updated 2/5/2008 11:44:03 AM ET 2008-02-05T16:44:03

Guests: Sen. Barbara Boxer, Sen. Claire McCaskill, Sen. Evan Bayh, Kate Michelman, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Eugene Robinson, Jill Zuckman, Margaret Carlson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tomorrow really is Super Tuesday, a political Mardi Gras.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL, tonight from NBC News election night headquarters in New York.

Tomorrow‘s the big day in American politics, and tonight there are a lot of new national polls out.  Let‘s run through the latest numbers on the Democratic side.  CNN has Barack Obama up 3 nationally.  The Pew poll has Hillary Clinton up by 8.  The “USA Today”/Gallup poll has Clinton up by 1.  A new “New York Times”/NBC News poll has the Democratic race tied.  And ABC News and “The Washington Post” have Clinton leading Obama by 4 points.

Averaging these polls together puts Clinton ahead by a little more than 3.  This promises to be a close race tomorrow night as the Super Tuesday delegates are counted.

And in an average of all those same polls on the Republican side, John McCain leads by a stunning 20 points right now over Mitt Romney.

But we begin with the Democratic fight, and joining us now is California senator Barbara Boxer, who has yet to endorse a candidate.  Senator Boxer, you‘ve been making votes all your life.  You voted a thousand times on the Senate floor.  Every time, you‘ve got to walk (ph) to work, you have to vote, and yet you have hesitated.  How are you going to decide this?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA:  I haven‘t hesitated, I‘ve decided not to endorse because these two people are terrific.  I love my work in the United States Senate.  I count on both of them.  I‘m now chair of the Environment Committee.  I work so closely with them, Chris, I‘ve decided that the people of my state are going to lead me, and whoever they choose, I will cast my super-delegate vote in that way.

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Have you decided how you‘re going to vote?

BOXER:  I already voted, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  How did you vote?

BOXER:  Chris?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  How did your family vote?  Can I get around this some other way?  How did your family vote?

BOXER:  Let me just say that my family is divided on this race.  I will say that.  They love everybody.  It‘s been a tough one.  And I‘ll tell you, Californians are still deciding up to the last minute.

But Chris, I just spoke to my political people.  Rose Kapuchinsky (ph) has been my campaign manager for three times now.  She said she‘s never seen anything like what is going on in California.  She says that there are 100,000 workers for Barack Obama, 100,000 workers for Hillary Clinton.  They both have stars out there.  I don‘t mean Hollywood stars...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BOXER:  ... I mean very exciting people on the trail.  They‘re doing community meetings.  Chris, they‘re doing TV.  She said it looks like a general election.  It‘s extraordinary.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m impressed when I keep hearing these people I really like coming out with their opinions now.  Norm Mineta, who served on the Bush cabinet, has now endorsed Barack Obama.  Our old friend, Don Edwards, the great U.S. Congressman, he‘s voting—he‘s out there for Barack.  Robert De Niro is for Barack.  Ethel Kennedy‘s for Barack.  A couple of her kids are for Hillary Clinton.  It‘s so astounding to figure this thing.

Let me ask you about the issue I know you‘ve stuck your neck out on and you‘re very pronounced on, certainly as much as Barack Obama, and you had to vote in the U.S. Senate.  You voted against the resolution to take us to war with Iraq.  You then voted for the Carl Levin amendment, which would have required a subsequent vote.  How do you explain the Hillary Clinton position, which is that she couldn‘t vote for either one?  I have to ask you, how do you parse that?

BOXER:  I don‘t parse it.  I just didn‘t agree with her, period, on that one.  We just thought very differently.  So she was entitled to her vote, I‘m very proud of my vote.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the polling right now?  You said that you‘re going to try to honor the—well, you will.  You‘ve said you will...

BOXER:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... the voting of your state tomorrow night and how they vote on the presidential preference.  Are you surprised that it‘s closed to within—well, the latest California average is down to 1 point, with Senator Clinton up by 1, but she was up, what, 20 points not long ago.

BOXER:  Well, the whole thing is just wild.  I‘ve heard some polls have Hillary up in California.  Some polls have Barack up.  It really is—as I said on your network last week, it‘s a wide-open race.  Anything can happen here.  And you know what?  This is so great for our democracy.  There‘s so much excitement.  It‘s a plus.  And especially seeing the young people, the minorities, the women—everybody‘s out there, and not necessarily in camps that you would think.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BOXER:  They‘re all just making their choice based on their feelings about the candidates—the candidates, and we are very blessed with having these two charismatic leaders.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the women‘s issue.  Kate Michelman‘s come out for Barack Obama.  A lot of women, of course, who are well established in the feminist cause over the years—I should say the women‘s rights cause over the years—back to the ERA battle, are for Hillary Clinton.  How do you think that is working out in the community of women activists?

BOXER:  It‘s—it‘s a mixed bag.  I mean, we‘ve got two candidates that are really championing the issues for equality in our society, whether it‘s equality because of race or religion or gender.  Both of these candidates are champions here.  So as I say, you see leaders taking different stands, just depending on how these candidates touch their hearts, how do they make them feel.  And the excitement is palpable out there, I‘ll tell you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think the war issue helps Barack Obama, but here‘s an issue that may help Senator Clinton.  Here‘s former president Bill Clinton today, talking about the health care issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You‘re have a clear choice.  You‘re either going to vote for a candidate who will provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans or one who thinks it‘s not that important.  If you think it‘s important, vote for Hillary for president, and she will give it to you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that was a fair estimate of their two positions, that one doesn‘t think it‘s that important?

