updated 1/29/2008 12:26:57 PM ET 2008-01-29T17:26:57

Guests: Doris Kearns Goodwin, Bakari Sellers, Charlie Cook, Michelle Bernard, Mike Barnicle, Eugene Robinson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The 2008 presidential election enters a new frontier.  President Kennedy‘s surviving brother and surviving child both endorse Barack Obama.  The torch gets passed.  The Clintons get passed by. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL. 

Well, the torch is passed. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  My friends, I ask you to join in this historic journey, to have the courage to choose change.  It‘s time again for a new generation of leadership.  It is time now for Barack Obama. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Today, Senator Ted Kennedy joined Caroline Kennedy in endorsing Barack Obama.  In a speech here in Washington, Senator Kennedy took direct aim one by one at the Clintons‘ arguments against Obama. 

It‘s a major event, perhaps ground-changing.  And we will have much more on this historic endorsement in a moment. 

All this comes just two days after Obama‘s 26-point rout -- 28-point rout of Hillary Clinton in South Carolina the other day.  Will that and the Kennedy endorsement give Obama the jolt he needs to win some big states on super-duper Tuesday, or is the Clinton campaign still too strong? 

And the latest polls show tomorrow‘s Florida Republican primary close between Senator John McCain and Mitt Romney. 

Plus tonight, a preview of President Bush‘s final State of the Union address. 

But we begin with the box office political story of the day, the Kennedy endorsement of Barack Obama.

I know, when I look into the eyes of my own children, the look of wonder when I speak of life back in the ‘60s.  That‘s why the Rolling Stones are such a hit even in their 60s, why Dennis Hopper is so compelling, even when he‘s making pitches for something unhip as long-term financial planning.

But all that, the hard rock, the hint of the drug culture, all that came later on, when the 1960s became the ‘60s, that turbulent, wild, sometimes dark era of protest that ended when Richard Nixon was forced from the White House. 

Today, we got a glimpse of the early 1960s, when politics was alive, so here and now in Washington, D.C., the era of serious commitment, of short hair, white shirts, narrow ties, and the Peace Corps.  Today, for a brief shining hour, the young got to see what we saw, not the gauzy images of Camelot, but the living spirit of the new frontier. 

South Carolina State Representative Bakari Sellers supports Barack Obama for president.  He joins us now. 

And take a look, by the way. 

Let me go—Representative, thank you for joining us. 

Why are you for Barack? 

BAKARI SELLERS (D), SOUTH CAROLINA STATE REPRESENTATIVE:  Thank you for having me. 

Well, for me, it was a very easy decision.  In my district, I represent kids who still go to school in trailers.  I had a great aunt who had to make those hard decisions between whether or not she was going to get her precipitation drugs, whether or not she was going to pay her utility bills.

And those are choices that she should not have to make.  In high school, I lost a classmate—or, recently, I lost a high school classmate in Iraq in a war why—we don‘t know why we were there. 

So, for me, the choice was easy.  The choice was easy to select Senator Obama as the next leader of this country for the next four years. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s go through those two issues. 

First of all, why do you believe Senator Obama is better than Senator Clinton on the economy, on helping regular people, like your relatives? 

SELLERS:  Well, you know, what was amazing is, when Senator Obama came to South Carolina, and he traveled throughout the state, where the individuals actually had to get a chance to meet him, he went from the Corridor of shame from along the I-95 Corridor, to the metropolitan cities of Greenville. 

And he took a message of hope.  He took a message of change.  And he talked about regular people.  He talked about tax cuts for individuals making less than $75,000 a year.  He talked about tax cuts for senior citizens.  And his message of hope, his message of change resonated.  And I think that was amazing.  And that‘s why we had a resounding victory on Saturday night. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think—well, I will ask you an obvious question.  I think I know the answer.  Why do you choose Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton on Iraq? 

SELLERS:  Because he doesn‘t have to apologize for his vote on the Iraq war.  That‘s easy enough. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you. 

Let‘s stick around, Representative. 

Let me go right now to NBC News chief White House correspondent.  My colleague David Gregory is with us. 

David, I watched the speech.  You watched the speech.  Give me an impact statement.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m sorry.  I missed the very top.  You are talking about Senator Kennedy‘s speech this morning? 

MATTHEWS:  I—well, it‘s the best speech I have heard in a while.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, Ted Kennedy‘s today.

GREGORY:  I think it was striking, Chris. 

And what really leapt out at me is not just face, the figure of Ted Kennedy endorsing Barack Obama.  It was the substance.  Talk about experience vs. change.  Here is the brother of JFK saying, yes, they used to say that my brother didn‘t have enough experience.  Well, he did.  He was president.  And Barack Obama has the right kind of experience as well. 

And then the pointed language toward Bill Clinton, the fact that this would be an end to the politics of disparagement and gender vs. gender, race vs. race, that he can transcend that, Barack Obama, saying that he felt inspired, Barack Obama—by Barack Obama, I mean, these were powerful words and a powerful rebuke of the Clintons. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here it is. 

