updated 12/21/2007 11:32:02 AM ET 2007-12-21T16:32:02

Guests: Ed Schultz, Mark Green, Ed Rollins, Ron Kaufman, David Kuo, Tony Perkins, Joe Scarborough, Andrea Mitchell, John Harwood

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Is Hillary Clinton trying to kill Obama in his crib?  Are we watching a dark campaign carried out by surrogates to stop Barack before he catches fire?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  The “Hot Topic” tonight: Is the Hillary Clinton campaign trying to obliterate Obama‘s candidacy, not just beat it but strangle it in the crib before there‘s any chance he catches on?  That‘s our “Hot Topic” tonight.

On the Republican side, thrice-married Giuliani loses his once commanding lead nationally, and the Reverend Huckabee is ascending.  And speaking of Huckabee, is he the affable Midwestern pastor, or is there a reason to be afraid of his candidacy?  So who‘s afraid of Mike Huckabee?  We‘ll debate that tonight.

And we‘ll ask you—we‘ll give you, rather, our daily “Political Fix” with Joe Scarborough, Andrea Mitchell and John Harwood.

But first, the “Hot Topic.”  More efforts today by the Clinton people to smothered the Barack Obama campaign in its crib, as I said.  One, a letter attacking Obama‘s health care plan pretending to come from John Edwards but actually set up by a pro-Clinton union.  Two, the launching of two Web sites specifically targeting and attacking Barack.  Suddenly, the campaign for president on the Democratic side is dominated by this dark struggle to hold power.

The Clintons, Hillary, Bill, the whole universe of advisers and backers known as Hillary-land, have targeted its enemy.  The Clinton order (ph) comfortable at the center of Democratic power for a full generation is on the attack.  The target, the junior senator from Illinois who cares to challenge the former first lady for commander-in-chief.  The weapons being wielded against him are the wide-ranging regiments of Clinton people.

A Clinton surrogate attacks Barack for saying he‘d like to be president back when he was in kindergarten.  In New Hampshire, the husband of a former governor talks up what Republicans would do with Barack‘s admission of using drugs as a teenager.  A former senator from Nebraska talks up Barack‘s middle name and the religion of his forebears, a comment for which he later apologized.

But the attacks refuse to stop.  Keeping up the beat, a group of backbench congresspeople held a press conference today—actually, a conference on telephone to call reporters to attack Senator Obama for voting president—present as a state legislator back in Springfield.  A friendly labor union is now putting out an attack on Barack‘s health care plan, making it appear to be from John Edwards.  And according to ABC‘s Jake Tapper, the Clinton troops have now set up two different Web sites with the express mission of destroying Obama.  Tapper says it‘s the first case, at least in this campaign, of a candidate setting up Web sites with the single purpose of attacking another candidate.

The picture is not pretty.  But it could be very well be deadly.  The goal is to smother the young senator in his crib.  Whether it‘s right or wrong is, as in much of politics, a matter of how you look at it.  A lot of true believers, the young and idealistic at heart, will find it—let‘s agree on this thing—dispiriting.

Ed Schultz is a radio talk show host, and Mark Green is the president of Air America Radio, the author of the book, “Losing Our Democracy.”  He‘s in neutral position this presidential race.  Ed Schultz, where are you on Hillary and the way she‘s going after Barack with everything she‘s got?

ED SCHULTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  This is the low road, Chris, for

Mark Penn to come on your program and throw out the word “cocaine,” for

Shaheen to do what he did and throw it out there and actually question when

was last time Barack Obama had or sold or did anything with drugs.  And now

you got a former senator, Bob Kerrey, jumping into it and going after his

faith, which was an erroneous story that was played on Fox and followed up

by another network.

This is the low road in high gear for the Clinton camp, and I don‘t think it‘s going to attract any of the 20-somethings, and I think that this is the way they want to win.  They almost sell their soul for the White House and the nomination right now.

MATTHEWS:  Mark Green, what is going on here?

MARK GREEN, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  If Ed were paid by the exaggeration, he‘d be Bill Gates.  I think that this is not unusually negative.  By the way, Chris, you show is called HARDBALL, not BADMINTON.  And HARDBALL, impermissible negativity is when LBJ said that John Kennedy won‘t live out his term because he has Addison‘s disease.  It‘s in South Carolina, when the Bush people implied, of course falsely, that John McCain had fathered an African-American child.

To me, 99 -- and I‘m neutral watching this because I‘m the head of Air America Radio -- 99 percent of this is normal.  Obama and Edwards, behind as underdogs, like any of them for the last 2,000 years, say and then do attack Hillary Clinton legitimately, that she votes—that she‘s like Bush, that she‘s disingenuous, that she‘s part of a corrupt culture.

The Hillary camp, I assume, wanted to stay above the fray, couldn‘t because they were being attacked.  She comes back.  She says she‘s the most experienced, Obama‘s young and inexperienced, and she has the better health care plan.

(CROSSTALK)

GREEN:  That‘s no big deal.

SCHULTZ:  Chris, this...

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about this.  You mentioned, Ed Schultz, what happened on this program, you know, where you have Mark Penn, who‘s writing her ad copy, he is the Hillary Clinton message, and he goes after cocaine on this show.  I would say that that‘s a direct shot at his youth, not just his candidacy.

GREEN:  All three of us agree that since Barack Obama himself eloquently and candidly admitted it in a book before he was running for president, one doubts it would be an issue.  I‘m not going to speak for Mark Penn.  I don‘t really know him.  I don‘t know what his motive was.  There is a pretty good chance, by the way, Chris, because you know Bob Kerrey, that he‘s an authentic, high-spirited, controversial guy who in no way meant to impugn Barack Obama and...

MATTHEWS:  OK, I can give him that.  If anybody would say—everybody knows Bob Kerrey.  He‘s a little bit light-hearted, to put it lightly.  He might have well said—he might have said the guy‘s middle name is Hussein.  He might have brought up about the fact—talked about the fact that his mother and his grandmother were Islamic.  But we‘ve got a new poll out that says that 8 percent of the American people now believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim.  Are they getting that idea from comments like Kerrey‘s.

