updated 1/30/2008 4:04:55 PM ET 2008-01-30T21:04:55

Guests: Rep. Robert Wexler, Rep. Kendrick Meek, Ed Schultz, Mark Green, Eugene Robinson, Bob Herbert, Michelle Bernard, Craig Crawford

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  All eyes are on Florida. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

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

Tonight, the Florida race, the Florida face-off.  Floridians have been casting votes all day in what many have called a very nasty primary fight.  Heading into today, the polls show a close race between Mitt Romney and John McCain down there in Florida.  Can either Romney or McCain survive a loss here tonight?  Will Rudy Giuliani drop out if he doesn‘t win tonight? 

On the Democratic side, there are no delegates at stake formally and the candidates have not pledged to campaign in Florida.  So, why has Senator Hillary Clinton scheduled a victory party down there tonight? 

Tonight, we will look at the candidates and the stakes. 

We begin with MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan, “The Washington Post”‘s Eugene

Robinson, and NBC News political director Chuck Todd, who I believe is in -

where are you, Chuck? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Just a few floors above you, buddy. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  The magic of television. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s keep our relationship exactly this way. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just kidding. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go right to Pat Buchanan. 

Pat, I know your sister is working in the Obama campaign, right? 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Not Obama.  That would be Romney. 

MATTHEWS:  Romney campaign.  I‘m sorry. 

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  Now, that would be news. 

MATTHEWS:  I keep getting this wrong.

EUGENE ROBINSON, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: 

That would be news. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I keep getting—it seemed illogical, but, now, so let‘s get that on the table, and I won‘t bring it up again tonight.  But in the interest of fair and balanced. 

OK, number one, what does she tell you?  What do you know from the inside about the race in Florida today? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, the race—they have got polls that are mixed this morning, from what I understand, Chris.  Romney‘s ahead one or two.  I think McCain‘s is ahead in one or two and others.  McCain may be ahead in slightly more. 

I think the Romney folks, as I understand it, you know, the—that, you know, they‘re wary, as I‘m sure the McCain folks are.  Nobody really knows.  The question is, are these evangelical...

MATTHEWS:  Who is bleeding?  Who is bleeding down there?  Who is feeling it?  Who is hurt right now? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  The people that are bleeding is—Giuliani is bleeding to McCain, and Huckabee is bleeding to Romney.  The evangelical Christians,  a lot of them you hear, look, a vote for Huckabee is a vote for McCain. 

And, up in the Panhandle, they may be moving toward Romney, although McCain has got real support up there, I understand.  Chris, this really is a very, very tough race to call.  My guess is, both camps are very nervous tonight.  Both are putting on a good face. 

MATTHEWS:  Not to change the topic, because I don‘t like religion in politics, but have you noticed that all the talk about LDS, Mormon, Mormon, Mormon up in Iowa a couple weeks ago...

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... nothing about it down there in Florida.  What is going on?  Why not? 

BUCHANAN:  It is down there.  It was down there.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is it undercurrent? 

BUCHANAN:  I talked to my sister, and she said, folks will come up to her in the Panhandle and say, look, Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and I‘m not sure about their religion, but I think this is a good man. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  So, they have got it in the back of their minds, but it‘s a not a big, salient issue. 

I think, when you and I saw Romney give that outstanding speech, I think he really drove it to the background and drove it underground, but you can‘t drive it out of politics. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I thought it was a good speech, too. 

Gene? 

ROBINSON:  I think it‘s the economy.  I really do.  I really think that...

MATTHEWS:  You mean bigger than religion?  Dare we say that in this country? 

ROBINSON:  I do think so. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  I think, in this country, at this moment, with the stock market gyrating and people—even people with a sophisticated understanding of economics and people who don‘t have that, all have the sense of the international system somehow out of whack and getting worse. 

And Romney speaks to those issues a lot better than John McCain does.  I mean, John McCain really doesn‘t betray a really deep understanding of the economy. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, John McCain admitted—despite quibbling about it on “Meet the Press” the other day, he has admitted he doesn‘t really get it. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  I really think that‘s a big plus in Romney‘s favor right now. 

BUCHANAN:  That‘s why he gave a shot to Romney on Saturday to the head.  It was a sucker punch.  He said, Romney basically favors the white flag surrender position of the Democrats, timetables and the rest of it. 

And Romney was stopped cold by it, because it seemed like a cheap shot.  But there‘s no doubt McCain‘s objective was to change the subject back to national security, Islamofascism, and those things where he‘s strong. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  If we‘re rolling through on economics, as McCain said:  I don‘t know a lot about it.  I have read Alan Greenspan‘s book.  I‘m reading it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he also said, if you‘re going to vote for a guy because he is better on mortgages than I am, go ahead and do it. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Chuck Todd.

Chuck, do you have any sense—since we don‘t have the numbers yet, we can be free thinking. 

TODD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there a drift to this campaign to—toward Romney or to McCain during the day and this weekend? 

TODD:  I will just go by body language.  And I feel like the Romney people are just a little bit more nervous than the McCain people. 

Now, part of that may be, Chris, is that the McCain folks feel like they have a plan B.  If they lose here, but they lose by a point or two, then they will steal Rudy‘s strategy of winning all those Northeastern states on February 5 and Arizona. 