Here‘s Ted Kennedy knocking the Clinton campaign tactics, as he sees them.  Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  With Barack Obama, we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

KENNEDY:  With—with Barack Obama, we will close the book on the old politics of race against race, gender against gender, ethnic against ethnic group, and straight against gay. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re so right, David.  It‘s so pointed.  It wasn‘t

an all-occasion endorsement.  It was a very particular, almost customized,

point-by-point rebuke—I think that was your word—there‘s been others

of the...

GREGORY:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... Clinton campaign tactics, as Kennedy has seen them take place. 

GREGORY:  I mean, misrepresentation vs. distortion. 

But I think, even beyond the tone of the campaign, that Kennedy appeared to be saying he didn‘t like—that he didn‘t like Bill Clinton‘s attacks on Barack Obama down in South Carolina. 

I think you have to go to the issue of street cred here.  And you look forward to February 5.  The experience argument seems to be the most important one.  If Ted Kennedy is out there saying, this guy can not only inspire you, he inspires me, he inspires the daughter of JFK, but he‘s got the right sort of experience, and I can vouch for him, as this lion of the Democratic Party, as the senior senator of Massachusetts and a senior statesman of the Senate, there‘s a lot of credibility that he was conferring upon Barack Obama with this speech today. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m going to show this clip from the speech.  And I want Senator Sellers, who has joined us from South Carolina, to respond to what he thinks of this moment in the speech today. 

Senator Sellers, here it is.  Take a look at what Senator Kennedy said about Obama, Barack Obama‘s position on the Iraq war. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY:  We know the true record of Barack Obama. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

KENNEDY:  There is the courage.  When so many others were silent or simply went along, from the beginning, he opposed the war in Iraq. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

KENNEDY:  And let no one deny that truth. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  God, “And let no one deny that truth.”

Senator Sellers, he‘s talking to somebody there. 

SELLERS:  Yes, he is.  He‘s speaking directly to the distortions that were attempted here in South Carolina.  He‘s speaking directly to the vein of the American people.  And he understands, as we understood here in South Carolina, that truth should reign out, and truth shall ring free, hopefully, on February 5. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to David Gregory about this speech and the impact of it.  It seems to me you‘re as good at this as anybody.  If you look at the next week, Ted Kennedy has laid out for himself quite an itinerary, hasn‘t he? 

GREGORY:  Right.  He really has. 

Can he help Barack Obama win Massachusetts?  That‘s question one, a state that a lot of people would have given to Hillary Clinton.  Can he help in Connecticut?  A lot of people think that she has got the strength in the tristate there in New York, in New Jersey and Connecticut.  Can he eat in as a popular figure in Massachusetts, where the media market bleeds into Connecticut, of course, can he help there?

Can he help out in California?  Can he help out in some of these states like Missouri, which appears to be a tossup state now between the two?  There is the tactical and there is the larger point about credibility and where Senator Kennedy can legitimize Barack Obama.  Can he...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GREGORY:  ... also light this fire, the idea that change is sweeping the country?  Can he create this kind of momentum that Barack Obama can seize on? 

I mean, the only reality check in all of this is that Hillary Clinton is incredibly well-financed.  No matter—you know, people will disagree about the strength of the former president in her camp.  He helps in a lot of places.  And there‘s a lot of people who believe that.

And you still go into Super Tuesday, and this thing is still very much a tossup even with Senator Kennedy in the mix now. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me bring in Doris Kearns Goodwin. 

Doris, thanks for joining us.  You‘re the great historian of the Kennedys, as well as so many others.

But it seems to me that the Kennedys, Bobby in particular, Bobby Kennedy, discovered the Chicano cause back in the ‘60s, the mid-‘60s.  He went out there to the grape pickers and the workers in the fields and found them politically.  It was Cesar Chavez, their leader. 

And now Ted Kennedy is heading out.  Did you see his itinerary?  New Mexico, Arizona, California.  He‘s going out to talk to Latinos and Latinas about his friend and his candidate, Barack Obama. 

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  And, clearly, those memories of Cesar Chavez are so strong.  He is their leader, as Martin Luther King was the leader for African-Americans.

And, to the extent that Kennedy is able to help Obama take away some of the Latino support, which people assumed was going to be Hillary Clinton‘s, that‘s huge. 

You know, but I think, Chris, there is something even bigger that has happened, which is that, before, when Obama talked about a politics that was above divisiveness and united people, it seemed rather soft and idealistic. 

But now, because he has been put on the defensive, he came out defiant and strong.  And it‘s an illustration of what he meant by what Bill Clinton did in these last days.  So, I think it‘s given him a much more powerful voice, as Kennedy talked.  They had a dance today, in a certain sense. 

Obama talked about how Kennedy stood for a politics that was above disparagement. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GOODWIN:  He talked about how Obama stood for that.  It‘s almost as if they had mimeographed this thing—or choreographed it, is the better word. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m sure they did.

Let me go back to Senator Sellers in South Carolina.

