updated 1/28/2008 12:53:48 PM ET 2008-01-28T17:53:48

Guests: Deroy Murdock, Michelle Bernard, Michelle Laxalt, Michael Fauntroy, Jill Zuckman, Latoya Foster, Faye Wattleton, George Packer, Bob Garfield

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Big Bill bombards Obama.  Is Hill thrilled? 

You bet your mama!

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  We begin tonight talking about the race in South Carolina. Former president Bill Clinton continues to dominate the landscape down there, and the race issue continues to cloud this primary.  Tomorrow in South Carolina go to the polls, but has the divisive issue of race caused an open wound for Democrats nationwide?  More on that in a moment.

Then “Ad Watch.”  The candidates are moving from ground wars to air wars with new television ads airing now nationally.  We‘ll check in with that in a moment.

And last night, the Republicans running for president gathered for the NBC debate in Florida.  We‘ll talk about the winners and a lot more losers later in the show.  Plus, all the new polls and today‘s news in our “Politics Fix.”

But we begin tonight with HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster, who joins us now from Columbia, South Carolina—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, it has been a very frenzied day here in the Palmetto State just before the primary tomorrow.   Clinton, Obama and Edwards each had a half a dozen events each scheduled today.  And they‘ve been trying to cut into the demographics that would likely to their rivals  For example, this morning Hillary Clinton focused on African-American college students.  She campaigned at Benedict College here in Columbia and said the government will do more if she is president to support education for all Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I also want to do more to help the historically back colleges and universities like Benedict.  Our help has not kept up with the need, and I want to double the amount of money that goes to our historically black colleges and universities from the federal government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Barack Obama today focused on women‘s issues.  He had a couple of roundtables, including one with four women in Charleston, South Carolina.  Obama, essentially in a break from his standard rally events, was trying to show that he understands the depths of the issues that concern women, including issues like the economy.  Here‘s Obama from one of his roundtables.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  A lot of the burden has fallen on women, and a lot of the burden falls on moms because there‘s this a tension between making a living, paying the bills, saving for college, saving for retirement and spending enough time with your family and spending enough time with your children.  Now, men, obviously, should be carrying that same burden, but I‘ll be honest with you, no matter what we say, women are carrying a bigger load.  And the reason I know this is because I was raised by a single mom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Now, John Edwards has been campaigning longer and harder here in South Carolina than either Obama or Clinton.  His final message has been that America needs a president who will fight against lobbyists and corporate interests.  And Edwards has been underscoring his underdog role in this state where he was born, and the underdog status of so many voters who support his candidacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I am the underdog in this campaign.  I‘m the underdog right here in South Carolina.  I know that.  The other candidates have over $100 million each.  They fly in and out of here on their jets and then go somewhere else.  They‘re spending millions of dollars on the campaign here in South Carolina.  They have all the money, they have all the glitz and they have all the media attention.  But what they don‘t have and what I have, is I have you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The Edwards campaign is convinced, Chris, that they are surging.  As for Clinton and Obama, they‘re both satisfied with that big debate they had here the other night where it seemed to get so personal.  And then, of course, the Edwards campaign is convinced that he‘s the one who‘s been able to float above it all.  Again, each of the candidates now in their final message.  They all have events tonight across the state, Chris, going in, of course, to the big primary here tomorrow—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, David Shuster in Columbia, South Carolina.

Faye Wattleton‘s the former president of Planned Parenthood, is now the president of the Center for the Advancement of Women, and George Packer has a big story—I loved that story in this week‘s “New Yorker” magazine.

Let me start with Faye, then go to George.  Let‘s talk about what you know about Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and talk about if you were almost, like, designing this as a Shakespeare play, how these personalities and characters are working through this big fight in South Carolina tomorrow night.  Faye, you first.  You know Hillary Clinton.  You know Bill Clinton.  What‘s Bill‘s role in this thing?  Is it a good role or a bad role?

FAYE WATTLETON, CENTER FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN:  Well, I think that Bill Clinton‘s role is that of the spouses of all of the candidates.  He‘s participating as a surrogate for his wife, who is running.  And I think that it‘s entirely consistent with the ascension of other women to the top offices in their country.  They come about it as a result of the president being their spouse or being members of prominent families.

So I don‘t think that we should be so upset and agitated about Mr.  Clinton‘s participation.  We should continue to focus on the issues that the people want to hear about.  What are these candidates going to do about health care access? What will they do about education?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

WATTLETON:  What will they do about the economy?  Those are the issues.  These other matters are really side issues.  I might point out, however...

MATTHEWS:  But Faye—but Faye, I looked in the paper today.  I looked at all four papers, two tabs in New York, “USA Today,” “The New York Times.”  Every paper had a pretty good story, pretty sized story, big-size story on Bill Clinton and the role he‘s playing in this campaign.  In fact, “The New York Times” had a story about how much he likes being the lightning rod, being hot, being heated, being the focus of attention.  He likes it.

WATTLETON:  Well, he certainly likes it, and I think he has a lot of capital to spend.  He was a very popular president and is more popular since his presidency ended.  So I think that he is the lightning rod pulling a lot of the negativity away from her that has also been a matter of concern for the campaigns.

So Mr. Clinton is playing his role.  But the question is, What will Mrs. Clinton, in her presidency, do about the issues that women care about, equal access to health care, education, economic opportunity?  Those are the hard-core issues that women want to hear about, not in roundtable discussions but as major campaign themes.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to George Packer.  In your piece on Hillary Clinton—I found it fascinating.  Give us the nub of your piece, the nut, as we call it in journalism.  What do you know about Hillary Clinton after all the reporting?

