updated 2/4/2008 12:54:35 PM ET 2008-02-04T17:54:35

Guests: Linda Douglass, Roger Simon, Dominic Carter, Phil Bronstein, Ted Johnson, Steve McMahon, Todd Harris

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Championship, Hillary versus Barack, McCain versus Romney.  Who wakes up the winner Wednesday?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Last night, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama faced off, sort of, in Los Angeles, but was it a debate or a Hollywood love story?

Well, isn‘t that something?  We saw—we know Hollywood loves a happy ending, but last night, the candidates did clash over the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The reason that this is important, again, is that Senator Clinton, I think fairly, has claimed that she‘s got the experience on day one, and part of the argument that I‘m making in this campaign is that it is important to be right on day one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I love it, the way Senator Clinton looks right in the face of her opponent and dares him to say the bad stuff.  Anyway, more on the debate and a look at the Democratic strategy of both candidates in a moment.

Meanwhile, there doesn‘t appear to be any love lost between Republican frontrunner John McCain and Mitt Romney.  What is the Republican plan going into the showdown on Tuesday?  We‘ll get the lowdown from two political pros.

Plus, California, the big enchilada, next Tuesday.  Will we see a record turnout there?  We‘ll talk about the importance of California in Super Tuesday later in the show.

And while we‘re on the subject of California, look who got all the airtime at last night‘s debate.  If the Hollywood stars got all the good seats—and they apparently did—where were the elected Democrats?  And NBC News political director Chuck Todd will break down the delegate count next Tuesday in our “Politics Fix.”  We‘ll study the latest polls.

But first: Iraq is back.  Not the war.  That‘s been killing people for five years now.  What‘s back is the question of why we‘re in Iraq.  There are all kinds of people who must take responsibility for the decision to place the American army in the middle of Arabia, surrounded by our enemies.  They include the Democrats like Hillary Clinton who voted to give the president full authorization for military force against Iraq.

Last night, Barack Obama challenged Senator Clinton‘s argument that she could be president from day one by insisting that presidents need to be right from day one.  Judgment is not a matter of due diligence, as Senator Clinton argued in lawyerly fashion last night, it‘s about having the historic savvy, the informed instinct to spot the quicksand before you go marching into it.  And I think on Iraq, it is a plus for Barack Obama and it‘s a problem for Hillary Clinton.  We‘ll look at all the other issues that ill have to decide this election as we go along.

We begin with the Democrats‘ strategy for Super Tuesday.  Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist and Todd Harris is a Republican strategist who worked hard, but not successfully, on the Fred Thompson campaign.  I guess you can‘t blame yourself, can you.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD HARRIS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  But if he‘d won...

HARRIS:  Good consultants never do, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Never, never do.  Let me go now to the debate last night.  Let‘s talk about the lovefest last night.  Why—both of you—Steve first, you‘re the Democratic expert.  Why did Senator Clinton decide to be really nice to her opponent last night?  The smiles were relentless on both sides.  Why did they both decide it‘s in their interests to be charming?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I think what they wanted to do was not have a repeat performance of the debate from last week, where they were at each other‘s throats, and I think...

MATTHEWS:  Why?

MCMAHON:  Well, I think Barack Obama...

MATTHEWS:  Didn‘t it help one side and hurt the other?

MCMAHON:  I think that each of those two candidate believes they‘re on a glide path for a victory.  Hillary believes that she can run out the clock in time to...

MATTHEWS:  And hold her lead.

MCMAHON:  ... to have a victory and hold her lead on Tuesday.  Barack Obama, you say the momentum.  He was 20 points behind in a Gallup poll two weeks ago.  Today he‘s 3 points behind.  It‘s not a national primary, but it‘s as close as we‘re going to get to having one.

MATTHEWS:  Does he believe he can catch Senator Clinton by Tuesday night, though?

MCMAHON:  I think he believes that he can catch her in a lot of states by Tuesday night.  There are a lot of these that are going to be caucuses.  Six of the twenty-two are caucuses.  He‘ll do very well there.

MATTHEWS:  So they had a mutual interest in a time-out.

MCMAHON:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  Your thought, Todd.  Do you think they were both advantaged by this time out, or was Hillary more advantaged by stopping the fighting?

HARRIS:  Oh, I think there‘s no question that Hillary Clinton wanted the fighting stopped.  Look, she needs to continue her campaign with the same demeanor that she had last night.  Her biggest problem is likability.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HARRIS:  And the fact is, she needs to stop buying into all of the Obama buzz.  She‘s winning right now.  You look at every single poll in places that matter...

MATTHEWS:  So she was smart to go nice last night and stop Bill from being tough.

HARRIS:  Absolutely.  Because frankly, the Bill toughness stuff looks a little desperate, and desperate candidates aren‘t likable.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but didn‘t it—just while we‘re on the subject—didn‘t it sort of ghettoize Barack Obama?  Didn‘t it force him into the old ethnic divide that isn‘t helpful to an African-American candidate?

HARRIS:  Hey, (INAUDIBLE) the Republican strategists.  I love seeing discord and divide on the Democrat side.  I‘m not sure that that fight helped either one of them in the long term.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at what happened last night, what‘s called a lovefest, a love story, in fact, last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I was friends with Hillary Clinton before we started this campaign.  I will be friends with Hillary Clinton after this campaign is over.  She has done—she has run—we‘re running a competitive race, but it‘s because we both love this country and we believe deeply in the issues that are at stake.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, on January 20, 2009, the next president of the United States will be sworn in on the steps of the Capitol.  I, as a Democrat, fervently hope you are looking at that next president.  Either Barack or I will raise our hand and swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is this an acting competition, or is this real?  We‘re in Hollywood. Is this acting?