Senator, when you listen to Obama, he gives these almost aloof, Olympian speeches .  They are very grand and sweeping.  And I‘m as taken with them as anybody in the audience, I must say.  But he doesn‘t have that particularity that we like in politics, where you take the big thing and you take it home to something specific, so you know what we‘re talking about. 

Ted Kennedy did that today on point after point after point.  Do you think Senator Obama has to start doing that in his debate with Senator Clinton? 

SELLERS:  Oh, I think Senator Obama has illustrated that he can go point to point to point, especially when he came and spent some time in South Carolina.  And I think that is what won over voters. 

What you will see between now and February 5 is, you will see that people, when they begin to have more and more contact with Senator Obama, will see that his hope transcends race.  It transcends gender.  And they will be moved just as we were here.  Here in South Carolina, the results were undeniable. 

And that speech today by Senator Kennedy, it brought home the same fact that we all knew here in South Carolina about Senator Obama, that he‘s the person to lead this new generation of change. 

And I‘m so excited just to be part of it that I‘m kind of shaking here in front of you.  So, I‘m forward to February 5.

MATTHEWS:  I think you are part of it.  You are part of it. 

Let me go to David Gregory here a second—David. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

I just think that‘s an important point that you make.  I think what Barack Obama has done so well to date is offer the poetry.  And he‘s got the poetry of this campaign down.  I think it gets even sharper, as it did after South Carolina, his victory speech very pointed toward the Clintons, very strong, very hard-edged. 

He‘s actually trying to draw on the unity of his campaign based on the hard part of his political experience in this campaign alone.  But I think that you‘re on to something, in that the particularity of political speak now to speak to this experience question.  He may have some wind at his back now with Senator Kennedy behind him, but he‘s going to be speaking to a lot of voters who still think he has not closed the deal on whether he can handle the tough stuff, can handle the crisis, can go deep on policy. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  And that‘s going to matter, because she certainly can.  And she‘s demonstrated that, I think, to a lot of voters. 

MATTHEWS:  Doris, you know the Kennedys so well.  I was struck by a couple things.  I think they were legitimately inspired, Vicky (ph) and Ted Kennedy, by what they have seen of Barack Obama.  He‘s not a family friend.  He‘s not a relative, an in-law, a nephew.  He‘s a person like we all notice, a public figure. 

And, secondly, I think he is legitimately or personally concerned about the break between the Democratic Party establishment and black America.  That‘s always been, under the Kennedys, a very tight bond.  African-Americans are the base of the Democratic Party.  They use that word perhaps too freely, but it means the people who are most reliable in November. 

And he obviously had it—well, let me ask you, what do you think his reaction was to the way this campaign‘s gone between the Clintons and Barack Obama? 

GOODWIN:  Well, think about it.  One of the great achievements of John F. Kennedy was to have introduced the Civil Rights Act, which then eventually got passed the next year under Lyndon Johnson, but in large part in part because of people‘s feelings about John Kennedy. 

Teddy Kennedy, one of his first speeches was about the poll tax and the importance of undoing the poll tax.  He has fought for civil rights his whole time, feeling, too, that health care was part of civil rights, which he talked about. 

And, so, I think the idea that, somehow, if he can believe Obama can rise above the race-race, gender-gender things, and the pointed criticism, as we have all said, of the Clinton campaign in these last weeks for seeming to use race in a negative way, I think that finally turned him over. 

He had been obviously, as you know, talking about doing this for the last couple weeks.  But the timing, for Obama‘s sake, could not have been better.  If he had done this a week ago, it would have been much less meaningful than right now, given the momentum...

MATTHEWS:  I hear you.

GOODWIN:  And the chance to make that momentum go stronger. 

MATTHEWS:  I got the whisper on Saturday, and I couldn‘t believe it was going to happen. 

Let me tell you, I think it‘s just the—this is the debut of Ted Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy.  I think what we have to watch is the road show.  How impressive are they between now and next Tuesday, nine days from now, or, rather, eight days from now, heading towards super-duper Tuesday?

If he‘s on the road the whole eight days, that is power. 

Anyway, thank you very much, Senator Bakari Sellers from South Carolina.  Sir, thank you.  Please come back on the show. 

David Gregory, sir, thank you.  We will see you later tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Doris Kearns Goodwin is staying with us right now. 

And coming up:  Now that the Kennedys have passed the torch to Obama, how will the Democratic race shake out?  It‘s only got like eight days until the big day.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.    

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY:  Now, with Barack Obama, there is a new national leader who has given America a different kind of campaign, not just about himself, but about all of us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY:  We know the true record of Barack Obama. 

(APPLAUSE)

KENNEDY:  There is the courage.  When so many others were silent or simply went along, from the beginning, he opposed the war in Iraq. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

How important is Senator Ted Kennedy‘s endorsement of Obama?  How about Caroline Kennedy‘s endorsement in “The New York Times” yesterday?  And what it will do for him, Barack Obama, as he heads into Super Tuesday, eight days from now?