(CROSSTALK)

GREEN:  Sixty percent thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  I‘d rather blame Fox than Mark Penn.  Penn made a mistake...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

GREEN:  ... by being too explicit on HARDBALL, I agree with that.  But the bigger issue that Ed mentioned was Shaheen in New Hampshire.

MATTHEWS:  OK...

GREEN:  He‘s an idiot for raising that issue.  And if you think, as so many have implied, that Hillary Clinton or the campaign set him up for that, I think that‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What do you think, Ed?  Ed, what do you think, Ed, about all these stories out there being surrogates?

SCHULTZ:  Well, the whole campaign, Chris, has been marred with apologies and resignations.

GREEN:  The whole campaign?

SCHULTZ:  And now they don‘t even hide it.  They go into new territory

as I said, I‘ll let you talk—all of these—the whole campaign has been marred by apologies and also by resignations.  Just within hours of coming out and endorsing Hillary Clinton, here comes Bob Kerrey attacking the faith with innuendo and rumor about Barack Obama, and it has an effect on voters.  The Clintons are on the low road.  They‘re also whining to the media, saying that they‘re getting much more scrutiny than everybody else.

I will tell you, Hillary Clinton appears to be the candidate of the ‘90s and not the candidate of the future.  Young people are not going to gravitate to this kind of low-road campaigning, attacking people‘s faith, attacking their drug use 25 years ago, bringing that into the arena today.

Why are these people resigning from the Clinton camp?  Why is Bill Clinton going out there, saying, Hey, I think I‘ll go around the world and do a tour with Bush 41, and then the president comes out and disses him on it?  I mean, the Clintons are out of touch right now!

GREEN:  May I...

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ve had Billy Shaheen and we‘ve had Mark Penn.  By the way, Mark Penn on this show used the “cocaine” word.

Let‘s take a look at Bob Kerrey‘s apology...

SCHULTZ:  Yes, he did.

MATTHEWS:  ... today.  “What I found myself getting into in Iowa”—this is former senator Bob Kerrey—“and it was my own fault, it was the wrong moment to do it, and it was insulting.  I mean no disrespect at all.”  That‘s when he talked about Barack Obama‘s middle name being Hussein and the fact that his mother and maternal grandmother were Islamic and are Islamic.

What are you—so you figure—what part of this do you think is accidental, Mark, and what part of this is surrogate action attacking this guy?

GREEN:  First, you‘re asking me to speak for Bob Kerrey, and I, of course, can‘t.  I know Bob Kerrey very well.  He is so authentic, blunt and loving (ph).  And so even a dog knows the difference whether they‘re tripped over or kicked.  I totally discount—I totally discount that.

What—you know, Ted Williams in his best year, as you know, Chris, made out 60 percent of the time.  If I showed a reel of his outs, you would say this guy‘s a terrible baseball player.  What Ed has just done is string together incidents...

MATTHEWS:  OK, well, I‘ve done it, too.

GREEN:  ... over a year...

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at.  OK.  Let‘s take a look at a real pro.

GREEN:  It‘s ridiculous.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s President Bush—here‘s President Clinton, rather, on “Charlie Rose.”  Here‘s a pro that doesn‘t make these kinds of mistakes, you might argue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When‘s the last time we elected a president based on one year of service in the Senate before he started running?  I mean, he will have been a senator longer by the time he‘s inaugurated, but essentially, once you start running for president full time, you don‘t have time to do much else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that wasn‘t exactly a hard shot, Ed.  That‘s sort of like standard...

SCHULTZ:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... political behavior.

SCHULTZ:  Yes, that‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHULTZ:  But isn‘t that a question that—I think that‘s a question that Charlie Rose probably should have asked, but it‘s a point that Clinton definitely wanted to get out there.  They‘re attacking and questioning his experience.  You know, that‘s really pretty much fair game.

But when you go after his past of 20-some-odd years ago and questioning his faith—I thought faith didn‘t matter to the Democratic Party.  I mean, I thought...

GREEN:  Ed...

SCHULTZ:  ... it was the separation of church and state.

GREEN:  Ed, let‘s agree—let‘s agree on something...

SCHULTZ:  Mark, you know, you can defend the Clintons all day long. 

This is not the politics of the future.

GREEN:  Ed, I‘m not defending...

SCHULTZ:  This is surrogates going out...

GREEN:  ... the Clintons.

SCHULTZ:  ... doing the jamming...

GREEN:  Ed, you‘re not listening.

SCHULTZ:  ... and the candidate doing the...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

SCHULTZ:  ... disavowing.

GREEN:  You‘re not listening.

MATTHEWS:  Is there a smart political tactic here, Mark?  You‘ve been in some campaigns.  You‘ve won a lot of them.  Is there a smart political tactic here, if you‘re a Clintonite, saying, Wait a minute, don‘t let this guy land on the beach?  It‘s like the Germans, when they saw us coming in Normandy, Don‘t let them land on the beach because once they‘re on the beach, they‘re going to break out.  Are the Clinton people afraid that if Barack does well in Iowa and New Hampshire, he will be unstoppable, therefore, they‘ve got to throw every trashcan they got at him right now?

GREEN:  I agree with...

MATTHEWS:  Is that the strategy?

SCHULTZ:  Absolutely.

GREEN:  One second.

MATTHEWS:  OK...

GREEN:  I agree with everything you just said except for the word “trash.”  Ed, there‘s no serious evidence...

MATTHEWS:  Trashcan.

GREEN:  ... that they have—you have said that they are out to destroy him, Muslim, cocaine...

SCHULTZ:  They were out fishing for dirt in Chicago!

(CROSSTALK)

GREEN:  Ed, I really didn‘t interrupt you.

