arrogant bunker mentality as president of the United States.  And the people telling you to apologize is Barbara Comstock, who appears live with us right now.  Do you accept her demand that your guy apologize?

CHIP SALTZMAN, MIKE HUCKABEE CAMPAIGN MANAGER:  Well, you know—you know, Barbara‘s a wonderful person, and Mitt Romney said that a while back.  But you know, maybe Mitt Romney should apologize to George Bush for being against his tax cuts when he was.  Maybe he should be apologizing to President Bush when he was against the surge strategy and wanted to put a timetable on this.

This is—unfortunately in the last couple weeks of any campaign, you get a campaign that‘s behind, they get a little desperate and they start throwing things out like that, and that‘s just wrong.

MATTHEWS:  Are you desperate, Barbara?  You‘re laughing.  I don‘t know if you‘re desperate.  Are you laughing because you‘re desperate or laughing because you‘re not?  Interpret your chuckle.

BARBARA COMSTOCK, ROMNEY SENIOR CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  Well, Chip is just wrong on those six (ph) -- I mean, you know, you‘ve had Governor Huckabee, who, really, his views on foreign policy and his tax record, things like his 1,033 pardons and clemencies, his increasing taxes, you know, 20-plus times and his spending record, increasing that 65 percent, hasn‘t been looked at at all.

And Governor Romney has—he‘s been out there all year, having, you know, everybody pick over every record.  And he—the reason he‘s gotten endorsed by people like “National Review,” a preeminent conservative magazine, is because people understand he is a full spectrum conservative, as I said.

He brings together not just social conservatives, which he has brought a strong contingent together, but also economic conservatives because he‘s good on cutting spending and keeping taxes down low and he has put a good tax record together.  But he‘s also brought foreign policy and national security conservatives together because he doesn‘t want to do things like Governor Huckabee wants to close Gitmo, bring them to Kansas.

SALTZMAN:  Chris?  Chris?

COMSTOCK:  And you know, he didn‘t know...

SALTZMAN:  This is exactly...

COMSTOCK:  ... about Cuba...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me—let me get him...

COMSTOCK:  ... and policy like that.

MATTHEWS:  Let me—excuse me.

SALTSMAN:  Chris, this is exactly what I like to call...

MATTHEWS:  Barbara, let me go back to Chip Saltsman.  I want to go to Chip Saltsman.

Chip Saltsman, I want you to just confirm one fact.  Your boss, your candidate, and you‘re campaign managing for, Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, in “Foreign Affairs” magazine, said the president‘s arrogant and he‘s engaged in a bunker mentality. 

Does he stand by those words about George Bush, the incumbent Republican president, yes or no? 

SALTSMAN:  Chris, what he said is that the administration has had an arrogant mentality, not the president.  He and the president are good friends.  Governor Huckabee campaigned for the president many times.

MATTHEWS:  Oh.  Help me.  Help me with the distinction. 

SALTSMAN:  Oh, Chris, you know it‘s true. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I thought Bill Clinton was the best at this stuff.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you seriously telling me that he is—is isn‘t is?  I mean, this is—this is—this is Hope, Arkansas, English here. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, do you really believe that I‘m going to accept the fact that the administration is—what, the buildings, the seat covers in the offices?  Who is arrogant?  The people in the offices are arrogant. 

(CROSSTALK)

SALTSMAN:  Chris, now, come on.  You know this is not the first time that Republicans have questioned the Bush administration on some of these kind of issues. 

Speaker Hastert, for instance, has talked about the arrogance of the Bush administrations in the past.  And I didn‘t see that you took him to task. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SALTSMAN:  I mean, this is what we‘re talking about right now. 

Operation kitchen sink from the Romney...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Denny is back—Denny is going back...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Denny is back in Illinois.  He is not running for president. 

Let me go to this. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you hold him to this apology demand, Barbara Comstock? 

COMSTOCK:  Yes.  I do, because...

MATTHEWS:  You want him to apologize that... 

COMSTOCK:  Yes. 

He showed—well, Governor Romney did call—and I do, too—that he should apologize to the president, because he sounded more like Hillary Clinton or Obama.  And Republicans are not going to win by sounding like Hillary Clinton. 

But the problem is, he taxed like the Clintons.  You know, he‘s parsing like the Clintons now.  If you look at his record, now he‘s trying to...