So, I think the McCain people just feel a little more confident about how to survive a loss.  I think the reason the Romney camp is so nervous is that I think they know that, if they lose here, you know, suddenly, you know, this guy‘s a pretty shrewd businessman, and shrewd businessmen stop throwing money away if they don‘t think they can win this thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Boy, I agree with you completely, Chuck.  I really think it‘s a business model we‘re looking at, a business plan.  If he can win in Florida tonight, then Romney knows he can self-finance this campaign all the way to the end. 

TODD:  That‘s right.  And he will keep going.

MATTHEWS:  And nobody will say he bought it, because, hey, he won in Florida. 

TODD:  He earned it.  That‘s right.  That‘s right. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  Right. 

And he will just be able to spend on the margin.  If there‘s a state where an extra 500 grand would make the difference, he could throw it in there. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, they run a tracking poll, and it says I‘m five points behind, he spends—he saturates the media and wins that market. 

ROBINSON:  Exactly. 

BUCHANAN:  If he wins tonight, he won‘t have to self-finance his campaign.  The money will pour in. 

The point of this tonight is, if McCain wins or Romney wins, each of them is going to get $20 million to $30 million, maybe more, free publicity in all those February 5 states.  They won‘t need the money. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

What we‘re learning it here, gentlemen, it seems to me, is why Rudy Giuliani is back on his heels tonight.  And that is that people read the newspapers.  And despite all the pooh-poohing about, people aren‘t paying attention to politics and there‘s too much punditry, overwhelmingly, this country is intellectually invested in this face on both sides, and they know it‘s going on. 

And when a guy—Chuck, when a guy like Rudy Giuliani isn‘t even showing in these races around the country, down in Florida, they are reading the newspaper and saying, why vote for a guy that doesn‘t even show up in any of these other races? 

TODD:  Look, I go back to—that‘s right.  Rudy—Mitt Romney and John McCain have proven they want this thing in the worst way.  They have been knocked down a couple of times, and both have gotten off the mat, whether it was Romney losing both Iowa and New Hampshire.  That would have been enough to knock most guys out. 

John McCain, he looked like he was a dead candidate walking back in July.  Giuliani never had that same fire.  He never had that same street-fighting sense that he had when he was in New York City.  He never acted like he wanted this thing.  And you know what?  Voters sense when somebody doesn‘t have the ambition for something.  They don‘t want to—they‘re not going to throw their lot in with that guy. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you get the feeling that he‘s distracted?

BUCHANAN:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  No, no, really.  He‘s obviously in love.  He obviously really likes his wife. 

TODD:  I think he‘s happy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s somewhere else than politics right now. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  You know what he is, Chris?  He‘s satisfied. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, he‘s not hungry, like the others. 

TODD:  Mitt Romney and John McCain...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

TODD:  ... if they are not the Republican nominee, it will eat at them for the rest of their living days. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I love that. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Rudy Giuliani isn‘t—he will—he‘s got—he will sit there and say, hey, I‘m the guy who led America in its darkest day.  No one can take that away from me.  That‘s my obituary lead, not this presidential race. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And the option—and Romney, despite all his good looks and money and beautiful family, and everything is working for him, for some reason, he wants this, because of his father maybe. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  Because of his father. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  It‘s like Al Gore.  I mean, all these guys have daddy issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Daddy issues.

ROBINSON:  But he really wants it in the worst way. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s sort of a nice daddy issue:  I want to do what my daddy couldn‘t do. 

Is this Freud?  What is this, Oedipal?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What is this thing?

BUCHANAN:  Chuck is right, though.  He‘s come back from two defeats. 

Look, his whole thing was based on, win in Iowa and New Hampshire and rolling right through it.  He lost both of them.  He came back on the Mormon thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  We saw it.  He came back after those defeats.  Even though he looks prep school, he‘s got the eye of the tiger, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I want to ask you a question. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You mentioned sucker punch the other moment. 

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  When you were at Blessed Sacrament, did you ever sucker punch anybody in high school or grade school? 

BUCHANAN:  I got a lot of sucker punches. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you ever sucker punch anyone, the old punch to the gut when the guy wasn‘t ready? 

BUCHANAN:  First, it wasn‘t to the gut, Chris.   

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You mean you hit a kid in his braces? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You punched a guy in his braces?

I got bunched in the braces.  I was a hamburger one day because of a fight with my braces on.  This guy had 40 pounds on me, and he just kept pounding me right here. 

Anyway, just enough of this Irish B.S.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go right now and ask about the issues down in Florida. 

Do we know, Chuck, whether the issue of Florida really has turned to the economy, especially the troubling nature of this international connection between the subprime mortgages, people can‘t pay their mortgages, foreclosures coming down the road like bandits, and this international selling of debt, so we don‘t even know who is going to ultimately decide whether we‘re sound or not? 

TODD:  Look...

MATTHEWS:  This whole question was raised at the “National Journal” forum.  And I kept thinking—Senator Grassley of Iowa raised it.  And I said, why didn‘t the president talk about that last night? 

And he said, well, the president can‘t talk about it. 

I mean, somebody—it seems to me, Mitt Romney has that advantage. 

TODD:  Well, you know, it‘s interesting in Florida.

Look, I got a lot of family there.  And they‘re all worried about various parts of their own economic well-being.  Property taxes are skyrocketing all over the state. 