BOXER:  Well, listen, Bill Clinton is fighting hard for his wife.  And bless him, he cares a lot.  But the truth of the matter is, health care is critical to both of these candidates.  One, Hillary Clinton, says she wants a mandate, where everyone has to get it.  Barack‘s position is, Let‘s get it to as many as we and can.  And outside of the children, he doesn‘t go with a mandate.  He says, if you make it affordable, everyone will move forward and take it.  So they both have important perspectives on it and both are going to be champions for health care.

MATTHEWS:  OK, great.  Great to see you.  Senator Barbara Boxer.

BOXER:  Great to see you.

MATTHEWS:  We can‘t wait to find out how you voted, although you may never tell us ever!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, when we come back, two colleagues of Senator Boxer have made up their minds and have publicly made endorsements.

And later, the Republicans fight.  Will the GOP, the Grand Old Party, have a nominee come Wednesday morning?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL on the eve of Super Tuesday. 

Well, it‘s Clinton versus Obama, experience versus change, old versus new. 

You can argue all the distinctions, but who‘s going to win tomorrow night?  Missouri senator Claire McCaskill is backing Barack Obama.  And Indiana senator Evan Bayh is backing Hillary Clinton.  It‘s great to have you on, both of you senators, and it‘s a chance for you to both to make your election eve or Christmas Eve or Mardi Gras eve proposals.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to you, Senator McCaskill.  You‘re new to this. 

I hear that your two kids talked you into backing Barack.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI:  It‘s true, particularly my 18-year-old daughter, who is a first-time voter this time.  She poured the cold bucket of water on my head, Chris, and said, Mom, you got to step up.  You believe in this man, and you are doing what‘s politically safe instead of what you believe in, and you should be ashamed of yourself.  And she was right.

MATTHEWS:  What a tough kid.

MCCASKILL:  They are tough kids.  But they believe in—in who this man in.  And they‘re right.  He is transformative.  He is bringing a whole new generation in, if for no other reason, because both of these are good people and strong leaders...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MCCASKILL:  If for no other reason, we should capture this.  This is a tough decision for me.  But I got to tell you, as I look back over the last few weeks, I will never regret one minute I have spent campaigning for this man and all that he symbolized to our country.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Senator Bayh.  Your kids, how are they voting? 

Are they promoting your point of view, or are you on your own on this?

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA:  Well, my kids are only 12, Chris, so if they‘re voting, I‘ve got a big problem.

MATTHEWS:  But they have a point of view.  You can‘t skate on this,

Senator.  I know they have a point of view.  Don‘t do this.  What are their

you don‘t have to tell me.  You don‘t have to tell me.  They don‘t have to (INAUDIBLE)  But the younger people of the country seem to be heavily toward Obama.  What does that say to you about the party and the future?

BAYH:  Oh, I think it‘s great that we have so many new people coming into this process.  But I think the important thing to focus on, Chris, is that this is a very important moment for our country, and we need to elect that person who can actually deliver the results that people need in their daily lives.  And you know, giving speeches is wonderful, but you know, making those changes that we all need is what it‘s all about.  And that‘s why I think her experience, her seasoning, those kinds of things will really stand us in good stead as she is elected the next president of the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that the ‘90s under Clinton, Bill Clinton, were as good as we can get and that we should try to replicate that in this next eight-year period?  Is that your thinking, that what we got from the Clintons was pretty good, so let‘s do it again?

BAYH:  Well, look, we moved from record budget deficits to record budget surpluses.  We created 23 million new jobs.  We expanded health care coverage for kids.  We moved a record number of people from Welfare into jobs.  When you look at the record, Chris, that‘s a pretty good record.  Can America do better?  Of course, we can do better.  But it‘s those kinds of policies and that kind of change that Americans I think are desperate for in their daily lives, and it helps to have kind of been there as part of that process.

MATTHEWS:  Senator McCaskill, respond to that.  Do you believe that we can do—well, are the ‘90s a role model that we should look back to and therefore give Senator Clinton an advantage and credibility because she was part of that?

MCCASKILL:  In many ways, President Clinton was a great and a strong leader, but we‘re talking about now about moving forward.  And this is now about the Clintons.  This is about Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama.  This is about who can inspire our country.

And by the way, I‘m not sure what—you know, if you—if he were here for another 5,000 votes, casting another 5,000 votes in the Senate I don‘t think prepares you any more to be president of the United States.  He understands how this place works, frankly, how it doesn‘t work.  He gets it.  He understands that we have got to do it differently.

And that‘s what the American people want.  They want it to be done differently.  They want it to be done not a partisan food fight but what can we agree on?  Let‘s quit demonizing each other.  I know it‘s driven you crazy and a lot of the media crazy, but this has not been a bitter, ugly campaign because even when Barack Obama was 20 points down, he refused to run the ugly, negative ads, like they‘ve been running on the Republican side for months.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me talk about something I do care about, since you‘re guessing what I care about, Senator.  I care about the Iraq war and the decisions which were made leading into it, and I want to know if the American people are ready to make a clear judgment on whether they thought that was the right decision.