SALTSMAN:  It sounds like Barbara is acting like the Clintons right now, throwing everything they can at Governor Huckabee because they‘re behind. 

COMSTOCK:  No.

(CROSSTALK)

SALTSMAN:  I think Barbara is thinking maybe Mitt Romney‘s Senate campaign last time around, when he was pro-choice, when he was for raising taxes, said he would be the best friends to the gay and lesbian community than Ted Kennedy. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Boy, are you loaded for bear. 

SALTSMAN:  Maybe it‘s Barbara.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me bring in—let me—now that I—you know, I did that on purpose, to get you fighting with each other. 

COMSTOCK:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  But I didn‘t realize it would be this easy. 

Let me bring in Charlie Black, who is with the voice of the grownup here. 

John McCain seems to be avoiding this fight.  He‘s up here in New Hampshire.  The way I see it—and I‘m sure you see it that way—the way for John McCain to win in New Hampshire is for Huckabee, Chip‘s guy, to beat Barbara‘s guy out in Iowa, so you have a shot up here to beat a knocked-off Romney. 

CHARLIE BLACK, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  Well, Chris, you‘re going to see...

MATTHEWS:  Am I right or wrong, Charlie Black? 

(LAUGHTER)

BLACK:  Well, not necessarily. 

You‘re going to see, during your time in New Hampshire, that John McCain has the momentum.  He‘s gaining ground rapidly on Governor Romney.  And I think he‘s going to win New Hampshire, regardless of who wins Iowa. 

You have seen the endorsements over the weekend, the only Republican candidate in history to have the endorsement of “The Manchester Union Leader” and “The Boston Globe,” Senator Joe Lieberman‘s endorsement calling attention to the fact that John McCain is the best prepared to be commander in chief from day one, to win the wars that we‘re engaged in, including the long-term war against radical Islamic extremism, these things are producing momentum.  John McCain can stay positive...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

BLACK:  ... and go right past the other candidates. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s check the momentum.  Here‘s the RealClearPolitics‘ rolling average for Republicans in the state of Iowa, Huckabee 34 percent, Romney 23 percent, Giuliani 10 percent, Fred Thompson 10 percent. 

I don‘t see John McCain on that list, Charlie. 

BLACK:  Well, Iowa is a little tougher state for us.  It‘s not easy to run out there when you oppose ethanol subsidies and you‘re in favor of phasing out agriculture subsidies. 

But, you know what?  We‘re still working in Iowa.  We just don‘t have as high expectations as we do in New Hampshire, where John McCain has the momentum and is going to win. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Barbara—let‘s get back—Barbara Comstock, let me ask you about, how did you think that—how did you think Romney did with Tim this Sunday—this Sunday? 

COMSTOCK:  Oh, I thought he did great. 

I happened to have a brunch after, and I had a pretty good focus group of a lot of people, not just here in the country.  And I got lots of good reviews and e-mails from all around the country. 

And the reason Governor Romney is doing well in New Hampshire, and he will continue to come on in—in Iowa, is because he is this—he has put out a record for the future that is positive, being a full-spectrum conservative.  And he‘s brought people together.  He‘s not attacked the president.  He‘s not attacking economic conservatives. 

He wants all of the pieces of the party to be together.  And that‘s the only way we win.  The past five out of the seven elections, the reason we win is because we bring social conservatives.  We have David Keene.  We have Paul Weyrich.  We have leaders like Judge Robert Bork that endorse Governor Romney...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COMSTOCK:  ... and, of course, “The National Review” magazine. 

But we also have people like Mark DeMoss, who is a new evangelical leader in Georgia.  We also have congressional leaders like Jim DeMint, who is a new leader from the Senate in South Carolina, and Jack Kingston, who you know so well, who is...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but does it bother you...

COMSTOCK:  It doesn‘t bother me at all to have the great support. 

MATTHEWS:  I have got to ask you a question.  You‘re on a roll here, but...

COMSTOCK:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  Barbara, Barbara, I want to ask you a question. 

COMSTOCK:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Does it bother you that—that Mike Huckabee continues to ride his Christian faith, like Lawrence of Arabia riding a camel? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, he won‘t get off it.  He has been doing it.  He did it again in that Christmas—Christmas card he just put out the other day, the religious one. 

He is Mr. Christian, and he‘s not “Mutiny on the Bounty” here.  How can he keep doing it and not offend you guys? 