Then you have got people who did investment properties.  And Florida is a huge investment property.  That‘s where, you know, instead of going into the stock market, a lot of people bought extra condos, thought they could rent them out, and they‘re being squeezed. 

The economy is the dominant issue with Floridians right now.  And you can just sense it.  In South Florida, the housing market is—is in deep trouble.  There‘s too many condos all along the Gold Coast, all along the Panhandle.  There‘s huge—I mean, the economy is very dominant in Florida. 

BUCHANAN:  You know, they got a property tax thing, I believe, that‘s on the ballot down there, right down there today, that Charlie Crist was talking about, which I think is responsible for a lot of these Democrats coming out to the polls and a lot of other folks coming out to the polls...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  ... which is a big turnout, even though they haven‘t been campaigning actively down there. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you believe the topic—topic drives argument, right?  Whatever you‘re talking about tends to be the guy who wins who benefits from the topic.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If we‘re talking about the economy, can John McCain win, Gene? 

ROBINSON:  I...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How does he win when it‘s an area he says he doesn‘t know anything about? 

ROBINSON:  I think it‘s what is keeping—what has kept Romney alive in this race.  And I—my hunch is that is what pushes him over the top.  But, obviously, it‘s very close, and we don‘t know yet. 

BUCHANAN:  It is the question, Chris, what are you thinking about when you go into the ballot box?  What is number one in your mind? 

MATTHEWS:  Me. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  If it is Osama bin Laden—well, yes, it always is. 

MATTHEWS:  No, it‘s me. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  But is it in my—is my pocketbook or is Osama going to get me? 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

So, what do you think?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is it Islamofascist radicalism or the latest phrases? 

BUCHANAN:  No, I would think...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  I think it‘s both national security and the economy. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  And my guess is the economy is dominant...

MATTHEWS:  I will tell you...

TODD:  Chris...

BUCHANAN:  ... if Mitt got to it early enough. 

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Chuck.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If you‘re a retiree down there looking at your retirement, you are think, every day, the amount of wealth you have is decided by the Dow Jones average...

TODD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... not how hard you work.  So, you‘re worried about other factors you can‘t control.  You want a genius to come in and fix it. 

TODD:  Right. 

No, I think the economy is something on voters‘ mind.  But don‘t—don‘t underestimate, in a primary, particularly when you have candidates that nobody has fallen in love with, don‘t underestimate electability.  My focus group of some family members, they are leaning one way purely on electability, because, as my brother-in-law said to me, well, I got to vote for somebody that can beat them. 

MATTHEWS:  Not her, them. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Just them.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  It‘s them at this point.  Well, because he‘s—he‘s not...

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s generalized. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Well, he‘s not confident that she‘s going to be the nominee anymore. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh.

TODD:  It used to be to beat her is how he was going to vote.

MATTHEWS:  No, I have a feeling that, sometimes, it‘s going to be very personal and it‘s going to be ‘er, not even her, ‘er, or ‘im. 

TODD:  Right. 

He‘s voting on electability.  And there‘s, I think, a lot more voters are thinking about that, too.  In a primary, that happens, not in a general. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Isn‘t it wonderful to be in a political party whose primary concern is preventing the election of the other political party?

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  That‘s the only one that brings them—conservatives together, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, God, I think you may be right.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Eugene Robinson of “The Washington Post,” Pat Buchanan of everywhere, Chuck Todd of NBC News, our political director. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up:  Will the Florida vote count for the Democrats? 

Will it even matter? 

And later, one day after his State of the Union address, President Bush talks about his drinking days.  Those are in the past, of course.  I‘m curious about that. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Florida won‘t be awarding any delegates on the Democratic side tonight, and none of the Democratic candidates campaigned there.  But the Clinton campaign now says that Florida matters.  And Hillary Clinton will hold a rally tonight after the polls close, presumably a victory rally.  Is her campaign trying to eclipse Obama‘s South Carolina victory, and hoping that people will see Florida as a win for her as she heads into Super Tuesday on the 5th

Florida Congressman Robert Wexler is an Obama supporter.  And Florida Congressman Kendrick Meek is a Hillary supporter. 

Congressman Wexler, what do you think of Hillary‘s sort of body English of showing up down there and making it seem like “I have done something significant” after the fact? 

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA:  Well, I encouraged all of my constituents in Florida to vote. 

But it is disingenuous for the Clinton campaign to sign a pledge which in effect boycotted the Florida primary, as the other candidates did.  But to sign that boycott pledge, then there‘s no contest, and then to claim some type of victory is a bit disingenuous and somewhat hollow. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go Congressman Meek on that question.

Why is Hillary Clinton, the senator from New York, coming to Florida tonight?  If this primary wasn‘t recognized, the delegates will not be ratified, what victory is she actually claiming? 

REP. KENDRICK MEEK (D), FLORIDA:  Well, I can tell you, a victory on behalf of those record-breaking Floridians that went out to vote.  Over 500,000 million Floridians voted early.  And the lines were long today in Florida.

Robert and I are up in Washington here voting on a stimulus package.  It means a lot, because, if you‘re going to make it to the White House, because, ultimately, that‘s the goal of every candidate, but Hillary Rodham Clinton, going down there and saying, thank you for voting, I will stand for you to make sure that these delegates count, is after the polls close tonight, you have to have Florida or Ohio.