Let me go to Senator Bayh on that.  You voted to authorize the war.  I think you voted against the Levin amendment.  You were with Hillary Clinton on that.  Do you believe that‘s a defensible position going into the Super Tuesday?

BAYH:  Well, she‘s made it very clear, Chris, that knowing what she knows today, she wouldn‘t cast that vote again.  Neither would I.  We all cast that vote under the premise that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  I asked the head of the CIA very directly, and he told me that if his life depended on it, he would say there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

So following 9/11 with the belief that there were weapons like that in the hands of a man like Saddam Hussein, we felt that something needed to be done like that.  Now, knowing that there were no weapons, of course, we wouldn‘t do it.

But the important thing to focus on—I mean, Claire‘s right.  This is about the future and going forward.  Both Barack and Hillary are going to get us out of Iraq.  Their plans are almost identical.  And compared to John McCain, who at this point looks like he‘s the likely Republican, who‘s talking about 100 more years in Iraq?  Anyone who is really focused on Iraq and wanting to get us out in a responsible way is going to vote for the Democratic Party nominee, not for Senator McCain.

MATTHEWS:  But Senator Barack Obama says it wasn‘t the decision or the judgment that put the American army into Iraq and this long occupation, it was the mindset that that was an appropriate American policy alternative.

And I want to ask Senator McCaskill, talk about the mindset, not the technical question whether there were WMD there or not, but whether we should have taken over even if there was WMD there.  Should we be occupying Arab countries?  Should that be our policy?

MCCASKILL:  It is remarkable that when Barack Obama was running for the United States Senate to replace a Republican in the Senate, he had the judgment and the foresight to call it exactly right, that invading Iraq would not make us safer, that it would upset the Middle East in terms of the rancor against our country, it would make us less safe, not more safe.  That kind of judgment, that kind of appropriate mindset is really what this country needs to embrace right now.

And this is where they do have a difference.  They don‘t have a lot of differences, but Barack Obama actually believed in his heart that the strength of our nation must be reflected in the way we address other countries, whether they‘re our friends or whether they‘re our enemies.  And that means talking to the bad guys because the only way you make peace is with your—the bad guys, not with the good guys.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.

MCCASKILL:  And I think it‘s important that he has that mindset going forward.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.  And Senator Evan Bayh, thank you so much for coming on tonight, sir.

BAYH:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Up next: The Republicans.  Is John McCain already looking beyond Super Tuesday?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We‘ll unite the party.  We‘ll have all parts of the party united.  And I know that I can convince the majority of the voters that I am a solid conservative.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Are you ready to join that party of McCain and Lieberman and Pat Buchanan?  Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.  John McCain has been sounding more like a general election candidate lately as he hammers the Democratic presidential candidates instead of his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney.  Does McCain have the nomination locked?

Let‘s bring in MSNBC‘s Tucker Carlson and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.  Pat, you couldn‘t restrain your secondary characteristics (INAUDIBLE) standing there with Joe Lieberman on the hawk ticket.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Where are you on that?  Do you think they‘re going to be—they should be the nominee of the Republican Party, your erstwhile political party?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, no, I don‘t believe John McCain represents the center of the Republican Party.  He was certainly wrong on taxes, the gang of 14, he was wrong on judges.  And on my issues, you know, trade and war, I think he‘s wrong on that.  I think he‘s strongest for Bush where Bush has been wrong.  And where Bush has been right, I think McCain is headed south.  And he‘s stuck his finger in the eye of the conservatives on ANWR and global warming and things like that and I think pretty much pandered to the national media.

But I do got to agree with those who say it does look like he‘s on his way to the nomination.  And he did it, Chris because of other candidates—because the way the map worked out, and it worked out very well for him.

MATTHEWS:  Who would you vote for, Barack or McCain?

BUCHANAN:  You know...

MATTHEWS:  Is there any chance there‘d be a deviation there?

BUCHANAN:  Is there any other alternative or options...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... as we say in Jesuitical education...

BUCHANAN:  You know, I...

MATTHEWS:  ... it‘s a free-choice, not a free-will situation.

BUCHANAN:  (INAUDIBLE) candidate, I wouldn‘t make a decision right now.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s good to hear, open-minded on Barack.  I think if it were Hillary and McCain, you might be a little quicker to make a move.

BUCHANAN:  Look, I mean, the question is whether—look, I‘m not going to vote for Barack Obama and I‘m not going to vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton.  The question is, Would I pull the lever for John McCain?

MATTHEWS:  Oh!

BUCHANAN:  And a lot of conservatives...

MATTHEWS:  Or not at all.

BUCHANAN:  And a lot of conservatives are asking that question.  But there‘s a lot of...

MATTHEWS:  Have you ever skipped a presidential election?

BUCHANAN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Just not voted? 

BUCHANAN:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  See, that‘s what I don‘t—Tucker, I don‘t buy this, the people that are politically involved and civic-minded, like Pat, are just going to sit home on Election Day.

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON”:  Oh, I did. 

I did last year.  I skipped it.

MATTHEWS:  Did you really? 

CARLSON:  Yes, I skipped the last election, yes, absolutely.  And I think there are people who will. 

BUCHANAN:  You live in D.C., don‘t you, Tucker? 

CARLSON:  Yes, I do. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  ... make a lot of visits...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Probably did.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  No, but look, it‘s interesting.  I think conservatives have a beef with where the party is going.  There‘s no question. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CARLSON:  And the issues that Pat brought up are deeply annoying to conservatives, deeply annoying to me. 