COMSTOCK:  Well, listen, you know, Governor Romney...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s running like the Christian candidate against the Mormon. 

(LAUGHTER)

COMSTOCK:  Well, listen, Governor Romney gave a great speech, as you know, on faith in America and the importance of faith in the public square. 

And he talked about our faith bringing us together...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COMSTOCK:  ... not separating us.  And that‘s what he stands for.  And that‘s why we have people of all faiths, many faiths, coming together...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

COMSTOCK:  ... as well as all parts of our party.  And that‘s the way you win.  You don‘t win by...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

COMSTOCK:  ... dividing us or by only having one third of our party. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.

COMSTOCK:  You have to have the whole—the whole pie. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me try that by Chip. 

Do you—do you—does your candidate share the faith with—with Governor Romney?  Does he share the faith, as she just said?  Just say it.  Does he share the faith? 

SALTSMAN:  Well, I think—I think one of the reasons we‘re doing so well in these states...

MATTHEWS:  Does he share the faith?  I mean, that‘s the question of this campaign.  Does he share the faith, as Barbara just attested, or doesn‘t he? 

SALTSMAN:  Well, I...

MATTHEWS:  Or is he from a totally different religious tradition? 

SALTSMAN:  No. 

We have not been—the interesting thing about this, the national media has been trying to write this byline the whole way.  There‘s been no other candidate in this race, other than Mike Huckabee, has had asked every question about religion from the very beginning.  And, for the first seven months, that‘s the only question they were asking. 

I think one of the reasons we‘re doing well in those early states...

MATTHEWS:  But your campaign ad says he‘s the Christian leader.

SALTSMAN:  Well, Chris, let me finish and respond to Barbara for just a second. 

MATTHEWS:  Excuse me.  Chip, you can—no, I‘m not going to let you finish, because it‘s not true, what you are saying. 

Your campaign is running an ad that says he is the Christian leader.  You have got a new ad out that says—he‘s talking about the birth of Christ.  You are clearly running as a religious leader.  And you‘re running as contradistinction to Romney, who is a Mormon. 

I‘m asking you a simple question.

SALTSMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Does your candidate share the faith with—with Mitt Romney, yes or no? 

SALTSMAN:  Chris, in that first ad—it was an introductory ad...

MATTHEWS:  Does he share the faith with Mitt Romney? 

SALTSMAN:  ... talking about his background as a pastor and as somebody that was president of the Arkansas Baptist Union.  That is a Christian leader in Arkansas.  And that is why we put it up there.

You all are the ones that made such a big deal out of it.  And, in this ad that we‘re running right now, Chris, I‘m not sure if you got the memo or not.  It‘s Christmastime.  We wanted to take that opportunity to wish everybody a merry Christmas...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SALTSMAN:  ... take a little break from all the negative politics going on, and talk about what‘s important, which is faith and family. 

But, again, I want to talk—Barbara is talking about all these Washington, D.C., and New York endorsements.  We‘re getting the endorsements of the folks in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SALTSMAN:  That‘s why we‘re doing well.  It‘s not trotting out big names.  It‘s about the everyday people.

MATTHEWS:  I just asked—Chip—Chip, I have never talked to you before.  Chip, I ask you one more question.  Does your candidate share the faith, as Barbara says, with her candidate, yes or no? 

SALTSMAN:  I‘m not sure what you‘re trying to say on that.

MATTHEWS:  Does he share what faith, yes or no? 

SALTSMAN:  Share what faith?  Are you talking...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, what Barbara—well, Barbara, what were you—well, Barbara, put it in your words again.  You said, we all share the faith. 

What do you mean? 

COMSTOCK:  Well, I was saying that—I was saying, we have shared values, as—the coalition that Mitt Romney has brought together has shared values with people of many faiths, or some people with no faith.

And that‘s what—how we have always won in the Republican Party, is by bringing social conservatives, economic conservatives, and foreign policy conservatives.  And that includes a lot of people. 

I have worked side by side with evangelicals, with Catholics that I happened to be, with Mormons, for years on many of these issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COMSTOCK:  But I have also worked with people who had—you know, who just shared our values on keeping this party strong and keeping that coalition together.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

COMSTOCK:  And that‘s what we need. 

(CROSSTALK)

COMSTOCK:  And that‘s what Governor Romney believes in. 