And because of our past in Florida, and you know more than anything, Chris, number of our—my constituents, Robert‘s constituents and throughout the state of Florida felt really empty.  And to have the Republican Party recognize half of their delegates and the Democratic Party not recognize any of them now is a battle to continue as we move on to Denver. 

And I don‘t think that Florida or Michigan will—will be standing outside of that convention center when it comes down to it.  And, so, Hillary will be there to say two things.  Thank you.  And the other message will be, I will stand for you to make sure that the delegates count when we get to the convention. 

She‘s not campaigning. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Let‘s go to—let‘s go to an endorsement today.  It‘s a new ad that is running on television in New York City, in Boston, in Philadelphia, in San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and also on cable networks like this one, MSNBC. 

Here‘s Caroline Kennedy endorsing Barack Obama in a new ad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

CAROLINE KENNEDY, DAUGHTER OF JOHN F. KENNEDY:  Once, we had a president who made people feel hopeful about America and brought us together to do great things. 

Today, Barack Obama gives us that same chance.  He makes us believe in ourselves again, that, when we act as one nation, we can overcome any challenge.  People always tell me how my father inspired them.  I feel that same excitement now.  Barack Obama can lift America and make us one nation again. 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m Barack Obama, and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow. 

Congressman Wexler.

WEXLER:  That‘s an incredibly powerful commercial.  It matches, I thought, the emotion of Mrs. Kennedy‘s editorial in “The New York Times.” 

And this is the point.  Senator Obama comes out of South Carolina with enormous momentum.  Yesterday‘s endorsement by Senator Kennedy and the Kennedy family, I think, was a unique moment in American politics.  It was a defining moment for the Democratic Party.  And that is the momentum that Senator Obama goes into the February 5 states with.          

And, unfortunately, tonight, we will try to see somewhat of a diversion. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Meek, will you be able to divert from an almost religious message from the Democratic legacy here of the Kennedys? 

MEEK:  Well, the Kennedy family is split on this whole federal election right now as it relates to the nomination of a Democratic—a Democrat moving to the nomination.  There are a number—all of Robert Kennedy‘s children are supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton, also Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.  They are going to be endorsements coming out.  There are going to be great ads that are going to come out.  But tonight, counting the votes in Florida, making sure that we have delegates when we go to the convention is very good.

I think that we can‘t start, you know, packing up the tent and saying, Oh, wow, it‘s all over, because it‘s not over.  And it‘s set up—the Democratic National Committee has set this process up for it to run as long as possible.  Hillary is out there sharing our message with America.  She will have an opportunity to share her message tonight.  When Florida would have been ignored by all of the other candidates that are in the Democratic field, Hillary is honoring those voters, especially those voters who came out in record numbers.

So I‘m looking forward to the 22nd, and I‘m—I mean, looking forward to the 5th, Super Tuesday.  I‘m also looking forward to Hillary‘s message tonight to the nation.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, do you like—and I want Congressman Wexler to come in on this.  Do you think, Congressman Meek, that former president Bill Clinton has served the party and the country well in the last several weeks?  Has he performed well as a public servant, by your lights, Congressman Meek?

MEEK:  Well, I mean, he...

MATTHEWS:  Do you like the way he‘s campaigned?

MEEK:  He‘s a human being.  He‘s not trying to make news.  He‘s trying to support Hillary.  Every word is being examined very closely, everything that the president says and does.

This is a new step for the country, first time we‘ve had a leading African-American candidate, first time we‘ve had a leading female candidate, and the first time we‘ve had a former commander-in-chief of the country as a spouse of a major candidate.  So this is a very new area for us.

But I can tell you that, hopefully, we will move beyond this point.  The president has said maybe he‘s said some things that he shouldn‘t have said, but people know where his heart is, and I think that‘s what‘s important here.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

MEEK:  This man is known as the person—if they were able to award a third term to a president, George W. Bush doesn‘t come up.  William Jefferson Clinton‘s name rises.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry, let me ask Congressman Bob Wexler the same question.  Do you think President Clinton—I know you‘ve always been supportive of him.

WEXLER:  I sure have.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he‘s handled himself as a major figure in our country in the last several weeks?

WEXLER:  Well, Chris, as you know, nobody—nobody—was more supportive of President Clinton during the impeachment debacle when I first came to Congress than I was.  But for me, the president‘s reference with respect to Jesse Jackson was highly inappropriate, for the reason that President Clinton himself had won the South Carolina primary, because Senator Edwards had won the South Carolina primary.  Why did the former president reference Jesse Jackson?  That didn‘t sit well with me.

But most importantly, what we see in Senator Obama is this incredibly positive candidate.  There is an electric feeling around the country amongst Democrats and independents, and many Republicans, too, revolving around Senator Obama‘s candidacy, and that is what ultimately will propel Senator Obama to the nomination.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.  Congressmen, it‘s great having you on again.  Bob Wexler‘s been on before, but a long time ago!

WEXLER:  Yes.  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you for being on tonight.  Thank you.  It‘s great to have you on.  Congressman Kendrick Meek, also of Florida.  It‘s great to have both of you young guys on.