The question is, is Mitt Romney the flag-bearer for Reagan conservatism?  And the answer is not only no, but kind of amusing. 

If you think about, a year-and-a-half ago, Mitt Romney was this liberal governor of Massachusetts.  I remember doing a show on his health care plan, which varies very little from—insignificant ways, from Hillary Clinton‘s.

So, it‘s not like it‘s McCain, this flawed guy, American hero, but flawed, vs. Barry Goldwater at all.  It‘s McCain, the flawed guy, vs.  Romney, the flawed guy. 

MATTHEWS:  He comes up under Barry Goldwater.  Barry Goldwater is his hero.  He got involved in politics under your reign, the Reagan reign. 

He has made much of that connection spiritually and visually.  But you say he‘s not a good son of the Reagan era or of the Goldwater era. 

BUCHANAN:  No.  That‘s exactly right.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not a good son of those people, even though he looks up to them. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  The difference between Mitt Romney—Mitt Romney was in Massachusetts.  He‘s a Republican in Massachusetts. 

MATTHEWS:  But he has no political culture behind him. 

BUCHANAN:  Right.  He has none.  I agree with you. 

But, as he‘s moved, he‘s moved very dramatically and strongly with the conservatives.  He‘s never stuck his eye in the conservative movement of the Republican Party.  McCain is up there in a conservative format...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  And he‘s constantly sticking to it to them.  And he‘s sticking it to them on issues where he knows “The Washington Post” and “The New York Times” will applaud him.  And that is the most aggravating thing about it. 

There are a lot of moderate Republicans who conservatives would go with who have never done that to them. 

CARLSON:  But wait a second.

MATTHEWS:  You prefer the old Spanish method, where they force people who are Islamic or Jewish to become Christians.  That‘s fine with you, as long as they ended up the right way. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  They all got the expulsion in 1492, as you know, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  But you don‘t mind the guy being forced into being conservative for political purposes. 

BUCHANAN:  No, no, no.  Look, I mean, I don‘t mind...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he—on his own volition, Mitt Romney became one of you, on his own? 

BUCHANAN:  I think—I think, in a way, he did. 

MATTHEWS:  Really?

BUCHANAN:  In a way, he has.

I think going out—take him out in Michigan.  He suddenly awoke to what‘s going on down there, and he‘s addressing the issues, and he‘s saying, hey.  And he looks at Obama.  And Obama‘s an outsider.  And he sees that Washington made a mess of it.  I do. 

And I think he‘s fundamentally a good man, and I think he is on a learning curve, no doubt about it.  And he was not a conservative in Massachusetts.  And we saw that.

CARLSON:  But wait a second.

BUCHANAN:  But everything I have seen since then is good. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But if he had ran for senator from Massachusetts, he would have gone the liberal route, right?

BUCHANAN:  I think he might have gone the liberal route to get in, but, when he got there, I think you would have seen him moving over toward the center of the party. 

CARLSON:  Well, look, if you think John McCain is going to be the nominee, as you just said...

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

CARLSON:  ... and you think he has a shot to win—and he obviously does—then it seems to me unwise, if you‘re a conservative, to antagonize the guy, because his whole world view is orientated around opposition.

John McCain defines himself by whom is he against.  He‘s the underdog fighting against the overdog in some way.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CARLSON:  So, the more conservatives get in this fight with him, the more he‘s going to hate them. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, let‘s at something intermediate, Pat.  And I know you want to study this, but we can get to the implications of this guy winning the nomination...

BUCHANAN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... which he may well do tomorrow night. 

But one way he will win the nomination tomorrow night of your—of the Republican Party is this.  Huckabee has a number of states, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri, where Huckabee‘s making the difference.  He‘s giving it to McCain. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, exactly.

I think Huckabee gave it to—fundamentally gave to it McCain in Florida.  I think, if it weren‘t for Huckabee in these last races, Romney would have a tremendous chance for the nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you. 

BUCHANAN:  But let me ask Tucker one question. 

You know, McCain says there are going to be more wars.  They‘re going to be more wars.

CARLSON:  That‘s right. 

BUCHANAN:  Is that really Republican policy?

CARLSON:  No.  And neither is Mitt Romney‘s.  They all buy into the same orthodoxy on war and trade.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CARLSON:  Ron Paul is the only dissenter.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Pat.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Obviously, he‘s not the nominee yet, because of Pat Buchanan. 

McCain, sell this guy. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan, Tucker Carlson, my colleagues, thank you.

Up next:  Bill Clinton courts Bill Richardson.  Will the New Mexico governor deliver for Hillary?  After all, he gave him two jobs, Energy and U.N.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is going on out there on this super Monday. 

First up, the newly bearded Bill Richardson, he spent his Super Bowl Sunday with other big Bill.  Yes, Richardson and his former boss Bill Clinton watched together at the governor‘s mansion in Santa Fe.  Both Hillary and Obama have been courting Richardson.  He‘s a popular governor out there and could help deliver the old-important Hispanic vote, of course.

Mitt Romney is trying to exploit John McCain‘s problems with social conservatives.  Take a look at this e-mail blast from the campaign heralding a Kerry-McCain ticket from 2004.  It includes a link to this sugarplum.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”)

CHARLES GIBSON, HOST:  If he asked you, if he came across the aisle and asked you, would you even entertain the idea, or will you rule it out for good and all and ever right now? 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  John Kerry is a very close friend of mine.  We have been friends for years.  Obviously, I would entertain it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s directly from the Romney campaign. 

