updated 1/22/2008 1:34:05 PM ET 2008-01-22T18:34:05

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Deborah Mathis, Paul Cellucci, Barbara Comstock, Frank Donatelli, Clarence Page, May. Michael Nutter, Stephen A. Smith, Pat Buchanan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  He‘s just my Bill.  The Clintons double-team Obama.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL, tonight from NBC News election headquarters in New York.  Tonight: The battle between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama heats up.  Former president Bill Clinton has played the bad cop for his wife‘s campaign, and now Barack Obama is fighting back.

Plus: The Republicans are gearing up for a championship fight down in Florida.  Can John McCain keep his winning streak going in this big winner-take-all state?  Could Florida deliver the knockout punch of Rudy Giuliani, or will it be Rudy‘s dynamite debut?  Who will win South Carolina?  The Democratic primary‘s this Saturday, and a big question is how the Clintons, Bill and Hillary both, will do bringing black voters to their side against Barack Obama.

And HARDBALL‘s “Big Number” tonight has a lot of candlepower, so you don‘t want to miss that one.

Finally, today the country honors the Reverend Martin Luther King. 

I‘ll say something about that later in the program.

But first, the political fight between former president Bill Clinton and presidential hopeful Barack Obama.  Eugene Robinson is a columnist for “The Washington Post” and Deborah Mathis is a columnist for Black America Web, and a former White House correspondent for Gannett News Service, who has covered the Clintons since way back in 1976.  Gene and Deborah, thank you both.

First of all, I need to know this, a check on feelings.  What are your feelings, Gene, and then Deborah, on this battle between an African-American of interesting background, Barack Obama, the first real possibility, I think, of a black president, and a woman, the first real possibility of a woman president, who‘s been obviously in a family associated with Civil Rights and black aspirations in this country.  What do you make of it, first, Deborah?

DEBORAH MATHIS, BLACK AMERICA WEB:  Well, I had hoped—I‘m 54 years old, and I have long said that I had hoped to live to see a woman as president and I hoped to live to see a black person as president.  It‘s something of a conundrum, however, to have both choices at once.  And so my feeling is that I think that it speaks a lot for the country that we‘ve gotten to the point where we can have a woman, and nobody is talking about time of the month, the way they used to with women candidates, and a black candidate who actually is on the registry (ph).

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go with it, Gene.  I know, Gene, you write a column, so you can have feelings, sir.  They are, please?

(LAUGHTER)

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, no, feelings, you have to step back from it and just say this is really historic.  And you know, I think to when we were all growing up, and you know, to think that such a thing was possible, a woman who could actually become president, an African-American who could actually become president, sounded absurd, sounded like something that we would not see in our lifetimes.  And the fact that we‘re seeing it now is—is just significant for the country.

As Deborah said, unfortunately, happens in the same year, so they can‘t both be president.  And judging by the tone of the campaign, it‘s not going to be that one‘s president and the other is vice president, either.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think so.

ROBINSON:  It doesn‘t sound like they‘re going to kiss and make up at the end of this one.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s go to the latest on that front.  Here‘s Hillary Clinton at today‘s march celebrating Dr. King.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We are here today to say with joy and celebration that we have come so far together.  You can see that on this stage, as both my distinguished friends and colleagues have said, Barack Obama, an extraordinary young African-American man with so much to contribute, John Edwards, a son of the South, in fact, a son of South Carolina, and a woman, all of us running for president of the United States of America!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Deborah Mathis, you know the Clintons pretty well.  You know Hillary Clinton pretty well, all these years going back.  God, 30 years.  What do you make of the—OK, I‘ll say it—young, with much to contribute?  Was that a little shiv thrown in there?  We‘ll see this guy later, but not just now.

MATHIS:  They‘re far too smart to say anything accidentally or anything whimsically.  That was one of those things that you can say where nobody can really indict you on it because it sounds like it‘s a true thing and it sounds like a nice thing.  But if you really look at the whole circumstance and put it in context, you realize that it was a plant.  I mean, it was there, certainly, to subliminally imply that he might be a little underage for this work.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, wet behind the ears, I think is the old expression, whatever that means.  I guess it‘s from washing the back of your ears or whatever.  Let me go to Gene.  Gene, the British, as you and I know and Deborah knows, are very good at those kind of insults they can deny are insults, but you know exactly what they‘re up to.  Is this one of those cleverly disguised putdowns, or was it just nice?

ROBINSON:  No, I mean, I think it probably was a cleverly disguised little putdown.  I mean, you know, they can do worse.  And so can Obama, actually.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, I can do worse!