SALTSMAN:  Absolutely.  If you look at the governor‘s record in Arkansas, we have been doing that for years.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Last word for Chip. 

OK.  So, there‘s no sectarian difference between these two candidates, right, Chip? 

SALTSMAN:  Correct. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s no sectarian difference here? 

SALTSMAN:  Well, what we have said all along—that is correct. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Chip Saltsman.

Consistent with all that you have said all along?

SALTSMAN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s correct.  There‘s no sectarian difference between the two candidates.

Thank you very much, Chip Saltsman, Barbara Comstock.

Well, we‘re bringing Christmas cheer to everybody, including you, Charlie Black, sir. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Congratulations.  Your candidate is coming on.

BLACK:  Merry Christmas, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next...

BLACK:  Merry Christmas.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s Bill Clinton‘s newest angle to help Hillary, and he‘s our number-one number tonight, our “Big Number” tonight.  Wait until you catch it.  It‘s a familiar number. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, reporting from the campaign trail in New Hampshire, only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He needs some more—more media time and a lot of people supporting him doing a lot of hard work. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is new out there?  Well, let‘s—let‘s all listen to former Senator Bob Kerrey, Clinton supporter, talk up rival Barack Obama. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB KERREY (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  There is a smear campaign going on.  And people acting as if he‘s an Islamic “Manchurian Candidate.”  And I feel it‘s actually a substantial strength. 

He is a Christian.  Both he and his family are Christians.  They have chosen Christianity.  But that connection to Indonesia and a billion Muslims on this Earth, I think, is a real strength, and add an awful—a lot of value in his foreign policy efforts. 

I have told Barack Obama, when I have met with him—it‘s something that I have spoken about before, so this is not something that just sort of came out of the head-birth out there in Iowa.  I thought about it a great deal.  I have—I have watched the blogs try to say that—that you can‘t trust him because he spent a little bit of time in a secular madrassa. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So, is Hillary backer Bob Kerrey pretending to sell Obama, but clearly putting the shiv in? 

Here is Hillary Clinton defending him and Bob Kerrey: “I think the remarks were very positive.  I know Bob.  He was being very complimentary of Senator Obama.  He was making a point that Senator Obama makes himself all the time, that, because of his upbringing and his heritage, he is, in his view”—“in his view”—catch that line—“very well-suited to communicate with the rest of the world.  And he has just himself that he wants to have a particular outreach to the Islamic world.  So, I think Senator Kerrey was being, you know, very generous in what he said.”

But didn‘t Hillary dump on Obama a few days ago for playing up his Indonesian roots?  So, what is she up to here?  Is she pushing how great he is for having been born in Indonesia, or what, or simply reminding everybody about his background, his Islamic background? 

Remember a couple weeks ago, when White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, who speaks for the president of the United States, giddily explained that she didn‘t know anything about the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Well, today, our Cuban expert at the White House reacted to Fidel Castro‘s suggestion that he might leave office—quote—“We‘re just continuing to work for democracy on the island, and we believe that that day will come soon.”

So, Dana Perino doesn‘t know the past, but she knows the future? 

And, finally, it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number” tonight. 

Bill Clinton‘s latest angle to help Hillary sounds a bit obtuse.  CNN reports that Monday, in South Carolina, Bill said that—quote—“The first thing Hillary Clinton plans to do as president of the United States is to send him, Bill, and former President George Herbert Walker Bush around the world to tell them that America‘s open for business and cooperation again.”

Really?  Does Bill think putting his arm around one Bush will help Hillary follow the other one in office?  Does it really make her the change candidate to join forces with the father of the guy who needs changing, as she sees it?  Doesn‘t this spotlight the Bush-Clinton/Bush-Clinton dynasty scenario that makes some people a little antsy? 

As Bill says, your answer depends on what you think the question is. 

Either way, we know what the HARDBALL “Big Number” is tonight: 41, as in Bush 41, who, according to Bill Clinton, would be a major player in Hillary Clinton‘s foreign policy lineup. 

Up next, we will get the story from Iowa, where Bill Clinton campaigned with Hillary today. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on the campaign trail in Hanover, New Hampshire, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks posting modest gains after a volatile day—the Dow Jones industrials picked up 65 points.  The S&P 500 gained nine, and the Nasdaq was up about 21 points. 