Charlie Cook is the editor and publisher of “The Cook Political Report” and an NBC News analyst as well, and Doris Kearns Goodwin, the great historian, stays with us right now.

Thank you, dear. 

Let me go to Charlie Cook for a wet blanket, sir.  Lay it on. 

CHARLIE COOK, EDITOR & PUBLISHER, “THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT”:  The thing is, any Democrat would love to have an endorsement from Ted Kennedy or Caroline Kennedy.  I mean, these are—they are big endorsements.  They‘re important.

The key thing is, can it help Barack Obama break through in the white vote?  He got 36 percent of the white vote in New Hampshire, 34 percent in Nevada, 24 percent in South Carolina.  He‘s got to do a heck of a lot better than that.  Only getting 24...

MATTHEWS:  Well, doesn‘t this help?

COOK:  Oh, I don‘t know.  We will see. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you.

Tim was making—Tim Russert was making the point this morning on “MORNING JOE” that this will help, obviously, with Latinos, with Hispanics.  That‘s where he‘s going out to work.  He‘s going out to work in New Mexico, Arizona, California, obviously targeting that large community out there that has been a problem for Barack. 

What about white working people, regular people?  How are they going to react to Ted Kennedy and the Kennedys coming out? 

COOK:  Well, we‘ll see if it helps with Hispanic voters.  I mean, the thing is, there is a black/brown rivalry over which is going to become the dominant—which is going to be the dominant minority group in the Democratic Party.  It‘s been the African-American vote.  Hispanics say, We‘re the fastest-growing.  We‘re getting just as big or going to be bigger.  It should be us.  And there‘s a rivalry there.  There‘s a push-back.

And you see Barack Obama winning the African-American vote huge, and you‘re seeing Hillary Clinton, at least in Nevada, the one place we saw—she got, what, 68 percent of the Hispanic vote?  Now, we‘ll wait and see on Super Tuesday, when there are other states that have big Hispanic votes.  But if that‘s going to offset part of Obama‘s advantage in the black vote and Obama doesn‘t close the gap significantly among whites, he‘s not going to be the nominee.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Doris about the establishment Democratic Party, which often lets us down, all Americans, I think, the establishment of both parties, you might argue.  Will they be a little more free now to resist the Clinton intimidation that‘s been going on around the country urging and pushing people to endorse them out of pressure?  Will the Kennedy endorsement of Barack give some of them the sense, Hey, look, if I don‘t endorse Hillary, I‘ll still be able to live in this party afterwards?

GOODWIN:  Well, I think he does give cover for that.  I mean, when you think about it, Barack has had red state senators‘ and governors‘ endorsements and he‘s had -- - he had John Kerry last week, and now Ted Kennedy.  It probably does make it easier for them to not feel, I‘ll be undone, because they know that  even if Mrs. Clinton were to win, she‘s going to need Ted Kennedy.  He‘s in charge of that committee that will be so important for the legislation that she‘ll want to get through, the progression legislation.  So if he was willing to go out on a limb, they may feel that he can cover them.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think it looks like for the general, Charles?

COOK:  I think John McCain is looking more and more like the Republican nominee, and I think increasingly, he‘s the—he looks like the only Republican that would have a fighting chance, that would have a very good chance.  I think either McCain/Obama or McCain/Clinton—either one would be a nail-biter race.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) McCain/Clinton?

COOK:  Well, right now, in the NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, McCain is up by 2 against Clinton and dead even with Obama.  I think both—all within the margin of error.  I think if it‘s McCain on the Republican side, we‘re going to look at—we‘re going to see a really, really close general election, no matter what.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Doris, do you think Hillary Clinton could beat Mitt Romney—not Mitt Romney, the other guy, McCain?  What kind of race would that be?

GOODWIN:  I still think Hillary Clinton has a very good shot at the nomination and the election.  I mean, I think that to the extent that she can incorporate the goals of progressive Democrats that have been stymied for the last decade and go forward into the future—I think women, if she were to be elected as the nominee, would feel much stronger about the idea that the first woman was going to become president.

I think we haven‘t even seen the power of the woman thing until she becomes the nominee, if she were to do so.

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

GOODWIN:  Yes, I think it will be tough against McCain, but I think that‘ll be a huge power that we haven‘t even understood yet.

MATTHEWS:  Well, these turn-out numbers are amazing, and sometimes over 60 percent, I think, in South Carolina were women voters.  It‘s not just, like, in California, where it‘s about 60.  In some states, it seems to be even higher participation.

COOK:  I think in a general election situation that Hillary Clinton is like a stock that‘s—that‘s got a very narrow trading range.  She‘s got a high floor, a low ceiling, low variability, and she‘s already discounted for all her problems.  If somebody told me that a Democratic in a two-way race was going to get 54, 55, 56 percent, I would bet it was Barack Obama.  If somebody told me that a Democrat in a two-way race was going to get less than 45 percent, I‘d bet it‘d be Barack Obama.  II think he‘s got the ability to win bigger than she could, or to lose bigger than she could, just because that stock is not completely discounted or factored in.