ROBINSON:  We can all do worse.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  Look, you can‘t—nobody can say anything nasty on King Day, on the steps of the capitol in South Carolina, you know, a few days before the primary.  I mean, everybody‘s got to be nice to everybody else.  And indeed, everybody was.  I mean, John Edwards was gracious to the other two and Obama was gracious and everybody was gracious.  Behind the scenes, they‘re all being ungracious and looking at—looking ahead to Saturday and then looking beyond to Florida and trying to throw elbows and win this thing.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s both of you take a look at these two bites back to back.  Here‘s President Clinton, former president Clinton, talking to Tom Brokaw over the weekend.  And then we‘re going to follow it up with a bite—that‘s probably a good word for this one—a bite from Barack Obama talking about Bill Clinton, as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think he would

get a kick out of the fact that it appears that the nominee of the

Democratic Party would either be an African-American senator who‘s

profoundly eloquent, or a woman senator who got her Methodist youth

ministers to take her to see Dr. King when she was a young high school

student, who shared his lifelong commitment and who idolized him.  I think

and it does not appear that either one of them is losing any votes because of race or gender.  They may be gaining some votes because of race or gender, but that‘s to be expected.  We‘re still in this transition period.  I think it—I think that he would be deeply pleased by this.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Yes, the former president, who I think all of us have a lot of regard for, has taken his advocacy on behalf of his wife to a level that I think is pretty troubling.  You know, he continues to make statements that aren‘t supported by the facts, whether it‘s about my record of opposition to the war in Iraq or our approach to organizing in Las Vegas.  You know, this has become a habit, and one of the things that I think we‘re going to have to do is directly confront Bill Clinton when he‘s not making statements that are factually accurate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So you know, I have to ask Deborah, and then Gene, and both of you, separate this, “‘parse” it, is the new word.  We parse everything these days.  What‘s inbounds, what‘s fair ball, what‘s not fair ball?  Is it fair ball to take on Barack and say, OK, he‘s a little younger and we can trick people into thinking we‘ll get a chance to pick him later, in 8 or 16 years?  Is it fair ball to call him the rookie, as Magic Johnson called him the other day?  Is it fair ball to say he‘s a roll of the dice?  Is it a fair ball to say his position on the war is a fairy tale?  I mean, what is fair and what is sticking to the guy?  And if that‘s bad, is it something new and bad or just old and bad?  Deborah?

MATHIS:  Well, I think that all things that are current are fair.  I mean, they may not be pleasant, they may seem underhanded, but this is that game.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MATHIS:  This is politics and this is the utmost in politics.  And so that‘s the game.  But it‘s also game, then, for the person who is the subject of those attacks, if that‘s the word we want to use, to come back and defend himself or herself, as well.  So it‘s going to be some back-and-forth in this.

I just thought that it was kind of—it‘s all kind of interesting that today is not a real snapshot of this campaign.  This is a fluke, if you will.  Hillary Clinton on the steps of the capitol in South Carolina sounded as if she were introducing someone she is endorsing in Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MATHIS:  And you‘re not going to hear that ever again, I don‘t think.

MATTHEWS:  I just wonder whether the Clintons have—combined with history, have made Barack Obama a candidate for a black majority vote but a losing candidate with the overall national majority, Democratic majority, Gene, if this isn‘t something that has been confected here rather brilliantly by the Clintons.

ROBINSON:  Well, I do think that once the subject turned to race, I think the Clintons kept it there for at least a few days.  And I think a lot of what they‘ve said recently has tended to emphasize that he is a black candidate.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ROBINSON:  If they can marginalize him as that, then, you know, they get an advantage.  What fascinates me about President Clinton‘s attacks is that some of them seem to go beyond the rational, seem to be a bit emotional, almost—the fairy tale remark and the finger-pointing about voter suppression.  And I wonder if he‘s not just annoyed by what Barack Obama has said and believes about Bill Clinton‘s legacy, and that, you know, he was a good president, he did a lot of good stuff, but not as important a historical figure as Ronald Reagan, which I think is objectively true.  But I think that annoys Bill Clinton...

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re right.

ROBINSON:  ... and threatens the Clinton legacy to some extent.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s still—you know, I still think Bill Clinton, although he was a popular president—obviously, reelected—he‘s still trying to climb up on the Mt. Rushmore, and it‘s a pretty steep climb for anybody.  Thank you very much, Deborah Mathis.  Good to see you again, Deborah.  Thank you, Gene Robinson, as always.

Coming up: The battle for Florida is turning into a championship fight on the Republican side.  Can McCain move a step closer to winning this nomination by knocking out Rudy down there?  By the way, it‘s winner-take-all in Florida, first one of these big states, and this is a big state with a winner-take-all rule.  There‘s no cigar, as they used to say in politics, for the guy who comes in second.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Florida‘s Republican primary takes place a week from tomorrow and marks the first time all the major candidates will compete in the same state.  Rudy Giuliani has bet his whole candidacy for president on this state to catapult him to Super Tuesday the following week.  But can he compete with Romney‘s money and organization, McCain‘s two big wins so far and Huckabee‘s hold on social conservatives?

Frank Donatelli is a senior adviser for the McCain campaign, Barbara Comstock is senior adviser of Romney, and former Massachusetts governor Paul Cellucci‘s is a senior Giuliani adviser.

Let me start with Paul.  Governor, how does Rudy come off the bench and score 20 points?