HARRIS:  They could have been handing out Oscars last night.  I mean, come on!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... direct answer, were they acting or is this part of the complicated nature of political life?

MCMAHON:  It‘s part of the complicated nature of political life.  You know, sometimes you hear senators say on the floor, “my distinguished colleague from the other side,” and you know that they don‘t really believe it?  Well, I think you might have had a little bit of that sense here last night.  I don‘t think they dislike each other, but I think that, you know, they‘re in a political war right now, and only one of them is going to survive.  And politically, each one of them wants the other dead.

MATTHEWS:  Can we get somewhere between the snub and this?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Is it possible to find a happy medium of temperate behavior with each other?

HARRIS:  I think what you‘re seeing is that they understand they have to pace themselves.  The way that the Democrat delegate allocation rules work, all you have to do is get 30 percent...

MATTHEWS:  So this (INAUDIBLE) keep going.

HARRIS:  Yes.  And you start wining delegates, this is going to go on for a long time.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) very smart.  Let‘s look at the real fight last night, it‘s what I mentioned at the beginning of the show, what I think is Barack‘s upper hand on the war in Iraq among Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The question is, can we make an argument that this was a conceptually flawed mission from the start?  And that is an argument that I think we are going to have an easier time making if they can‘t turn around and say, But hold on a second, you supported this.  And that‘s part of the reason why I think that I would be the strongest nominee on this argument of national security.

CLINTON:  Some people now think that this was a very clear, open-and-shut case.  We bombed them for days in 1998 because Saddam Hussein threw out inspectors.  We had evidence that they had a lot of bad stuff for a very long time, which we discovered after the first Gulf war.  Knowing that he was a megalomaniac, knowing he would not want to compete for attention with Osama bin Laden, there were legitimate concerns about what he might do.  So I think I made a reasoned judgment.  Unfortunately, the person who actually got to execute the policy did not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  She‘s still arguing the war on principle.  Is that acceptable to Democrats, Steve McMahon?

MCMAHON:  She‘s in a little bit of a box because the Clinton administration was pretty clearly on the record in favor—not in favor of but in support of all the findings of this intelligence.  It sounded, though, like she was defending the intelligence last night, which is not a good place to be in a Democratic primary.

MATTHEWS:  The intel that took us into war.

MCMAHON:  The intel that took us into war.  She should not be doing that.  We‘re actually—it‘s interesting because here we are, several hundred million dollars later and several contests, and we‘re back to the beginning.  It‘s judgment versus experience.  That‘s what...

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  Arguing about Iraq.

MCMAHON:  Arguing about Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but John McCain, who a lot of people respect, wants a 100-year war over there.  That‘s an incredible argument.

HARRIS:  I don‘t think he wants a 100-year war, but he‘s being honest about what our long-term commitment to the region needs to be.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s going to be a tough sell in September.  Anyway, thank you very much, Steve.  It‘s great—I mean, Todd.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s my friend here.  You‘re my friend, too.  OK, thank you, Steve and Todd, for staying with us.  They‘re going to stay with us.

When we come back, we‘re going to switch over, same fellows, looking at the Republicans, what each of them think the guys have to do.  And they‘re both guys on the Republican side.  That‘s Mitt and John.  How they‘re going to do on Super Tuesday, what they‘ve got to do.

And later, the delegate count.  Who‘s ahead right now?  Small pickings, but it‘s interesting who‘s winning, and what may be the picture after the 5th, after the night‘s over Tuesday night.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  OK, a little straight talk.  Somebody‘s going to have to show me how you beat the Patriots.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, FMR NYC MAYOR, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Will you give me the points?

MCCAIN:  Yes, I‘ll give you the points.

JAY LENO, “TONIGHT” SHOW:  You heard him right there!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Of course, that‘s two guys that are—well, one is still in the race, on “Leno” the other night.  We‘re back to HARDBALL with Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and Republican strategist Todd Harris.

Let‘s talk Republicans now, McCain versus Romney.  John McCain, has he got it, Todd?

HARRIS:  He‘s pretty close.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re keeping tape here, by the way.

HARRIS:  We are at the brass tacks stage of this campaign, where the most important question to ask is, What are the delegate allocation rules for each of these February 5 states?  And you‘ve got to say, when you look at all of those states, how the delegates are allocated...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I‘m looking at all the big...

HARRIS:  ... that McCain‘s got the edge.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to talk about it in the next segment, but all the big box office states on the Republican side, a lot of them are winner take all.  Isn‘t McCain ahead in all of them?

HARRIS:  He‘s ahead in every single one, which is why you‘ve got to give him the edge.  But 14 of those 21 states have closed primaries, where only Republicans are able to vote, and that‘s where the Romney people are going to make the final...

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t Romney dogging it right now?  He‘s cut down on his advertising.  He‘s not emptying his wallet, as some people thought he might.

HARRIS:  One of Romney‘s biggest problems, if not his biggest, is, you know, you read the talking points from his campaign, and they say this is a two-person race.  It‘s not.  Mike Huckabee is very much alive...

MATTHEWS:  He bites away.

HARRIS:  ... and he bites right into Mitt Romney.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you, how does McCain, if he is the frontrunner, and it looks like it now going into Tuesday, begin to act like a happy winner?  I mean, he was very canine the other night against Romney.  I mean, I thought he won the argument just because he‘s relentless, but he looked like a pit bull.

MCMAHON:  He doesn‘t look like he‘s having very much fun and he doesn‘t look like he likes Mitt Romney very much.  I mean, you see the guy on the...

MATTHEWS:  Timetable!  Timetable.  Timetable!

MCMAHON:  You see him on the couch in that clip you just showed with Rudy Giuliani, a guy he clearly likes, you see him on the show with you, a guy he clearly likes, and he‘s a warm, engaging, nice...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MCMAHON:  ... perfectly likable human being.  You see him in these debates, he‘s snarling.  He‘s angry.  And you know, his biggest challenge...