MATTHEWS:  High floor, low ceiling, Hillary Clinton.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what you said.

COOK:  Yes, high floor, low ceiling.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s like “Inside John Malkovich.” (SIC)

COOK:  Narrow trading range.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you very much.  Another movie reference for those of you out there.  Anyway, Charlie Cook, sir, thank you.  Often right, often cautious.  And thank you, Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Up next: Romney gets casual and Ted Kennedy slaps Hillary, of course, and the New York tabs take aim at Bill.  They call him “Wild Bill.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL for a look at some other political news.  Well, as you‘ve noticed by now, Mitt Romney has shed his stiff consultant suits for a more laid-back, outdoorsy look—no jacket, rolled-up sleeves, you know the drill.  Well, in preparation for tomorrow‘s Florida showdown, he‘s taking his sartorial splendor to the next level.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This is an honor, to be wearing this guayabera.  This was given to me by the members of the museum of the Bay of Pigs veterans.  And given the honor that they have made for our nation and the sacrifice they made, I wanted to wear this today in their honor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, yes, that‘s Mitt Romney wearing a traditional Cuban shirt at a Florida youth center over the weekend.  Cuba si, Brooks Brothers no.

Speaking of Florida, insurgent Democrat Joe Lieberman is working the state for his buddy, John McCain.  Of course, Lieberman couldn‘t deliver Florida for Al Gore back in 2000 as his running mate, but perhaps 2008 will be different.  But what‘s fascinating here is what fellow Democrats are saying about Lieberman out there stumping for a Republican.  Nada.  Nobody‘s saying anything about it.  I guess this comes from the point—or we‘re at the point where Lieberman‘s crossing of the aisle is just not even noteworthy.

Not only is Bill Clinton causing some trouble for his wife, he‘s also feeding those hungry New York tabs these days.  Take a look at the front page of today‘s “New York Post.”  That‘s today‘s paper.  They‘re still doing it to him up there—“Wild Bill, furor at latest dis of Obama.”  The paper calls him the “big mouth of the South.”

Anyway, now it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number.”  As we talked about earlier in the show, Ted Kennedy endorsed Barack Obama today, and he used his big speech to confront all the Clinton campaign‘s attacks against Obama.  Take a look at his point-by-point counterpunches.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  ... trapped in the patterns of the past.

Demonizing those who hold a different view.

There is the courage...

when so many others were silent or simply went along.  From the beginning, he opposed the war in Iraq.  And let no one deny that truth.

the old politics that parses us into separate groups and puts us at odds with one another.

the same kind of hunger to move on and move America forward...

What counts in our leadership is not the length of years in Washington...

we will turn the page on the old politics of misrepresentation and distortion.

we will close the book on the old politics of race against race, gender against gender, ethnic group against ethnic group and straight against gay.

With Barack Obama, we will end a war in Iraq that he has always stood against...

Let us reject the counsels of doubt and calculation.

find a way past the stale ideas and stalemate of our times...

the politics of fear...

I know that he‘s ready to be president on day one.

Harry Truman said we needed someone with greater experience...

to go beyond the divisions of the past...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s 16 times he took a direct shot, 16 counterpunches against the Clintons.  It was King Arthur coming back from the Crusades to endorse Robin Hood.  That‘s what I say.  Sixteen—tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next, the battle for Florida.  We‘ll go to the front lines, where the Republicans are fighting it out in a state where no one can afford to finish second.  Winner, I think, takes all.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The Republican race in Florida is neck and neck between John McCain and Mitt Romney.  HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster is in Florida right now with the latest—

David.

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, on this, the last full day of campaigning here in Florida, the rhetoric by the Republican presidential candidates was on overdrive.  Mitt Romney and John McCain hammered each other today, and Rudy Giuliani pleaded with his supporters to shock the political world and give him a victory.

But first, Mitt Romney.  Today he used some of the harshest language to date in attacking John McCain.  Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  McCain/Feingold has not reduced the impact of money in politics.  It‘s made it worse.  McCain/Kennedy is viewed by virtually all as an amnesty bill.  And McCain/Lieberman would cost the families of America as much as $1,000 apiece.  All three are bills which evidence a lack of understanding of our economy, the very lack of understanding which Senator McCain has admitted on numerous occasions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  John McCain has been hammering Mitt Romney over Iraq, and to the extent that this debate focuses the voters on foreign policy, that would be to John McCain‘s advantage.  But McCain is also trying to erase any doubts about his Republican loyalty.  Today in Orlando, McCain praised President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m happy to tell you tonight the president of the United States is goes to throw down the gauntlet to these pork-barrel appropriators and say, We‘re not going to spend any of that money that‘s in these committee reports.  And I‘m proud of the president of the United States!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Again, that‘s McCain talking about the earmark proposal that President Bush is coming up with tonight.