GEORGE PACKER, “THE NEW YORKER”:  I had a long interview with her, and she‘s an incredibly impressive woman in a one-on-one conversation.  She knows a lot.  She‘s prepared, and she articulated a forceful case for why being president, as we all know, is the hardest job in the world and you have to know how to take the reins of government from the beginning and sort of bend them to your will, or else you‘ll have a government running out of your control.  And she cited Dick Cheney sort of as a shadow government in the Bush administration as the example.  So she‘s positioning herself as a powerful executive.

And although she didn‘t mention the name Obama, the obvious comparison was to someone who she doesn‘t think understands how difficult it is simply to get the bureaucracy under control and make it do what you want it to do.  So she positions herself as an executive.

Obama is a visionary.  And people I talked to who used to work for the Clintons or be friends with the Clintons compare Obama rather routinely to Robert Kennedy, as a sort of transformational candidate who can actually unleash social forces and social moment, something that no one I talked to thinks Hillary Clinton is capable of doing.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Faye, if you read George‘s piece and you read some other pieces, Hillary Clinton is quite comfortable in the role of fighter.  She sees the world in somewhat Manichean terms, good guys and bad guys, polarized world, Republicans and big business have to be fought, the insurance companies.  She likes to fight them.  She sees it that way.  She doesn‘t see it in terms of perhaps Obama‘s more optimistic view that we can get everybody together at the table.

WATTLETON:  Well, I think that Mr. Obama that the matter of inspiration is really an important and perhaps underestimated value in the president.  The reality is that Mrs. Clinton in the Senate has had to work across the aisle, has had to navigate the difficulties of partisan politics to get anything done.  And the reality of the presidency will bring that right down to the ground immediately on the day after the inauguration.

We shouldn‘t overlook the importance of both the capacity to get things done and the inspiration to lift our views and our vision for what we need to get done.  The bully pulpit, or shall I say the soapbox, for the presidency is enormously powerful, and we haven‘t seen it in a very long time.  I think that‘s why we see the comparison to Robert Kennedy in Mr.  Obama‘s run.

But the cast of characters here is really wonderful for our democracy.  Who would have ever thought that we would see a time when there would be a woman, an African-American, a son of a miner, a Baptist minister?  All of these people are engaged in credible campaigns that give Americans a lot to think about.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the fight right now is between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  He‘s raising Cain with Barack Obama.  I believe he‘s living inside his head rent-free right now, George.

PACKER:  Yes, you know...

MATTHEWS:  He seems to have gotten Barack‘s number, the former president.

PACKER:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  He stirs the media, and he seems to shake up Obama to the point where he can‘t think straight as long as Clinton‘s in the room.

PACKER:  Well, I‘m not inside either of their heads, so I can‘t say that.  But what I would say is what Bill Clinton is doing is reminding people that this is a team.  As one former Clinton official said to me, they have melded.  We‘re going to get the two of them as a co-presidency.  And that has some unfortunate echoes for those of us who remember the very first couple of years of the first Clinton administration, which had dual power centers in the White House.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PACKER:  And as a result, there was a mess and there was disorder and issues didn‘t get resolved.  And as you say, Hillary Clinton behind the scenes was often the one pushing the administration to the most hard-line political position, to refuse to turn over Whitewater documents, to refuse to deal with “travelgate,” to refuse to settle the Paula Jones lawsuit.  That was Hillary Clinton pushing all of those.  And I think what Bill Clinton is doing now is raising the specter of a return to those days, and it may not be the best shadow to cast over this historic candidacy of his wife.

WATTLETON:  Well, I think, on the other hand...

MATTHEWS:  Faye, I have to ask you a tough question.  As a feminist leader, (INAUDIBLE) leader, a very prominent one, are you comfortable with this scenario we‘re watching right now, where Hillary‘s fighting it out with Obama—they‘re both running for president, they‘re both the top two candidates, we all know that, and one or the other will probably win this nomination—and in comes this deus ex machina, this big brother, this other figure comes in and he begins to duke it out right on television, right in the newspapers, with the other candidate.  You know, they used to say in politics, they always will, probably, You dance with the one that brung you.  If Bill Clinton is critical to Hillary winning this election, does he really get a piece of the action as president?  And is that a good thing?

WATTLETON:  Well, I think the reality is that, yes, he does.  On the one hand, there are the negative possibilities of his participating so visibly.  On the other hand, he is still a very popular character in American politics...

MATTHEWS:  Yes?

WATTLETON:  ... and we can‘t ignore that.  He‘s very popular with the people...

MATTHEWS:  But should she be seen...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry.  Should she be seen so vividly dependent on his partnership?

WATTLETON:  I think she‘s standing in her own light, in her own way.  And if Mr. Obama cannot take the heat of Bill and Hillary Clinton, I think that maybe he needs to rethink his candidacy because the matter of serving as president of the United States is not an easy job.  It‘s a very tough job.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

WATTLETON:  And this campaign is going to get much tougher, much harder as we move along and as these racial and gender and class issues surface because of the cast of characters that are running.  And that‘s the kind of heat that the person who seeks the presidency...

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well said.

WATTLETON:  ... needs to be able to endure and keep his eye on the ball.  What are the policies?  What are you going to do?  How will you transform this country and address our issues and problems?

