updated 1/22/2008 12:42:40 PM ET 2008-01-22T17:42:40

Guests: Jim Cramer, Joan Walsh, Michael Crowley, Jay Carney

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Saturday night fights: McCain versus Huckabee, Clinton versus Obama.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Tomorrow voters in Nevada and Republican voters in South Carolina get to step up and pick a president.  In a moment, we‘ll talk about what‘s at stake in both events on Saturday.  Plus: Most polls now show that the economy is emerging as the number one issue in the 2008 presidential election.  Later, Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC‘s “Mad Money,” is going to tell us about the politics of the economy.  And are the candidates melting down on the campaign trail?  HARDBALL‘s David Shuster takes the temperature on the road to the White House.

We begin with NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell and Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC‘s “MORNING JOE.”  Let‘s start answering attacks.  Let‘s go right now to the question of Nevada.  Let‘s talk about Clinton in Nevada, Obama in Nevada and Edwards in Nevada.  Andrea Mitchell, Hillary Clinton seems to have been creeping up in the polls out there beyond expectations.  What‘s it all about?  If she wins in Nevada, it seems to me, after all this hoopla about how Obama has the big union out there, Unite—if she wins despite all that, doesn‘t she sort of move into the lead clearly here?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Obama has the expectation game right now and probably has too much of an expectation that he‘s going to win.  So clearly, if she were to pull this off in Nevada, that is a big win for her.  I don‘t think we can trust any of the polls in Nevada.  They don‘t know—I‘ve talked to both camps they don‘t know who is going to come out.

And Edwards is a factor there.  This could be a three-way race.  All of them have some union support.  She has the Harry Reid organization supporting, even though he has not endorsed, the majority leader.  And Obama, of course, has the Culinary Workers, who got that court ruling that says that they can go to their caucuses right on the job, right on the strip.

MATTHEWS:  Joe Scarborough, let‘s look out to Nevada right now think about this race.  It seems to me, it‘s a Saturday night, it‘s a big Sunday story the next day.  We‘re going to have results late afternoon tomorrow, it looks like, at MSNBC.  We‘re going to know who won this.

It just seems to me if Hillary Clinton wins this one, after all the hoopla and hopes in some quarters about Barack Obama winning two in a row, this one then winning in South Carolina next week, that she‘s back in the lead big-time.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “MORNING JOE”:  Boy, I‘ll tell you what, a Nevada win would be very big for Hillary Clinton.  Obviously, everybody‘s talking about Barack Obama.  The expectations game, as you know, especially these early primary states, are so important because, Chris, you always talk about the candidates who will lose by seven, eight, nine percentage points and still be called the winners.  You‘ll talk about that time in 1984 when Walter Mondale won one state and he lost, what, eight or nine, declared the winner.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, seven out of nine.

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s all an expectations game.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  Yes.  It‘s all an expectations game early on, And Barack Obama is on the losing end of that situation right now in Nevada.

MATTHEWS:  Because he‘s been set up as the probable winner, right?

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, sure, we all expect him to win.  I will tell you, Hillary Clinton and actually Mitt Romney played the expectation games for tomorrow fantastic.  I mean, you‘ve got Hillary Clinton, who now has complained so much about this lawsuit—or people have complained so much about this lawsuit that if she ends up winning, then it‘s another “comeback kid” moment for Hillary.

Likewise, Mitt Romney came in here to South Carolina, saying, Well, you know what?  If I finish fourth place, that won‘t be that much of a surprise.  He‘s going to do very well in Nevada.  And you can rest assured, tomorrow night, he will be talking about having the most delegates coming out of this Saturday and also out of the first contest on the Republican side.  So expectations looks like it‘s going to favor Hillary and Romney tomorrow.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s stay on this—on Nevada here again.

MITCHELL:  Well, it is the first state where Hispanics will really be heard.  And late today, more phone calls back and forth because of a 527 group supporting Obama but not “connected,” quote, unquote, to his campaign, telling people in Spanish that the Hillary Clinton campaign is trying to disenfranchise them through this lawsuit by stopping them from going to their caucuses.  So there‘s a lot of stuff going on there.  Not quite as bad as South Carolina, which we‘ll get to in a moment, but...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go to South Carolina.

MITCHELL:  ... it‘s pretty bad.

MATTHEWS:  You start, Andrea.  It seems to me that John McCain, if he were to pull it—hey, let‘s give him a break here, an upset at this point because he‘s got to beat the evangelical candidate, Huckabee.  If John McCain wins after losing in Michigan and having won in New Hampshire, some people think he will be the national candidate.  He will be the one that Republicans are going to.

MITCHELL:  Well, he is certainly more and more the establishment choice.  And if he were to pull this off in South Carolina with the support of military families—there are 400,000 military and retired military in South Carolina...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  ... it would be a very big deal.  But going against him, the evangelical fervor, the Huckabee personality, the whole momentum behind Huckabee, who says tonight, I‘m going to win, has already declared that.  So certainly, the expectations are all in Huckabee‘s corner right now.  If McCain were to win, I think he could, you know, move on into Florida and go all the way.

MATTHEWS:  Joe, what‘s your thinking about this?  Can McCain—this is always hard, the Republican Party, to figured it out this year.  It‘s so diverse.  Is this McCain‘s chance to step up and become the clear, well, go-to candidate for the Republican nomination?