Florida has become do or die for former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, and today Giuliani said whoever wins Florida will win the nomination, raising questions, of course, about Giuliani‘s future if he doesn‘t.  To supporters, Giuliani continues to talk about having already been tested.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, FMR NYC MAYOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘ve been tested.  I‘ve done it before.  The kinds of challenges that we face are challenges that are bigger than the ones that I faced before, but they‘re like them.  We need a president—when you look at my 12 commitments to the American people, you can see the program that we need and the future that we need.  We need a president who can keep us on offense in the terrorists‘ war against us.  Never again should we go back on defense, like we used to be before September 11.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Finally, Mike Huckabee is looking ahead to Super Tuesday and campaigned today in Tennessee, but last night, Huckabee spoke in his own unique style about the Florida primary and offered this...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AR), FMR GOVERNOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You‘ve already voted for me once, but this is Florida.  Would you go back and vote two or three more times?  We aren‘t finished until we‘ve counted your vote at least four more times.  Hang those chads and get out there and vote!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  An intense but also funny day, in some measures today, Chris, here in Florida, in a race that all of the Republicans seem to acknowledge that whoever emerges victorious is going to have rocket fuel as far as momentum carrying them ahead—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  It‘s just that there‘s nothing funny about screwing up an election.  Anyway, thank you, David Schuster.

Michelle Bernard is with the conservative group Independent Women‘s Voice, and Joe Scarborough is host of MSNBC‘s “MORNING JOE.”

Joe, you‘re my guru for Florida.  Can the grand vizier tell me what‘s going to happen tomorrow night when we count the ballots?

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “MORNING JOE”:  I think Mitt Romney‘s going to win by a few points.  But I‘ll tell you, there‘s going to be a much bigger story coming out of Florida, and that is we are going to have a Republican side that looks like a Democratic side.  It‘s going to be down to two candidates.  I‘m hearing from the Republican voters all across this state, people who are making calculated decisions.  There are people in north Florida that like Mike Huckabee, but they say a vote for Huckabee—and I heard this time and time again from evangelicals throughout the day—a vote for Mike Huckabee is like a vote for John McCain.  Those people are breaking Mitt Romney‘s way.

I‘m hearing from moderates, It ain‘t going to be Rudy, I don‘t want to it be Romney, so I‘m going to break for John McCain.  So you‘re going to see this race after Florida just a race between Romney and McCain.

Very interesting.  I was talking all morning this morning, Chris, about how it was fascinating, if you looked at the Florida polls, they were so close, with John McCain ahead in a few polls by a point or two.  But it was McCain that started this attack on Friday.  He‘s been hammering points home and even saying some things that just aren‘t true about Mitt Romney, according to most published reports, mainly about him being like Hillary Clinton.

However, what‘s so interesting is—I just asked him, why is he doing this.  If you‘re ahead, you usually don‘t go on the attack.  It‘s very interesting, though, Cindy McCain earlier today said in a rally, with 150 people listening, that Florida is make or break for our campaign.  So maybe the McCain campaign knows something that we don‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me—let me go over to Michelle Bernard here.  First of all, let‘s look at the poll here for everybody here, everybody watching.  John McCain leads Mitt Romney in the newest Reuters/C-Span/Zogby poll.  That‘s got McCain up by three points, which isn‘t that significant.  He got a little bump apparently in the last couple of days from the Governor Crist endorsement.  You see how it bumped three points just because of that.  Michelle? 

BERNARD:  You know, Florida‘s—

MATTHEWS:  I‘m hearing cross winds of arguments.  Joe gives me one side.  I‘m getting another side, the other ear. 

BERNARD:  I don‘t have a dog in the pony, but this is what I‘ll say; it is very, very, very close.  Florida, it‘s not just that Florida has 57 delegates, but this the first opportunity that McCain will be able have to prove to Republicans across the country what he really can do without independents bolstering him like they did in New Hampshire and in South Carolina.  It will be—

MATTHEWS:  It‘s an all-Republican fight. 

BERNARD:  It‘s an all-Republican fight.  It‘s winner take all.  It will be interesting to see what happens with U.S. born Hispanics, how they vote, what happens with Spanish-speaking immigrants in Florida, who are they going to vote for, and whether or not Floridians are more concerned about the economy or national security?  If it‘s the economy, people are going to overwhelmingly vote for Romney; if it‘s national security, I think you‘ll see Floridians overwhelmingly voting for Senator McCain. 

But also what‘s going to happen with people who have given up on Rudolph Giuliani?  I‘m hearing, for example, that senator—that Governor Romney has been spending a lot of time with Jewish voters who are New York transplants that were originally staunch supporters of Mayor Giuliani and now they‘re saying, you know what, Romney‘s our guy. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll see.  Let me ask you, Joe, what are the stakes?  What‘s the purse here, as they say in the racetrack business?  Is a win in Florida, as Giuliani says, a win?  You win the nomination, you win down there? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I really think it is for a couple of reasons; because John McCain, if he can get out of Florida with a victory here and a victory in South Carolina and a victory in New Hampshire before that, he‘s going to have the momentum going into Super Tuesday.  He‘s not going to have the money that Mitt Romney‘s having.  If Mitt Romney wins here, then Romney‘s going to storm into Super Tuesday with an awful lot of money.  He won‘t have the built-in advantages that John McCain has. 