MATTHEWS:  George, P.T. Barnum, the great showman, said, If you want a crowd, start a fight.  Bill Clinton is brilliant at this.  He‘s called in fire on himself in his battle with the media, guaranteeing he gets the most media attention.  He‘s drawing it away from Barack.

PACKER:  I don‘t understand what they‘re doing.  I mean, I‘ve tried to game the Clinton campaign and why they want to pit Bill Clinton against Barack Obama, why the fact that race and gender have become daily issues in the press doesn‘t seem to be something that they want to put a stop to.  I‘m baffled by the campaign...

WATTLETON:  Well...

PACKER:  ... because what it does is it reminds people of what they don‘t like about the Clintons...

MATTHEWS:  I know.

PACKER:  ... and the big divide that they seemed like during campaigns, like bitter partisans.  And it‘s a moment when Obama‘s message of...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PACKER:  ... transcending partisanship appeals to large numbers of independent whom Hillary Clinton...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

PACKER:  ... is going to need if she‘s the nominee.

WATTLETON:  I think we should think about the fact that...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me give you an explanation—that during cap pains, they were bitter partisans.  And Hillary Clinton will need them if nominated.

WATTLETON:  ... they‘re in the South, and that‘s what the strategy is being employed.  We‘ll see what happens after they leave South Carolina.

MATTHEWS:  I agree with that.  Faye, you know what the Clinton strategy for years has been, win...

WATTLETON:  Win, win.

MATTHEWS:  ... and later fix the problem.  Don‘t worry about the problem now of race and everything else.  Win, and then later on settle your fish with whoever‘s mad at you.

WATTLETON:  And I think that‘s what we‘re seeing.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve seen this happen so many times.  They‘re so good at it.  They recognize the very short-term thinking of most Americans, the short-term memory, the ADD, if you will, of this whole country.  They know that two or three months ago, if they‘ve won the nomination, everybody‘s going to have to come to them.

Anyway, thank you.  It‘s great having you on, Faye Wattleton.  Have a nice weekend.

WATTLETON:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  You, too, George.

PACKER:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  Great piece.  I thought it was a little tough, but it was a great piece.

Coming up: With the Democrats running hard in South Carolina and the Republicans in a make-or-break battle in Florida, we‘re going to analyze the latest TV ads.  They‘re fighting like heck down there in South Carolina on television.  You‘re watching it.  You‘ll watch it here, only on HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The campaign advertisement wars are heating up, especially down in South Carolina.  So whose ads are working?  What I mean by that, getting people to vote the way of the sponsor.  Bob Garfield‘s our critic at “Advertising Age” magazine.  He co-hosts National Public Radio‘s “On the Media.”

Well, here‘s a Hillary Clinton ad to start with, where she takes on the current president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Our economy is in real trouble, and while George Bush helps his friends, the middle class gets slammed.  Hillary Clinton warned Bush last March to act or homes would be foreclosed.  Bush did nothing and two million homes may be lost.  We need a proven leader.  Hillary‘s emergency economic plan, freeze foreclosures, provide immediate tax rebates for the middle class, create millions of new jobs.  We need more than talk, we need solutions.

CLINTON:  I‘m Hillary Clinton, and I approved this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOB GARFIELD, “ADVERTISING AGE”:  Well, look, Chris, what‘s good about the ad is that she addresses the sub-prime crisis that has affected a lot of Americans.  What‘s bad about it is that—two things.  One, she‘s not running against George Bush.  I mean, this would be swell if she were running against the president, but she isn‘t.  So it‘s kind of besides the point.  And secondly, I think from this point forward, whatever she says in any commercial we have to presume is a lie because...

(LAUGHTER)

GARFIELD:  ... she is a liar.  She lied in that radio ad about Barack Obama, in which she, you know, had him siding with the Republicans and so forth, which she knew not to be true when she ran it.  That‘s a lie.  She‘s a liar.  So she says it‘s about people...

MATTHEWS:  Well, “lie” is a strong word.  You mean if somebody gave her a question under sodium pentothol and asked, Did you or did you not believe that this guy was a Reaganite, she would say no, I know he‘s not a Reaganite, or she‘d say...

GARFIELD:  Exactly.  And if she said he was a Reaganite, she‘d come off as a liar, you‘re saying.

GARFIELD:  If she says that, No, I understand he‘s not a Reaganite—and that‘s what she would say because she understands that—then she misrepresented the truth.  She twisted it all out of proportion, the way campaign ads typically do.  That makes her a liar.  I don‘t know what other word to use.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s look at Barack Obama and see what you judgment is on this.  This deals with health care.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  My mother died of cancer at 53.  In those last painful months,

she was more worried about paying her medical bills than getting well.  I

hear stories like hers every day.  For 20 years, Washington‘s talked about

health care reform and reformed nothing.  I‘ve got a plan to cut costs and

cover everyone.  But unless we stop the bickering and the lobbyists, we‘ll

be in the same place 20 years from now

I‘m Barack Obama and I approved this message because to fix health care, we have to fix Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GARFIELD:  You know, it‘s interesting.  This is a guy who is breathtakingly eloquent on the stump.  I mean, he makes your—you know, he sends a chill up and down your spine when he speaks.

Here, on a TV commercial, that was a little stiff.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

GARFIELD:  And he doesn‘t quite know what to do with his hands.  And he just doesn‘t come across that naturally, which is really kind of a big surprise. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you run an ad like that effectively without saying, better me than her?  Can you ignore your opponent like he did there? 