More bad news about the housing market.  Construction of new homes fell 3.7 percent last month, dropping to the lowest level in 16 years. 

The Federal Reserve proposing new rules designed to prevent a recurrence of this year‘s subprime mortgage meltdown.  They include new restrictions on subprime loans and new protections for home-buyers against shady lending practices.  The rules could be finalized by next year. 

And Goldman Sachs ended a record-breaking year with better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings, despite the ongoing credit crunch.  But Goldman shares fell more than three percent today, after the company issued a relatively gloomy forecast. 

And oil prices slipped again, falling 14 cents in New York, closing at $90.49 a barrel. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL, reporting tonight, as I said, from Murphy‘s on the Green in Hanover, New Hampshire.  Well, with just two and a half weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, Bill and Hillary Clinton hit the campaign trail together in Iowa today, along with basketball legend himself Magic Johnson.  Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa and Anne Kornblut is with the “Washington Post.”

Kay, let me ask you about this attempt by Bill Clinton to sort of fashion an interesting dynastic relationship with the Bushes, saying that his first act of his wife‘s presidency will be to put him and George Sr. on the road together to rebuild America‘s relations around the world.  An astounding, it seems to me, poaching of the president‘s father for political fodder. 

KAY HENDERSON, RADIO IOWA NEWS DIRECTOR:  Right.  The tsunami steel wheels tour again, I guess. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Kay, I can‘t hear you.  I‘m sorry.  I can‘t hear Kay. 

HENDERSON:  I‘m sorry. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think?  What are they doing this for?  Why is Bill bringing George Sr. in an effort to show he‘s the change agent with his son? 

HENDERSON:  I think Bill Clinton is ready to pull out all the stops for his wife.  Today he pulled out Magic Johnson.  I thought maybe your number tonight would be 32, since that was his jersey number.  Bill Clinton obviously is intent on getting his wife elected.  In fact, today at an event here in Iowa at a deli, Bill Clinton started to speak with the media on his own and talk about the path between today and what needs to happen before the Iowa caucuses, when Hillary Clinton‘s staff stepped in, rearranged the media and had a media avail with the candidate, rather than having Bill Clinton off on his own. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you that about—Anne, you know this family pretty well.  You‘ve covered them now.  It seems to me odd—I‘ll go back to my point—why would Bill Clinton be big footing Hillary with a plan to put him back into the media circus again, by saying he and George Sr. are going to go around the world and rebuild America‘s fences, fence mend for America in the Hillary administration.  That doesn‘t seem to square with his claim that she‘s the change agent. 

ANNE KORNBLUT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Look, it‘s a statement that really reflects well on him, of course, because as a former president—he and the other former president, as Kay said, did go and do a lot of tsunami work.  I think it also helps bolster the case that he—that everyone stands against President Bush, including his own father.  But, look, President Clinton has been off free-lancing, even when he‘s in proximity to his wife, for some time during this campaign.  That was not today‘s talking point, even if Bush Sr. is still regarded as a very diplomatic president and far more so than his son. 

This is not the point in the campaign, 12 days before the Iowa caucuses, when the Clinton campaign really wanted to be talking about forging alliances with Bush, not to mention talking about a dynasty.  So I think we‘re seeing another example of President Clinton really doing his own thing, while at the same time trying to help his wife. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, how can you tell when he‘s speaking the company line?  Does he have to say Simon Says afterwards?  I mean, I wonder, he said that it‘s a roll of the dice --- Kay, a roll of the dice if we get Obama as president.  Was that Simon Says or not Simon Says?  Was that a Hillary line or not a Hillary line? 

HENDERSON:  I think you‘d have to ask the Clintons, but Senator Clinton has really been hitting hard on the change message here on the Iowa campaign trail, suggesting that John Edwards is demanding change, Barack Obama is hoping for change.  And this whole discussion takes place on an interesting day, when Barack Obama assembled a panel of former Clinton administration foreign policy advisers here in a Des Moines hotel, had them speak with a group for about an hour and a half, and then Mr. Obama came on the stage himself and talked about how he would pursue a foreign policy that is starkly different from George W. Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  And so is he going to include Hillary in that list when he gets the presidency?  That seems to be his claim, Kay. 