SCHULTZ:  ... social work, Mark!

GREEN:  I really didn‘t interrupt...

SCHULTZ:  You know that, that they were out...

GREEN:  Ed, you‘re being—Ed, you‘ve...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Just a minute.  Ed‘s turn.  Ed‘s turn.

SCHULTZ:  ... social work in Chicago.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, they went after him on cocaine...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Just a minute, guys.  I can keep count here.  They went after him on our show last week on cocaine.  They went after him on what he said in his kindergarten years.  They went after him on having the middle name Hussein.  They went after him on having Islamic parents and grandparents.  What else is left to hit him on?  They‘re going after his voting record as a state legislator.  He voted present several times.  They‘re hitting him on everything.  They‘ve got—they‘re going after his health care, which is fair game, obviously.  Well, what is this about?

GREEN:  Allow me?  You‘re right that they‘re trying to stop him, I assume.  Again, I‘m looking at this objectively.  To talk about his experience—legitimate.  To talk about Obama‘s voting record is totally legitimate.  Chris, I read in an article in “The Atlantic”...

SCHULTZ:  They‘re not doing that!

GREEN:  One second.  Allow me.  I read in an article by Andrew Sullivan in “The Atlantic,” very favorable, understandably, toward Obama. 

He quoted an Obama aide as saying to Sullivan, When are you guys going to

start writing about Bill Clinton‘s extracurricular love life

Now, I read that and I thought, That‘s stupid and not consequential.  If you want to list everything that a thousand surrogates or staffers say, you can make anybody look bad.  I don‘t think it was wrong for Obama to say, I‘m going to start attacking Hillary because she says one thing and does another.  That‘s negative.  It‘s legitimate.  And for Ed to string together...

SCHULTZ:  How you run your campaign is how you‘re going to govern.

(CROSSTALK)

GREEN:  ... how campaigns work.

MATTHEWS:  OK, last word from Ed Schultz.

SCHULTZ:  How you run your campaign is how you‘re going to govern.  How you run your campaign is how you‘re going to govern.  And I think the Clintons are losing credibility with a lot of people.

MATTHEWS:  OK...

SCHULTZ:  They‘re making misstatements.  They‘re going after the low road.  No question about it.

MATTHEWS:  Ed Schultz, sir, thank you, sir.  And thank you, Mark Green.  Have a happy holiday, both of you gentlemen.

On the Republican side, the presidential race is wide open, as everybody knows.  Up next, the top strategists from the Huckabee and Romney campaigns face off here.  It looks like a Huckabee-Romney race right now, with Huckabee on the rise and Romney benefiting from a lot of things.  We‘ll be right back with that fight between the two top kicks (ph).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  NBC‘s new national poll just out last night has Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani tied for first, with Mike Huckabee right behind them.  There‘s no clear frontrunner anymore.   But it‘s a two-man race out in Iowa between Huckabee, who‘s leading out there rather dramatically—I think 35-27 in the newest “Washington Post” poll.

Ed Rollins is the national chairman of Mike Huckabee‘s campaign, and Ron Kaufman is a senior adviser for Mitt Romney‘s campaign.

Ed Rollins, you can do anything, sir.  I‘m going to ask you to defend the comment by your candidate, Mike Huckabee, that George Bush, the president of the United States, is guilty of an arrogant bunker mentality in foreign affairs.

ED ROLLINS, MIKE HUCKABEE NATIONAL CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN:  Well, I think he‘s talking in terms of the administration, and they certainly have been arrogant about a lot of things.

But I think, first of all, I don‘t have to defend my client.  My client is doing extremely well.  Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent against him, or hundreds of thousands of dollars, on a daily basis by my old friend, Ron Kaufman.  And I think, to a certain extent, we‘ve made this a very close race, and I think we‘re going to go on to win.  It‘s a very fascinating time, and I‘m happy to be a part of the fray.

MATTHEWS:  Ron, Governor Romney has taken issue with Huckabee on this description of president as arrogant and engaged in bunker—a bunker mentality.  Where do you stand on this as the campaign right now?

RON KAUFMAN, ROMNEY SENIOR CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  Well, sure.  The governor—Governor Huckabee said that the president was an arrogant man and the administration was arrogant on the war and they were in a bunker.  And the fact is, that‘s not helpful.  We‘re in the middle of a war.  We‘re doing better.  The war is getting better.  The president‘s doing a good job, and I think Republicans understand that.  So we really wish that the governor would apologize for his statement.  But he won‘t, and I understand that.

ROLLINS:  The governor‘s not going to apologize.  And obviously, Ron, if your candidate would have been supportive of the president when we started the war, and if your candidate would have been supportive of the president during the surge—Mike Huckabee basically said that there‘s an arrogance in that White House relative to listening to members of Congress, listening to others of our own party.  And you obviously in private might say the same thing.

I think the critical thing here is this is a classic case of a very well-funded campaign, self-funded by his own resources, in Mitt Romney, driven by polls, has changed a lot of his positions, versus someone who basically has been out in the country and clearly is attached very much to the public mood and the public environment.

MATTHEWS:  So Ron, is your candidate a rich flip-flopper?  That‘s what Ed just called him.

KAUFMAN:  Well, Chris, the bottom line is Mitt Romney has raised more money than any other candidate of the Republican Party and has raised it from more Republicans than any other person in the Republican Party.  And the reason Romney‘s doing well, Chris, in Iowa and in New Hampshire and South Carolina and Florida, and now nationally, is he‘s done it the old-fashioned way.  He‘s worked for it.  He has done more events in Iowa, he‘s done more events in New Hampshire than all the other candidates combined.

The reason he‘s doing well is people in Iowa, as you know, Chris, they love to meet the candidate.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

KAUFMAN:  They look them right in the eye.  And they‘re the best judge.  Is this guy real or is he not real?  Or are all these flip-flopping things real or not real?  And you can‘t fool folks in Iowa, and quite frankly, you can‘t fool folks in New Hampshire.  And that‘s why he‘s doing really well.  He‘s not doing well in Washington, I guarantee you that.

