updated 2/15/2008 12:00:19 PM ET 2008-02-15T17:00:19

Guests: Sybil Wilkes, Ken Blackwell, Michael Smerconish, Jim Doyle, Steve McMahon, Lanny Davis, Michelle Bernard, Maria Teresa Petersen, Eugene Robinson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Mitt tops McCain.  Hill knocks Barack.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Mitt makes Mac his Valentine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I am honored today to give my full support to Senator McCain‘s candidacy for the presidency of the United States.  I‘m officially endorsing his candidacy, and today I‘m asking my delegates to vote for Senator McCain at the convention.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  As you just heard and saw there, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has endorsed John McCain and asked his delegates to back the frontrunner.

On the Democratic side, both Clintons, Bill and Hillary, are mocking Obama for being mostly talk and little action.  That seems to be the new theme of the campaign from the Clintons.  Barack Obama has now won the last eight contests in this race, while polls show that Hillary Clinton is still strong in Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Check out what I‘ve just posted, by the way, on this regard on Hardblogger.

And later, we‘re going to get some advice on what it might take for anyone, Hillary Clinton or John McCain, to find Obama‘s Achilles‘ heel, if he has one, and stop his momentum.  All this in our political roundtable.

We begin with the big news of the day, Mitt Romney‘s endorsement of John McCain.  Michael Smerconish is a Philadelphia radio host, Ken Blackwell is Ohio‘s former secretary of state, and Sybil Wilkes is the co-host of the nationally syndicated “Tom Joyner” radio show, morning show.  Thank you.

Let‘s start with Sybil Wilkes.  Let‘s talk about this Romney thing.  Here it is.  Before we start talking, let‘s take a look at a bit of Governor Romney endorsing Senator McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  This is a man capable of leading our country at a dangerous hour.  Senator McCain understands the war we‘re in, the necessity of victory and the consequences of surrender.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it wasn‘t exactly a Baptist church meeting there.  I have to tell you guys, that is the coldest-looking scene I have ever seen between two people.  Let‘s start with Sybil.  That wasn‘t exactly the warm embrace you might expect on Valentine‘s Day.

SYBIL WILKES, CO-HOST, “TOM JOYNER MORNING SHOW”:  No, it was a chilly reception there, or greeting, to give to a man that you say you‘re going to endorse and encourage all your supporters to back, as well.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, said.  Secretary Blackwell, what do you think of the new marriage of—well, let‘s just say marriage of love.  This is Valentine‘s Day.

KEN BLACKWELL ®, FMR. OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE:  Oh, I think it‘s an opportunistic moment for the McCain campaign.  He can now focus on consolidating the base, energizing that base, and then expanding it as we approach November.  I think he has work to do on the consolidation front in terms of the conservative base of the party, but I think this is a step in the right direction.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Michael, is this going to help with the radio jocks, the people on the right, who just don‘t seem to want to settle on John McCain or settle for him?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, WPHT TALK RADIO PHILADELPHIA:  I guess it depends how much of an advocate Mitt Romney becomes for this ticket because it didn‘t appear too warm and fuzzy to me.  But he would be a great spokesman.

But you know what I think drives this, in part?  I think Huckabee has really become an irritant to John McCain, and I‘ve got to believe they just want to be rid of this guy.  In my view, it‘s an ego trip that Huckabee is involved with at this juncture, and I‘m sure McCain just wants him off the landscape so he can raise money and focus on the fall.

MATTHEWS:  Is Mike Huckabee like those business people and others who would follow along behind the army, camp followers, as they were called, making money on the moving army right now of John McCain?  In other words, is he really a competitor or someone who‘s simply feeding off the action?  Michael?

BLACKWELL:  I think he‘s—I‘m sorry.

MATTHEWS:  Michael?

SMERCONISH:  I think he‘s feeding off the action.  I mean, I think there‘s a disgruntled percentage of the GOP that are out there, and it could be Mike Huckabee, it could be Chris Matthews, it could be any of us, as long as it‘s not John McCain.  Ultimately, I think those people come back to the fold.

And Chris, I‘ve been very clear in saying that I think that the conservative discontent is a good thing for John McCain.  Frankly, it ought to go on for a while because all that it does is open the eyes of independents and moderates and let them know, Oh, he‘s not lockstep with the Coulters of the world.  And that‘s a good thing.

MATTHEWS:  Interesting.  We‘ll get back to you on that subject in the months ahead because I do find it interesting.  It was said the other day by Rush Limbaugh, one of your colleagues, that he was doing a favor to McCain by not endorsing him.

Let me go—let me go—Ken Blackwell, you‘re a Republican active politician.  Let me ask you, sir, is this thing going to get together and win the Republican Party backing John McCain?  It started today, is it going to continue?

BLACKWELL:  I think it will.  I think you will see the McCain campaign start to focus, as well as the Huckabee campaign start to focus on Barack Obama.  They will, in fact, begin to draw a contrast between his record and his rhetoric, show that he is more McGovern and Dukakis than he is John Kennedy.

MATTHEWS:  You missed my point.  Is Huckabee going to get out of this race and let the Republican Party unite, or are they still going to be doing these dueling banjos, attacking the other fellow, Barack Obama?