GARFIELD:  Yes, sure you can.  Part of campaigning of course is introducing yourself to the voters and in this case to talk about an issue, health care, which Hillary probably has a—can stake a bigger claim to. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but the bickering was a direct shot at her. 

GARFIELD:  Well, maybe it was. 

But what concerns me more was the—invoking his mother‘s death. 

That was a sort of Al Gore gambit...

MATTHEWS:  Yes?

GARFIELD:  ... which makes me feel a little queasy.  It seems a bit exploitive of his dead mother.  And I just hate to see that.  Let him talk about my health care problems and leave family tragedy of the past of the campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but don‘t you need bona fides?  Don‘t you have to prove that you‘re on the ground, too?

And one of the biggest knocks against Mike Dukakis years ago was, he didn‘t understand what it was like to imagine being threatened, to have your wife threatened with visible—physical harm.  They didn‘t seem to be connected. 

GARFIELD:  That came back to haunt him.  That‘s true.

And these guys want to humanize themselves, make them seem like people like us.  And, clearly, that is what was afoot here.  But it just makes me feel a bit queasy. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it made me—I liked it because it was a young, attractive mother.  I think it showed his mixed background.  I think it had a lot of interesting things about it.  We disagree.

Here‘s Giuliani‘s ad for his national catastrophic insurance plan. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, GIULIANI CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR:  Some say we don‘t need a natural disaster found, that FEMA can handle disasters.  Others say they haven‘t looked at it yet and want to sit down with insurance companies first.  Only one Republican candidate has proven experience dealing with disaster.  Only one will fight for a national catastrophe fund.  And only one has a plan to lower rates and fix the insurance mess. 

Tested in crisis, ready to lead, Rudy Giuliani, the only one for Florida. 

RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m Rudy Giuliani, and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

GARFIELD:  I don‘t know what to say.  Rudy Giuliani, the catastrophe candidate.  And Florida...

MATTHEWS:  You mean he identified himself with the trouble?

GARFIELD:  Yes.  So, maybe, unfortunately for him, they are not going to fly airplanes into the Orange Bowl, but they do have a lot of hurricanes.  And he knows how to handle crisis. 

He is so invested in catastrophe.  He got all of his chips in there.

MATTHEWS:  Is this 9/11 two?

GARFIELD:  Of course it is.  It‘s just on 9/11...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I also like his Southern pronunciation of the word insurance. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Did you catch that?

GARFIELD:  He did say insurance?

MATTHEWS:  Insurance.  He did.

GARFIELD:  Well, they all pander if they have to do it that way.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s nothing wrong it.  You‘re playing to the local crowd.

I learned it was Boca Raton the other night.  It wasn‘t Boca Raton. 

So, you have got to learn to say Nevada, too.

GARFIELD:  Who knew?  Who knew? 

MATTHEWS:  Who knew? 

GARFIELD:  So, he‘s got all his chips pushed on the scaring the wits out of everybody. 

MATTHEWS:  By the way, they won‘t answer who is paying for all this insurance.

GARFIELD:  No.  No.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s $100 billion, $200 billion.  And where is the money coming from?

GARFIELD:  Or any of the health care plans or Hillary‘s promise to freeze foreclosures. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

You‘re loading a truck in the snow up in Buffalo, and you have got to put the chains on like in the old days, and you‘re just going to work, and you hate work that day.  It‘s February.  It‘s January.  It‘s gray out.  It‘s miserable. 

And you see the people down in Florida, and you are paying a big chunk of your money, tax money, so they can be insured against hurricanes?  I think you might have an objection.

(CROSSTALK)

GARFIELD:  You might.  But I don‘t think that ad is going to run in Buffalo.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s take a look—that‘s it.  Thank you. 

GARFIELD:  Oh, we‘re done?

MATTHEWS:  We‘re out.  You know, it‘s great.

MATTHEWS:  Who do you think is doing anything good in the ad business these days? 

GARFIELD:  Nobody. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.  That was a good Friday response.

Thank you, Bob Garfield. 

I love the toughness. 

Up next: Barack Obama‘s—so then I don‘t have to do it—Barack Obama‘s top 10 promises, and a “Big Number” worth a lot money.  We‘re going to be talking about that.  It came up in Tim Russert‘s questioning last night of Mitt Romney.  What an interesting, invasive question, I thought.

And, later, who won the Republican debate last night?  Did anyone have a game-changing night, an epiphany for us all?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

So, what else is new out there in the political world? 

Well, Barack Obama took a break from being triangulated by Bill and Hillary Clinton to do David Letterman‘s top 10 list last night. 

Here are the highlights.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  Category from the home office, top 10 Barack Obama campaign promises, ladies and gentlemen, top 10 Barack Obama campaign promises.

And to present tonight‘s top 10 list, Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama.

Here we go everybody.

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN:  Number eight?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Appoint Mitt Romney secretary of looking good.

LETTERMAN:  Yessiree.

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN:  Number five?

OBAMA:  I will rename the tenth month of the year Baracktober.

LETTERMAN:  Baracktober.  How about that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Baracktober.

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN:  Number three?

OBAMA:  I will find money in the budget to buy Letterman a decent hairpiece.

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN:  Thank you.  Thank you, Senator.  A grateful nation salutes you.