MATTHEWS:  Did you ever had a guy run millions of dollars of advertising against you...

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  ... put your arm around him!

MATTHEWS:  It‘s very...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... can‘t be too tough with Senator Clinton to not like the opponent.  These guys are playing against each other‘s characters.

MCMAHON:  Look at the difference between how John McCain goes after Mitt Romney and how Mike Huckabee does.  I mean, Huckabee was trashed by Mitt Romney in Iowa, and he goes after him with a smile, and he cuts him...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a pastor, though.

MCMAHON:  Well, he‘s a pastor, but you know what?  But maybe he needs to do a little pastoring for Senator McCain, teach him how to do this a little better.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at “Leno” last night.  I think we can look at this now.  Here‘s John McCain, as we saw on “Leno,” talking about conservatives, or appealing to them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I think the important thing is to convince our Republican base, which is very conservative, is that, one, I‘m a conservative.  Two is that I‘m the best qualified in taking on their major concern, and that is this struggle against radical Islamic extremism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  How does John McCain, who talks incessantly about the war against Islamic extremism, convince people who care about abortion rights, who are opposed to same-sex marriage, who care about taxes, the usual Republican array of issues, that he‘s not with them on, and immigration?

HARRIS:  First, he is with them.  He has a life-long pro-life voting record.  He‘s conservative on taxes.  And the question for appealing to conservatives is this—John McCain versus Barack Obama or versus Hillary Clinton.  This is not John McCain in a vacuum, yes or no, and conservatives like Rush Limbaugh or anyone else have to decide yes or no.

MATTHEWS:  But you‘re assuming that these people on the far right, the cultural—are reasonable, meaning they accept the need for the better of two.  Don‘t they also have that reservability to step back and say, I‘m having none of it?  They seem to be that kind of personality.

HARRIS:  There might be some who are.  The overwhelming majority of them, by the time November rolls around, they‘re going to want to win.  They‘re going to rally around John McCain.

MATTHEWS:  But you notice a lot of people we know in this world of

media and commentary—Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity—a lot of people out

there—Rick Santorum now a commentator, former senator from Pennsylvania

they‘re all out there taking up with Romney, knowing that he‘s basically going down.  Isn‘t that a way of just sticking it, the shiv, to McCain?

MCMAHON:  It‘s a way to try to stick it to McCain, and it‘s also, I think...

MATTHEWS:  At this point, when it looks like he‘s won?

MCMAHON:  ... for them to demonstrate how politically impotent they are because they‘re out there every single day, saying...

MATTHEWS:  You chuckle, sir.

(LAUGHTER)

MCMAHON:  I think he did chuckle.  We‘ve got tape.  We‘ve got tape!

MATTHEWS:  You chuckle at the notion or the reality?

HARRIS:  No, no, look, I don‘t think that they‘re politically impotent at all.  I think people—you know, Rick Santorum, Laura Ingraham, they have—you know, they have big audiences and a lot of people take their cues from them.

MCMAHON:  Here‘s the thing about it.  Here‘s the interesting thing about the conservatives.  They don‘t think the voters should have a vote, and you‘ve got Republican voters all over the country who are picking John McCain.  He did as well among self-described Republicans in Florida as anybody else.  So you know, it‘s a problem with a few conservatives...

HARRIS:  There are some professional conservatives who love to hate John McCain.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) Fred Thompson lost with you aboard?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Todd Harris, thank you, sir.  Thank you, Steve, as always.

Up next, Chuck Todd will be here to map things out for us and give us a real look at Super Tuesday.  It‘s going to be a really good Mapquest to the stars of what‘s going to happen Tuesday night.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Super Tuesday, tsunami Tuesday, is fast approaching.  Twenty-four states head to the polls in what many are calling a national primary.  Here to sort through it all is NBC political director Chuck Todd.

Chuck, let‘s look at where the Democratic delegate count stands right now.  It‘s small, of course, 63 for Obama, 48 for Clinton, 26 for Edwards, who‘s dropped out of the race, or at least has suspended his race.  You need 2,025 out of 4,049 delegates to win the Democratic nomination for president.

Hillary Clinton‘s best bets for Super Tuesday include New York, California, New Jersey, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Tennessee.  Barack Obama‘s best bets for Tuesday are Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Georgia, Alabama, and his home state of Illinois.  And the toss-ups, well, they include Arizona, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico and Utah.

Chuck, for Barack Obama, what‘s it look like for him to try—I still think it‘s an uphill road for him against the frontrunner.  That‘s the way I still look at it.

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, it is because Clinton‘s got this big-stage strategy, and you can see how she could potentially run up the score.  She‘s all over the airwaves in New York.  She really wants to put up a big number in New York.  Obviously, she‘s spending two-and-a-half days in California.  Picking one out of 21 states to sit for two-and-a-half tells you a lot.  She‘s trying to run up the score there.

I think what Obama‘s hoping to do is that he‘s got a spread-out strategy.  He‘s got a lot of those caucus states he‘s targeting, but then he‘s hoping to win a lot of the toss-ups.  He wants to be able to say, I won Arizona, I won Missouri, I won Colorado, and saying, If I can win these swing states in a primary, you know, and she can‘t, you know, that will give him a talking point, if he‘s behind in delegates on Tuesday night.

He would love to steal California.  And I think California and, to a lesser extent, New Jersey, two of her base states, he is trying to figure out how to overperform in those states.  For California, overperforming would be actually winning the popular vote there. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there a spread, like the Super Bowl?  Is Hillary favored, like the Patriots are on Sunday; thereby, he can win by not quite winning? 