And where does Robert De Niro stand on the election?  Well, here‘s what he told me back in 2006. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Mr. De Niro, your personal pick for ‘08, if you have one? 

ROBERT DE NIRO, ACTOR:  Well, I think of two people, Hillary Clinton and Obama. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you have heard the slogan, haven‘t you? 

DE NIRO:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t tell momma I‘m for Obama.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, today, he made up his mind.  He‘s not for momma. 

He‘s for Obama.  He‘s backing Barack. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DE NIRO:  One person has given me hope.  One person has made me believe that we can make a change. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

DE NIRO:  That person is Barack Obama. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You talking to me? 

And now the HARDBALL “Big Number.” 

I don‘t have to tell you that the economy is a key election issue this year.  In fact, the president‘s new budget projects that the deficit will rise to near record levels this year. 

So, how much is the present annual federal spending total?  How much is the government going to spend under President Bush?  In what he sent to Congress today, $3.1 trillion, the first budget to ever crack $3 trillion in government spending. 

I see an opening for the deficit hawks, like John McCain, on this issue.  Anyway, 3.1, that‘s our big number, and a trillion dollars is added to it. 

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

And a reminder:  Our Super Tuesday coverage begins tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARY THOMPSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Mary Thompson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.” 

Stocks fell this Monday, after three straight sessions of strong gains.  The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 108 points.  The S&P 500 lost 14.  And the Nasdaq fell 30. 

Helping to push stock prices lower, downgrades of several banks and credit card issuers on concern a recession would increase defaults by consumers. 

Some welcome economic news—factory orders rose in December by the largest amount in five months.  But, for all of last year, orders were the lowest since 2002. 

President Bush unveiled a record $3.1 trillion federal budget for the fiscal year that starts October 1.  It contains big increases for defense, but freezes spending on most domestic programs.  It also includes near record deficits, partly because of an economic stimulus package. 

And oil rose $1.06 in New York, closing $90.02 a barrel. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIA SHRIVER, FIRST LADY OF CALIFORNIA:  So, I‘m standing here today, not because I‘m cousins with her, not because I‘m best friends with her, not because I admire her or her.  I‘m standing here because I want to be here. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The women‘s vote will be crucial in tomorrow‘s Super Tuesday race, particularly in the Democratic contest.  Kathleen Kennedy Townsend supports Hillary Clinton.  And Kate Michelman, former president of NARAL, supports Barack Obama. 

So, I‘m going to leave it to you folks to start this.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And I‘m going to step back a tad. 

I want Kathleen, my friend, to bring this up, because I‘m—we were kidding the other day in the hallway about your myriad family instincts in this area.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You, Robert and Carrie (ph) of your family, your cousin Maria, as we just heard, Caroline, your cousin, your uncle Ted, your cousin Patrick, and your mom—now, this gets really close to home—are with the other guy. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Is this like the Civil War, or what is this thing? 

(LAUGHTER)

KATHLEEN KENNEDY TOWNSEND, FORMER MARYLAND LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR:  This

is just what‘s happening in families all across America.  We have two terrific candidates, and we just see things differently. 

Obviously, I believe that Hillary Clinton is the best candidate, because she will be the best president.  She will be able to walk into the Oval Office on day one and start solving problems, heath care, universal health care for all, bringing the troops back from Iraq, making sure that we have a strong economy.  She already has a proposal for what we can do with the mortgage foreclosure. 

She‘s fighting for families now, as she has since 35 years ago, when -

and I‘m so impressed by her dedication, her devotion, and her can-do attitude. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you ought to know. 

Let me go to Kate Michelman. 

Ms. Michelman, let me hear your views.

KATE MICHELMAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF NARAL:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Because you are a NARAL alumna. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And, therefore, I thought you might be loyal to the cause. 

And I‘m not being sarcastic.  It is a cause.  A lot of people our age...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re a bit younger than me—are very wrapped up in what was attempted in ERA. 

MICHELMAN:  You know, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  ... because 100 years ago.

MICHELMAN:  Oh, Chris is such a charmer.

MATTHEWS:  And it didn‘t work.  So, I understand the cause.

But explain to me why you have gone out and broken ranks. 

MICHELMAN:  Well, I actually don‘t know that I would characterize it as broken ranks. 

I actually think, you know, the future for women lies in the fact that we are facing a transformative moment.  And we do this in history in our country at times where we—you know, the moment calls for a person who can call us to greatness, who can call—who can use the presidency and the position of the presidency for social transformation, that moves an entire generation forward. 

And the women of this country have a journey yet to travel.  And I believe that Barack Obama is the person not only to make government work better, as Hillary is solving—talks about solving problems, but before we can make government work better, we have to have someone who calls us to go beyond ourselves and to address the extraordinary issues that we have before us, and then make government, as well, work better. 

And I think Barack Obama is a is—is—is in history in the moment here.  And, for women, I don‘t think—I don‘t think we can look backwards and stay the same and be a part of status quo.  We have to go forward, and I think Barack is that person. 

MATTHEWS:  Kathleen, how are you on Senator Clinton on the war in Iraq?  Are you comfortable that she made the right judgment back in 2002, and has explained that judgment adequately ever since, on the war that I think drives a lot of Democrats to the polls this year?