SCARBOROUGH:  There just isn‘t—I mean, there is not an establishment Republican candidate.  Look at the guys who‘ve won South Carolina since 1980, true establishment candidates, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and then Bob Dole, and then George W. Bush.  John McCain will never occupy that space because he‘s spent the past eight years doing what a lot of us have done in Washington, and that is tweaking the Republican establishment.

They will never embrace this guy.  They may end up having to deal with him. But if he wins South Carolina, that certainly, though, will take him a step closer to the nomination.

I think, though, with McCain and Huckabee, you have two guys that guaranteed a victory coming in here.  I don‘t know that a victory for either of them will put them on the way to the nomination, but certainly know that a loss to either one of them is going to be pretty devastating.  If Huckabee can‘t win here, he can‘t win anywhere.  And if John McCain loses five—loses two primaries within five days, it‘s going to be awfully hard for him to get any momentum going into Florida.

MATTHEWS:  Well, answering attacks from Huckabee‘s supporters—

Huckabee supporters, John McCain has a new Web ad out featuring none other than Mike Huckabee.  Let‘s watch.  This is McCain‘s production.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE ®, ARKANSAS:  Senator McCain, no matter what anyone may say, is a genuine conservative.

John McCain‘s a hero in this country.  He‘s a hero to me.

But if you look at his record, he‘s got a solid record on things that really matter—in pro-life, he‘s strong for our country‘s defense and security.

John McCain is a true, honest to God American hero.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m John McCain, and I approved this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Andrea, it‘s one of those things where they obviously pulled it together like the movie “Bullfinger,” where they pulled together all these outtakes of him saying nice things and make it look like an endorsement.

MITCHELL:  I love it!  I mean, it shows the sense of humor that John McCain has.  And the fact is that John McCain has to combat all of these push-polls and leaflets saying that he was a traitor.  I mean, how anyone could even believe that...

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know how you get through the night.  I have a hard time getting to bed some nights.  Imagine going to bed at night, having spent five-and-a-half years over in the Hanoi Hilton, Joe, and then getting up in the middle of the night and thinking, That SOB is out there saying I sold out my country one of those nights over there.  What do you do with that?

MITCHELL:  He passed (ph) an exit visa.  You know, his father, the admiral...

SCARBOROUGH:  You know what you do?  You know what you do...

MITCHELL:  ... was given the right to get him out, and he passed it up.

MATTHEWS:  What do you do with that, Joe?

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, I‘ll tell you what you do with that.  You embrace it.  If I were John McCain and somebody had said that about me, I would be starting every speech with that.  I would be going—that‘s an ad that is so ham-fisted, that is so classless, that‘s so tacky that it will help John McCain.  And certainly, if John McCain doesn‘t talk about it, his surrogates should be going around, passing copies of that commercial around because, again, all it will do is turn off voters here in South Carolina and make John McCain a much more sympathetic figure.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about couple of guys who have to show something tomorrow night in South Carolina.  One is big Fred Thompson.  A lot of people thought—I was one of them for a moment or two—that this guy was going to be hard to beat.  He‘s Mr. Television.  He has that Reagan television background, very likable personality, deep Southern accent, Senate career—Fred Thompson.  Is this his last appearance?

MITCHELL:  Well, he‘s got to do well.  He has got to place well in South Carolina because he‘s staked it all on South Carolina.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Joe, let me ask you about Fred Thompson and then Giuliani because you‘re a Floridian, and Giuliani seems to be saying all this is undercard.  Don‘t pay attention to any of this stuff going on here.  Ignore New Hampshire, Iowa, Michigan and South Carolina because I‘m coming to you in Florida.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s start with Fred Thompson.  Is this his last picture show?  And the second one, what do you do with Giuliani?

SCARBOROUGH:  It really is.  I mean, Fred—it‘s disappointing that Fred Thompson was the one guy that could have been the Republican establishment candidate.  You look at his record, and unlike all of these other Republican candidates, there are no blind spots when it comes to being a real conservative.

But even people that like Fred, even people that would like to vote for him and the record that he has and like the old movie star aspect are just disappointed.  His heart doesn‘t seem to be in it, and he‘s just not out there working hard.  He just seems like he wants everybody to just sweep him up and give him the nomination.  That‘s not going to happen.

On the other side, on Rudy Giuliani, yes, you know, the Florida strategy may work.  The only problem is, he didn‘t do well in the Midwest.  He didn‘t do well in New England.  He‘s not going to do well in South Carolina.  And it‘s hard to see how he goes from single digits to suddenly going to a state as big and diverse as Florida and breaking into, like, double digits, getting 25, 30 percent and getting what it takes to win.  I just don‘t know how you do that.

It‘s not like Florida is so different culturally from a lot of these states, from Iowa or from South Carolina.  Republicans and Iowa and South Carolina are a lot like Republicans in Florida.  Why would only 3 percent support him in one state and 30 percent support him in another?

MATTHEWS:  You know, I try to write history books backwards, which gets me in trouble sometimes.  I try to imagine, after something‘s over, what we will think of as the time capsule, the most important elements of the decision in real time.  But since nobody has any memory of the past, they‘re unlikely to think much about the future.  But let‘s think about the future here.

It seems to me that the Republican Party may well face the first woman candidate, who has been controversial politically in the past and may well be again.  And everybody will say, What a great opportunity to hold the White House.  Hey, you got to take on the first pioneer woman.  You can probably have a good shot at her, 50-50, right?  But they don‘t seem like they‘re picking a candidate, Andrea.  You and I can‘t believe this.  I know you can‘t.  This was a juicy opportunity to take on a pioneer, you know, first-in-the-nation kind of candidacy, have a great candidate against her...