TODD:  I—you know, I—I don‘t want to go there, because I actually think that, look, this is—both sides have said this is a delegate battle.  She seems to have an advantage on this front, because she starts with a lead in California.  She does well with Hispanics. 

There‘s a lot of Hispanic districts in California, where she can rack up delegates.  Throw in New York, throw in New Jersey, on the delegate war, she should be ahead on Tuesday night, maybe not by a lot, maybe by 100 delegates, and not counting superdelegates, but in the pledged delegate front. 

And, if she‘s at that point, I would say that she covered the spread, if you will, if you want to put it in those terms. 

MATTHEWS:  But he can still win Tuesday night?  It‘s still doable? 

TODD:  He—if he steals California.  I mean, he needs to figure out how to take one of her base states, and vice versa.  If she could steal one of his base states...

MATTHEWS:  Like Massachusetts.  She could...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  I think Alabama or Georgia.  I think they think they might be able to take one of those Southern states. 

MATTHEWS:  All right, one last question on the Democratic side.  We‘re going to the Republican side.

Does—does this national poll that shows him getting close, almost even, basically, within the margin of error, from 20 points back, the fact that Obama has caught up to Hillary Clinton in the national poll, given the fact this is almost a national primary Tuesday, does that mean the same thing?  Can you apply that national poll number and say, it‘s a good reading on what‘s going to happen in the 21 states? 

TODD:  Well, certainly it certainly matches what we‘re hearing out of California.  A lot of private polling is showing that that race has come—is getting really tight. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s exciting stuff. 

TODD:  And, if he‘s moving up, it means he‘s closing the gap among whites and Hispanics. 

MATTHEWS:  Maybe.

Let‘s take a look, quickly, at the Republican side.  Nine states are winner-take-all on Super Tuesday, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Utah, and West Virginia. 

Here‘s what the GOP delegate count stands like right now: 93 for McCain, 59 for Romney, 40 for Huckabee.  You need 1,191 to win out of the 2,380 delegates to win the Republican nomination for president. 

John McCain‘s best bets for Tuesday are his home state of Arizona and a handful up in the Northeast, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut.  Romney‘s best bets for Tuesday, Montana, Minnesota, North Dakota, West Virginia, Alaska, Colorado, Utah, and Massachusetts, where he was governor. 

What about the tossups?  Well, they include the big one, California, Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. 

Chuck, it looks to me like McCain will go to the big winner-take-all states.  That‘s where he will concentrate.

TODD:  He‘s going to go to the big winner-take-all.

And then he wants to be—he‘s looking for a big victory.  They want to rack up 700 delegates -- 700 delegates. 

MATTHEWS:  Can he bring this home Tuesday night?

TODD:  He‘s going to get really close. 

Right now, there‘s polling showing him—he—thanks to Huckabee, he will probably win Missouri.  Missouri is a winner-take-all.  That‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Huckabee is taking away some cultural votes from Romney?

TODD:  Exactly. 

I went through the Florida results.  Do you know that there were half the counties in Florida where Romney/Huckabee combined total was over 50 percent, and allowed—in 17 of those counties, McCain carries them. 

Well, extrapolate that out to Alabama, Georgia, Missouri.  You will see Huckabee takes just enough votes.  McCain could sweep every state, with the possible exception of Utah and Massachusetts, on—this would be Romney‘s worse night.  And then Massachusetts, I mean, that‘s where the nail in the coffin.

MATTHEWS:  That will hurt him. 

TODD:  That would be the nail in the coffin. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

TODD:  And...

MATTHEWS:  If McCain wins Massachusetts, where the other guy, Romney was governor, it‘s hard to defend.

TODD:  McCain doesn‘t have to win Massachusetts.  He has got to cover the spread. 

MATTHEWS:  Got to go.

What a run-through.  Thanks.  You‘re the best.  Thank you, Chuck Todd. 

Up next:  Remember Obama Girl?  Well, she‘s back and better than ever. 

And a new record in spending millions of dollars to get—catch this

one delegate.  Wait until you hear how much money somebody spent to get one delegate. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is new out there in the world of politics?  Well, the Clinton campaign has just purchased a block of time on February 4 on—you will never guess it—the Hallmark Channel. 

That‘s right.  For an hour on the eve of Super Tuesday, fans of those quality, high-status movies will be treated to a televised Hillary town hall.  Instead, it looks like—instead.  It looks like a move to shore up women voters before the big day.  As Hallmark says, you cared enough to send the very best. 

Speaking of caring, Obama Girl, who once graced this HARDBALL set, is out with a brand-new video, Super Obama girl. 

Here‘s a taste. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  She‘s sassy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALES (singing):  Obama Girl.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  She‘s flashy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALES (singing):  Obama Girl.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  She‘s wonky.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALES (singing):  Obama Girl.  So funky.  Obama Girl.

She‘s super.  Obama Girl.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  Who is that girl fighting her politician?  She‘s going to the White House to stop the opposition.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And now a plug for newspapers.  I happen to love them, reading the paper—and I‘m not talking about online—I mean the physical, palpable newsprint.  The paper you can feel is one of the great pleasures in my life, like French roast, right, from the plunger in the morning. 

That‘s why I hate reading stories like this one in “USA Today”—quote—“‘New York Times,‘ Other Newspapers Continue to Struggle.‘  The piece on to report that declining revenues among some of the biggest newspapers in the country are a big problem. 

Let‘s hope there the day never comes when the newspaper isn‘t out there on the driveway. 

And, as you know, the gun issue is one of the big parts of this presidential election, especially in the Republican primaries, and especially in West Virginia.  The Mountain State is considering a bill to teach schoolchildren how to handle guns.  The state senator sponsoring the bill wants kids age 13 to 16 to learn about hunting safety during gym class. 