SCHULTZ:  Ron...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me tell you who‘s doing really well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Ed‘s candidate is winning in—by the way, Ed, your candidate is winning 35-27 in this morning‘s “Washington Post”/ABC poll, which is a dramatic—let me ask you this.  His lead—and you‘ve seen the internals on this—Christian women, evangelicals generally.  Is he running a religious-based campaign?

ROLLINS:  He‘s running—he‘s running...

MATTHEWS:  By calling himself a Christian leader, by that Christmas ad, et cetera, et cetera.

ROLLINS:  He was a Christian leader, in addition to being a very effective governor.  What has not been discussed here is millions and millions of dollars have been spent by the Romney campaign not articulating what they did in Massachusetts, but basically distorting the record of Mike Huckabee.  And I think Mike Huckabee‘s gone back out there.  He‘s met with the people.  If you check who‘s been where most—you know, just like when your governor made a passthrough, as governor of Massachusetts, Governor Huckabee spent a lot of time in the state, learning about the problems.  And I think the reality is that voters will get a chance to make a very good choice this time.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you—Ron, I want to ask you to—give you a chance to do some bragging here.

KAUFMAN:  Sure.  Love to.

MATTHEWS:  I was one of those who thought that the Romney speech was a damn good speech a couple weeks ago.  I thought it was a profound speech.  It may not have been as good as Jack Kennedy‘s, but no speech will ever be that good, perhaps.  It had a different message.  And a lot of could disagree with the second half of it.

But I want to ask you this question.

KAUFMAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Here is your adviser speaking earlier this week on HARDBALL.  This is Barbara Comstock, one of your colleagues in the Romney campaign.  Let‘s listen to what she says. 

I want Ed to respond to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA COMSTOCK, SENIOR ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  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. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, is that fair to say that your faith, the faith of these candidates, will bring them together, Ed?

ROLLINS:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m talking about a man who is an evangelical getting together with a Mormon man?  Does faith bring them together or does it separate them? 

ROLLINS:  Listen, I would—I would rather be sitting here having this discussion than be sitting here talking—accusing each other of using cocaine, which neither of our candidates ever have. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROLLINS:  I think—I think the bottom line is, I thought Romney gave a very speech, I thought a very important speech.  And I think Mitt Romney was a good governor, not a great governor.  I think my candidate was a great governor.  And I think that‘s what the people are going to have a chance to... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Does faith bring you guys together or separate you? 

Because Barbara Comstock says it brings you together.

ROLLINS:  First of all, you and I—you and I are Catholics, and our candidates are different.

And, Ron, are you still an atheist, or have you basically converted? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ROLLINS:  Now that you‘re rich...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We have had a Mark Penn moment on this show already, Ed. 

We don‘t need another one. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS:  He is my very dear friend. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.

ROLLINS:  Ron is my very dear friend.

MATTHEWS:  But—I know, but you just accused him of being an atheist. 

ROLLINS:  No, no, no. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.

Well, is religion going to unite the Republican Party or divide it, is what I‘m saying?  You got a guy running as a Christian leader.  He‘s running a Christmas card which is very religious.  There‘s been—it has been very hard to get your candidate, Ed, to admit that he shares the same faith, generally speaking, Christianity, with the other fellow, with—with Romney. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS:  We have a Christian leader in the White House right now.  And I think our party has been very happy to have surrounded and helped him get elected. 

I think both of these men are good, moral men.  I think, at the end of the day...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, there is no religious difference between these two guys?  Let‘s end it here.

ROLLINS:  Sure, there‘s a difference.  I‘m a Catholic.  There‘s a difference between a Mormon and a Catholic and an Episcopalian and a...

MATTHEWS:  But, relevant to this campaign, is there any religious difference between Romney and Huckabee? 

ROLLINS:  I think the bottom line...

MATTHEWS:  Relevant to this campaign, is there a religious difference?

Ed Rollins, you know exactly what I‘m asking. 

ROLLINS:  I know exactly what you are asking.,

And I think the bottom line is that the voters themselves will make that decision. 

MATTHEWS:  Whoa.  Whoa. 

Ron Kaufman, he just dodged on the question of whether there‘s a religious difference between the two candidates and what they are offering in terms of policy and leadership, as a religious difference? 

(CROSSTALK)

KAUFMAN:  I must admit, Chris, I was disappointed to see Governor Huckabee be disparaging to the Mormon Church the other day.

But, listen, I have to agree with one thing Huckabee says, that some things in this race are despicable.  And I think it is really despicable, quite frankly, that 1,033 people, criminals, are walking the streets, including 12 -- not one, 12 -- murderers, because of Huckabee‘s actions. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KAUFMAN:  I think it is despicable that he has raised taxes and raised spending, when we‘re cutting taxes and cutting taxes.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

KAUFMAN:  And, in the end—Ed is right in the end.  In the end, that is why Huckabee is going down in Iowa...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

KAUFMAN:  ... and the governor is doing better. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Great.  Thank you. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS:  Good talking point, Ron.  And, obviously, you can see it in your ads at the end... 

(CROSSTALK)

KAUFMAN:  ... Ed.  It is what it is.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It is hard for me to say this, Ron, but I have to say it in the spirit of the show this week.  It is getting close to our holidays.

KAUFMAN:  It is.  It‘s getting close.

MATTHEWS:  Happy holidays to you, even though you put the shiv in there. 

ROLLINS:  Merry Christmas to both of you.

MATTHEWS:  And, Ed Rollins, even though you won‘t acknowledge that there is no religious difference in this campaign, we will go on with it, because, Ed, you are the greatest. 

Coming up, up next:  So, what does President Bush think about the idea that Hillary Clinton would send Bill Clinton and his father, the former president, around the world to mend fences?  Well, apparently, that deal ain‘t going to happen. 