PAUL CELLUCCI, GIULIANI SENIOR ADVISER:  Well, I think we all know that Florida now looms very large.  I think the voters in Florida recognize that.  And Rudy Giuliani‘s been barnstorming the state the last couple of weeks with a very strong economic message.  He‘s proposed the largest tax cut in our nation‘s history.  And Rudy has a record of taking on insurmountable problems and getting excellent results.

And I think the voters in Florida—there‘s a lot of rhetoric out there, but they‘re going to focus on who can get the results.  You know, Rudy—the tax burden went down in New York City 19 percent under his leadership.  In Massachusetts under Mitt Romney‘s leadership, the tax burden went up 10 percent, no broad-based tax relief.  John McCain repeatedly voted against tax reductions, including the Bush tax cut.

So you got people talking about cutting taxes.  There‘s only one candidate who‘s actually done it to benefit the people of New York City.  So I think the voters are going to look to who can get results, and that‘s Rudy Giuliani.

MATTHEWS:  Barbara, what‘s the story on your candidate?  I saw Bill Kristol today.  I know he‘s a McCain guy, in many—he‘s been a McCain guy for years, connected at the hip, I think, those two.  But how does this guy make the case, and how do you defend it, that your guy, Romney, should have campaigned in South Carolina this Saturday, this weekend, instead of going out and taking bows in Nevada?  He already had it won out there.  Why didn‘t he try to knock off McCain in South Carolina?  He‘d be the frontrunner now.

BARBARA COMSTOCK, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER:  Well, listen, I don‘t think there is any frontrunner right now, but he is—Governor Romney has competed in Iowa and New Hampshire.  He won Nevada over the weekend.  But he also won Wyoming.  He‘s been—you know, he was second place in Iowa and New Hampshire, and he did, you know, come in sort of a tie for third in South Carolina.  So he has been unique among the candidates in that he has been competing in all the states.

A Rasmussen poll came out today showing Governor Romney number one in Florida at 25, with governor—you know, then Senator McCain and Rudy second and third behind.  I mean, obviously, these polls are going to change over the next few days, but Governor Romney‘s been running since he won in Michigan and been talking about a very strong economic message.  We‘re going into a time of a downturn.  You know, you see the markets very uncertain right now.  And Governor Romney is unique among the candidates in that he‘s been in the private sector, understands how jobs come and go, has a record of having created jobs and has put forward—in addition to strong economic and tax plans, put forward a $250 billion stimulus plan...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

COMSTOCK:  ... which, among other things, eliminates taxes for seniors, people—you know, payroll taxes, people over 65, gets the corporate tax down to 20 percent, which would be a dramatic change, so that we can get businesses to come in here and stop going overseas and compete here.  And he understands how to compete.

MATTHEWS:  So he‘s retailing state by state.  He‘s got something for every state he visits.  He goes to Michigan, he says he‘s going to single-handedly save the auto industry, and then he goes to Florida and says he‘s going to give a tax break, in fact, a total tax credit for people over 65.  It seems...

COMSTOCK:  Well, the seniors are across the country.

MATTHEWS:  ... like he‘s targeting each state, each constituency. 

Wherever he is, they‘re going to get a break from Romney.

COMSTOCK:  No, well—well, the economic stimulus plan is obviously for the entire country, I mean, cutting corporate taxes...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s this over-65 thing in Florida?  Come on! 

You‘re retailing this thing, aren‘t you?

COMSTOCK:  Well, no.  You look at—seniors spend their whole life paying the payroll tax, then they retire and some of them need to go back to work again because there‘s an economic downturn.  Making them pay more payroll tax isn‘t fair.  It‘s something that‘s been out there.  It‘s an idea that people have wanted to do for years.  And with the stimulus plan with the difficult times right now, he put on it the table.  It‘s a great idea.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s all right with me, it just looks like politics.  But anyway, let‘s go to Frank Donatelli, a familiar face.  Frank, thank you for joining us.

FRANK DONATELLI, MCCAIN SENIOR CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  Hi, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re with McCain.  McCain is riding a bit of a roll.  We haven‘t seen the impact of his win in South Carolina yet in the Florida polls, have you?

DONATELLI:  Yes, I mean, I think that we‘re in pretty good shape in Florida right now.  The race is still in flux, of course, and we have maybe four or five candidates.  So the polls—I don‘t know that they really capture the essence, Chris, of how this race is going to break out.

I just must say that, you know, for Rudy Giuliani to talk about John McCain not being a tax cutter—he wouldn‘t even support his own gubernatorial candidate because he felt that the Pataki tax cuts were too big.  And my good friend Barbara here, who extols the governor of Massachusetts‘s job record—you know, he lost jobs in Massachusetts and he lost a lot of jobs in Bain Capital.  That‘s how he made all of his money, by merging corporations and dismissing a lot of people.