KENNEDY TOWNSEND:  Well, you know, obviously, she has said that, if she knew now what—knew then what she knows now, she would have voted differently.  But there were a lot of senators at that time looking at the facts, thought there were weapons of mass destruction. 

I think we all wish that that vote had been different.  We wish that we would have never—go into the war in Iraq.  It has been an enormous disaster.  But I think she‘s explained that she has a plan for getting the troops out of Iraq within 60 days of entering the Oval Office.  She‘s going to work with the leaders of the—in the region to create peace there and to build some peace.  And that‘s what she—she brings such enormous...

MATTHEWS:  So, you‘re not worried about what Barack Obama calls the mind-set, that her tendency to say yes to that war will be replicated again once in office, that she will think the same way now and in the future as she did in—look, you know, Kathleen, that half the U.S. Senate Democrats voted against that war authorization. 

It wasn‘t like they had special information.

KENNEDY TOWNSEND:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s just that their judgment was that this was a hawkish move that wasn‘t in America‘s historic pattern of behavior.  We don‘t start wars. 

KENNEDY TOWNSEND:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  But Hillary Clinton said, no, we will start this one, it seems.  Or did she?  What was she thinking? 

KENNEDY TOWNSEND:  Well, I think you have asked her, I‘m sure, a number of times what she was thinking. 

My understanding of what she is thinking, which a number of Democratic senators were thinking the same thing, is that, if you gave the president the ability to hold a club and say to Saddam Hussein, let the inspectors stay, and, if you don‘t, we‘re going to threaten you, that was the—that‘s what she was arguing. 

Now, obviously, in retrospect, it is easy to say it was a mistake.  I don‘t think—you know, I‘m not going to defend it as now.  But I do believe that she has a plan for what we should do in Iraq and around the world for peace.  We have challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as you well know. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure. 

KENNEDY TOWNSEND:  And I think she‘s—you know, she has been—on foreign affairs, she‘s visited 80 countries.  And she is terrific—we‘re here today talking about women‘s issues as well—when she said in China, women‘s rights are human rights. 

And I think it‘s very important, I think, for the women in this country and around the world, to see a woman leader...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

KENNEDY TOWNSEND:  ... who is going to solve problems with the economy, but also be especially attentive...

MATTHEWS:  Kate.

KENNEDY TOWNSEND:  ... to the needs of women. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry.

Kate Michelman, let me ask you an equally tough question. 

Are you comfortable with the idea that, if Hillary Clinton, Senator Clinton, doesn‘t get the nomination this year, that there probably won‘t be another front-ranking, front-running woman for a number of cycles?  There might be.  But the way it works in certain—it‘s become—well, we know the history of this country.  It hasn‘t happened before.  It is not likely to happen again quickly. 

MICHELMAN:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Does it bother you, as you get older, and speak to younger women...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... that you blew the one chance a woman had to...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  There you go out of my camera range. 

(LAUGHTER)

KENNEDY TOWNSEND:  Oh, my goodness.

MATTHEWS:  That a woman doesn‘t have a chance and it was your vote that brought her down? 

KENNEDY TOWNSEND:  You are so lucky you are in New York and not in Washington.

(LAUGHTER)

MICHELMAN:  I have teenage grandchildren, by the way.  Believe it or not, I do.  And it‘s they and their future that I am very concerned about. 

And, you know, we have already made history, and it‘s extraordinary.  Hillary‘s running.  She‘s a serious contender.  And, if she‘s the nominee, we‘re with her. 

But—but, you know, we‘re not just about making history.  We‘re about changing history.  And you said something a minute ago, Chris, which I think is very central to the difference between Hillary and Barack Obama. 

Barack Obama said in the debate the other night:  I just don‘t want to end the war in Iraq and get us out.  I want to change the mind-set that got us there in the first place.  And that is what Barack Obama is about at all levels.  And for women—if we just narrow this into women, although it‘s not narrow, since women are over half the population and we—we make the world go round actually, I believe.  For women, that—you know, a person who can grapple in the cosmic way with their experience and to lead this nation forward to a new place, and also manage the government so that it does good by people—it enables people to achieve their potential—is what I think Barack Obama will do that‘s different from Hillary Clinton.  She will be—

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you.  I wish Kate and I wish Kathleen, we had a good town meeting up at a women‘s college right now and had this this kind of debate late one night in the dorms with about 1,000 people there.  It would be the greatest thing in the world, with you two going.  I‘m dead serious.  I never had to make this decision about my gender only getting one shot at the presidency.  It‘s pretty powerful stuff. 

MICHELMAN:  It‘s pretty powerful. 

KENNEDY-TOWNSEND:  I think it‘s very, very exciting.

MATTHEWS:  Keep the Kennedys fighting.  We like the scene, by the way. 

WE like this.  We like to see everybody doing their thing. 

KENNEDY-TOWNSEND:  We discuss, we differ, and then we come together as Democrats. 

MATTHEWS:  Where is Arnold on this?  He hasn‘t made a decision in the Democratic party yet. 

MICHELMAN:  We have to remember that it is—it is John Kennedy and

Bobby Kennedy who, again, arrived at that moment and called us to

greatness, the same thing that Barack Obama is doing.  And for women, that

that time has come.  We‘re in a—we‘ve got to transform our way of doing things. 