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN:  And the number-one Barack Obama campaign promise?

OBAMA:  Three words: Vice President Oprah.

LETTERMAN:  Yes.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is this helping?  I wonder.

Remember swift-boating, how John Kerry got his Vietnam War record toyed with by those who refused to forgive his opposition to the war?  Well, swift-boating isn‘t the only ghost oft 2004 campaign.

Remember how Republicans joyfully spoofed Senator Kerry‘s windsurfing?  Well, John McCain remembers.  And now he is literally pasting Mitt Romney‘s face into a new Web ad to make the same point. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR:  Mitt Romney says he‘s a leader, but how do we know which direction he wants to lead?  Mitt Romney seems to change positions like the wind.  He tells Florida he supports the Bush tax cuts.  But, as Massachusetts governor, Romney refused to take a position on the Bush tax cuts, and then increased tax cuts by $700 million, but tried to call them fees.

Where does Mitt Romney stand?  Whichever way the wind blows. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The Strauss music just makes it. 

Anyway, in Cleveland today, U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich officially ended his presidential bid. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO:  I won‘t run for president, but I can continue to fight for these important issues as a United States congressman, representing the community that is first in my heart, Cleveland, Ohio. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s a danger in running for president, coming in very far back in the back, as he did. 

People don‘t mind their guy giving it a good shot and losing out. 

They do mind getting him getting trounced. 

Finally, time for the HARDBALL “Big Number” tonight.

Running for president is pricey.  We all know that.  The top contenders have raised hundreds of millions of dollars to win the White House, but one candidate, Republican Mitt Romney, has a unique advantage.  His personal fortune is estimated to be as high as $250 million. 

So, how much of it is he willing to spend in this campaign? 

Well, here‘s NBC‘s Tim Russert asking him that very question in last night‘s debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM RUSSERT, NBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  Why not tell the voters of Florida and across the country how much of your own wealth you‘re spending, so they can make a judgment and factor that into their own decision? 

MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  But I can tell you this:  I have raised more money than any other Republican in this race—raised more. 

And I have also made a very substantial contribution.  Not as much, by the way, as Jon Corzine did to become governor of New Jersey, not as much as Steve Forbes did when he ran back some years ago, certainly not as much as Mayor Bloomberg did in his race.  But I made a substantial contribution. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So, Romney won‘t say.  That‘s the bottom line.

But “The Wall Street Journal” reports that a senior aide to Romney said Romney—quote—“plans to spend as much as $40 million in the campaign.”

By the way, that kind of question by Tim Russert was—is what separates him from the pack. 

Anyway, that makes a—that makes tonight‘s HARDBALL “Big Number” $40 million.  It‘s how much Mitt Romney may be willing to shell out to become the next president.  I guess, if he gets close to possibly winning it, he will spend everything he has to. 

Up next: winners and losers from last night‘s Republican debate.

And did Hillary Clinton benefit from all that Republican piling on? 

They kept saying they are running against Hillary already. 

You‘re watching it, HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  And one more thing:  What an audacious and arrogant thing for the Democrats to say, as Hillary Clinton did, that they are responsible for the progress that the surge has seen by virtue of their trying to pull out so quickly. 

Look, the success over there is due to the blood and the courage of our service men and women, and to General Petraeus and to President Bush, not to General Hillary Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Bertha Coombs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

A sell-off on this final day of a very tumultuous week on Wall Street, amid profit-taking and fears that financial institutions could suffer more big credit-related losses.  The Dow industrials plunging 171 points today, but, for the week, the Dow was up nearly 1 percent.  The S&P 500 fell 21 points.  The Nasdaq dropped 34. 

President Bush urging the Senate today not to add provisions that could delay passage of the economic stimulus package.  Under the deal reached yesterday between House leaders and the White House, 117 million families would get tax rebate checks and businesses would get tax breaks.  If the deal is quickly approved by Congress, those rebate checks could start going out as early as May. 

And oil prices rose sharply for a second straight day.  Crude gained $1.30 in New York trading, closing at $90.71 a barrel. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, the Republican presidential contenders have just four days left before the big Florida primary this Tuesday.  So, who won last night‘s debate?

Deroy Murdock is a contributing editor for “The National Review.”  He‘s backing—Deroy is backing Giuliani.  Michelle Laxalt is a Republican strategist.  And Michelle Bernard is with the Independent Women‘s Voice, which I presume is a conservative woman‘s voice.

Let me all—let‘s all look at what Tim Russert got out of Romney last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSSERT:  Specifically, how would you run against Hillary and Bill Clinton in November? 

ROMNEY:  I frankly can‘t wait, because the idea of Bill Clinton back in the White House with nothing to do is something I just can‘t imagine.  I can‘t imagine.  The American people can‘t imagine, and I...

(LAUGHTER)

RUSSERT:  What does that mean? 

ROMNEY:  I just think that we want to have a president, not a whole—a team of husband and wife thinking that they‘re going to run the country.  And, instead, you want to elect a president. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Michelle Laxalt, what does that mean?  I love Tim‘s follow-up, like, OK, get in deeper here.  But he had a big laugh out of that.  And that was a wild—I think everybody watching probably laughed. 

MICHELLE LAXALT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I think everybody watching from both parties probably laughed...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

LAXALT:  ... because he said out loud what everyone else is thinking.

MATTHEWS:  What would Bill Clinton do without a job in the White House? 

LAXALT:  Or is it possible that Bill Clinton could be in the White House and not assume he has the co-job?