Up next: What elite prep school, where Jack Kennedy went to school—where did they just kick Karl Rove out the door?  We‘re going to come back and talk about that one in a moment.  Karl Rove couldn‘t get into prep school even to give the graduation speech.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  So what other wild politics is going on out there?  Well, the State of the Union Address is just like the cafeteria in high school, it‘s always telling to see who‘s sitting with who.  There‘s Senator Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden sitting together.  Weren‘t they running against each other just a while back?

Anyway, Karl Rove has been dumped as a commencement speaker by the elite Choate-Rosemary Hall prep school, where John F. Kennedy once attended.  After students protested the invitation, Rove decided to withdraw from the invitation.

President Bush opened up today about his old drinking days.  Here he is at a faith-based center in Baltimore—that‘s how we pronounce it up there—talking about his struggle in the old days.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  As you might remember, I drank too much at one time in my life.  I understand faith-based programs.  I understand that sometimes you can find the inspiration from a higher power to solve an addiction problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Good for him.

Anyway, what is John Edwards up to these days?  Does he have a secret master plan?  Why is he staying in the race, if he continues to lose these primaries?  Well, “The New York Times” has the speculation today.  They think Edwards might be banking on a very tight battle down the road between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, which could go on for months, in which both candidates will end up courting him for his 10 percent, 15 percent of the delegates.  He could put one or the other over the top if one of them‘s running about 40 percent.  He could be the king maker.

And now it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number.”  It‘s tough times for Rudy Giuliani these days, and the New York press is loving it.  The New York mayor, who once led the national polls, has seen the likes of Mitt Romney and John McCain trounce in contest after contest.  Well, tonight‘s Florida result is make or break for Rudy, and the outcome isn‘t looking too good for Rudy.  That‘s why Rudy, once reluctant to grant interviews on television, took to the airwaves, hit every single morning show on television.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, FMR NYC MAYOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Good morning, Matt.  How are you.

Thank you.  It‘s good to see you.

I feel good, Joe.  Mike, how are you?

Well, nice to be with you.  Good morning.

How are you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That was Steve Doocey, the last of those guys.  Anyway, five different morning show appearances today, Rudy‘s last-ditch effort to save his struggling campaign.  By the way, those are called a “full Ginsburg.”  He was Monica Lewinsky‘s lawyer, who hit all five Sunday shows once, establishing that title, the “full Ginsburg.”  Give it to Rudy Giuliani, big 5 today.

Up next: Whatever happened to Rudy Giuliani?  Is he finished if he doesn‘t finish well tonight?  How about if he doesn‘t win tonight?  I‘m thinking he may—well, we‘ll see what happens tonight.  I got to beware of the New Hampshire curse.  No predictions here.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  All eyes are on Florida right now as we await the Republican primary results.  It‘s a crucial state, and that‘s an understatement, for Mitt Romney and John McCain, who are running apparently very close down there.  But who knows?

Well, what happened to Rudy Giuliani?  Florida was supposed to be his big hit down there.  Well, HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster is on the ground.  What happened to Rudy?  Where‘s Rudy tonight?  Will he quit this campaign by dawn?

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, he is in Florida.  He‘s, of course, not making any predictions, except to say that he‘s going to win here.

But all eyes right now, Chris, are on the polls.  And turn-out today, according to Florida officials, has been very heavy for a primary day.  There is a controversial property tax initiative on the ballot, but officials believe the intense primary campaign is also driving voters to the polls, as well as the interest in Giuliani and all the rest.

This morning, Mitt Romney continued his flurry on attacks on John McCain, saying his top rival is unprepared to deal with economic problems.  But Romney reserved his strongest fire for the hot-button conservative issue of illegal immigration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Right down the hall today

in this very building, there are 700 people assembled.  These are people

who stood in line, most of them for years and years, and worked hard to

come to this country legally.  Those are people who are being sworn in as

citizens of the United States of America, and we salute them.  And we say -

and we say to the millions of people who‘ve come to this country illegally, Get back in line!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Now, John McCain campaigned in St. Petersburg, Florida, today with Governor Charlie Crist at his side.  But McCain continued his shots at Romney.  McCain described Romney as an incompetent governor who raised taxes, and McCain told reporters that it was Romney‘s fault the Republican race turned into a food fight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That‘s just the way he campaigns, so we have to respond.  I guess—I guess—I guess the desperation level was that I‘m a liberal now, and that was particularly entertaining.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Now, regarding Rudy Giuliani, Florida, of course, is the state that could bury Giuliani.  After a sixth place finish in Iowa, fourth in New Hampshire and sixth in Michigan and South Carolina, Giuliani acknowledges that he is facing do-or-die here in the Sunshine State, and the trend has been moving in the wrong direction.  Over the last two months, Giuliani‘s Florida numbers have dropped 15 points.  Here‘s Giuliani from today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI:  The candidates have gotten momentum as they won different primaries.  And that—and that—and that has—and that has created a certain amount of momentum in the national polls.  I believe that we‘re going to win here today, and that‘s going to change it.  I mean, and then we will get the momentum in a lot of those states that come up on February 5.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Now, Giuliani has organized a press charter, Chris, to head to California.  But of course, those press charters can change as events warrant.  But Chris, Florida‘s the fourth largest state.  It‘s highly diverse.  It‘s also a closed primary, as you know, meaning Republicans only, no independents, no Democrats.  And that, of course, means that it‘s especially important, I suppose, to John McCain, who‘s trying to prove that he can win within his party without the help of some of these others—

Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, David Shuster.