But you‘re starting to see national polls break Mitt Romney‘s way.  There is something out there, Chris, and I know you‘ve seen it by—in following elections, at least in the state of Florida, so much of it is anecdotal.  But over the past 24 hours, everybody that I‘m talking to on the phone that‘s let‘s say right of center seems to breaking Romney‘s way.  They may not be in love with him, but it‘s their practical choice, certainly more practical, they think right now than voting for Mike Huckabee.  And I suspect the same thing is happening nationally. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, what I think is the topic selection determines who wins.  If the topic is the economy, it helps Mitt Romney.  I think the topic right now in most people‘s minds, no matter what Giuliani or McCain says, is the economy. 

Thank you, Joe Scarborough.  Thank you, as always, Michelle Bernard. 

Up next, the politics fix on tomorrow‘s Florida primary.  We‘ll try to fix the facts there.  We‘ll get the facts at least. 

And the on-going spat between the Clintons and Barack Obama; it‘s one of the great intramural fights in history.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Let the word go forth from this time and place to friend and foe alike that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans. 

OBAMA:  We will not just win these primaries.  We will not just win this general election.  We will change the course of history, and light a new torch for change in this country.  And the glow from that fire can truly light the world. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  A 47-year difference, there you have it Jack Kennedy and Barack Obama.  Welcome back to HARDBALL and our politics fix.  Our panel tonight, MSNBC political analyst Mike Barnicle, NBC News political director Chuck Todd and Gene Robinson of the “Washington Post.”  In order, gentlemen, as you were announced; your feelings in watching that speech yesterday? 

Feelings, gentlemen.  Teddy Kennedy‘s speech, what did it do to you? 

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I will tell you what it did for me.  It was such an electric moment for me.  I‘m listening to Senator Kennedy and in my mind‘s eye, in the back of my mind‘s eye, I can see Robert Kennedy in a motorcade in Gary, Indiana, whites and blacks merging toward the car, the crush of people just trying to touch him.  I could see Robert Kennedy, in my minds eye, coming down through Stockton, Tularry (ph), Modesto, Delano, Bakersfield, California. 

I could see the farm workers.  I never underestimate the passion and emotion of politics and that‘s what I saw and that‘s what I heard today. 

MATTHEWS:  Chuck? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  As someone who only read about the Kennedys—I cannot say I was there for any of those moments. 

MATTHEWS:  But today. 

TODD:  Clearly, it felt like watching a little bit of history.  It was a very historical moment.  You have historic family up there trying to pass this torch very symbolically.  But I was amazed at the edge that was in Kennedy‘s speech.  There was a hard edge in there that almost—very almost in order took every single Hillary and Bill Clinton criticism of Barack Obama and tried to answer it. 

It was not just a lauding speech that tried to invoke the memories of Bobby and John Kennedy.  It was also a direct response about whether Obama was ready to be president, whether he had the experience, and what, you know, could he deal with this—

MATTHEWS:  Didn‘t he also go in on the question of whether they were misrepresenting and distorting his record?  Whether they were getting blacks sort of marginalized again politically, identifying Barack Obama as Jesse Jackson, a marginalized candidate who wasn‘t really going for the victory?  Weren‘t they doing that? 

TODD:  There was an absolute edge to it.  He even brought up that.  You are sitting there and you can‘t—at some point we have to stop describing this stuff as a veiled swipes at the Clintons. 

MATTHEWS:  This wasn‘t veiled.  Evan Bayh was on live and he was trying to defend the Clintons by saying it was a attack against Karl Rove, of all people.  I think the direct target was, in fact, the intramural target.  It was the Clintons. 

TODD:  It felt that way.  And so watching that separation, because it really—the Clintons did everything they could to hug the Kennedys in the ‘90s and to basically make Bill Clinton the rightful heir—

MATTHEWS:  They made it look like Jack Kennedy had dubbed Bill Clinton the next president with that picture they used. 

TODD:  What‘s funny about we‘re seeing with Obama is I feel like I‘m rewatching—I can go back to the ‘92 campaign.  I can‘t go back to the ‘68 campaign.  But I do feel like I‘m rewatching some of the Clinton ‘92, where it‘s Obama now trying to reach into the past and trying to say I‘ll finish Kennedy‘s legacy. 

MATTHEWS:  I got the feeling that Ted Kennedy was disenfranchising the Clintons, saying you no longer have the franchise.  You are not the Kennedy couple anymore.  Let me go to Gene Robinson.  Did you feel that, that he was saying, no more, you have had your run.  I‘m giving it to Obama.   

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Exactly.  First, it was one of those moments that makes you remember that politics really is about people‘s aspirations and hopes and dreams and, you know, one of those goose bump moments today. 