MITCHELL:  With high polarizing numbers.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  OK.  Where is the strong Republican candidate right now?  I don‘t see this person.

MITCHELL:  The Republican Party doesn‘t have a candidate.  And the best hope that Rudy Giuliani has, sitting there and waiting in Florida, is that they come out of South Carolina with a muddle, with chaos.  Chaos theory works for them.  With no clear frontrunner, with maybe a close race...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  ... McCain, Huckabee, with maybe Romney, whom we haven‘t talked about, picking up Nevada, where there are a lot of...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but even Rudy Giuliani comes in and picks up his 23 percent of the party.  I mean, where‘s the winner here?  Joe, I want to go to you.  Joe, do you see anything developing here in history for the Republicans to have a strong Republican candidate come November?

SCARBOROUGH:  No, I really don‘t.  It looks right now—if I had to bet money on somebody surviving the next three, four, five states, probably be Mike Huckabee because Mike Huckabee‘s going to get his slice of the evangelical vote...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... while everybody else cuts it up, and Mitt Romney because Mitt Romney has the money to write checks.  And also, he‘ll end up probably in second and third place.

But there‘s nobody that‘s going to break out of the pack right now that‘s going to be strong, I would guess, even after Super Tuesday.  This thing, as Chuck Todd said earlier, may well go into March, maybe even April.

MATTHEWS:  Maybe the advance billing of your convention, the Republican convention, I should say, down in St. Paul, Minnesota—not down, over in St. Paul, Minnesota—should be, “job opening.”

MITCHELL:  Well, a couple of things.  Mitt Romney sees the job opening focusing on the economy because he came out of Michigan so strong.  He has just anted up.  In an interview with our own John Harwood, he‘s gone to $250 billion stimulus, so he now has the biggest stimulus package.

MATTHEWS:  Joe, thanks for the wonderful words this morning on “MORNING JOE.”  I watch you all the time.  I watched it with particular attention and joy this morning, sir.  Thank you.  We‘ll work again.  And I will be your sub, your happy substitute next Tuesday for three hours.  I‘ll see if I‘ve got three hours of talk in me.  I think I do.

SCARBOROUGH:  I think you do.

MATTHEWS:  I think I do!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Joe Scarborough...

SCARBOROUGH:  I think you can do it.

MATTHEWS:  ... of “MORNING JOE.”

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘m proud to have you there.  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  And Andrea Mitchell of NBC News.

Coming up: It‘s becoming a big issue on the campaign trail, the terrible-looking economy.  Today President Bush called for an economic shot in the arm.  Is it enough to turn things around?  I‘m going to ask Cramer, Jim Cramer, coming up, from CNBC, if anything the politicians are talking about right now will make any difference.  Is anybody saying anything smart that‘s going to turn this economy back to a good side?  He‘s already shaking his head.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My advisers and many outside experts expect that our economy will continue to grow over the coming year, but at a slower rate than we have enjoyed for the past few years.  And there is a risk of a downturn.  Continued instability in the housing and financial markets could cause additional harm to our overall economy and put our growth and job creation in jeopardy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  God, from the looks of the vice president, there is a downturn.

Welcome back to HARDBALL.  On the heels of yesterday‘s stock market plunge—another plunge—President Bush warned of an economic downturn and called for passage of a stimulus package that includes tax cuts.  But will this be enough to head off a recession, or is this just too little, too late?  And which of the presidential candidates—this is my favorite question—is saying something smart and useful about the economy on either side, Democrat or Republican.

We‘ve got expert here, Jim Cramer, who‘s host of CNBC‘s “MAD MONEY” weeknights at 6:00 and 11:00 Eastern time.  His new book is called “Jim Cramer‘s Stay Mad for Life.”  Cramer, you‘re a genius.  I ask you to be a genius.  I‘m setting you up.  I want to know, is anyone out there, of all the candidates, Rs or Ds, saying something that actually would help the economy either take a softer landing or get through this with a little more positive nature?

JIM CRAMER, HOST, “MAD MONEY”:  No.  There are some who understand that interest rates are too high, but they‘re not forceful about it because Ben Bernanke gets a level of respect that, frankly, I find despairing.  I mean, I cannot believe that this man, who has done—and look, I‘m respectful of the Fed chairman, always have been, Volcker, Greenspan.  But Ben Bernanke is not doing a good job.  No one ever criticizes him.  The Hill testimony this week was horrible.  I know that‘s not candidates (ph).  But I‘ve got to tell you, the stimulus package...

MATTHEWS:  Well, why don‘t you explain that because...

CRAMER:  ... that doesn‘t do anything.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  We all studied in school that monetary policy, increasing the supply of money (INAUDIBLE) lower interest rates, gives the economy more juice.  It‘s going to be more helpful in the very short run.  Whereas all these fiscal tools, these tax rate changes, these spending level changes, take forever to have an impact, and they rarely, to me, have never made much difference except in the very long run.

CRAMER:  Amen!  Amen!  What—you know, thank you for just saying it like that!  We all know that!  Everybody who has run half a billion dollars in his life knows that!  It is embarrassing!  I mean, the president, all these people, pandering about giving money, so what, so we can go buy a suit at Men‘s Warehouse so we can help the quarter at Nike?  I mean, this is ridiculous, $150 million, I mean, maybe it‘ll say, I‘ll go buy a dress for somebody.  I mean, it‘s crazy!