Now to the Democrats.  The Democratic National Committee stripped the state of Florida of its delegates as punishment for the state moving up its primary before February.  All the candidates pledged not to campaign in this state, and no delegates were awarded in today‘s primary.  But Hillary Clinton, the senator from New York, will be there in Florida tonight.  She‘s already in the air, according to her campaign.  Senator Clinton will visit Florida to thank her supporters tonight.  She will visit the state after all the polls are closed in the primary in accordance with her pledge before not to campaign down there.

And here‘s the question for the people coming up, for Mark Green and for Ed Schultz, who are both here joining us right now.  Why is she going down there, Ed, if the campaign didn‘t count?

ED SCHULTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  (INAUDIBLE) on right now.  After what happened in South Carolina, she leaves South Carolina when it didn‘t turn out very well, says bye-bye on the plane.  Now she‘s going to go down to Florida and hug everybody.

Chris, the people of Florida brought this on themselves.  The Clintons signed onto the pledge.  They know what the rules are.  But now, when there is a question of maybe they might not win this thing, oh, they got to go down and show their loyalty.

You know, my head is still spinning after listening to Kendrick Meek talk about this!  Cut me some slack!

MATTHEWS:  Mark, why did Hillary Clinton go down there tonight to get a victory that didn‘t count?

MARK GREEN, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Well, any politician wants to squeeze good news out of bad news.  South Carolina was a very bad news night for her.  Ted Kennedy was a very bad news day for her yesterday.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Florida are going to vote.  The candidates pledged not to campaign there.  She didn‘t.  Obama didn‘t.  Edwards didn‘t.  And so now, after the polls are closed, she‘s technically within the rules, saying, Look at all the votes I got.  And she‘s betting on the media to play it up or not.

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s a masquerade.  Or is it a claim—and this is fair game.  Is she saying, Don‘t worry, I‘m going to get these delegates ratified later on?

GREEN:  What she‘s doing is putting lipstick on the pig of no delegates, as they go into what really counts...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GREEN:  ... which I‘m sure, Ed and you would agree with, which is delegate counting February 6.  That‘s what matters.  She‘s trying to squeeze out some good news after a bad week.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go to something fascinating here right now, and

I want Ed to (INAUDIBLE) this.  Let‘s take a look.  We just saw—I want

to look at it again.  We a Caroline Kennedy advertisement that‘s just been

put on TV, and I want to show this again because I think this may have the

potential in states like Philadelphia—or cities like Philadelphia,

Boston, New York—these are Kennedy cities, which have voted

overwhelmingly for the Kennedys over the years, who still carry the torch

for the Kennedy family.  And I just want your assessment, Ed, and then Mark

and you‘re a Kennedy guy—how much clout this kind of almost reverential treatment by the Kennedy family—let‘s take a look at Caroline Kennedy, who never does anything like this, doing this for Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAROLINE KENNEDY, DAUGHTER OF PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY:  Once we had a president who made people feel hopeful about America and brought us together to do great things.  Today, Barack Obama gives us that same chance.  He makes us believe in ourselves again, that when we act as one nation, we can overcome any challenge. 

People always tell me how my father inspired them.  I feel that same excitement now. 

Barack Obama can lift America and make us one nation again. 

OBAMA:  I‘m Barack Obama, and I approved this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Ed, what do you think of that ad?  Power in the big cities? 

ED SCHULTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  It‘s very powerful.  No question very powerful and it‘s very strategic.  And it will be effective.  While Hillary Clinton in some states has been able to gather a lot of women, here comes Barack Obama with the Kennedy name, with the Kennedy backing.  I talked to Ted Kennedy personally yesterday, he said he‘s never felt so good about an endorsement. 

And now Caroline is coming out.  She‘s going to appeal to professional women.  She‘s going to appeal to a lot of mothers.  And she‘s going to appeal to a demographic which I think Barack Obama could probably shore up a little bit. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that former President Bill Clinton will change his act now that he‘s been chastened by Ted Kennedy personally yesterday about the why he‘s campaigned? 

MARK GREEN, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  He‘ll probably be somewhat more careful.  But let me answer the question that you just asked Ed.  The ad—

I‘m weak in the knees about the Kennedys and Caroline and Senator Kennedy -

was extremely dramatic and moving, but I don‘t think effective.  And the reason is, in a presidential campaign where the primary voters know everything about everybody, where the free media dominates 20 to one over the paid media, unlike a local race, where you may not know somebody, an endorsement, even an iconic endorsement, is rarely influential, especially when the Obama campaign has the most effective argument; he‘s the future.  Hillary is the past.  Now they are going back at the past. 

MATTHEWS:  If they‘re not relevant, why are the Clintons going around and grabbing Ed Rendell, Michael Nutter, Maxine Waters, everybody they can get their hands on to endorse Hillary Clinton, if it‘s not relevant? 

GREEN:  I have the answer. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

GREEN:  As we say in New York of chicken soup, it can‘t hurt.  At this point, if 100 percent of Super Delegates and influential people went for one but not the other, that could tip the media, the lens people see through, and help a candidate.  But so long as it‘s roughly split—I think ten senators are for Hillary Clinton, ten senators are for Barack Obama. 