And we have got the HARDBALL “Big Number” coming up.  It‘s not a happy number for Barack Obama. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is new out there politically?

Well, Tom Tancredo announced today that he is dropping out of the race for president.  Sure, he may not have had a good chance of winning, but look at how he succeeded in pushing the rest of the Republicans on illegal immigration.  He made a difference there.  He took an issue that people do care about and got it into the discussion.  And that‘s what politicians can do.

Rudy Giuliani was admitted to the hospital yesterday after suffering flu-like symptoms.  Today, he was released, after all of his tests proved normal.  Unfortunately, his dropping poll numbers are not as easy to deal with as a rising temperature. 

The Hillary fandango, you know, sending Bill and Bush 41 around the world to fence-mend after eight years of W., isn‘t happening, at least not on any Hillary watch.  Not only did Bush Sr. say that he was never asked and that this kind of trip wasn‘t warranted, but, today, Bush 43 knocked it down again. 

Let‘s take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE ALLEN, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO.COM:  Mr.  President, you maybe saw that President Clinton said recently that one of the first actions of a new Clinton administration would be to send presidents 41 and 42 on a worldwide good-will mission to restore the country‘s good name abroad.

I wonder if you think such a thing is necessary...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, 41 didn‘t think it‘s necessary.

ALLEN:  I‘m sorry, you didn‘t seem to...

BUSH:  Sounds like it‘s going to be a one-man trip.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ALLEN:  I wonder if you would consider doing such a thing during your presidency. 

And do you think that you might...

BUSH:  It‘s what I do during my presidency.  I go around spreading good will and talking about the importance of spreading freedom and peace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That was Mike Allen of “Politico” asking that question. 

What does the libertarian favorite, Ron Paul, have to say about the Huckabee cross Christmas ad? 

Well, let‘s take a listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FOX & FRIENDS”)

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You know, it reminds me of what Sinclair Lewis once said.  He says, when fascism comes to this country, it will be wrapped in the flag carrying a cross. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Whoa. 

Ron Paul is probably not the only one out there who is a little afraid of Mike Huckabee.  We will be asking, “Who is afraid of the Reverend Huckabee?” right after the next commercial. 

Finally, it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number.”  It‘s a number that Barack Obama isn‘t going to like, not one bit.  And, as we discussed earlier in this show, guys like Bob Kerrey might be to blame for this little problem. 

Tonight‘s big number is a scary one: eight.  That‘s the percentage of Americans who really do think Barack Obama is a Muslim.  Eight percent think he is, according to a new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll just out last night. 

Well, for the record, again and again, he is not.  He is a Christian. 

Eight, though, think he is.  Eight percent, that‘s tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  With his floating-cross Christmas commercial and his Sunday evangelist style, should America be afraid of the Reverend Mike Huckabee? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELISSA LEE, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Melissa Lee with your CNBC “Market Wrap.” 

All green arrows on Wall Street today—the Dow Jones industrials gained 38 points.  The S&P climbed seven, and the Nasdaq gaining nearly 40. 

After the closing bell, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion reported quarterly profits soaring 112 percent.  Earnings beat analyst estimates.  In after-hours trading, Research In Motion shares up about 10 percent. 

As expected, Bear Stearns reporting its first quarterly loss ever, more than $850 million, in fact.  That‘s after a $1.9 billion write-down from bad mortgage-related investments.  As a result, top execs will forego year-end bonuses.

First-time jobless claims rose by a higher-than-expected 12,000 last week.  That‘s the biggest increase in a month and signals there could be weak job growth ahead. 

And oil prices slipping again, falling 18 cents in New York trading, closing at $91.06 a barrel..

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What do you attribute these—this surge—this surge to? 

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  There is only one explanation for it, and it is not a human one.  It is the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loves feed a crowd of 5,000 people. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

HUCKABEE:  And that‘s the only way that our campaign could be doing what it is doing.  And I‘m not being facetious, nor am I trying to be trite.  There literally are thousands of people across this country who are playing that a little will become much.  And it has. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was the Mike Huckabee, the Reverend Mike Huckabee for many years of his life, at Liberty University just last month, attributing his campaign success so far to God. 

While some voters like the sound of religious commitment in their candidates, to others, it is just plain scary. 

So, who is afraid of Mike Huckabee and why?

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, he‘s been on the program so many times.

Thank you, Tony, for joining us on this question.

And David Kuo is the Washington editor of Beliefnet.com. 

That comment sounded to me like he was saying, David, that:  God is on my side. 

DAVID KUO, AUTHOR, “TEMPTING FAITH: AN INSIDE STORY OF POLITICAL

SEDUCTION”:  Well, listen, he was.  He was clearly implying that. 

I think some—he needs to listen to something he has said before in his campaign.  And that is, it is not a question of whether or not God is on his side.  The question is whether or not he is on God‘s side. 

And, listen, the thing that is scaring people about Mike Huckabee is that he is willfully an wantonly manipulating the image and the name of Jesus for a political end. 

And, frankly, I think he is behaving in a way that would upset him if you went back 10 years and he were a Baptist pastor.  You know, Baptist pastors are well known for wanting to keep a clear separation between church and state, not wanting to mix the two...

MATTHEWS:  Really?

KUO:  ... for absolutely not wanting to corrupt the faith.  And that is the danger here, is that he is sort of beginning to corrupt the faith. 

MATTHEWS:  Tony, your sense of the way—is there a line that has been crossed, or isn‘t there a line here in terms of his Christmas cards...

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  No.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  .. in terms of his saying that—in his ad, that he is a Christian leader, his reference to the almighty there in basically explaining his success politically? 

PERKINS:  Chris, there is no line he has crossed here.  He is explaining who he is—who he is and what he believes in.

As far as people being scared by him, I don‘t know, other than a few people in the media and some op-ed writers.  I mean, he—he is actually gaining a lot of ground because people connect with him.  I mean, 70 percent of Americans, according to Pew Research, want a presidential candidate who has strong religious beliefs. 