And now it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number.” 

For the past 28 years, former Texas Governor John Connally has held a very remarkable record in presidential politics, the most money spent to get a single delegate.  His record, $11 million to get one delegate. 

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that record has now been broken.  It‘s been shattered.  How much money did Rudy Giuliani spend to win what turned out to be just one—one—delegate?  At least $49 million, four to five times the old record, almost $50 million to get a single delegate -- $49 million, tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

HARDBALL continues on MSNBC, but, for those of you watching on your local NBC station, thanks for being with us. 

And a reminder:  Our Super Tuesday coverage begins at 6:00 Eastern on

MSNBC. 

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINA BROWN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  We will get right back to HARDBALL in just a minute, but, first, I‘m Christina Brown at MSNBC world headquarters in New York, with breaking news right now. 

There is a verdict in the case against actor and action hero Wesley Snipes.  Just a short time ago, a jury acquitted the action star of federal tax fraud and conspiracy charges.  However, they did convict him of failing to file tax returns.  Of the eight charges against Wesley Snipes, he was found guilty of three of them.  All of those were misdemeanors. 

The charges he was found guilty of were all felonies.  There were also two co-defendants in the case, Eddie Ray Kahn and Douglas P. Rosile.  They were convicted by the same jury of tax fraud and conspiracy. 

Snipes, who starred in the “Blade” films and “White Men Can‘t Jump,” is among the most famous targets of an IRS investigation. 

Now, at this hour, Snipes‘ bond has been reduced to $250,000.  He could face as many as three years in prison. 

Of course, we will continue to stay on top of this. 

I‘m Christina Brown—now back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Last night, the remaining two Democratic presidential candidates debated in Los Angeles.  Normally, we see many familiar political faces at those debates out in the audience, but last night‘s debate was a little different. 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this story. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The Kodak Theatre, home to the Oscars, is a bastion of Hollywood glitz and glamour.  And, while there wasn‘t a red carpet for the Democratic debate, it was a night of California stereotypes, and then some. 

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think it‘s imperative that we approach this mortgage crisis...

SHUSTER:  As Clinton and Obama debated serious policy issues, who occupied the first rows?  Hollywood celebrities, of course. 

That‘s Oscar winner Diane Keaton looking as eccentric as usual, producer/actor Rob Reiner, Isaiah Washington from “Grey‘s Anatomy,” and Pierce Brosnan.  Remember him? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PIERCE BROSNAN, ACTOR:  Bond, James Bond. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  As 007, he gathered intelligence and helped with national security. 

Representative Jane Harman, a House committee chair, who deals with the reality of national security issues, was so far back in the debate hall that she was out of camera view. 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That is undermining our long-term security. 

SHUSTER:  In fact, the seating chart, heavy on the Tinseltown set, with a few political celebrities sprinkled in, looked like an awards show. 

And CNN happily played along, showing Hollywood stars a total of 19 times and elected politicians four. 

The directing decisions were often strange. 

OBAMA:  I think it is important for us to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in. 

SHUSTER:  The Iraq war is a serious policy issue, but it‘s not something one would associate with Topher Grace and “That ‘70s Show.”

Louis Gossett Jr. played a war hero in the “Iron Eagle” movies.  In the midst of a discussion about the use of force...

CLINTON:  I believe in coercive diplomacy.

SHUSTER:  ... the camera cut away to—you guess ed it—Louis Gossett Jr. 

And when the Democrats were asked about a unity ticket...

OBAMA:  So, I think it‘s premature for either of us to start speculating about vice presidents.

SHUSTER:  ... CNN focused on Bradley Whitford, a character from “The West Wing.” 

As for the debate itself—oh, yeah, the debate—anybody hoping for a powerful exchange or a memorable clash on anything was disappointed. 

CLINTON:  We‘re having—we‘re having such a good time.

OBAMA:  I wouldn‘t call it a swipe.

CLINTON:  We‘re having such a good time.  We are.  We are.  We‘re having a wonderful time.

SHUSTER:  The letdown was kind of like Jason Alexander‘s most memorable scene in “Seinfeld.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SEINFELD”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  I‘m really sorry.  

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

JASON ALEXANDER, ACTOR:  I was in the pool!  I was in the pool!

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  At the end, Hillary Clinton delivered what‘s known in the entertainment biz as a promo. 

CLINTON:  On Monday night, I‘m going to have a national town hall, an interactive town hall.  It will be carried on the Hallmark Channel.

SHUSTER:  Cue the host with the witty one-liner. 

WOLF BLITZER, MODERATOR:  Here‘s the bottom line.  We do the plugs here. 

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER (on camera):  Well, now it‘s my turn. 

Clearly, the Hollywood debate was like one of those feel-good movie, in which the protagonists come together in the end, like in “The Wild Bunch.”

So, the question is, with just days before Super Tuesday, is the Democratic race destined to become more violent and dramatic, like in “Godfather II”? 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

That was a Hollywood moment last night, but will it have a Hollywood ending? 

David Shuster, thank you very much. 

For most about celebrities and the politics of California, Phil Bronstein is with “The San Francisco Chronicle,” its executive editor, and my old boss.  And Ted Johnson is with “Variety.”

I want to go to Ted for the glitzy part.  And I will go to my friend Phil for the really tough assessment of the politics out there. 

Ted, why do Democrats, especially, wallow in celebrityhood, and they seem to just want to be seen with Rob Reiner or Barbra or somebody? 

TED JOHNSON, EDITOR AT LARGE, “VARIETY”:  Money, that‘s the main thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh.

JOHNSON:  It‘s absolutely money.  Hollywood is a big source of cash for them.  And part of the price that they pay is, these celebrities want to feel like they‘re part of the process. 