Look, here‘s how McCain is going to run in Florida.  He supports strong tax cuts.  He‘s for make the Bush tax cuts permanent.  He‘s also the candidate best prepared to lead this country in foreign policy by a mile.  And—and it‘s going to get more discussion, I think—he‘s by far the most electable Republican.  Isn‘t that, after all, why we nominate candidates is because we want them to beat the Democrats?  And McCain far and away, by any poll you might look at, is the most electable Republican.  So I feel pretty good about our chances in Florida.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Frank, about Cuba and Castro.  What‘s the policy of your campaign towards Cuba and Castro?

DONATELLI:  Well, Fidel is gone.  Hopefully...

MATTHEWS:  He ain‘t gone yet.

DONATELLI:  Well, I mean, he‘s going.  I think...

MATTHEWS:  We‘re all going!  This guy‘s been around since Eisenhower, OK?  Let‘s not make any assumptions here.

DONATELLI:  Yes, I‘m going, too.  But he‘s eventually going to go, and we need to be prepared to try to engage and deal with Cuba when that happens.  Until that happens, however, the boycott keeping the pressure on Cuba is very, very important.  Senator McCain favors that.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Let me go—same question to Barbara. 

Where are you on Castro? 

COMSTOCK:  Sure.

I think all three of us probably agree.  I think it‘s Governor Huckabee who has had a different position in the past on Castro.  But I—

I—we are all in the same position—in the same boat on that.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Governor, where are you on Castro?  Where is your candidate? 

CELLUCCI:  Certainly the same position.

But, in terms of who is the most electable, let‘s not forget that, if Rudy Giuliani is the nominee of the Republican Party, New York State comes into play; California comes into play. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CELLUCCI:  These are states that we don‘t play in.

(CROSSTALK)

CELLUCCI:  And, if it‘s the other candidates, we‘re still not going to play in it.  I would like to make the Democrats spend time and money in New York and California.

MATTHEWS:  But your—but, unfortunately—but the latest we have got is—that just came out—Giuliani is behind McCain by 12 in New York. 

COMSTOCK:  Well, we‘re tied.  We‘re tied with Rudy in one of the polls. 

CELLUCCI:  Well, look, John McCain gets a bounce for winning these primaries.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CELLUCCI:  Rudy Giuliani is focused on Florida. 

(CROSSTALK)

CELLUCCI:  And, if he wins in Florida, he‘s going to be very competitive on September 5.  And we believe he will win. 

MATTHEWS:  Barbara, what do you think about the boxing strategy of rope-a-dope, where you let your opponent to pound you into submission until about the eighth round, and then you decide to come alive when his arms are tired? 

Are Mitt Romney‘s arms tired enough to lose to Giuliani in Florida? 

COMSTOCK:  No, well, I think this has been such an unusual year, I don‘t—I think all—all the rules are out the window.  And all you can do is focus on your campaign and getting out your positive message.  And Governor Romney has been doing that. 

He had a record—I would like to correct—he had a record of creating jobs when he was in Massachusetts.  They increased dramatically. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

COMSTOCK:  He brought dozens and dozens of countries in—companies into Massachusetts. 

And the other thing that he did, when he was at Bain Capital, “The Boston Globe,” not a friendly newspaper to Governor Romney, even acknowledged in 1994 that his record at Bain was creating jobs, far more than any time when he had to cut jobs. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

COMSTOCK:  Obviously, in some situations, he had to cut jobs.  One place we need to cut jobs is in Washington.  And Governor Romney will do that.  He will come in there to cut bureaucracy.  And I think that‘s a good thing.

MATTHEWS:  And isn‘t it great when Republicans are forced to quoting pro-Democratic newspapers? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Barbara Comstock.

Anything goes here.

I think Florida is unpredictable.

Thank you, lady and gentlemen, Barbara, Paul, and Frank.  Thank you all for joining us. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Huckabee supporter Chuck Norris takes a shot at John McCain.  McCain fires back.  It‘s all ahead.

You know, it‘s fascinating, these Hollywood guys.  Hmm.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

What can I say about their political smarts?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is new out there on politics on this Martin Luther King Day? 

Well, after saying that Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America—which, by the way, he did—Barack Obama suffered a pile-on from John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and Bill Clinton. 

Here he is fighting back against the Clintons over the weekend. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I didn‘t say I liked Ronald Reagan‘s policies.  What I said was, that is the kind of working majority we need to form in order to move a progressive agenda forward. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

OBAMA:  So, when I see, you know, Senator Clinton or President Clinton distort my words, say somehow that I was saying Republicans are the only ones who had good ideas since 1980, then that is not a way to move the debate forward. 

That is not a way to help the American people.  And I am not running for president just to become president.  I‘m running to help the American people and move the debate forward. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

OBAMA:  I‘m not willing to—I‘m not willing to say or do anything just to win an election, because, when you start operating that way, you lose the trust of the American people. 

And we need trust if we‘re going to build the kind of country that all of us want for our children and our grandchildren. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, American‘s number-one conspiracy buff is planning a movie about President George W. Bush.  I‘m talking about Oliver Stone, who has actor Josh Brolin, so good—by the way, he‘s so good in “Old”—“No Country For Old Men”—to play President Bush. 