He cannot run from the fact that he was a Southern Baptist preacher, nor that he believes in God and prays to him for the success in his political undertakings.  It‘s who he is.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at the ad, because it comes to mind to me.  And I have watched it so many times now that I am a full believer that this ad was purposeful.  We can argue about it.  Let‘s do it. 

Here‘s the Huckabee Christmas ad, a brilliant piece of work, I think. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, HUCKABEE CAMPAIGN AD)

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Are you about worn out of all the television commercials you have been seeing, mostly about politics?  I don‘t blame you. 

At this time of year, sometimes, it‘s nice to pull aside from all of that and just remember that what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ and being with our family and our friends. 

I‘m Mike Huckabee, and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  David Kuo?

KUO:  Well, two things. 

One is, clearly, the cross is there.  The cross is lit.  The bookshelf is lit.  I mean, it is clearly intentional.  But, on the other hand, if he is doing an ad about Christmas, having a cross there is not exactly the most controversial thing in the world. 

You know, again, I want to go back to this point.  And that is, poll after poll shows that Americans, that—that—that not—that—that non-Christians look at Christians and say -- 70 percent of them say, you know, we are afraid of becoming a Christian.  We have bad images of Christians, because there is too much political involvement.

And what I‘m saying is, in this spiritual season, is, Mike Huckabee needs to take a step back and say, hey, you know, I need pull back from this sort of wanton manipulation of Christianity for political gain. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I‘m hearing.  I think I got Al Gore on the other line here, with the sounds you are making, Tony.

Go ahead.

PERKINS:  No.  I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You are obviously exasperated by everything you have heard so far. 

PERKINS:  Yes. 

I mean, he is not using Christianity.  It is who he is.  And, obviously, people connect with that.  I mean, 61 percent—another Pew Research poll -- 61 percent of Americans say they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who does not believe in God. 

Now, about three weeks ago, I was on a show, and I commented that—that the best ad that Mike Huckabee could do in Christmas was simply to point to Jesus and wish people a merry Christmas. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

PERKINS:  Now, I don‘t think they took their cue from me, but I think it is a brilliant ad that he did.  And that the fact that the cross...

MATTHEWS:  Is there a religious difference—let me ask...

PERKINS:  ... is in it, that is what Christmas is about.  It was the manger to the cross.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here is a question. 

It‘s a question of exclusivity and sectarianism.  And you know what we are talking about, Tony.  Is in fact his statement that he is a religious leader, a Christian leader, the fact that Ed Rollins was just on and refused to say there wasn‘t a religious difference in this campaign, is he running as the Christian leader against the other guys...

PERKINS:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... against the Mormon, against the other candidates, and Rudy Giuliani, three-time married guy?  Is he running against them on religion, is what I‘m asking? 

PERKINS:  Well, look, Chris, it‘s no different than any other quality of a candidate. 

I mean, Rudy Giuliani is running on 9/11.  I mean, he‘s 9/11. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So, his advantage is, he is the religious candidate? 

PERKINS:  Well, look, let me be very clear.  I have not endorsed a candidate.  I‘m not supporting a particular candidate. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t that the question? 

PERKINS:  Well, it is—it‘s a factor.

MATTHEWS:  Reagan used to say—we all know Reagan was a superb leader in many ways.  And Reagan said, work the difference.  And he meant his Hollywood background, his amazing communication skills, his good looks, his good voice.

Reagan worked the difference.  This guy, is he working religion as his difference?  That‘s all I‘m asking. 

(CROSSTALK)

KUO:  Of course he is.

PERKINS:  I would say—Chris, I would say, yes.  I would say it is a distinct characteristic that Mike Huckabee has that the others do not. 

Now, is that a manipulation or the use of Christianity that in—somehow is harming Christianity?  No.  I mean, to say that it is...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not working the other guy‘s Mormonism, you don‘t think? 

PERKINS:  Well, I think he—he made that comment.  He made—asked that question, realized he shouldn‘t have, and he apologized.  I think it was wrong for him to—to say that. 

I don‘t think you should use Christianity as a stick to beat someone else or to use it politically to harm someone else.  But, in terms of defining who you are and what you...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

PERKINS:  .... believe, that‘s what Mike Huckabee has done.  He‘s gone beyond just saying I‘m a Christian leader; he‘s also using it to define his positions.  And I would say that it is his positions that is attracting so much support. 

MATTHEWS:  This issue is going to continue.  Thank you very much.  You‘ll be coming back I hope.  You‘re always welcome here, sir.  Merry Christmas down in New Orleans.

Up next, what is behind Rudy Giuliani‘s dramatic slip in the polls? 

And is the one time Republican front runner, Rudy Giuliani—there he is -

in danger of flaming out?  He has got problems worse than a flu right now.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time now for the politics fix and our round table.  Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, John Harwood of cNBC, and Joe Scarborough—there you are.  God, you work 24/7, Joe.  Boy, is he great on that morning show.  Andrea and I love doing that.  Do you do that too? 

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC:  I do.

MATTHEWS:  I love doing that morning show.  It is great.  Let‘s talk about this fight here.  My conjecture here, which I opened the show with, was the Clintons believe they have to stop Obama early.  They want sudden infant crib death, is what they want.  They want this guy to die before Iowa.  And they are unleashing everybody they‘ve got, everybody that wants every meal ticket they‘ve got, everybody that wants to be a cabinet member, a VP, a staffer.  They‘re all out there.  Bob Kerrey, Vilsack, Billy Shaheen, Mark Penn, Phil Singer.

Everybody who has got a job in mind and they are willing to put the knife in this guy in the crib to get that job.  Is that too strong a language, Joe Scarborough? 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR:  No, it is not, because if he wins Iowa, she walks toward the nomination.  The problem is, they are trying too hard.  I can‘t help but go back—and I know you were there, too, Chris—in 2004 in Iowa, you had all these people shipped in from out of state and it ended up making the Iowans roll their eyes and toss Howard Dean to the side and go with John Kerry. 