HENDERSON:  Right, exactly, at the debate last week suggesting he would call on the talents of all the people from the Clinton administration, including Hillary Clinton. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you one last thought here for Anne Kornblut.  Again, you know the Clintons pretty well.  Hillary Clinton seems to be convinced that not everybody knows how nice she is, so apparently now they‘re putting out an ad that shows Hillary getting all these niceness endorsements, people saying how nice she is.  You and I know she can be very nice.  This is an odd campaign to run after months and months of saying she‘s the next Margaret Thatcher, one tough babe. 

Now they‘re selling the fact that she‘s the girl next door.  It seems a little abrupt to be going with the nice girl image, after all these months of I can beat Saddam Hussein; I can beat Ahmadinejad; I can knee-cap these guys, to being I‘m sweet. 

KORNBLUT:  Right, well, that‘s the two parts of the Clinton campaign.  There‘s the part that needed to prove that she was tough, that even though she was a woman, she could be tough to allay those fears in the electorate.  Then there‘s the part that needed to tell the softer side of the Hillary Clinton story, to try and humanize her.  I don‘t think they appreciated, especially here in Iowa, how important that second part would really become. 

So here at the end, as you say, we‘re seeing them tell her story.  It‘s the Hillary I know that they are trying to bring out.  That‘s why she had her mother and daughter here.  That‘s why you‘re hearing these testimonials.  You‘re right, it‘s the head and the heart of the campaign is the way they are describing it. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m waiting to hear Bill Clinton sing “If You Could See Her As i Do.”  Anyway, thank you Kay Henderson and Anne Kornblut.  We‘re broadcasting from Murphy‘s on the Green in Hanover, New Hampshire.  When we return, we‘ll have the round table and our politics fix.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  What is your feeling about the election? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s getting really fun, getting very interesting.  Getting a lot—it‘s getting really tight. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, as you can see, we‘re up here in Hanover, New Hampshire, talking to people about the presidential race.  Now it‘s time for the politics fix with our round table.  Jennifer Donahue, who I never see sit next to me like this, is a senior adviser at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselms College.  Jill Zuckman is covering the ‘08 race for the “Chicago Tribune.”  There she is.  Jonathan Capehart is with the “Washington Post.”

Let‘s roll some numbers and have some fun.  In the “USA Today”/Gallup poll, today—it‘s of Democrats—Clinton leads Obama.  Her number has grown six points since last month.  Let‘s take a look at those numbers.  Look at that.  She is up there really well there at 18 points ahead of Barack Obama after all the fuss over Obama, including the fuss on this show.  She‘s up from a 15-point lead a month ago. 

So whatever else is happening, nationally, Hillary is doing well.  I want to ask Jennifer about this.  Does that surprise you? 

JENNIFER DONAHUE, N.H. INSTITUTE OF POLITICS:  It surprises me, but national polls tend to be wrong until they‘re right.  They‘re wrong until the first states weigh in, and they‘ve been wrong every cycle so far until they start to get either proved or disproven by Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan, February 5th

MATTHEWS:  Jill Zuckman, what do you make of the fact Hillary is holding strong nationally? 

JILL ZUCKMAN, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Well, I think she has got great name recognition, for one thing.  She‘s been in the public eye forever.  And I think that, you know, if she does not win in Iowa and she does not win New Hampshire, I think those numbers may be a lot different when we get past these first two states. 

MATTHEWS:  So, it‘s the Sonny Liston phenomena, where you can‘t be beat until you can‘t win.  Anyway, a “USA Today”/gallop poll number.  This is the Republicans.  I want Jonathan to respond.  Giuliani still leads despite the hell he‘s been taking from the New York press, basically a four-way race now.  But, look, he‘s still up there.  Jonathan, despite all, he‘s up there in the 20s, the mid 20s still.  He has been in the mid 20s.  Huckabee is the closest still in the mid teens. 

He‘s got a pretty substantial advantage, despite a miserable couple of weeks about his relationships with his wives.  He‘s had three of them, of course.  His relationship with Bernie Keric—and he‘s had one with him, a partnership and a few problems, like putting him up for homeland security boss, and he still seems to be up there.  What do you make of that? 

JONATHAN CAPEHART, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  The same thing that Jill said about Hillary Clinton.  It‘s name recognition.  Once people start voting, I think we‘ll see those numbers come down, especially the stories in the papers today about Rudy Giuliani basically saying ta-ta to Iowa and ta-ta to New Hampshire and putting all his money on February 5th.  It remains to be seen whether he‘ll make it that far. 