Oliver Stone said—quote—“It‘s a behind-the-scenes approach, similar to the movie ‘Nixon,‘ to give a sense of what it‘s like to be in his skin.  But, if ‘Nixon” was a symphony, this is more like a chamber piece and not as dark in tone.”

That was Oliver Stone.  No word on what conspiracy the movie will push.  Remember, Oliver Stone has casually implied that both Presidents Johnson and President Nixon had a hand in killing President Kennedy. 

That said, I‘m personally curious about what he will say about President Bush. 

Huckabee to Thompson:  Get out of the race. 

Take a look at this not-so-subtle shot at the guy, Fred Thompson, who is slicing into Huckabee‘s Southern support. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I mean, the good thing for us is, there‘s no state where we said, it‘s this or nothing.  Thompson said, it was Iowa.  Then he said, it‘s South Carolina.  And, in both cases, it hasn‘t happened for him. 

So, I have to make the assumption, based on what he said in his speech last night, that we are only, you know, a time frame away from when he says, it‘s over. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, and now it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number” tonight.  And the title “Big Number” couldn‘t be more apt tonight. 

Over the weekend, actor Chuck Norris took a brutal shot at John McCain over a certain big number.  Let‘s take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK NORRIS, ACTOR:  John, I feel, at 72, to take over the presidency, you know—look at the presidents in the past.  Look at George W.  Look how he‘s aged in seven years.  He‘s aged 3-1 in seven years. 

And I‘m thinking, now, if John takes over the presidency at 72, and if he ages 3-1, how old will he be in four years?  He will be 84 years old. 

Now, can he handle that kind of pressure in that—in that job?  And I—and, so, that‘s why I didn‘t pick John to support, because I‘m just afraid that the vice president will wind up taking over his job within that four-year presidency. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s pretty stark. 

Here‘s John McCain‘s response to Chuck Norris. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m...

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  I‘m afraid that—I‘m afraid—and I may have to send my 95-year-old mother over...

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  ... and wash Chuck‘s mouth out with soap. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, from what I have seen out on the campaign trail, John McCain is the Energizer Bunny. 

By the way, how old is the bunny? 

Anyway, nonetheless, 72 years on Inauguration Day—that‘s tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next:  The presidential candidates pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Milissa Rehberger.  Here‘s what‘s happening. 

At least one person was arrested after protests and counterprotests in Jena, Louisiana.  About 50 white separatists rallied against the Martin Luther King holiday and the Jena Six.  About 100 counterprotesters also gathered, including members of the new Black Panther Party. 

Investigators are trying to determine what caused two small planes to crash in midair yesterday over Corona, California.  It rained debris down on a busy car dealership.  Officials say at least two people were killed on each plane and a fifth person was killed on the ground. 

And markets in Asia, Europe, and North and South America plunged between 5 percent and 7 percent today on pessimism that President Bush‘s stimulus plan can prevent a recession in the U.S.  The big drop—the big drops in world markets could signal a rough ride when Wall Street reopens tomorrow, after the Martin Luther King holiday. 

And Brazil‘s state oil company announced it has discovered a vast natural reserve—gas reserve off the coast of Rio de Janeiro—now back to HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER:  Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.  Longevity has its place.  But I‘m not concerned about that now. 

I just want to do God‘s will.  And he‘s allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I have looked over, and I have seen the promised land.  I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

It‘s hard to be an American and not realize that the legacy of slavery, something we hate to ever think about, hounds us still.  It is in us, white and black both. 

You can feel the torment and humiliation of slavery all these more than seven generations later.  You can see it in the horror of work done from birth to death, under the threat of the whip, with the full moral power of the law and the Constitution backing it.  That was our country under some of the best minds in our history, Thomas Paine, George Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison. 

And then there was Jim Crow.  Organized legal segregation was just as backed by law, and, in some hearts, by moral force.  And even long after it was legal or accepted as moral, racial bias and discrimination in just about everything but sports and entertainment have been known, witnessed as the normal order in this country, the country you and I love. 

And we all know the anger, guilt and fear that twists and turns its way through our lives on into this 21st century, so much of it rooted in our common roots, back before the Civil War, that cost the lives of 600,000 good and noble American soldiers, thereby, in Lincoln‘s words, paying the reparation in blood for what was caused by the lash. 

So, how do we honor this man who did more to stand up to the last moral and legal barriers to integration and ending black repression?  And what do we say or do on this day to give some real encouragement to the cause for which he lived, spoke, and ended up dying? 

How about true generosity?  How about the benefit of the doubt?  How about the open heart, the extended hand?  I‘m talking one-on-one.  Let‘s be original, each of us, in our own way, making some big personal steps to build that long-wanted table of brotherhood.  That‘s what he wanted. 

Today, the three leading Democratic candidates for president all marked Martin Luther King day in Columbia, South Carolina. 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Across the campaign trail this holiday weekend, at marches, rallies, and in church, the presidential candidates remembered. 