I think actually the person who is damaged goods right now is Hillary Clinton.  If you look at the latest NBC poll, which shows that Obama does much better in general election match ups, and Hillary‘s negatives are above her positives now. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to the question of tactics here.  She is using things like having AFSME, the union, the state and county employees, put out a letter that looked like it came from John Edwards, apparently, attacking Obama, so that she gets the knife into Obama without her fingerprints on it. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  And she was caught on it.  And that is the kind of things that Iowans don‘t like.  I just want—just for the record keeping here, point out that Obama has been really tough on Hillary Clinton.  And he has personally gone after her on a whole host of issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Give met worst shot he has taken at her? 

MITCHELL:  Well, he has gone after her on her experience and her being tied to the past.  He has been very—

MATTHEWS:  That is not very nasty. 

HARWOOD:  There is also the question of whether you talk about—

MATTHEWS:  Has he ever accused her of cocaine use or having a middle name of Hussein or the equivalent, whatever that might be. 

HARWOOD:  No, but if you talk to the Clinton people, Chris, they will say that he has accused her of being a liar, that basically, if you say she is weasley, waffley and disingenuous on issues, that that is a character attack.  I think it is kind of ambiguous.  When you are talking about politicians and you say somebody is waffling, are you attacking their character or are you making an observation about how they are?   

MATTHEWS:  That would be a fairer shot against Bill when he said he was against the Iraq war from the beginning.  I think you can argue that was disingenuous, to use the modern term. 

MITCHELL:  He was off message, clearly.  The campaign was not happy about that.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Andrea, again, about the way this campaign has to be run.  The traditional way of an incumbent to defeat a challenger, in any Congressional race we‘ve ever covered or seen, you try to, first of all, check their petitions and make sure there are no names wrong, use every trick in the book to get them out of the race.  Is this an attempt to get a preliminary shot against this guy?  Kill him early.  Before Christmas. 

MITCHELL:  Kneecap him, if you have to.  The whole point is to get him out by Iowa so that she doesn‘t have to face him in New Hampshire, because what she is seeing is that her New Hampshire fire wall, what was to be the fire wall, has eroded.  And depending on the poll, they‘re either dead even.  He‘s ahead in some.  She‘s ahead in others.  So she no longer can count on New Hampshire. 

MATTHEWS:  Will she continue—Andrea, you first, will she continue to have surrogates drop these little poison pills in the public—reservoir of public opinion? 

MITCHELL:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Hussein, Muslim, blah, blah, blah, coke, all kinds of stuff.  Will they continue to drop these poisons in the water? 

MITCHELL:  I think it will continue to be this kind of tough, nasty campaign.  The difference is that it was a big mistake for her to do some of the negative stuff.  She‘s going to be all warm and fuzzy. 

MATTHEWS:  She needs Luca Brasi to do the stuff for her. 

MITCHELL:  Because her polarizing numbers are horrible. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  Joe, do you think she is going to keep this up, despite our spotlight on her here at HARDBALL and on “MORNING JOE?” 

SCARBOROUGH:  I think it is a big mistake.  Again, the difference between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is Barack Obama is man enough to stand up in a debate and say Hillary, you are not being consistent.  And he tells her what her problems are.  Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton has people going out, talking about cocaine, talking about his Muslim faith and the fact that he was. 

MATTHEWS:  No, not his Muslim faith.  Don‘t fall for this.  Eight percent of the American people believe he is Muslim.  That is not true. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Right, but what—I‘m just saying, you have all these surrogates, like you say, dropping these poison pills in there.  And I‘m always stunned that very smart campaigns think people in Iowa and New Hampshire and other states are too stupid to figure out who is really sending out flyers, who is really dropping the poison pills in the water.  They know and it hurts Hillary Clinton in Iowa, and it will. 

HARWOOD:  Guys, I heard Joe Scarborough is a Muslim.  Did you hear that one too? 

Look, here is the most important thing that Hillary Clinton is going to use against Barack Obama in the close, and that is the other classic thing incumbents do against challengers, too risky.  So when Bill Clinton last week said Americans are rolling the dice, that is the most potent charge that she has, and she is going to play it all the way through Iowa. 

MATTHEWS:  Is she willing so to have John Edwards win in Iowa to prevent Obama from winning? 

MITCHELL:  Eager, eager.  What she doesn‘t want to do is come in behind Obama.  If Edwards wins, she just doesn‘t want to be third behind a big Obama victory, because if he comes out of Iowa with 10 points plus—

MATTHEWS:  Would she rather be third to Edwards or second to Obama? 

HARWOOD:  She would rather be third to Edwards.  If she decides she can‘t win this thing, she is going to turn all her guns on Obama, realizing her negatives are going to go up. 

MATTHEWS:  Has she begun that campaign, Joe Scarborough, by putting

out an AFSME letter—getting AFSME to put out a letter attacking Edwards

I‘m sorry, attacking Obama in the name of Edwards?  

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, no, she certainly has and she is in danger of possibly ending up in third place in Iowa, which would be devastating.  But what is so interesting again, with Hillary Clinton, is these negative attacks and talking about the fact that Obama is a risky proportion—and John Harwood is exactly right, that‘s what they are going to be doing.  It doesn‘t work as well when people don‘t want to hear about Iraq.  Because things are going better in Iraq. 

And as the “New York Times” reported this weekend, when Barack Obama brings up the issue of Iraq, there is just a gentle smattering of applause.  Nobody is talking about Iraq any more. 