MATTHEWS:  Kate Michelman, thank you very much for coming on. 

Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend, both of you, thank you for coming on HARDBALL.

Up next, one day to go before Super Tuesday, which is actually tomorrow morning.  It‘s always the day before Lent.  And it‘s Mardi Gras.  Maybe it‘s all coming together.  I think you‘re supposed to buy doughnuts tomorrow in the old tradition.  Anyway, we‘ll give you your politics fix in a minute.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I am superstitious, as I said earlier, and for me to start

talking about what would happen after I win the nomination, when I have not

when I have not won it yet, is in direct violation of my superstitious tenants. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Our round table tonight, Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post,” Jill Zuckman of the “Chicago Tribune,” and Margaret Carlson of the ever- emerging “Bloomberg News,” which has nothing to do with a possible Bloomberg presidential effort.

Let‘s go to this question—let‘s take a look at something that happened just recently.  It involved Senator Clinton.  Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So welcome home, dear friend, we are so proud of you. 

CLINTON:  I said I would not tear up.  Already, we‘re not exactly on that path. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I believe that was up in Connecticut at a Yale Law reunion of sorts.  Hillary Clinton, this question of tearing up, has this now become part of the story line of this campaign? 

JILL ZUCKMAN, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  You‘re not suggesting that she teared up on purpose in order to win tomorrow, are you? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you have that interesting grin on your face as you ask that question. 

ZUCKMAN:  I got to say, I think that when people tear up, they tear up.  I don‘t think you can really turn it on and off very easily.  I mean, she doesn‘t—

MATTHEWS:  She‘s not a method actress. 

ZUCKMAN:  I really don‘t think she‘s really someone that cries very easily, and certainly we haven‘t seen much of it in the past.   

MATTHEWS:  I‘m going to suspend my judgment until Gene has spoken. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  No, with some people it‘s sad movies, with some people they see a puppy. 

MATTHEWS:  I cry at the movies.  It works for me. 

ROBINSON:  It‘s an impending primary. 

MATTHEWS:  I even cry at heroic scenes when somebody does really great things in the movies that you don‘t expect them to.  Margaret, what is your judgment of the veracity, the genuine nature of that scene we just saw of Senator Clinton, where she was taken to some extent by a warm greeting from an old classmate.

MARGARET CARLSON, “BLOOMBERG NEWS”:  I think the tears are genuine.  I think the cause is maybe different than just going back to a place she once worked where she once worked, where she has good memories and they welcomed her, but that she‘s extremely fatigued, as they are all, under tremendous pressure.  Because the pressure isn‘t just from without.  The pressure is from within.  What are you doing wrong?  why can‘t you fix it?  Maybe you should cry more often.  All those kind of things inside the campaign. 

And then, the very thing she thought was hers—remember, she was inevitable.  Everyone around her told her that.  And now she sees it not as inevitable.  And receding possibly from her grasp.  And it‘s very distressing.  I would cry, too. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I wonder why we‘re focusing more on this than we would if it were a male candidate, but, that said, Ed Muskie, an old pal of mine, I really looked up to, -- I worked for him—was blown away in a presidential campaign because David Broder of your paper reported that once he had cried and later said he may have gotten that wrong.  It was an interesting bit of revisionism. 

Let‘s talk about the other schmaltz (ph) aspects of this campaign.  You first, Jill.  The schmaltzness, Oprah, Caroline, Maria Shriver.  This is becoming day time.  There‘s so much—these are huge personalities.  Even Michelle Obama, who is new to the stage—there is so much emotion about who—Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend, an old friend of mine, showing up, Bobby speaking for his dad, the wondrous Caroline coming out of, you know, private life, Teddy, big Teddy coming on with like a barrel of fun, the emperor of ice cream. 

There‘s so much personality on stage.  Robert Deniro, the dark Robert Deniro, coming on with his kind of upbeat endorsement of Barack. 

ZUCKMAN:  Well, you know, I never really think that endorsements necessarily matter, but what it‘s doing is it‘s pushing them out into the news.  Obama‘s getting a ton of news coverage because of these endorsement. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it schmaltz or is it a real endorsement from real, thoughtful, sort of—what is the impact? 

ZUCKMAN:  I think that it‘s a validator for Obama.  I think as her national poll numbers drop and his go up, so that it‘s really neck in neck. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ZUCKMAN:  And suddenly, people really have a choice between two people, not someone who is inevitable, but two people, either one who can do it.  He‘s bringing out a lot of big figures who can say, hey, this guy is for real. 

MATTHEWS:  -- STP in the Barack engine here? 

ROBINSON:  It gives permission to people to be for Obama, if they choose.  And also remember—

MATTHEWS:  It used to be you couldn‘t endorse up.  You could endorse down.  A president could endorse a guy running or woman running for re-election.  Can you really, a show business figure, say vote to make this person the head of our country? 

ROBINSON:  Sure.  Celebrity has a different role in our society from the role it used to have.  And so, so—

MATTHEWS:  It‘s on all day!

ROBINSON:  Well, that‘s for one thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  And also, just getting back to the event—the event in California with, you know, Maria Shriver and Caroline Kennedy—

MATTHEWS:  And Michelle. 