(MUSIC)

SHUSTER:  It was 44 years ago when Martin Luther King led the famous civil rights rally in Washington and delivered one of the greatest speeches in U.S. history. 

This morning, his words echoed over the loudspeakers during a march in Columbia, South Carolina. 

KING:  I have a dream that, one day, down in Alabama...

SHUSTER:  A short time later, on stage, Hillary Clinton described the Democratic nomination battle itself as progress. 

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Barack Obama, an extraordinary young African-American man, with so much to contribute, John Edwards, a son of the South, in fact, a son of South Carolina, and a woman, all of us, running for president of the United States of America!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

SHUSTER:  Barack Obama spoke of the ongoing racial tensions in Jena, Louisiana, a hot-button issue for African-Americans in the South. 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We have a deficit in this country when there‘s Scooter Libby justice for some and Jena justice for others, when our children are still seeing nooses hanging from a schoolyard tree. 

SHUSTER:  John Edwards, like Clinton, directed his attention to Obama. 

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  On the stage with an extraordinary and talented young man who‘s running for the presidency of the United States and who is African-American makes me so proud of my state and my country. 

SHUSTER:  Republican Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas, attended services at Dr. King‘s church in Atlanta , and sat in the same pew as another former Arkansas governor, President Bill Clinton.  Both leaders praised Dr. King‘s vision. 

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And it was Dr. King that really led this country to recognize the worth and value of every human being.  And, had it not been for his courage and his moral clarity on this issue, you know, I shudder to think where this country would be. 

SHUSTER:  Republican Mitt Romney participated in holiday festivities in Jacksonville, Florida, but the presidential candidate was also in campaign mode. 

MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Nice car.  Nice—nice ride there. 

SHUSTER:  And, in a speech, Romney slammed John Edwards for highlighting the divide between rich and poor. 

ROMNEY:  I hear John Edwards saying, “Oh, we‘re two nations, two Americas.”  I disagree.  When it comes to the matters that matter most, Americans stand united. 

SHUSTER:  The racial divide, though, could be a factor in this Saturday‘s South Carolina Democratic primary.  More than half of the Democratic voters will be African-American. 

(on camera):  And that may explain why Clinton and Edwards were so careful in their remarks today.  For them, this was not a day of direct political maneuvering, except to the extent they benefited from honoring Martin Luther King. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in New York. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Joining us is Clarence Page of the “Chicago Tribune” and the brand new mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter.  Your honor, thank you for joining us.  I would like you to go first.  I witnessed your campaign last fall.  You were able to put together a unity approach to the campaign and you had a unity success on election day.  How do we get through this campaign for president while bringing the country together at the same time and not redividing us? 

MICHAEL NUTTER (D), MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA:  Well, thanks, Chris.  I think it has two components.  First, the candidates have to send the right message out to the public and to their own supporters and campaign workers, that we‘re going to have an issue-oriented campaign.  We‘re going to talk about issues, not about each other; that the things that divide us will not become major issues. 

And then, secondly, I think getting decent and appropriate news coverage, and the public demanding that they hear about issues, not about personalities and personal attacks, issues of race or other matters that may divide this country.  People want to know how are you going to get people back to work.  How are you going to support infrastructure?  How do you make cities and metropolitan areas work?  How do you lift people out of poverty? 

Those are not black-and-white issues or any other colors.  Those are about who has good ideas and the ability to implement those ideas and improve this country. 

MATTHEWS:  Clarence, you‘ve been through so many campaigns, you and I together.  How do we come out of this better than what we went into it?  We went into it pretty well, I thought. 

CLARENCE PAGE, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Well, I did too.  And I think the candidates are trying to get back to it.  You notice today, both John Edwards and Hillary Clinton sounded like they were endorsing Barack Obama.  Talking about how wonderful it is to—

MATTHEWS:  Well, with all respect to Mayor Nutter, they kept saying—with all respect to Mayor Nutter, they kept saying young, young, young.  What is this young thing?  It used to be a plus, now they‘re using it as, oh, you wait your turn, young man.  What do you think that young was all about, Clarence?

PAGE:  Yes, that‘s right.  They are making a virtue out of age, which at my age and Hillary Clinton‘s age, it sounds like a real virtue.  But, you know, that‘s a—there were kind of two campaigns going on here.  What struck me was, both today and other days, how little has been said about the class divide.  John Edwards has been right up front with it.  You might think he would be benefiting from that in these days of high economic anxiety. 

But there was Mitt Romney saying, you know, we have one America.  And that‘s the kind of theme that Ronald Reagan pushed back in the ‘80s, that kind of optimism and upbeat spirit that seems to go over with voters best.  That‘s what we‘ve seen Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton pushing.  So, they don‘t want to talk about race, because race divides us.  And they want to push toward those—those ideas and concepts that unite us. 

MATTHEWS:  Mayor, talk about young people, because there seems to be an age divide across the country, forget ethnicity for just a second here.  It seems like younger people are much more optimistic.  I don‘t mean to be too old about it, but I look at younger kids like my kids and they just don‘t see this race thing the way you and I saw it growing up. 