And by the way, I assume the Hillary Clinton people will now perhaps have an ad with Bobby Kennedy Jr.  It will neutralize.  What counts now is the margin you win, the big delegate race stays. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m going back to Ed.  Do you think that Caroline Kennedy and Ted Kennedy, the surviving child of Jack Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy, the only is your serving brother of Jack Kennedy, will be trounced, check-mated by Bobby Jr. and Kathleen?  I just think that‘s hilarious that you think these are equal. 

GREEN:  I didn‘t say trounce.  I said it‘s not that influential in terms of the way people actually vote, which is why you listed Hillary Clinton as still the number one in the power—

MATTHEWS:  I think I got to go back to your metaphor of putting lipstick on a pig.  How can you make this argument that the Caroline Kennedy and Ted Kennedy endorsement aren‘t worth anything? 

GREEN:  Lipstick on a pig was Florida delegates. 

MATTHEWS:  But this metaphor you are using. 

GREEN:  I said it won‘t be decisive because people vote based on who they want to be their nominee, not based on ads with the free media so much bigger. 

SCHULTZ:  I got to get into this.  I think Ted Kennedy is going to help Barack Obama in California. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure. 

SCHULTZ:  There isn‘t anybody who has been more compassionate to the Latino community and trying to do something on illegal immigration than Ted Kennedy.  He is going to help Barack Obama with that portion of the population. 

Caroline Kennedy, she, too, has been viewed as an icon, and I think this is a different kind of an icon.  I don‘t take issue with what Mark is saying about endorsements.  But the Kennedys?  They were viewed as generational leaders.  Core Democrats are viewing Barack Obama as potentially a generational leader.  I think there‘s a parallel there. 

GREEN:  Ed, I don‘t disagree with your argument.  But I agree with HARDBALL, which last night said that in their power rankings, Senator Clinton is still favored because when you look at delegate-rich states and how much she‘s ahead, the Kennedys will help, but --  

MATTHEWS:  That‘s an extraordinary thing to do, to quote me. 

SCHULTZ:  You got a week to go!

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll go back to my HARDBALL rankings last time.  I‘m cold-hearted about this.  I still she has the best shot, given her strength in the super delegates, given her strengths just because of all those relationships over the years that the Clintons have forged with mayors and members of Congress and senators; those relationships are being called in.  And you know, Mark, it‘s very tough to beat the establishment in the Democratic party. 

SCHULTZ:  This might be the guy to do it, Chris.  This just might be the guy to do it.  I think six days is an eternity in this cycle.  Look how much has happened in the last three days.  So I think that Barack Obama is well within striking distance here.  And I think the Kennedys are going to be the diamond in the rough. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s the power of Ed Schultz out there on the airwaves that is going to turn this baby around for Barack Obama!

SCHULTZ:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Ed Schultz.  You‘re a strong voice, a liberal voice for Barack Obama.  Mark Green, another liberal. 

Anyway up next, the politics fix.  Just over two hours before the polls close in Florida.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Time now for the round table and our politics fix.  Bob Herbert is a distinguished columnist with the “New York Times.”  I read him several times a week.  Michelle Bernard is with the group Independent Women‘s Voice.  And Craig Crawford is down in Florida forever! 

We‘ve got to start with Craig, because you‘re on the ground.  You‘ve got dateline integrity, we used to call it in journalism.  You are there.  Therefore, you must be able to tell us, as they say in old New York politics, what does it smell down there on the Republican side? 

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  On the Republican side, I smell this Mitt Romney thing still coming on strong.  It‘s been flipping back and forth.  I think McCain in the last few hours had two things going on, one for him, one against him.  This endorsement from the governor is very huge, Charlie Crist, a very popular governor here.  But also, I think on the negative side, Chris, he got a little at cross-purposes over the war stuff when he took a shot at Romney.  It was a little ham-fisted.  It didn‘t turn out to be entirely correct. 

And also he got a little negative, talking about how they are going to be more wars and people are going to die.  It started to remind me of Michigan when he said your jobs are gone and they‘re never coming back. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CRAWFORD:  It got a little negative here toward the end. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me play Joe Pesci here.  What are you saying here?  Are you saying that Romney‘s going to win tonight? 

CRAWFORD:  On paper, Chris, Romney looks to me like the sort of candidate Florida Republicans would go for, buttoned down.  He‘s got the look. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CRAWFORD:  He‘s got the rat-a-tat-tat, the economic background, the resume, the businessman, all the sort of things that appeal.  But McCain is that wild card candidate, as we all know.  He‘s got a personal connection with some voters.  He also provokes a lot of voters.  So he‘s just more of a wild card.  I do think this, though; I think McCain‘s going to do well no matter what happens.  It‘s going to be a close second if you—

MATTHEWS:  All right, Craig, let‘s take—

CRAWFORD:  And that will be a perceived victory. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, maybe, but we‘re going to count who wins.  We put that in the headline, who won.  Let‘s take a look at McCain taking Romney on today—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  The real key, I think, here in Florida is who can keep

America safe?  Who is it that has got the experience and background and

knowledge to take on the challenge of radical Islamic extremism.  Governor

Governor Romney has no experience there.  In fact, he wanted to have a timetable for withdrawal at a very difficult time.  I think that‘s why the people of Florida will make the judgment on my behalf. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Bob Herbert, it seems like this candidate is the warrior candidate, running on the war in Iraq, which right now commands the loyalty of about, oh, a fifth of the people. 