MATTHEWS:  Oh, you mean that‘s the question?

Well, let me go to you, the other Michelle, Michelle Bernard.

Is it appropriate for perhaps the first women president to openly share the duties of the presidency, not like have Bill around for help, but to use him the way—or share with him the government of the United States the way she is sharing the campaign with him?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  She sent him in—or he sent himself in—to go to war with her number-one opponent. 

MICHELLE BERNARD, PRESIDENT & CEO, INDEPENDENT WOMEN‘S FORUM:  Yes, which is...

MATTHEWS:  Is that the kind of strong, aggressive, partnership that he

an even greater partnership, almost senior partner, in fighting this battle against Barack Obama?  Is that appropriate for a candidate? 

BERNARD:  Well, first, can say just how un-feminist it is to send your husband in to do the dirty work with you?  I have said it on this program before.

If you are running for the highest office of the land, you have got to take your punches and you got to run with the boys.  And that‘s what she‘s doing.

But, secondly, no, it‘s not appropriate.  It‘s completely inappropriate.  We had eight years of Bill Clinton as president.  He doesn‘t deserve another four as co-president. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, did Romney have a great answer there?  Did he win? 

Did he score with that?

BERNARD:  I thought it was the best line of the night. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what we thought, watching it.

BERNARD:  I thought that—I thought Romney rocked last right.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think, Michelle Laxalt?  Best line of the night?

LAXALT:  I thought it was a great...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me—let‘s get to a demurral here from Deroy.

You, of course, will demur now.  That was—I‘m sure the best line of the night was something delivered by the former mayor of New York.  Just guessing.

(LAUGHTER)

DEROY MURDOCK, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Well, I think he had quite a few good comments. 

I thought the comment about the Clintons was very good.  And I agree with what Michelle said, that, if Hillary Clinton really is going to be the commander in chief of the United States armed forces and leader of this country, she needs to stand up on her own, and not bring her husband in to defend her and sort of hide behind his coat sleeves, essentially. 

I do think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Coat sleeves?  Boy, you are mixing your metaphors here. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But go ahead, Deroy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But look at this.  Before we all jump on Hillary, let‘s watch the Republicans all jumping on Hillary last night.  It seemed like they act like she is already the Democratic nominee.  She‘s the incumbent, the way they talk.

Let‘s look at this chorus we have here of Republican attacks on Hillary last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If we do what Senator Clinton said that she wanted to do night before last, and that‘s wave the white flag of surrender and set a date for withdrawal, then we will have expenses, my friends, in American blood and treasure, because al Qaeda will then have won. 

RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  GIULIANI:  It‘s very, very interesting, the way you put that question is with a poll, because when the polls were six and seven out of 10 Americans thinking it was a good idea, Hillary Clinton was in favor of the war.  And now, when the polls are six out of 10 are against, Hillary Clinton is against the war.

ROMNEY:  Look, the success over there is due to the blood and the courage of our service men and women, and to General Petraeus and to President Bush, not to General Hillary Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that, Michelle?  You‘re—you‘re some kind of a feminist, a conservative feminist, perhaps.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Do you like the fact that all these guys have chosen her as their target range? 

BERNARD:  Well, I mean, I don‘t necessarily like it, but what I do think is that all the guys are trying to say, if she is the nominee, I‘m the person who the most electable.  I think all of the Republican candidates right now are worried about public perception.  None of them are a reliable conservative, so it is all about who do Republicans believe are the most electable and can beat Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

MATTHEWS:  And Michelle, the way to show you‘re a real Republican is to show you really don‘t like Hillary Clinton, it seems to me. 

LAXALT:  Absolutely, but as a woman I can say that she cannot have it both ways.  She cannot come, as she did a couple of weeks ago, and boo-hoo the boys who are picking on me, and then send out her husband as her  hatchet man.  And then come out and—

MATTHEWS:  Who says she can‘t?  It‘s working.  I‘m looking at the poll numbers.

LAXALT:  It may be working, but we will see whether or not it will ultimately work in her overall likability facto. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s the Republican fight right now.  Let‘s go right around the table.  Last night, most of the people on our show, when we did the hour and a half diagnosis afterwards, thought that Romney won.  I was one of them.  I was a little slow to say it because I wanted everyone else to say it first.  But I thought had a great night.  He used a lot of his speech parts.  And I thought he did a masterful job of looking very polished and perhaps presidential. 

Do you agree or not?  Do you think it was a better night for him or for your guy, Giuliani? 

MURDOCK:  I think that Romney always comes across as very eloquent.  He‘s very telegenic, no question. I wish that the other candidates had spoken up when he said that he turned around the Massachusetts economy without raising taxes.  That just is not so.  In fact, he enacted 126 different increases in fees, worth 470 million dollars, then increased 19 taxes worth about 510.  People in Massachusetts ended up paying more money for gasoline, more money for marriage permits, even more money for milk dealer licenses, if you can believe that. 

I think Rudy also pointed out, to a degree, a lot of people said what they might do turn the U.S. economy around, and he pointed out that he, in fact, did turn around the economy in New York City, where he had about a 10.5 percent unemployment rate.  That was cut to five.  A 15 percent increase in private payrolls.  And I think he did very well in pointing out this was not a theoretical exercise, but something he did very well, while also cutting taxes dramatically, not increasing taxes the way Romney did. 

MATTHEWS:  Michelle Laxalt, who won last night?