NUTTER:  Well, they‘ve grown up in a slightly different time.  They have much more information and awareness about themselves.  They‘re probably a little more mature than we were when we were kids as well.  But young people today have every reason to be optimistic and can see a future.  They have been involved in inter-racial environments, integrated environments for much longer period of time.  They don‘t see some of the things that those of us who were maybe a little older have experienced. 

At the same time, here on Martin Luther King Day, I think it‘s important that we remind young people, at least not let it escape their existence, that there was a time not too long ago when they might not have been able to do many of the things that they literally take for granted today. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at what Andy Young—he‘s stirring the pot here, former Mayor Andy Young, who is very good at this, as we all know from his former days as U.N. ambassador.  Here‘s former mayor of Atlanta, and former U.N. ambassador, Andrew Young, a big Clinton guy, saying some things today; he said, quote, people think I‘m betraying the race, meaning African-Americans, because I don‘t automatically support an intelligent prominent black man. 

Clarence, is that necessary for him to say that, or what does it say about us all? 

PAGE:  Andrew Young is getting hammered for not supporting Barack Obama.  I can tell you that by proxy, because I wrote about him about three weeks ago and I‘ve been lots of emails from people who are so angry at him.  Sending him an email isn‘t enough, they are sending them to me too.  There is a lot of pressure on black politicians who are supporting Hillary Clinton because there‘s a rising sense among black voters that Barack Obama has the best shot of African American yet and we need to stand behind him. 

So, I think that‘s the kind of signal that Andy Young is sending out. 

Hillary Clinton is still quite popular among a lot black folks. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll see that in South Carolina.  Let me ask you, mayor, do you worry that South Carolina will be seen as almost like, oh, that‘s the black community down there; if he wins down there, it doesn‘t count as much?  It‘s a very interesting dynamic, you know, the way this campaign has been played by both sides. 

NUTTER:  Campaigning is campaigning.  You cannot take for granted or make automatic assumptions.  The political pundits are often wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m never wrong—ha!

NUTTER:  Except you.  Except you on your own show.  But other than that, you know, look, African-Americans, some will vote for Senator Obama because they want to and think he‘s the most qualified.  Some will vote for Senator Clinton. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

NUTTER:  Chris, you already know I‘ve endorsed Senator Clinton.  People have a right to be for who they want to be for.  This is the United States of America and it‘s not an automatic.  We had the same thing here in Philadelphia. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

NUTTER:  I had white supporters, black supporters, Latino, Asian.  And it was a multi-candidate race.  But people talked about what it meant on the ground here.  As mayor, certainly, I had to make decisions about who I think will best deliver for the city and for the region. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it looks like Hillary Clinton is in good shape in Pennsylvania, got you and a lot of other people up there.  They are strong in Pennsylvania.  Thank you, Mr. Mayor. 

NUTTER:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Good luck in your term as mayor of Philadelphia.  We‘re all rooting for you.  Anybody that gives thought or caring to Philadelphia wants you to make it, sir.  Thank you very much, Mayor Michael Nutter, just took office.  And thank you, Clarence, as always.  

Up next, Bill versus Barack.  Can Obama take on two Clintons at once?  He‘s getting double-teamed.  The politics fix is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the political fix.  Our round table tonight, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and Steven A. Smith of ESPN.  Steven, this thing in South Carolina this coming Saturday night, what‘s it all about? 

STEPHEN A. SMITH, ESPN ANALYST:  I definitely think they are going to make it about race, there‘s no question about it.  When you consider the fact that most of the Democratic primary voters are African-American—I think the number‘s at approximately 60 percent.  That‘s not something that you can underestimate.  People are going to try to downplay that it is about race.

But make no mistake about it, considering some of the shrapnel of criticism that‘s been aimed in one direction or the other between the Clinton and Obama campaigns, combined with the fact that it is in South Carolina on the day, Martin Luther King Jr.‘s holiday—I don‘t think there‘s any question it‘s about race. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat, have they out-strategized the Obama Campaign, the Clintons, because they‘ve made it—well, it is largely about an African American electorate, but making it so clearly ethnic.  Have they made it so they win/win?  If they lose down there, they say, oh, that‘s just—they are being loyal to the African-American candidate.  And if they win, he‘s out of business? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think—Chris, I think you‘re exactly right.  I think they‘ve done it and I think Obama and his supporters have walked into the trap.  And you could see the consequences of this out in Nevada, where Obama won the African-American vote four or five to one, which suggests real growth and solidity in the African American vote.  He lost the Hispanic vote two to one, and he lost the women‘s vote and the white vote three to two. 

So you go to South Carolina and Obama wins—suppose he wins the primary, they‘re going to say, well, you know, 60 percent African American vote; of course he has their vote.  They‘re voting for a favorite son.  But if loses, they say, holy smoke, he not only can‘t carry the white vote or the Hispanic vote, he can‘t win any white votes in South Carolina—how can you nominate someone like that has no reach outside of the Jesse Jackson constituency?