MATTHEWS:  I think he might make it to Florida.  Florida, I think—he is hoping a little earlier than February 5th.  Let‘s take a look—you first Jonathan—let‘s take a look at the match ups.  We all like match ups, even though they‘re ridiculous preliminary to all that we know.  This is when you ask the voters in a poll who would you vote for between the Republican and Democrat? 

Here is one with Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani.  This is what I‘ve been saying.  This is the one, in my own weird way, I would like to see, at least in a surreal world, this battle between Hillary and Rudy.  Jonathan, there‘s something about that that‘s so big city.  It‘s like two cab drivers fighting for the same lane, screaming out the window at each other.  Who knows who would win that one. 

CAPEHART:  Right, that‘s the Celebrity Death match, Chris.  It‘s sort of the 2000 Senate race that we never got to see.  And I think that‘s probably the one race—I think personally—that would be not only interesting, but would really be a tough, hard fought race. 

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Jill. 

ZUCKMAN:  I was going to say, I think one of the casualties of the Clinton-Giuliani race might well be the press corps at the end of it, after having to deal with the staffs of both those campaigns.  I think everybody is going to be exhausted and beaten up. 

DONAHUE:  Well, Chris, do you know what I think, honestly?  I think the reality is that if you have Giuliani and Hillary Clinton in this race going against each other, a tone that has already taken a very negative turn on both sides—no, seriously. 

MATTHEWS:  Atonement? 

DONAHUE:  The tone in the election, which I think already has gotten so negative, is really going to turn voters away.  I think you‘re going to see something over the next three weeks that‘s going to surprise people.  These polls are not accurate and there‘s going to be something—

MATTHEWS:  There are those like me that honestly admit that they do look at car crashes when they drive by. 

DONAHUE:  They look at car crashes—

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t mean that.  I do think people like to see a good fight, if it‘s over a key principle, and not just over a petty thing. 

DONAHUE:  What‘s the key principle in that though?

MATTHEWS:  Who should be the next president.  We‘ll be right back with the round table for more of the Politics Fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, from Hanover, New Hampshire, home of Dartmouth, only on MSNBC. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think John Edwards as president will do the same thing.  He‘ll go to the ends of everything to be able to make sure things are done right. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Tell me why you‘re here for John Edwards. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I want to see him and hear him one more time. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a lot of fun walking around asking people their political views, getting a real sense of it.  We‘re here in New Hampshire tonight.  We‘re back with the round table for the politics fix.  Let me go to Jennifer.  You have a little bit of dirt to share with us, which I‘m always keen to hear, about a push poll.  A push poll, of course, is when you call people up with a loaded question, and you‘re real idea is not to ask a question but to plant some dirt.  What did you get? 

DONAHUE:  Well, what I got was a phone call, because I am a New Hampshire voter.  I live in the state.  Basically, you got prompted.  It said, this is a 50-second ad—a 50-second spot, where we‘re going to ask you questions, answer yes or no.  “Are you likely to vote in the Republican primary?”  “Are you likely to vote for Mike Huckabee?  Yes or no.”  “Are you likely to vote for Rudolph Giuliani?  Yes or no.”  Would you vote for Mitt Romney?  Yes or no?”  “Would you vote for Fred Thompson?  Yes or no?  Would you vote for John McCain?  Yes or no.” 

Then, for fun, I said yes.  Would you vote for John McCain?  Yes or no.  Does knowing that Senator McCain voted against an amendment that is defining marriage as between one man and one woman make you less likely to vote for him?  Does knowing John McCain led the gang of four to block the judiciary nominations of a number of highly regarded conservative judges make you less likely—

MATTHEWS:  Who put this thing out? 

DONAHUE:  What‘s your guess? 

MATTHEWS:  Huckabee.  How do you know? 

DONAHUE:  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of this?  This attempt to try to undermine McCain up here by somebody who thinks they can beat him and wants to beat him. 

ZUCKMAN:  It could very well try—that poll could very well be trying to undermine several of the candidates, because if Jennifer had answered, yes, I‘m thinking about voting for Romney, then maybe she would have learned something else about Romney. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the person who put out this push poll, please let us know who you are.  Thank you, Jennifer Donahue, Jill Zuckman, Jonathan Capehart.  Join us again tomorrow night for more HARDBALL.

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

END   

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