MATTHEWS:  Well, why do they—well, just so everybody understands

why you‘re so excited and why I obviously agree with you, is that they

believe somehow that if everybody buys a new pair of sneakers for the kids

where the kid does need a new pair of sneakers, I‘m all for that.  But does anybody believe that‘s going to cause an economic bonanza that‘s going to reverse the business cycle?

CRAMER:  No!  No.  But there is an element—there is something that I would urge all the candidates to think about, and our treasury secretary...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CRAMER:  ... which is that there are a group of insurance companies that insure all these bad mortgages.

And, Chris, they‘re—I think they‘re all about to go belly up.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CRAMER:  And that will cause the Dow Jones to decline 2,000 points.  They have got to be shut down and the insurance given to new resolution trust.  This is going to happen in maybe two, three weeks, Chris.

It‘s going to be on the front of every paper.  And no one in Washington is even willing to admit it. 

MATTHEWS:  So, what are—who are you including in these mortgage companies that are going to go belly up?  Give me a description. 

CRAMER:  This is MBIA and Ambac on big—these are the ones.

Remember, Merrill wrote down a lot of stuff the other day, and Citigroup?

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CRAMER:  All these companies are relying on insurance to save them. 

The insurers don‘t have enough money. 

There‘s also personal mortgage insurance.  PMI is a company there that does it, MGIC.  Chris, I am telling you these companies do not have the capital to make good.  And, when they do fall—I believe it is when—if the government doesn‘t have a plan in action, you will not be able to open the stock market when they collapse. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re talking about a 2,000-point drop in the Dow...

CRAMER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  ... if the government acts. 

CRAMER:  No, if the government doesn‘t see this problem.  No one is even talking about it. 

No...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CRAMER:  I mean, other than the New York State‘s superintendent of insurance, because he‘s worried about...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CRAMER:  ... muni bondholders, I have not heard a single politician mention the fact that these major insurers, who have insured $450 billion of mortgages, are all about to go under. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Let‘s talk politics.  Don Straszheim, who used to be chief economist -

you probably know him—at Merrill for all those years...

CRAMER:  Smart guy.  Smart guy, knew about China.

MATTHEWS:  ... he used to have a thing called the pocketbook index—

I used to follow it all the time—which was absolute predict for presidential elections.  And it took away the jobs of pundits and pollsters.

All you needed to know was whether real per capital personal income went up or down the year before the election to predict the election.

CRAMER:  Right.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  So, here we are, in the middle of an election year.  Do you believe that the personal income per capita is going to go down this year?  Do you believe we‘re going to see a decline in economic well-being of most people?  Therefore; does that mean the Democrats will win, no matter if they run Hillary, Barack, Edwards, or anybody? 

CRAMER:  I disagree with the qualifier of most people. 

I‘m trying to find, other than maybe a couple hedge fund managers, anyone who is going to have an up year and be worth more this time next year.  I don‘t know a soul, whether it be because of the housing market, the incredible decline already in the stock market, the job stagnation, the incredible layoffs I foresee. 

I mean, look, how about a—how about just a run-the-table grand sweep for the Democrats?  It is that bad out there. 

MATTHEWS:  And it does meet the standard of an economy that turns the politics of the country upside down?

CRAMER:  Oh, totally. 

I mean, I don‘t think anyone—you know, Hank Paulson is a smart guy. 

But I—I think something must have happened when you get to become

treasury secretary with President Bush, where I guess, you know, it‘s like

it‘s like Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo‘s Nest.” 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CRAMER:  I mean, I can‘t believe this stuff is happening.

How come they cannot address this mortgage issue, which is just going to—and I‘m not talking about the forgiveness plan.  I‘m talking about the insurers.  And they understand it.  I don‘t think the president is sophisticated enough, but the treasury secretary certainly is. 

The Fed chairman may not be sophisticated enough. 

MATTHEWS:  What...

CRAMER:  And he‘s running the Fed as a Princeton debating society.  I didn‘t to go Princeton.  I do like that whole kind of black and orange color scheme they have got. 

MATTHEWS:  I like these ads that come on and say, if you have got a balloon mortgage that‘s—you now have to pay up on, because it was low rates—now the rates are spiking—just switch over to this other company. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Please don‘t name the name of it.  Because then everything is going to be all right.  You are going to have a low-interest, fixed mortgage. 

I mean, where do these—is there such a thing, or does it just stretch out your loan?

CRAMER:  No.  No.  Seven million people bought the teaser rates that Alan Greenspan and Bernanke told us would be really good financial engineering, seven million people.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CRAMER:  These are all resetting at a rapid—between 2005 and 2007 -

rapid resetting.  These are people who walking away from their homes or hunkering down.  And they‘re—these are dog-food eaters and squatters, my friend. 

And you know, look...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CRAMER:  ... I have been a bull for—how many years have you known me as a bull? 

MATTHEWS:  Are you a bear? 

CRAMER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CRAMER:  And we‘re in bear market. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  When is the recession begin and when does two quarters, successive quarters of economic downturn commence, sir?

CRAMER:  It started in December. 

MATTHEWS:  I speak as a former grad student in economics.  What...

CRAMER:  It started in December.  That‘s when the recession started. 

MATTHEWS:  So, we‘re heading towards a bad six months?

CRAMER:  I have never—this is the worst Christmas—this is really

it‘s a bad time.  And I try to give hope to people.

MATTHEWS:  Is there a floor on the market?  Please tell me this, for my own good.  Is there a floor on the Dow? 