MATTHEWS:  When you and I agree, it‘s death to us part, Pat.  I‘m worried, because I think it‘s strategory.  

SMITH:  Absolutely, but it‘s still dangerous for the Clintons as well, because you have to remember there are African-Americans who happen to be women and certainly her support has dwindled in that regard.  You have a blot of black women out there that are struggling, whether or not to vote for race or gender.  It‘s a challenge. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you the toughest question, if you are sitting in the corner with Senator Barack Obama, and you tell him, OK, you got to do like a pool room.  You got to set yourself up for the next shot.  You put this ball in the pocket; you win South Carolina.  But you got to be set up for the big one, February 5th

How do you come out of a race—a contest that looks pretty ethnic, and you won it, and it seems pretty ethnic—to go back to the non-ethnic appeal that you had two weeks ago?  How do you do it? 

SMITH:  Don‘t deviate too far from the issues.  That‘s the best example.  Obviously, You have a lot of issues out there.  The economy is first and foremost on everybody‘s mind right now.  Obviously, the war on terrorism and things of that nature, those are the other facts.  But the reality is the economy is a major, major issue.  And that just goes past racial lines. 

So, make sure you don‘t deviate too far from the issues.  Make sure you address the women vote as well.  Make sure you appeal to those women out there and I think you can steal some things from Hillary. 

BUCHANAN:  I think it‘s too late for that and I think Obama is making a mistake going after Bill Clinton.  What‘s that all about?

MATTHEWS:  He went after Bill? 

BUCHANAN:  -- raised the fairy tale—yes, he said he was very troubled by it.  He wants to confront him and talk to this him about this. 

SMITH:  That‘s not going by him!

BUCHANAN:  But, look, that‘s what everybody is going to be looking for in the debate tonight, Chris.  You know, I agree with Steve—I agree with Steve on what he ought to do.  I just don‘t think he can do it now.  This has been about for three weeks, drugs, race, gender and Muslims. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you capsulized the Clinton argument here.  But, my god, it‘s not too helpful for Obama.  It works. 

SMITH:  No, it definitely is not too helpful.  But I think he can pull it off.  He can‘t let himself get too distracted the way he did more than a week ago.  He cannot let that happen.  He has to stick to the issues, can‘t deviate too far away from it.  But he has to be on the attack.  He can‘t get hesitant.  He can‘t be a bit apprehensive about going after Hillary. 

Stick to Hillary.  Don‘t mess with Bill.  You might lose to Bill, believe it not. 

MATTHEWS:  What I know is, every time you go after the Clintons, and you try to be novel and original, they cut your neck off, or head off.  We‘ll be right back with the round table.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s, believe it or not, Rudy Giuliani‘s campaign bus going around the track at Daytona, not going 500 miles an hour or anything like it, not going at the stock car speed at all.  I have a man here who is a real fan of Rudy Giuliani‘s.  What do you make of him in a general election? 

SMITH:  No, absolutely not.  It would be a disaster.  If he becomes the next president of the United States, that would be an absolute disaster.  I‘m going to say it, why—it‘s because of who‘s in office now.  Considering Bush, you‘re following him up with Giuliani; there would be no foreign relations whatsoever.  We‘ll be hated by the rest of the entire world.  You cannot have Giuliani. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan, I‘m curious whether you‘re going to go to the right or the left of Stephen on this one? 

BUCHANAN:  On Rudy Giuliani? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, on foreign policy, Rudy‘s foreign policy. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, Rudy, it‘s Norman Podhoretz‘s foreign policy, isn‘t it, Chris? 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m waiting to see if you go right or left of Steve on this one.  You guys may be together on this one. 

BUCHANAN:  No, look, I think Rudy Giuliani, his foreign policy—it would be a neo-conservative foreign policy, but I‘m afraid McCain‘s will be as well, Chris.  He‘s very bellicose.  He has the in your face one, Bush does.  I think we could very well be at war with Iran.  That‘s one of the reasons why I‘ve always been skeptical of McCain.  I think he‘s Bush on steroids. 

MATTHEWS:  But warriors, men who have fought in battle, tend to be, once they get power, men of peace, like McCain.  We‘ve seen that with Rabin.  We‘ve seen it with de Gaulle.  We‘ve seen it with so many great generals.  Once they get in power, they tend to be men of peace.  Do you think that‘s possible with McCain, not Rudy? 

BUCHANAN:  I think it is possible, but everything you see or hear about him—I mean, he‘s in Putin‘s face constantly.  He‘s all options are on the table on Iran.  All of these things, it tells me we have a continuity of a Bush/Cheney foreign policy. 

SMITH:  Pat, you have to stomp your feet and make some noise, especially whey you are a senator, as opposed to the commander in chief.  That‘s the situation.  Giuliani‘s a dictator, as far as I‘m concerned. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, on that word, thank you very much, Pat Buchanan.  Thank you, Stephen A. Smith for slightly modifying your words.  Join us in one hour for the HARDBALL power rankings.  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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