BOB HERBERT, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  Yes, it really seems like the issues right now, the news right now, favors Romney over McCain.  I have no idea what‘s going to happen tonight.  But the other thing is, it‘s so clear that McCain does not like Romney. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you get that?  Come on, how do you get that? 

HERBERT:  You can just tell.  I mean, I think it hops right through the screen.  And that is—there‘s a chance that that can throw McCain off his game.  So—

MATTHEWS:  All right. 

HERBERT:  Romney comes across as the cooler character.  And so I think that could be a problem for—

MATTHEWS:  Do you like the way Romney learns as he goes along?  He‘s protean as we used to say in the old Norman Mailer days.  He‘s able to pick up on—If hears McCain say things like he will do anything to win, he‘ll say McCain will do anything to win.  If he hears Barack to say something, if you try the old solutions and expect different results, he quotes Barack.  He quotes whoever is working out there. 

HERBERT:  He‘s very nimble.  And he‘s willing to be, you know, just a little bit unscrupulous and that what makes McCain so angry. 

MATTHEWS:  Rabid. 

Let‘s take a look.  Here‘s Governor Romney talking about John McCain. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  He said that a couple of times and it indicated that when he chose his vice president, it would have to be somebody that really understood the economy.  Well, I do understand the economy.  I‘m not—I‘m not going to be—be any vice president to John McCain. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Michelle, the old gang is breaking up here.  It looks like no ticket between McCain and Romney or McCain and Romney.  I‘m broken hearted about this thing.  Isn‘t it a little early to be saying I won‘t accept the vice presidency at this point? 

MICHELLE BERNARD, INDEPENDENT WOMEN‘S VOICE:  Oh, god, no, he‘s got to say it.  Nobody wants to vote for someone that sees himself as number two.  You want to vote for somebody who is projecting that image of I‘m number one.  This is the Thriller in Manila happening in Florida tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BERNARD:  Like I said before, this will be so interesting because it is the independents who have led to the resurrection of John McCain and he‘s not going to have independents to rely on in Florida tonight.  You know, it‘s going to be so close.  I really don‘t know what‘s going to happen.  But, you know, a week ago I was leaning more towards McCain being victorious in Florida tonight, but Romney is picking up speed, because I think Floridian voters are really concerned about the economy and not national security, or at least national security is not their number one issue right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob, it‘s amazing that we all in the media salute candor, because we do believe in it.  It‘s also useful in the news coverage.  You can actually cover a guy if he‘s honest.  John McCain admitting that his strong suit is not the economy on a number of occasions, and now waffling on that on “Meet The Press;” do you think that will hurt him?

HERBERT:  That might be a little bit too much candor.  You don‘t want to suggest that you‘re not up to speed on the biggest issue facing the country in a presidential election. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go down to Craig on that.  That question of the economy, let‘s go back to your thoughts on that.  It does seem to me that if you‘re a retiree in Florida or someone on the make, middle age, younger, you‘re looking at the financial pages every day, the front pages.  You‘re worried about the DOW.  Don‘t you want somebody that gets it? 

CRAWFORD:  And I think that has gotten across for Romney quite well, especially in that debate.  I thought he really kicked the other candidates all over town in that debate when it came to those issues.  The other thing that‘s going on, Keith—Chris, I‘m sorry—is the ads that Romney‘s running are so effective, it seems to me.  They‘re saturation buys, but the messages are—seemed to be tied to his message of the day when he‘s on the road.  That is, you know, something that‘s very effective I‘ve seen him do. 

And on the economic stuff—you know, there‘s on the ballot here today a property tax measure that is pulling in a lot of anti-tax conservatives—

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CRAWFORD:  -- that the governor, oddly enough, has put on the ballot, the one who has endorsed McCain.  But it‘s McCain who is in trouble with conservatives about his votes in the past against the president‘s tax cutting. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Michelle, it was discussed on this program last night, the somewhat debonair quality, the calm, easy self-confidence of Mitt Romney.  Apparently, that‘s been the case in Florida for years.  They like candidates like that, especially down there, people like Jeb Bush and Connie Mack.  Does he meet the bill, fit the bill of a guy who has that calm confidence of a leader? 

BERNARD:  Well, it‘s not just the calm confidence.  It‘s the entire package.  He‘s tall.  I think taller candidates generally do better than shorter candidates.  He‘s tall.  He is attractive.  He carries himself with a presidential air.  You know, he‘s got a lot of good people working on his team that all have very commanding presences as well.  And I think it‘s going to—I think it does more good than it does harm. 

He‘s also younger looking than McCain which, frankly—it shouldn‘t matter, but McCain sometimes looks a little bit frail when you stand him up beside Romney. 

MATTHEWS:  The longer you talk, the shorter the odds. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  By the way, Michelle, you‘re killing the guy.  Thank you, Bob Herbert, sir.  Thank you, Michelle.  Thank you, Craig Crawford, our man in Florida. 

I‘ll be back in about a second with Keith Olbermann for a big six-hour run.  We‘ll do all the coverage, all the numbers when they come in.  We‘ll report when we have something to report tonight, which could be early.  It could be late.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

END   

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