CRAMER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  At some point, is there a ratchet effect on this elevator, where it stops falling below certain floors? 

CRAMER:  Yes, because interest rates are so low.

And that‘s another thing.  How come they don‘t—the president and Federal Reserve chairman don‘t—interest rates are so low because it‘s seemingly a very serious recession.  So, there‘s a lot of Dow stocks that yield more than treasuries do.  The 10-year treasury yields 3.6. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CRAMER:  So, you can buy—any of the stocks in the Dow that yield more than 4 percent are going to give you lot of safety.  And that‘s a lot of them.  So, you could have a floor because of that. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what my strategy is?  Capital preservation. 

Thank you very much, Jim Cramer of CNBC.

CRAMER:  You‘re smart.  You‘re smart. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

My guy has been smart.  His name is Dan Saunders (ph).  He‘s at Wachovia.

And I hope you‘re watching, Dan, because you‘re my man. 

Up next:  Hillary...

CRAMER:  Be careful that about Wachovia stock!  It‘s getting hammered.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Hillary Clinton talks about Bill‘s infidelity with Tyra Banks, the model and talk show host. 

Here it is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TYRA BANKS SHOW”)

TYRA BANKS, HOST, “THE TYRA BANKS SHOW”:  Were you embarrassed? 

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, you know, I was...

BANKS:  I would be embarrassed. 

CLINTON:  Well, sure, I mean, all of that, but I also—I was just praying so hard and thinking so hard about, what‘s right to do?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  More from Hillary, plus the “Big Number” a lot of you have been waiting for. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

So, what else is new out there, politically speaking?

Well, remember when the Democratic candidates were asked about their biggest weaknesses in that debate last week, you know, personal shortcomings?  That was in Tuesday night‘s debate sponsored by MSNBC.

Well, here is Barack Obama sizing up his opponents‘ answers to that question. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  So, I said, well, you know, I don‘t hang on to paper real well.  My desk is a mess.  So, I need people to help me, filing, and keeping on schedule, and things like that. 

And, so, my two colleagues, Senator Edwards says:  My biggest weakness is, I‘m just so passionate about poor people and helping them. 

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  And then Hillary says:  I—my biggest weakness is, I‘m so impatient to bring about real change in America. 

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  I didn‘t—nobody had clued me in...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  ... that, you know—see, if I had gone last, I would have said, my biggest weakness, I like to help old ladies across the street. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, he didn‘t know it was a fraternity hazing. 

Anyway, now—I mean, he was honest.  The others were a little less than that. 

Now here is Senator Clinton appearing on “The Tyra Banks Show.”  The presidential candidates is answering questions here about what happened back in 1998.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TYRA BANKS SHOW”)

BANKS:  How did you persevere during the darkest moment in your life? 

CLINTON:  Well, because I had tremendous faith, number one.  I really had to dig down deep and think hard about what was right for me, what was right for my family. 

And I never—I never doubted Bill‘s love for me, ever.  And I never doubted my—my faith and my commitment to our daughter and our extended family. 

But I had to decide what I had to do.  And I think it‘s so important to be able to hear yourself at a moment when it‘s hard.  It might be a family issue.  It might be a job issue.  There are so many times when you really have to listen toe yourself. 

BANKS:  Were you embarrassed? 

CLINTON:  Well, you know, I was...

BANKS:  I would be embarrassed. 

CLINTON:  Well, sure, I mean, all of that, but I also—I was just praying so hard and thinking so hard about what‘s right to do, that I couldn‘t let anything else interfere with that. 

You know, the momentary feelings—you know, you‘re mad.  You‘re really upset.  You‘re disappointed.  All of that goes through your mind.  But I have found you really shouldn‘t make decisions in the heat of those moments.  You have to think about it.

(CROSSTALK)

BANKS:  Do women come up to you and ask for advice?  My husband...

CLINTON:  Yes. 

BANKS:  Senator Clinton, my husband stepped out on me.  And it‘s...

CLINTON:  Right.  Right. 

BANKS:  And I‘m going through hell right now.  What do I do?

CLINTON:  Right. 

BANKS:  Have they done that? 

CLINTON:  Yes.

BANKS:  What do you say?

CLINTON:  All the time. 

BANKS:  What do you say? 

CLINTON:  I say, you have to be true to yourself. 

You know, no one story is the same as any other story.  I don‘t know your reality.  I can‘t possibly substitute my judgment for yours.  But what I can tell you is, you must be true to yourself.  You have to do what is right for you. 

BANKS:  That‘s a good...

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON:  And that may not be what anybody else believes.

BANKS:  But it‘s right for you. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Elsewhere, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson took a major whack at Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson today in “The Washington Post” for—quote—“dissing the effort to control the spread and horror of AIDS in Africa.”

In a piece entitle “Callous Conservative,” Gerson—that was Bush‘s speechwriter—says that Fred Thompson is guilty of anti-government extremism.  He says this because of what Thompson said about AIDS in Africa. 

Here is what Thompson said—quote—“I‘m not going to go around the state and the country with regards to a serious problem and say that I‘m going to prioritize that.  With people dying of cancer, and heart disease, and children dying of leukemia still, I got to tell you, we have got a lot of problems here, in this country”—end quote. 

For undermining the effort to fight AIDS in Africa, where tens of millions have already died and are dying, Gerson says—quote—“Thompson is picking on the most vulnerable people on the planet.”

That‘s former President—that‘s President Bush‘s former speechwriter talking about a current candidate, Fred Thompson. 