MATTHEWS:  So, people like Leo DiCaprio out there taking notes on the various issues, I mean, how—how seriously deluded are they? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean, how far does this go? 

JOHNSON:  Well, I would say, you know, it depends...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, how far do they go in convincing them they‘re part of their brain trust?  

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON:  Well, I think—I think it depends on the celebrity.  I think George Clooney is someone who has a pretty realistic view of what his place in the universe is.  The Obama campaign really likes to say that he is one of their—their big supporters. 

However, Clooney says, hey, I can be more harm than good to you guys. 

So, he hasn‘t been out there on the campaign trail for them. 

MATTHEWS:  I think he‘s a smart guy to know that.

Phil Bronstein, it‘s nice to see you out there.

Let me ask you about the state of California.  Let me just ask the politics.  First of all, the Hollywood impact, just to get through this, is there a plus?  I mean, every time Reagan got elected, George Murphy got elected, Arnold Schwarzenegger got elected, the Dems always said, oh, Hollywood‘s stupid; they shouldn‘t be elected to anything, and then the guys—when the Republican guy always won.

(LAUGHTER)

PHIL BRONSTEIN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, “THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE”:  You know, the great thing about celebrity and politics is that it goes from self-love, which they both have in abundance, to some kind of mutual—weird mutual love.

(LAUGHTER)

BRONSTEIN:  And this is where we miss Fred Thompson, because, you know, you had one guy and you had both. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BRONSTEIN:  He was a politician and he was a Hollywood celebrity.  So, you know, that would have been easy. 

MATTHEWS:  That would have been a hermaphrodite, which is the ultimate here.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BRONSTEIN:  I disagree—I have no comment on that. 

(LAUGHTER)

BRONSTEIN:  But I disagree a little bit on the money part, not because Hollywood doesn‘t raise a lot of money.  But, first of all, there‘s a lot of baggage that goes along with the money that doesn‘t necessarily go along with real political money. 

And, second of all, Silicon Valley, where all these candidates have come, it‘s like the ATM machine not just of California, but often of the country. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, are you going to assign reporters out to cover Oprah when she comes out there this weekend, Phil?

BRONSTEIN:  Are you kidding?  Oprah...

MATTHEWS:  Is that a story? 

BRONSTEIN:  Oprah is a story wherever she goes, especially for reporters who have books that they have published or ever want to publish. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  We know that story. 

Let me go back to Ted on Hollywood and last night‘s directing.  We had some fun, because—I love Shuster because he‘s so mischievous.  He just pointed out that CNN‘s cameramen were all directed...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... to put the faces on, like, Lou Gossett Jr. when we are talking about security, because he was in a war movie...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... putting—and then going to each guy—or Bradley Whitford, because he was in “West Wing,” so, therefore, he must be sophisticated about what‘s happening in—in the White House. 

Is this a confusion? 

Oh, I love Diane Keaton.  There she is. 

Is this a confusion of...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... reality and celluloid? 

JOHNSON:  Well, I think it was just kind of irresistible for the CNN cameramen to actually do that. 

I think the irony of things whole thing is, there were probably more stars in that Kodak Theatre than will be there on Oscar night if a writers strike is still going on, because no one‘s going to cross the picket. 

So, I thought that was the great irony of the—of the evening.  But,

sure, there is a bit of confusion.  Voters are probably wondering why the -

why the attention on all of these celebrities.  Where are they in the process? 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I remember, Phil, back in the old days, when we were growing up, that Raymond Burr, who played a lawyer on “Perry Mason” all those years, would be invited to go around to legal conventions...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... and address the lawyers on law...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... when he knew nothing, except what was in the script.

BRONSTEIN:  Well, you know, I...

MATTHEWS:  But I want to ask you—yes, go ahead. 

BRONSTEIN:  Going back to Fred Thompson.  You know, “Hunt For Red October,” that‘s the guy you want in charge of your national security, right?  That‘s the character that you want.  The problem was that there was a little bit of a reality shock there.  So when Fred Thompson was running for president, he wasn‘t necessarily the guy in “Hunt For Red October.”  So I think actually voters will make a distinction ultimately. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the news room mentality out there in San Francisco, south of market—

BRONSTEIN:  We‘re all about emotion in our news room.  This is California.  We worry about our feelings. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s the most romantic journalist room I‘ve ever been in my life.  Everybody‘s like “Front Page” out there, starting with you.  Do the journalists have their heart in this race?  Are they really following the emotions of Barack versus Hillary?  Is it a woman thing, a minority thing, a young person‘s thing, a true romantic?  How‘s it breaking out, without giving names away? 

BRONSTEIN:  I think what‘s great about it for reporters is it‘s a real saga.  It‘s a story.  There‘s a dynamic here.  There‘s all sorts of—you talk about characters.  There are characters.  It‘s not just a question of the first woman, the first black candidate.  It‘s really about characters. 

John McCain, you know, interesting, complex character.  They all are and they all have this history.  I mean, Barack Obama, less so.  So I think the reporters are loving the drama of this, and I think maybe voters are loving it, too. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s great having you on, Phil.  Good luck in covering the Super Tuesday.  We‘ll be up all night, Keith and I, covering it.  Staying up just to hear California, if nothing else.  Thank you Phil Bronstein, executive editor of the “San Francisco Chronicle,” and Ted Johnson of “Variety,” which I actually love, actually. 

Up next, your Friday politics fix.  Just four days before Super Tuesday, couldn‘t be a better day to get a fix.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL, and the politics fix.  Our round table tonight, a heavyweight crew; NY One senior political reporter Dominic Carter is up in New York; Linda Douglass of the “National Journal” and Roger Simon are both with me. 