But, yes, remember the Clintons were, you know, in some senses kind of an alien—an alien thing that invaded the body politic of the Democratic party.  They came from Arkansas.  They are to themselves that whole Little Rock thing.  And it was accepted by the party, because it was so successful.  But, you know, I think the party was—or Kennedy at least, representing the Grand Old Party establishment, was saying, was pointing that out, that the Clintons really don‘t come out of that Kennedy tradition. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, they are rooted.  The Kennedys have the great advantage of being rooted.  And so like many of the rest of us, the Clintons are mobile.  Hillary Clinton grew up in suburban Chicago.  She moved to the south, picked up the accent, moved to New York.  She had to become a New Yorker.  There‘s the carpetbagger aspect to that that‘s always there. 

But so much of America is mobile these days.  The Kennedys are lucky.  They just stay there in Massachusetts.  We‘ll be right back with the round table.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table.  We‘re going to do some homework right out loud here tonight.  Gentlemen, Gene, Chuck, and Mike, I have to do a power ranking in the second edition.  We‘re going to do it in the E and F block about 20 minutes before the end of the hour, and I need your help here.  I want you to help me, because I‘m going to remember what you told me.  Chuck—

TODD:  Sir. 

MATTHEWS:  -- you do this for a living.  You‘re NBC‘s political director.  You advice some of the smartest people we know.  Who is going to win in Florida tomorrow night?  The voters have to vote.  Let‘s put that advisory there.  But who do you think they will vote for? 

TODD:  Well, the whole thing is still set up for Romney.  It is a closed primary.  Only Republicans can vote.  That‘s important.  You have the third candidate in there taking vote from your chief rival, Rudy Giuliani.  Any vote he gets seems to come out of John McCain‘s hide. 

So you put that together and you sit there and say, OK, that advantage goes to Romney.  McCain has won the last three or four news cycles.  Charlie Crist has put—This guy has 70 percent approval rating.  Everybody thinks he‘s some powerhouse.  He went with the guy that looks like he does not have the organization. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a very popular guy.  We had him on. 

TODD:  McCain is now even with television advertising.  It is—you know, he‘s dollar in and dollar out.  The minute—

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Gene. 

TODD:  You know, I think it is razor-thin. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the “Washington Post” saying about this? 

ROBINSON:  The “Washington Post” doesn‘t know.  But I think it will be Romney.  I think he is going to win.  I think, you know, it is a good state for him.  My feeling is that McCain will fall a little short.  This will really set up Romney for Super Tuesday. 

MATTHEWS:  Mike? 

BARNICLE:  I have to bet, I wouldn‘t bet a whole lot of money on it.  I would bet that the combination of Senator Martinez and Charlie Crist is going to McCain eke out a very narrow victory. 

MATTHEWS:  If that‘s the case, Mike Barnicle, then he is on his way, isn‘t he?  The stakes are so high, once again, for one state, because this projects him as the best-known candidate coming off a sweep, a winner take all sweep in Florida, heading into the big states a week from tomorrow night. 

BARNICLE:  I think what it does for him, and Chuck just referred to it, he has been literally making his money a dollar at a time.  If he wins the Florida primary, he is going to be able to finally raise some money to compete with Romney.  Romney will go on for a while.  He has the resources to go on for a while.  But it would be a huge boost financially for McCain. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go around the table again.  What happened to Rudy Giuliani?  He led the polls for months and months.  Did he simply—what‘s the right word?  I was thinking, guys, that General MacArthur in ‘51 would have had a shot at the presidency when he came back from being fired in Korea by Truman.  By a year later he was yesterday‘s newspaper.  Is that it?  He just simply ran out of 9/11? 

TODD:  What he did is he filed for the office but he never ran for it.  He didn‘t run.  He didn‘t do like he did in New York City and go and grab this election, grab the electorate, shake them and convince.  You know why?  Because he was a Republican so he had to figure out how to convince people that he could be trusted.  He thought he would waltz in. 

He never ran.  It was the weirdest thing.  He could have gone in New Hampshire, and if he was just like in New York City—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- if he had gone to the start, fast break, he would have won it? 

BARNICLE:  Chuck, one thing off of that, I think he did run for a while.  But I think the more exposure he got, a lot of people—I saw him in Ohio.  I saw him in New Hampshire, a lot in New Hampshire.  And he came off as a strange little man selling fear. 

ROBINSON:  I‘m sorry.  People didn‘t like him.  That‘s the problem. 

They didn‘t like him. 

MATTHEWS:  I think the press didn‘t like either, especially the New York press.  Thank you, Mike Barnicle.  Thank you Gene Robinson.  Thank you Chuck Todd. 

Join us again in an hour for the HARDBALL power rankings.  They come around late in the show.  I‘m still working on them.

And then at 9:00 tonight Eastern, the State of the Union.  We are covering it live here.  Tomorrow, Tuesday, live coverage of the Republican Florida primary.  All going on in the next two days.  Right now it is time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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