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

Americans, as you know, are ready to see a change in the White House, a lot of them, at least.  A lot of people think this country is stuck in a rut.  All kinds of matters, we‘re stuck, like in the Iraq war.  We‘re still there.  A weakening economy is getting weaker.  And they want change.

So, for all of you out there who do want to see something new, I offer you tonight‘s “Big Number”: 365.  After this weekend, that‘s the number of days President Bush still has in office, exactly one year, and not a day more, or less -- 365, that‘s our “Big Number” tonight, the number of days until the end of this administration. 

Up next:  From Mitt Romney to Bill Clinton, tempers are flaring on the campaign trail.  There‘s a meltdown, some people think, out there, in terms of people‘s fatigue and irritability and tempers.

And, tomorrow, join me and Keith Olbermann, beginning at 6:00 Eastern, for live coverage of the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina primary results.  We will get to the Nevada caucuses late tomorrow afternoon, but we‘re going to those big results from South Carolina, which will tell us so much about John McCain and Huckabee and the rest of them, later on in the evening tomorrow night. 

So, it‘s the Friday night fights tomorrow night.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks continued to fall on concern that President Bush‘s economic stimulus plan will fail to present—prevent a recession.  The Dow industrials dropped almost 60 points.  For the week, the Dow was down 507 points.  The S&P 500 fell eight points today.  The Nasdaq lost almost seven points. 

President Bush called for up to $150 billion in tax relief to jump-start the economy—the White House reportedly looking for rebates of up to $800 for individuals, $1,600 for married couples.  The president also called for tax incentives for businesses. 

Sprint Nextel announced plans to cut 4,000 jobs and close 125 retail stores.  The wireless phone company says it sees slower growth ahead. 

And oil prices rose just slightly, climbing 44 cents in New York, closing at $90.57 a barrel. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL,

With this presidential campaign kicking off earlier than ever before, the candidates are often running on fumes.  They‘re dog-tired.  And it‘s no surprise nerves get frayed, gaffes get made.

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster is there on the trial to pick up the pieces. 

I know, David, you have been waiting for this piece.  Columbia, South Carolina, there you are...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... the bad news bear.  Here it is. 

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, that‘s right. 

I mean, and for Mike Huckabee and John McCain, this was a very intense and exhausting day.  The Republican front-runners here in South Carolina each had half-a-dozen events and rallies across the state.  And the wear and tear were certainly quite evident with John McCain. 

We want to play a sound bite for you of John McCain at an event in Florence, South Carolina, where a voter asked him a question about military veterans‘ benefits. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have never supported amnesty, nor have I supported Social Security benefits for veterans—I mean for—whoops.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  Never for veterans. 

We were talking—for illegal immigrants. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  See what I say?  The heck with you veterans. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  Now, McCain, as he always does, recovered in pretty humorous fashion, and he recovered well enough, in fact, Chris, that he fired a line, saying that his record had consistent on issues of life.  That was, of course, a shot at Mitt Romney‘s flip-flops on abortion. 

As for Mike Huckabee, he told his supporters that everything is riding on the vote tomorrow here in South Carolina.  He practically begged his supporters to brave the snow and rain that‘s expected and give him a victory. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  My challenge is, if you‘re going to vote for me, I don‘t care if it snows six feet tomorrow.

(LAUGHTER)

HUCKABEE:  Get out to the polls.  If you‘re afraid of that, vote today. 

If you‘re not going to vote for me, it‘s just too bad a day tomorrow to go out there and vote. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Now, that really wasn‘t a gaffe.  It was just Mike Huckabee expressing perhaps a little bit of nervousness about the weather. 

But, in any case, Chris, Mitt Romney, of course, was in Nevada today.  Mormons dominate the Republican caucuses there, and Romney is expected to coast. 

But back here in South Carolina, there‘s still quite a buzz over that confrontation that Mitt Romney had yesterday with the reporter.  Romney was here in Columbia.  He was trying to portray himself as a Washington outsider.  He made a comment that was then challenged by the reporter and Romney lashed out.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  I don‘t have lobbyist running my campaign.  I don‘t have lobbyist that are tied to my—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That is not true.  Ron Kaufman (ph) is a lobbyist. 

ROMNEY:  Did you hear what I said?  I said I don‘t have lobbyists running my campaign and he‘s not running my campaign. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He is one of your senior advisers. 

ROMNEY:  He‘s an adviser.  The person who runs my campaign is Beth Myers and I have a whole staff of deputy campaign managers. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Has Beth Myers been on the plane with you? 

ROMNEY:  Beth Myers has been on the plane with me and Beth Myers is running my campaign.  Absolutely.  Do I know—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So Ron‘s just there as window dressing?  He‘s a potted plant? 

ROMNEY:  Ron is a wonderful friend and adviser.  He‘s not paid.  He‘s an adviser like many others.  But I do not have lobbyists running my campaign. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  These kinds of exchanges between tense candidates and sometimes feisty reporters tend to happen far more often than most voters appreciate.  But this is now because of the cameras that are everywhere—this is now the second straight election cycle where we have been able to see videotape of events that seem rather striking.  It was just two years ago when Virginia Senator George Allen was being trailed by a young man videotaping him.  Allen referred to the young man as Makaka, a term that can refer to monkeys. 

The lesson then and now is that when candidates are in public, Chris, their judgment is always being recorded, whether they are tired, exhausted, exasperated or not.  Chris? 