ROBINSON:  -- and Michelle and Oprah.  That was all about the women‘s vote in California, very clearly.  That‘s going to be 58 percent, 59 percent—

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s almost 60 percent.  The two U.S. senators from California are both very respected senior senators.  You have Pelosi out there.  I always thought California had an extraordinary power for women.  Margaret, I don‘t know the numbers, but Gene thinks it‘s in the high 50s.  I always thought it was up to 60 percent of the people who vote in California are women.  It‘s powerful stuff.  Speak for women. 

CARLSON:  Well, the higher states for women.  It‘s not—you call it schmaltzy.  But, Chris, you know that a vote for president, unlike, say, a vote for city councilman or mayor, where you want to know about the number of firehouses and what do you think about the commercial zoning and are you going to build a new convention center—a vote for president is more emotional.  Do you care about the things I care about.  Will you make the same kind of judgment I would make.  Because you don‘t know what they‘re going to do. 

And so that‘s why these events, if not the endorsements, count.  I was just talking to our friend Bill Curry, who ran for governor in Connecticut.  He‘s at an event right now in Hartford, where Obama‘s filling the convention center at 5:00 on a weekday. 

MATTHEWS:  Bill Curry, our old pal with Barack or with Hillary? 

CARLSON:  Well, he‘s—he tries to stay neutral. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

CARLSON:  But he worked in the Clinton White House. 

MATTHEWS:  I know, that‘s why I want to know, because he ran for governor later. 

CARLSON:  Have him on and ask him. 

MATTHEWS:  Ha!  Ha!  You know, I do agree with you, Margaret.  I think the presidency is a very personal office and I think the story lines of these people is very interesting.  If John McCain didn‘t have the life he had, he wouldn‘t be John McCain.  It‘s not a set of issues.  If Hillary Clinton had not had the life she had, it would not be—it is not the issues.  It‘s the life.  Isn‘t it, Jill? 

ZUCKMAN:  Yes, people care about who is going to be their president. 

Who is the person behind the politician.  Who are they?  Are they real? 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  Let‘s talk about John McCain.  He must have this thing close to wrapped up.  We‘ll see.  Apparently Romney doesn‘t agree with him.  Huckabee is still out there.  He may pick off a couple of states tomorrow night. 

What is your dream match up when you think about a dream match up for November so you can actually choose between two people?  Use your mobile phone to text your choices, 622639.  622639.  You can text one for Clinton versus McCain; two for Obama versus McCain; three for Obama versus Romney; four for Clinton versus Romney; and five for none of the above.  Well that‘s real nice.  Standard text messaging rates apply.  We‘ll have the results of the scientific survey when HARDBALL returns. 

In other words, pick the two people that you would like to pick from.  That seems to me the logical way to do this.  Or pick the one that you think is a slam dunk for your favorite party.  We‘ll be right back with more HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table and the politics fix. plus this little extra tonight.  Here are the results of our text message survey we just began and ended—which was running all day, actually.  More than 50 percent of you say you would like to see McCain versus Obama.  That‘s McCain versus Obama; 18 percent say they would like to see Clinton versus Obama; 16 percent say Obama versus Romney; only seven percent say Clinton versus Romney.

Margaret, I think people would like to have a choice.  That‘s what it looks like to me. 

CARLSON:  Of course they would.  Obama-McCain—McCain is the candidate that also fits into this emotional thing, whereas we think we know more about him than most candidates, because we know his life story and we know he was prisoner of war.  And we all ask ourselves, could we be that brave?  Would we show the same thing?  So you accord him more than you would an ordinary candidate.  I mean, I believe people do. 

When you have someone like that against Romney, those qualities shine. 

Even Rush Limbaugh is going to come around here in the end. 

MATTHEWS:  That has to be opaque for Romney.  It does seem to be the most complicated times in our history.  Yet, we are looking for that human story that we can say, yes to. 

ZUCKMAN:  I think that‘s always the way it is in a presidential campaign.  People want somebody they are comfortable with.  When you go back to that old adage about wanting to have a beer with the president. 

MATTHEWS:  That isn‘t going to happen. 

ZUCKMAN:  It might happen with John McCain. 

MATTHEWS:  Has anyone ever had a beer with the president? 

ZUCKMAN:  Senator McCain watched the Super Bowl in the bar of his hotel last night in Boston.  Sat out there with anybody that would come up and talk to him. 

MATTHEWS:  We don‘t ask if that‘s fake, do we? 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  Wasn‘t he a little tired?  Wouldn‘t he have rather gone to bed?

ROBINSON:  Is he really a Patriots fan?  It‘s an interesting moment, also, though, because, you know, look at McCain and Obama.  They are not only the two with these really interesting life stories, but you have a sense that there‘s something different about them, different about the way they look at the world and they approach the world.  I think a lot of people are looking for that.  We‘re kind of in a rut.  Things have changed.  The world has changed.  Maybe we need a president who has, you know, a different view of that, who can—

MATTHEWS:  You know Margaret, you talked about the POW experience.  You and I have worked with John, interviewing him in different ways and being with him.  John McCain is very hard to not believe his story that in the five and a half years he was in camp, prison camp, and the two years he was in solitary, that he really did fall in love with the country.  I think he is patriotic.  How‘s that for the bottom line? 

Anyway, thank you Eugene Robinson.  Thank you Margaret Carlson and Jill Zuckman.  Join us again in one hour for the Power Rankings at 7:00.  It‘s a big night for that.  A reminder, tomorrow‘s Super Tuesday coverage begins at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC, right after HARDBALL.  Right now it is time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

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