We just got an AP report from Baghdad that 70 people died in Baghdad because of explosions, which were triggered by two mentally retarded women.  I mean, the horror of this war continues.  It‘s not anything we can argue about politically except it‘s reality.  And I‘m going to go to Linda Douglass.  It seems to me tonight—let‘s take a look at Barack Obama and how he jumped into this issue last night in Los Angeles. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Legislation, the authorization had the title “An Authorization to Use U.S. Military Force in Iraq.”  I think everybody the day after that vote was taken understood this was a vote potentially to go to war.  I think people were very clear about that.  That‘s—if you look at the headlines. 

The reason that this is important, again, is that Senator Clinton, I think fairly, has claimed that she‘s got the experience on day one.  And part of the argument that I‘m making in this campaign is that it is important to be right on day one. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Interesting body language.  Senator Clinton is so direct in looking him down.  But he is raising an issue which you think would drag her down among the base, the Democratic base, which is anti-war. 

LINDA DOUGLASS, “NATIONAL JOURNAL”:  Well, she‘s really done a very good job of moving away from that vote for the war without ever really taking any kind of apology—

MATTHEWS:  Which will hurt her, probably. 

DOUGLASS:  But what he did yesterday was not only bring that issue back up again and make her defend that vote again, but he also raised the question of the other opportunity that she had in the course of those votes to vote for something that would have required diplomacy first.  And she gave an answer that he‘s now really looking into.  So now there‘s really a question about—

MATTHEWS:  The Durbin Amendment. 

DOUGLASS:  The Levin amendment. 

MATTHEWS:  The Levin amendment.  Sorry. 

DOUGLASS:  So, first of all, the question is, did she vote for the war, why did she vote the war, and is she telling the truth about her reasons?  He‘s raised all of those in these last two days in California. 

MATTHEWS:  Because she believed it was about pressuring Obama to get inspectors in there, she could have achieved that goal by moderate means? 

DOUGLASS:  People like Joe Biden even say that this was an amendment that would have required the U.N. to get involved.  And if we don‘t like what they did, you go back to Congress. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to the politics of this.  You wrote a nice piece about it today, I read it.  Let me ask you, do you believe this will begin to be a weekend issue between now and Super Tuesday? 

ROGER SIMON, “POLITICO”:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  The war comes back? 

SIMON:  The war comes back.  It‘s not really been off the table.  It‘s been off the table with us, but rank and file Democrats, the kind that show up and vote in primaries, hate this war.  They‘ve always hated this war. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you know that Bob Woodward, the great investigator of Watergate, believes, said this to me a couple weeks ago, that this is the background issue of this campaign, no matter what anybody says about it, Iraq. 

SIMON:  And rank in file Democrats don‘t know why the war is still going on.  They thought they elected a Congress to end this war.  It‘s still going on.  We‘re still reading about people dying there.  And I thought Barack Obama effectively made three points yesterday about the war.  One, Hillary Clinton had shown bad judgment in voting for it.  Two, he is better to speak on this subject with Republicans because he never voted for it.  And three, I think most cleverly, he said that if she didn‘t have the judgment to keep us out of this war, does she have the judgment to get us out of it now?  He said, look, you know, we can‘t be muddied about getting out.  We have to be clear.  We can‘t have mission creep.  He‘s basically said, you can‘t trust her to get us out of this war. 

MATTHEWS:  And Dominic, he had also made the point that if you want to make a case against the war, you‘d better off be a person who was against it from the beginning.  You have a clear case to make with the public.  What do you make of that? 

DOMINIC CARTER, NY ONE SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER:  Well, Senator Obama, Chris, does have a point when he makes that, but it doesn‘t seem—when he says that—but it doesn‘t seem as of now that he‘s gaining any traction, in terms of on the issue of the war.  No matter how you look at this—and we may re-examine it as journalists, in which it‘s going to happen in the next couple of days, but just based on the polling, it just doesn‘t seem to be connecting in terms of the attack on Senator Clinton—

MATTHEWS:  Well, what is closing the numbers, then, Dominic?  He was 20 points back, Senator Obama, a month ago.  Now, according to the latest polling, he‘s about three points back nationally.  What‘s causing the close? 

CARTER:  What‘s causing the close is called the Big Mo, momentum.  This guy is a new face, the new kid on the block, and that‘s why Senator Clinton, she‘s got to be careful, Chris, to—you know, going into Tuesday, she has the advantage.  There is no doubt about that.  Organization, establishment and so on in the big states to be decided.  But she‘s got to finish this, if you will, this young kid—of course, I‘m referring to Senator Obama—because the longer he hangs around, the longer he‘s continuing to gain momentum. 

Let‘s just look at the 31, 32 million dollars he raised just in January alone. 

MATTHEWS:  And something could go wrong for her.  Let‘s take a look at the Clinton campaign ad out right now, featuring Robert Kennedy Jr. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT KENNEDY JUNIOR, SON OF BOBBY KENNEDY:  My father tried to be a voice for the most alienated and disenfranchised members of our society, from Appalachia to the migrant farm workers. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Robert Kennedy helped my grandfather, Caesar Chavez, achieve justice and dignity for farm workers. 

KENNEDY:  Today, Hillary Clinton is the champion of the voiceless in our society. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hillary knows how to solve our problems to get things done. 

KENNEDY:  We need leadership in the White House that represents the people‘s interests and not the special interests. 

CLINTON:  I‘m Hillary Clinton and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Will that work, Roger? 

SIMON:  I think it will help her in California, but luckily for politicians, the Kennedy family is so big, you can just keep on getting Kennedys!  There‘s always going to be another one on the tree you can pluck off. 

MATTHEWS:  Another point of view, like most families, by the way. 

DOUGLASS:  There are dueling images that Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, is running an ad—

MATTHEWS:  Daughter of John F. Kennedy.