MATTHEWS:  OK, couldn‘t resist to bring Makaka for one more appearance.  Shuster, thank you—

SHUSTER:  We were going to play the audio there, Chris, but I knew you‘d get mad. 

MATTHEWS:  Thanks for what you said on MORNING JOE this morning.  You are my pal.  Joining me now, Kevin Corke, who also has been on the campaign trail.  Kevin, give me your golden oldies—actually newest hits.  What are the best sites of anger out on the campaign trail? 

KEVIN CORKE, NBC NEWS ANALYST:  You don‘t always see it from the candidates.  These guys and these women are obviously very, very skilled.  They‘re disciplined and you expect that.  But what you don‘t see out there is they‘re surrogates.  These people that work on the campaigns, the folks that really make the campaigns go, they get right after you. 

I don‘t mean just what you write or what you report or what you might comment on, anything that happens in your entire network, they‘re going to get—it‘s not just them.  It‘s the blogs.  It‘s these other people.  We‘re sort of used to it, I think, at this point now in dealing with it.  What‘s changed is, it used to be sort of a hey, look, we sort of spar a little bit.  We get back on the bus and everything‘s fine.  But they‘re really keeping a close eye.  Sometimes I think not only are emotions out there, I think sometimes the relationships get frayed. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s look at President Clinton here responding to a reporter about—Clinton supporters who is trying to ban casinos at caucus sites tomorrow. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 

When you ask me that question, your position is that you think the culinary workers vote should count—A, it should be easier for them to vote than for anybody else in Nevada that has to work.  That‘s your first position. 

Second, when they do vote, their votes will count five times as much as anybody else.  That‘s what the teachers are questioning.  If that‘s your position, you have to get on your television and say, I don‘t care about the whole mortgage crisis.  All I care about is making sure that some voters have it easier than others and that when they do vote, when it‘s already easier for them, their vote should count five times as much as others.  That is your position, because you want to take that position.

Get on the television and take it.  Don‘t be accusatory with me.  Some people in Nevada are old fashioned.  They think rules should be the same for everybody and votes should—everybody‘s vote should count the same.  I had nothing to do with that lawsuit.  You know it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But the timing of the lawsuit with the endorsement does look to some people like—

CLINTON:  Do you believe—your position is it should be easier for them to vote than anybody else who works in the afternoon.  Your position is their vote should count five times as much, is that right? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m just saying, those were the rules that were agreed to in March by those same people that are bringing the lawsuit. 

CLINTON:  None of them knew that the votes were rigged that way.  They found that out later. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that?  You could go through that weeds. 

CORKE:  Let me tell you, you see the finger pointing?  He didn‘t do the wag.  I kept waiting for him to do the wag.  But, anyway, let me say something. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the finger point generally mean when he‘s on the trail?  It means, I‘m really mad? 

CORKE:  It does.  I think he‘s obviously very defensive of what his wife is trying to do.  But I think in a broader sense, Chris, what you‘re seeing out there is I think you‘re seeing a lot of campaigns that are working incredible hours, as you know, incredible pressure, quite frankly.  This compacted political calendar I think has put lot more pressure on everybody.  I think you‘re going to see a little bit more of this as we go along, absolutely, 100 percent. 

MATTHEWS:  Thanks, keep giving us the bad news, Kevin.  I get tired, too, occasionally.  Thank you, Kevin.  Up next, on the eve of the all-important South Carolina primary, we‘ve got our Friday politics fix coming at you.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  Time now for the political fix, the politics fix.  Here to dig into it in South Carolina and Nevada are “Salon‘s,” Joan Walsh, “The New Republic‘s” Michael Crowley, and “Time Magazine‘s” Jay Carney. 

Let‘s take look at South Carolina.  I think the hottest story this weekend is whether John McCain can go national if he wins down there, which I‘m not sure he will at all.  He could become something of the national figure for the Republicans, I think.  I want to check that with everybody. 

Let‘s look at these numbers now.  Look at the numbers.  We can all read them together, 27 percent for McCain, really not ahead of Huckabee, who may have a big evangelical base to pop up there in the weather, whatever it is; Romney at 15, Thompson 13, the rest below them. 

Let me go to Jay, it seems to me that John McCain is sort of—his engine seems to hesitate, and the question is will it stall?  If he wins tomorrow night I think it‘s got some power and he may be the national leader of the Republican party going into November.  What do you think? 

JAY CARNEY, “TIME MAGAZINE”:  Well, I think you‘re right.  I think the party is in an identity crisis.  I think it‘s searching around for a standard bearer.  And while McCain was never a natural front runner or establishment candidate, and that‘s why he flopped last summer, if he wins South Carolina and proves that he can win some Republican votes and proves that he can win somewhere else besides New Hampshire, for lack of an alternative, he becomes I think the sort of establishment favorite and the front runner in a race that‘s still very messy. 

But, as you say, I think South Carolina is very hard to call.  And Mike Huckabee‘s supporters down there may be more passionate, may be more reliable voters.  We may see an upset, in which case, I think, you know, the party might just explode from confusion, because there will no clear front runner.  There will be a huge anti-Huckabee movement because of fears that he would threaten to sink the party in November.  So this gets more and more interesting and more exciting. 

MATTHEWS:  Joan, what do you think, same thing?  McCain loses we—once again it‘s wide open again with no—nobody winning this thing. 