LAXALT:  I thought McCain and Giuliani did better than Romney did.  I think Romney tends to be a little bit robotic.  Yes, he is from central casting.  He has the right facial moves.  He has a beautiful—he‘s a very handsome fellow.  But I think the fact is that he has had so many different positions on so many critical issues that the one throw away line that got the biggest applause line may not get him the nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  Michelle?

BERNARD:  In terms of last night, he was—perception is a very large part of what happened last night.  He was commanding.  He answered questions well, much better than the last debate he was in.  And for people who are very concerned about the economy, and how we get out of this mess, he has done a very good job.  He knows how to make money.  I thought he did very well. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about them trying to out-right each other.  Here is Huckabee and Romney last night trying to out-gun each other on the Second Amendment. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  For many of us who are strong adherents to the Second Amendment, that‘s not quite consistent to say you are for Brady and so-called assault gun ban, but support the Second Amendment, because we see that that is really a denial of the Second Amendment.  I‘d appreciate some clarification on do you support Brady?  Do you support the Assault Weapon Ban?   

ROMNEY:  I do not support any new legislation of an assault weapon ban nature, including not against semi-automatic weapons.  I instead believe that we have laws in place that, if they‘re implemented and enforced, will proved the protection and the safety of the American people.  I do not support any new legislation.  And I do support the right of individuals to bear arms, whether for hunting purposes or for protection purposes or any other reason.  That‘s the right the people have. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Why shouldn‘t everybody have a Bazooka or guns mounted on their Hummers and ride around town with every kind of weapon?  If they want a nuclear bomb, why not?  This use of the Second Amendment seems to be everybody on the Subway in New York tonight ought to be armed because everybody else will be armed.  What is this about the Second Amendment?

Matt Dylon, Wyatt Earp, he told people they had to check their guns at the town limits.  Why is the Republican party going back to this primitive notion of the Second Amendment?

BERNARD:  I don‘t think it‘s the entire—

MATTHEWS:  Why do we need an assault weapon? 

BERNARD:  Some of these—I think Governor Huckabee, in particular, calling Ahmadinejad in Iran and asking for advice on how to run their campaign.  It‘s ridiculous.  It‘s not the entire Republican party.  People do have the right to bear arms.  But between calls for a theocracy and basing our constitution on the Bible and his craziness with guns—

MATTHEWS:  How many handguns do you need?  If it‘s for target practice or protection, you can wait a week or two.  How many do you need to buy a night?  I‘m sorry.  Go ahead, Deroy.  You live in the city.  I don‘t understand how we want to get on the subway at night knowing everybody else on the subway is armed, and because I have a gun I‘m OK.

MURDOCK:  There have been studies that have shown that in cities where there are concealed carry laws that the crime rate goes down, because criminals are afraid that people may retaliate. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of that? 

MURDOCK:  On this this race -- 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t want to give me your view because it requires you to actually say what you think, because I‘m asking you, Deroy—You think we should have a concealed gun law in New York? 

MURDOCK:  I think that probably would be helpful.  There are people who do conceal guns here.  To the degree people are afraid that criminals might be retaliated on, I think that helps keep the place safe.  I would point out that Romney, who claims to be Mr. Second Amendment now, actually increased the cost for gun permits and he claimed, when he ran for governor, that he wasn‘t a man with the NRA.  And now that he‘s running for president, he claims to be a lifetime member of NRA, lifetime being defined as joining in August of 2006.  So even on the gun issue, he‘s sort of all over the map. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- like getting on airplanes, why an airplane should be safer than an American sidewalk is crazy to me.  Why you can walk down the streets in an American city carrying a concealed weapon without a license is wacky. 

MURDOCK:  I didn‘t say without a license.  

MATTHEWS:  I‘m talking about that‘s what‘s going on.  I‘m talking about a different point here.  I want to see people disarmed.  I want people disarmed in our major cities.  How‘s that for a plan?  I don‘t think we should all be armed and I don‘t think more guns is the answer.  I think it‘s wacky to say the solution to armed robbery and killing in our streets and big cities is to put more arms in the streets. 

Anyway, thank you, Deroy.  You are entitled to your opinion as an American.  Under the Second Amendment, you can be as wacky as you want.  Michelle Bernard, thank you.  Ladies, thank you very much for being on late tonight.  I still don‘t know who you are for? 

BERNARD:  I haven‘t decided yet. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you for anybody yet?  It‘s getting late.  Up next, on the eve of the South Carolina primary, we have got our politics fix.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time now for the politics fix.  Joining me from the “Chicago Tribune,” Jill Zuckman, radio talk show host Latoya Foster, and George Mason University professor Michael Fauntroy, whose book is called “Republicans and the Black Vote.”

let me go to Latoya.  You‘re right here.  You have a radio talk show.  You‘re in touch with the people.  Is Bill Clinton doing the right thing by his wife, the candidate for president, in being such a big figure in this campaign, taking on Barack head to head. 

LATOYA FOSTER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Clearly, Bill Clinton is her biggest supporter, her biggest ally, and will bring in the voters.  However, Bill Clinton has to walk a very fine line.  Yes, he is expected to come out and support his wife.  Who wouldn‘t?  But he has to be very careful not to alienate people. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he or isn‘t he?

FOSTER:  Is he what?

MATTHEWS:  is he alienating people? 

FOSTER:  I think the African-American community, we were a little ticked off a few weeks about at some of comments about the fairy tale and so forth.  Yes, I think that did play a big role.