DOUGLASS:  -- sorry, John F. Kennedy—is running pictures of her father for Obama and that Robert Kennedy is running pictures of his father for Clinton.  That is pretty confusing, actually.  It‘s a clever strategy. 

MATTHEWS:  Dominic, will people be able to figure this out or just go, OK, I‘ve got other things to think about? 

CARTER:  Chris, I think that you‘re right, they‘ll just go, OK, which Kennedy is backing who.  But the good news for Senator Clinton is she‘s doing OK as of now in California.  Organization, again, is on her side.  And she‘s done very well in terms of this race has shown us with Latinos and Hispanics and women voters, and those are key constituencies in California. 

MATTHEWS:  The one difference is that Ted Kennedy is terrific on the stump, much better than some other Kennedys, and he‘s out there stumping in California where Obama needs—

MATTHEWS:  Oprah Winfrey‘s going to be campaigning, I believe, with Michelle Obama in California this Sunday, and Oprah can draw crowds and excite people that normally don‘t get excited about politics.  We‘ll be right back with the round table.  This has become a national political jamboree.  We‘re going to bring in the politics fix again and talk about the Republicans.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Dominic Carter of New York One, the big TV

station in New York, Linda Douglass with the “National Journal,” and Roger

Simon of “Politico.”  Let‘s talk Republicans right now, because I think

they‘re closer to a decision, as we say.  Roger, you first.  It seems to me

I‘ve heard this from a lot of smart people, including Chuck Todd of NBC, that there‘s a good chance that Mr. McCain, Senator McCain, will win almost all the states Tuesday, and thereby, wrap it up. 

SIMON:  Yes, and he is a genuine front-runner, something the Democrats lack.  But it should be said—and I‘m taking no credit away from what John McCain has done.  He‘s really come back from the dead in this campaign.  But one reason he could do so was a sign—it‘s a sign of how weak the Republican field is. 

This is one of the weakest fields they‘ve put out there in some decades, actually.  And for a man that have been written off by whole segments of the party, for immigration, McCain/Feingold, for whatever, and suddenly we‘re talking about him, he‘s the front-runner, he could sweep the field. 

MATTHEWS:  I know what you‘re saying.  I have an old boxing reference, which is in the middle weight division in the ‘50s you had great boxers like Sugar Ray Robinson.  When they all died off, Joe Jardello (ph) finally got the championship.  Is this one of those things where he wins because everyone else is weak or because he has guts?  

DOUGLASS:  He‘s the last man standing.  There‘s no question about it.  But there‘s something really big happening here, I think, which is that he has the potential to restructure the Republican coalition.  This is a candidate who the vocal activist conservatives are denouncing as loud as they can. 

MATTHEWS:  Who is he bringing in, because he has pushed out some of the cultural conservatives, like Rush Limbaugh?  Who does he bring into the fold?  Sean Hannity is still out there.  Laura Ingram‘s out there.  Who does he bring in the door?

DOUGLASS:  He brings in the independent voters, the very people that Barack Obama says --  

MATTHEWS:  Against Hillary or Barack? 

DOUGLASS:  In the general election.  He‘s the candidate—

MATTHEWS:  Linda Douglass, I want to ask you a question.  Can anybody compete for independent voters with Barack Obama in the race, if he‘s in the general election? 

DOUGLASS:  Well, if Barack Obama‘s the candidate, that will be the competition.  That‘s how he says he can win.  That‘s why he says he‘s the most electable.  They tend to vote for him.  McCain says the same about himself. 

MATTHEWS:  Dominic, let me ask you the same question; if John McCain‘s having so much trouble with the base, radio, right-wing, let‘s see, what else, the regulars in the party, the people who do the work in the party, where‘s he pick up the lost strength from?  Where‘s he make up for it in the general? 

CARTER:  Chris, I don‘t know if it‘s fair to say—I just want to back-track for a second—to say that McCain is the last guy standing on the Republican side.  He literally fought his way back to the nomination.  And it appears that Tuesday night he may indeed have wrapped this all up. 

In the general election—this may sound simplistic—but in the general election, anything can happen.  History has shown us that.  And I don‘t know if I‘m willing to write this guy off.  He‘s been a maverick throughout his career, and I think that he might be able to compete, but I just don‘t know if it‘s realistic to say that Obama may win the nomination, but we‘ll see.  He believes different. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you, either one, whether Obama or Hillary, the question I have for you, Dominic, is how do you win a general election if you have such a problem with your base? 

CARTER:  It is a problem in terms of conservatives, but you know, he‘s in the process of reaching out now.  You know, look at his latest commercial, his latest ad.  At this point, what are conservatives going to do?  It appears—I mean, I know that Rush Limbaugh is out there attacking him, but it appears they have no other choice but to rally around Mr.  McCain.  What‘s the other option at this point? 

MATTHEWS:  Good question, Roger—

SIMON:  He will say to the base what he‘ll say to everybody, he will protect America better than the Democrats will.  We‘ve heard this before.  It‘s worked before in presidential elections. 

MATTHEWS:  Where‘s the politics for people like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingram and Rush Limbaugh to be trashing a guy when he‘s so clearly near to getting it? 

DOUGLASS:  They have had amazing power over the last decade.  The talk show hosts, the cable show hosts, people like that, have really had amazing power over the last decade.  And now what‘s happening is that it‘s the institutional conservatives who are beginning to surround John McCain, Governor Perry of Texas and so forth.  He‘s bringing in political conservatives, and it has the potential to somewhat marginalize those other voices. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I didn‘t know I had such power.  Dominic Carter, sir, thank you for joining us.  Please come back.  Linda Douglass, as always.  Roger Simon, I read you greatly.  Join us again Monday night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  I‘m out of words!  It‘s Friday.  Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

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