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  McCain loses, it‘s total chaos.  Everyone‘s losing.  Everyone‘s running away from it.  I was also surprised now—you can see from the backdrop, I‘m in Nevada, Chris, and I‘m really spending a lot of time on the ground here.  But from what I saw today, I think Huckabee made a national error by embracing the pro-Confederate Flags folks.  He said, you know, you should stay out of the flag business.  We wouldn‘t want anybody telling us in Arkansas.  That was really, you know, the end of the compassionate conservative Mike Huckabee, to sort of step in that mess.  So I think it‘s wide open. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think? 

MICHAEL CROWLEY, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  You know, I think Rudy Giuliani is rooting for John McCain to lose in South Carolina.  I mean, I‘m one of the few people who still thinks that Rudy can pull a rabbit out of the hat.  He‘s been focusing on Florida.  No one else has really been down there.  Florida—there are ways in which you can see how it works for him.  I think everyone has been too quick to write him off.  And I think that if you have a big muddle, he can come back. 

But if McCain does win, people are yearning for a narrative; it‘s so confusing.  And if you start to see a thread where someone has won a couple of times, I think it goes a long way.  So it‘s huge for McCain if he wins.  But I really think Rudy Giuliani is rooting for—

MATTHEWS:  OK, I like the fact you‘re willing to stick your neck out.  Joan, it seems to me that with the economy tanking, all this bad news coming now, that everybody‘s been out there now for several months and years campaigning, and doing well, looks a little bit tired.  Is it possible that Giuliani coming in out of no where, the end of this month, can come in say, god, these guys are a bunch of losers out there.  They haven‘t talked about the most important thing.  I‘m going to cut corporate rates.  I‘m going to cut cap gains.  I‘ve got the big solution.  You haven‘t heard from me yet, here I am.  Joan Walsh? 

WALSH:  I love Michael Crowley and I love that he sticks his neck out like that, but I don‘t really think that‘s possible at all.  First of all, Rudy has spent a ton of money already.  He doesn‘t really have the bankroll to bring that argument.  Look, the more voters see of Rudy, the less they like him.  We saw that in New Hampshire. 

MATTHEWS:  You are so tough. 

WALSH:  That‘s how --  

MATTHEWS:  I know.  Let me to go Jay Carney, is it possible that Mike Crowley is correct? 

CARNEY:  It is always possible that Mike Crowely is correct because he‘s so smart.  But Rudy Giuliani is highly implausible.  And yet—and yet, Chris, in this race, I think McCain loses, party establishment figures freak out.  They tried Romney.  They tried McCain.  They tried other alternatives.  Giuliani may get the nod.  He may get the support.  And if Florida is the right place for him to start, which I think it is, we could see a Giuliani movement and he could take off. 

It would be stunning that somebody who actually lost to Ron Paul in several states would end up with the nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  But this year is funny. 

CROWLEY:  And he got nailed with bad press. 

CARNEY:  It‘s fantastic. 

CROWLEY:  He got nailed with some bad press that‘s behind him now. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be back to talk about this crazy year.  We‘ll be back with the round table to talk about the Democrats out in Nevada.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table. I think it is a crazy year.  We‘re doing the politics fix right now and I want to start right through this and see how good you people are.  We had such a great track record in New Hampshire, Jay Carney, I want to see if we can keep the winning streak predicting these things. 

Let me try to carve it up for us all.  Let‘s start with the Democratic

party.  If Hillary Clinton does pull what she I believe—her people are

setting up as an upset, although I have no idea how to predict these things

in Las Vegas, in Nevada this weekend at those caucuses, Jay, will she get some separation from Obama on that, as they say in football?  Will she be out there on the field far enough ahead of him that she can lose him at some point? 

CARNEY:  I think it will certainly help.  Yes, I‘m not sure if she will pull this upset because he has the culinary workers.  But if she does, I think it‘s a big win for her.  I think Obama still goes on to win South Carolina.  But it positions her well for Super Tuesday, in part because with the template of issues shifting toward the economy and recession, I think voters have a lot more economic anxiety.  They‘re looking for more concrete answers to their woes.  I think she‘s a better candidate for that.  They may be less willing to take a risk on somebody who inspires them, excites them, but doesn‘t give them a lot of details about how we would help their problem. 

So yes, I think a win tomorrow is big for Hillary.  I think she still has certain advantages going into Super Tuesday even if she loses tomorrow and South Carolina. 

MATTHEWS:  Michael?

CROWLEY:  I think the stakes are higher for Hillary.  If she wins, she‘s sort of averts disaster.  If she loses, Obama almost certainly wins South Carolina.  Probably either way. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there any chance that the “New Republic” will endorse Obama?   

CROWLEY:  I don‘t think we‘re going to endorse in the primary, I don‘t think so. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Joan on that same question.  Hillary, I still think it‘s Hillary‘s big chance this weekend to get some distance from Obama if she pulls an upset, because I think South Carolina has been portrayed, because of ethnic reasons, as kind of like a favorite son situation for Barack. 

WALSH:  Right.  I think, you know, he got a big boost from the culinary workers endorsement.  However, I‘m seeing kind of a backlash on that.  I was just on a conference call with Delores Fuertes (ph) and Tony Viragosa (ph), who were saying that a Latinos are feeling pushed around.  The Union Unite Here did a very, very nasty TV and radio ad calling her shameless, saying she‘s an enemy of Latinos.  There‘s a backlash. 

MATTHEWS:  Against whom? 

WALSH:  A little against Obama, against the early endorsement and the perception that people are being really rowdy.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, Joan Walsh.  Thank you, Michael Crowley. 

Thank you, Jay Carney.  All Irish tonight.

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

END   

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