MICHAEL FAUNTROY, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY:  I think he is alienating people who are likely not supporting the Clintons to begin with. 

MATTHEWS:  Who?

FAUNTROY:  Anybody is on the fence or have already decided they don‘t like the Clintons, these folks are likely already to be off the reservation for the Clintons.  In my opinion, what Bill Clinton is doing is what a husband should do to support his wife.  In some respects, you could make the argument that he hasn‘t gone far enough.  Now, I‘m not prepared to make that argument.  I think he could potentially pay a price in November, but as it stands right now, he‘s doing what a husband should. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me bring it to Jill on that question.  Is Bill Clinton helping—let‘s say narrowly; is he helping Hillary win the fight against Barack? 

JILL ZUCKMAN, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Chris, I don‘t believe that he‘s doing anything that she doesn‘t want him to do.  I‘m told that after she lost in Iowa, the two of them were having nightly strategy meetings in New Hampshire.  They were staying in the same hotel, even though they were campaigning separately during the day.  I just don‘t think that he is going off on his own and freelancing. 

I also think that this is like a classic general election strategy.  She is trying to stay above it to a certain extent.  And, in a general election, the running mate would be the one who would be throwing out the salvos.  I think that‘s what they are doing here. 

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me they‘ve learned the lesson of the last two failed candidacies for president.  Al Gore had Lieberman, who was no help whatsoever as a vice presidential candidate.  He‘s a good guy, but he had help at all.  He wouldn‘t take the fight to the Republicans.  We‘ve learned lately why he hasn‘t, because he agrees with them.  But the other fellow, John Edwards, was useless as a vice presidential candidate because he wouldn‘t take the fight. 

Bill Clinton is teaching running mates how to do the job, which is take the fight to the other guy.  Isn‘t he?  You don‘t agree?

FOSTER:  I look at Bill Clinton and I look at those who have a love affair with the Clinton years and so forth, but I think people are also saying -- 

MATTHEWS:  Michael, you are one of those, aren‘t you?  You love the Clintons.  I can see the love.  You are defending the a priori, before they do anything.  Do they ever do anything wrong? 

FAUNTROY:  I‘m not suggesting to you at all that I‘m happy with the way things have gone in South Carolina.  I‘m simply saying that I think we run the risk of going overboard in focusing on what‘s going on right right now in South Carolina, when two months from now, we will be talking about the general election campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  A lot of people believe that what the Clintons have done in these in meetings they‘ve been having, Jill, is figure out how to run against Barack Obama and beat him.  Yield the black votes to him publicly.  in a way of getting the most of the white vote.  In other words, trade off one vote to get ten votes back.  That is a pretty good trade, if you‘re up to that business.  Is that your reporting?  Do you see that happening? 

ZUCKMAN:  Yes, I think they fully expect that they‘re going to lose South Carolina.  And with all the discussions of race that‘s going on in South Carolina, I think they believe that it benefits them as they move on to all of these other February 5th states, where the black vote doesn‘t necessarily predominate. 

MATTHEWS:  Back with the round table.  We‘re coming back with everybody, Latoya, Jill and Michael, in a minute. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back with our round table.  I want to go around on this other thing, which is this Republican thing, because it‘s getting so close to being decided I think.  Jill, you start.  You‘re covering the campaign out there with regard to both parties.  I just want to know—I watched the debate last night, and I thought Romney rolled it up last night, in terms of public perceptions.  We‘ll see. He‘s already ahead in the polls down there in Florida.  It looks to me like he got a leg.  He got some big Mo last night. 

ZUCKMAN:  Chris, I think that they‘re—that McCain and Romney are actually neck-and-neck right now.  There‘s different polls showing one slightly ahead of the other.  It‘s awfully close.  I just don‘t think we really have any idea what‘s going to happen. 

The key thing that came out of that debate was nobody got knocked off stride.  Nobody showed any flashes of anger.  It was just kind of a big snooze-fest.  So, I think that‘s good for both McCain and Romney because they don‘t want to make any mistakes. 

MATTHEWS:  I didn‘t hear Rudy say anything memorable last night. 

FOSTER:  I don‘t think anyone said anything memorable last night.  I think truly it was the—I think they took a page and looked at the Democratic debate a couple of nights before, and said OK, we‘re not going that route.  We‘re going to stay above that.  We‘re going to all come together and we‘re going to focus on the person who we either would most likely want to be the Democratic nominee—

MATTHEWS:  You know who won that fight because they didn‘t attack him? 

Romney. 

FAUNTROY:  I would say it‘s McCain.  McCain has been the one gaining the momentum.  If the person in the lead doesn‘t get beat up in a fight, that person is still in the lead.  There‘s no way—

MATTHEWS:  Professor, call me Tuesday night around midnight.  I‘ll be up in New York covering this thing and tell me I‘m wrong.  OK?

FAUNTROY:  I‘ll be happy to. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Thank you Jill Zuckman.  It‘s always great to see you guys in person.  Latoya and Michael Fauntroy, who‘s at George Mason.  On Saturday, my colleague Keith Olbermann will have live coverage of the Democratic primary down in South Carolina.  On Monday, I‘ll be back with Keith to cover the State of the Union Address from New York. 

On Tuesday, we‘ll be covering the Republican Florida primary.  Every night we‘ve got news around here.  Keith and I are putting this together.  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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