MATTHEWS:  I know, you never know. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s just like Bill Clinton in 1992 winning because the Soviet Union fell in 1991.  Maybe Americans are willing to take a risk on a transitional figure like Barack Obama if they feel things are a little safer.  And they do right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Good point We will be right back with the round table.  We‘re going to have some more polls.  In face, we‘ve got some brand new poll numbers just out of Iowa.  You are watching HARDBALL, only MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back at the round table for more of the politics fix tonight.  Look at this latest poll.  It‘s the “Washington Post”/ABC poll.  It came out over night.  It shows Mike Huckabee, who we‘ve been talking about this whole show—the reason we‘ve been focusing on him and scrutinizing him, look at these numbers.  They are incredible.  You think nothing happens in a campaign?  This is what happened.  Huckabee has come from nowhere, nowhere. 

He‘s got a couple weeks to go.  He could go to the 40s the way it is going, and there are that many evangelicals out there in Iowa.  Look at this, 35 to 27.  John Harwood, it looks to me like he is benefiting from almost all the evangelical vote, plus getting a bonus of some other people out there. 

HARWOOD:  The Huckabee thing is real.  He‘s not just drawing evangelicals.  Tony Perkins was right earlier on your show.  That Christmas ad is brilliant on Huckabee‘s part, and he is just dying to have more debate about whether he has crossed the line, because that is only going to help him in Iowa.  The question really is going to be where can he go after Iowa?  Can he build on that?  Can he avoid getting buried in New Hampshire and then go on in South Carolina, where he is also doing well. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to speak to—knowing the anthropology of this country, John, as you do so well—do you want to speak to why a guy who is so evangelical and so out there with his religion might have a hard time in New England? 

HARWOOD:  Well, look, New England is not exactly the evangelical capital of the country.  Southern candidates have not done all that well historically there.  He knows that.  But he is trying to advertise a little bit over there, get his numbers up somewhat so he can get into the teens and have a respectable number. 

MATTHEWS:  Andrea, I think in New England they are known for their stoic religious practices, their lack of overt evangelism and emotion. 

MITCHELL:  Look how they came here; New England was settled by people avoiding religious domination, and trying to be very simple in their religious thought.  He represents everything that is not New England, not New Hampshire.  Yet, at the same time, if he gets enough traction in Iowa, which he clearly has, New Hampshire—he can explain New Hampshire. 

MATTHEWS:  Joe, speak for the majority of this country, can the majority move into the east coast, to those channels of sort of cold Catholicism and cold Congregationalism and Yankeeism?  Are they going to embrace a guy who is so out there with his religion? 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, it‘s not the 1960‘s.  New Hampshire is changing.  Some more evangelicals are moving in there.  But more importantly, Mike Huckabee is not the same type of Evangelical that George W. Bush is.  People reflexively are repulsed by George W. Bush‘s brand of evangelicalism in Europe, and they are not really impressed by it in New England.  That‘s why John McCain pounded him the way he did.  It is a cultural thing. 

Whereas Mike Huckabee is a different type of evangelical.  Yes, he talks about Jesus a lot.  You love that cross in the background in the ad.  But at the same time, Huckabee‘s Evangelical faith is really focused on helping the poor. 

HARWOOD:  Huckabee may be too funny for New England.   

MITCHELL:  Joe, it wasn‘t a cross.  It‘s a book shelf.  Come on.  Seriously, when he said in that debate—you were right on it, Joe, because when he said in the debate, how could you turn against people, the children of immigrants, that is a warmer, more compassionate conservatism, if you will.  And that will play elsewhere in the country, I agree. 

SCARBOROUGH:  On health care, he will not be a guy who cuts Medicaid. 

He will raise taxes before he cuts Medicaid.  He just won‘t do it. 

HARWOOD:  Live free or die state, they might want to cut Medicaid. 

SCARBOROUGH:  If I could say one other thing, really quickly, about all these polls that have come out; yes, it‘s great news for Huckabee.  I think it‘s also great news for Mitt Romney, with all apologies to Lawrence O‘Donnell.  A week after that religious speech, Huckabee has found his own fire wall. 

MATTHEWS:  We are brothers on that one, boy.  We are brothers on that. 

I believe it was a great speech, great speech. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Thompson‘s numbers in Iowa have collapsed.  Rudy‘s numbers in Iowa have collapsed.  McCain‘s numbers—

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look, Joe, to make your point.  To make your point, let‘s look at these numbers again.  You see what‘s going on there, there‘s only two guys running in Iowa now.  Look at these collapsing—

Fred Thompson, single digits.  Rudy single digits.  Poor Ron Paul, who has got quite a following, single digits.  John McCain way down there.  There‘s only two guys. 

HARWOOD:  Two race, one for first and one for third and Fred Thompson is trying to win that race. 

MITCHELL:  And the biggest thing that has happened, also, is that Rudy Giuliani—if you look at the NBC News poll, Rudy Giuliani has just collapsed since the last poll.  His people keep saying, despite—I shouldn‘t have use the term collapse because of his health issues today.  But he‘s collapsed politically since that last poll.  And what they keep saying is that the best thing happening to them is that Huckabee is knocking Romney out so—to keep things going so he can be viable. 

(CROSS TALK) 

SCARBOROUGH:  Romney has been at 10 percent for the past six months. 

Romney‘s numbers aren‘t collapsing.  He‘s up 10 percentage points. 

MITCHELL:  I‘m talking about Rudy. 

(CROSS TALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  No, but what I‘m saying is Rudy‘s people are selling this Romney thing.  Rudy has collapsed, but those Rudy people aren‘t going to Huckabee, they‘re going to Romney. 

HARWOOD:  Romney does not have a surge in the states where it counts right now, that‘s the issue. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m waiting, for—as you said this morning, Joe, I‘m waiting for the Bush family to show its hand here.  George senior basically introducing him during his religious speech.  I get the feeling that down there in Florida, in your state, we‘re going see some Bush action for Romney.  I think every vote that Rudy loses in the next couple of weeks is going to Romney. 

Thank you, Andrea Mitchell.  Thank you, John Harwood.  Thank you, Joe Scarborough.  Get up early tomorrow, Joe.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for TUCKER.

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

END   

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