BLACKWELL:  Chris, I didn‘t miss your point.  I was just telling that I don‘t think that it‘s necessarily...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL:  Right.  There you go.  I don‘t think that, right now, he‘s the irritant that a lot of people think that he is because, one, he‘s handled his opposition to McCain in a very classy way.  And they‘ve focused on those things that unite the Republican Party...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

BLACKWELL:  ... win the war, cut our taxes and protect our borders.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at your home state of Ohio.  The latest Quinnipiac poll‘s got Clinton leading Obama 55 to 34.  That‘s a big spread.  Do you think that‘s impregnable for Hillary Clinton, Mr.  Secretary?

BLACKWELL:  Oh, no.  I actually think it‘s going to get very, very tight.  I think the Clintons have made a fundamental mistake by playing the race card.  At one point, when she could expect to—even in defeat—to keep the margin of victory in the African-American community at 60 and 40, she was in good shape.  But now, over the last eight elections, it‘s breaking 90-10...

MATTHEWS:  And you blame that on the Clintons.  You think the Clintons

this is ironic.  You‘re blaming Senator Clinton and perhaps former president Clinton with solidifying the African-American vote behind Obama.

BLACKWELL:  Yes, he started to take that—you know, that claim that he was the first black president too seriously.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look.  I want you all to take a look.  I guess we got to go in order here.  I hate to not be ladies first.  But here, the Quinnipiac—Pennsylvania Quinnipiac poll has Senator Clinton leading Senator Obama 52-36, a narrow lead of 16 points.  Michael, you know Pennsylvania politics pretty darn well.  Is that going to hold, that lead, or anything like it?

SMERCONISH:  No.  And nothing like it.  And this will sound odd to you, but if I were Hillary Clinton, I wouldn‘t be thrilled with that margin.  And I‘ll tell you why, because all that it does is it gives fodder to someone like you, Chris, who in the weeks ahead is going to say, Hey, that margin used to be 52-36.  Look, now it‘s down to 52-43, and so on and so forth.  She can never sustain that kind of a margin against Barack Obama in this state.

MATTHEWS:  Michael Smerconish, you are daring to predict me.  I have learned...

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH:  I know you.

MATTHEWS:  ... in the last few weeks, don‘t predict.  And you start predicting me!

Let me go to Sybil on this question.  Looking down in Texas, it looks to me like—we‘re trying to figure out where Hillary Clinton has the best chance to defeat Barack Obama on the big March 4 day.  I guess we think—

I‘m trying to think what I‘ve heard the most recent intelligence.  Let‘s say they‘re both tough.  How does it look for her down there to win a big one down there, a substantial majority so that she can regain the majority, regain the momentum here?

WILKES:  I think Texas is going to be a real fight for both of them.  I think that she has come down—I mean, you know, even when she lost the other night, she was making her speech in Texas.  So obviously, she knows she‘s in for a big fight here.  And I think that it‘s going to be a close one.  But if momentum is anything, it‘s going to be—it‘s going to be a Barack Obama win, I think.

MATTHEWS:  I hear there‘s going to be a big African-American vote, which obviously‘s going to help Barack, the way things are going, down in your state.  What do you think?

WILKES:  I believe so.  I believe so.  And it‘s not just an African-American movement.  I‘m telling you, this guy, this man, has—and it‘s not about him anymore.  Everybody that I talk to says it is a movement.  It‘s not about the man.  And people are getting swept along in the movement.

MATTHEWS:  What is the movement about?

WILKES:  It‘s about change.  I mean, he‘s been saying it.  Other people have tried to take that as their own mantra, but he has—he has been about change from the very beginning, and it looks like people are caught up because they are sick of the status quo.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to the Rust Belt states.  I want to go there with you.  We‘re talking to a Rust Belter in Michael Smerconish, an unsolicitous term for states like Pennsylvania and Ohio.  I guess it‘s because we have a lot of small cities in our states where there used to be a lot of steel, there used to be a lot of action economically, and those are on bad times.

Let me go with you.  What will be the special appeal of Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in those old ethnic industrial towns like Cleveland, Scranton, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie?  Why is she benefiting from whatever to have the lead of almost more than double digits over Barack Obama?  What do you make of that, Ken Blackwell?

WILKES:  Because I...

MATTHEWS:  Ken Blackwell first.  I‘m sorry.

BLACKWELL:  I think what she‘s going to do is she‘s going to use “The National Journal‘s” records analysis saying that he‘s to the left of the socialists in Congress and say that, you know, he‘s—he really doesn‘t represent those who—those working families that make under 50 percent—

I mean $50,000.  And she‘s going to play that card.  It‘s going to be classic class warfare.  And I think that what—in Ohio, what they‘re not anticipating on the Barack Obama side is the growing Latino vote in Ohio.  And she‘s going to work that and try to at least get an 80-20 split.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here she is, Senator Clinton today in Ohio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Over the years, you‘ve heard plenty of promises from plenty of people in plenty of speeches.  And some of those speeches were probably pretty good, but speeches don‘t put food on the table.  Speeches don‘t fill up your tanks.  Speeches don‘t fill your prescriptions or do anything about that stack of bills that keeps you up at night.  That‘s...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And here‘s former president Bill Clinton today in Wisconsin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  This election is not just about change, it‘s about whether you choose the excitement of the new over the empowerment of all.  It‘s about whether you choose the power of speeches over the power of solutions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s clear that the talking points have been distributed between Bill and Hillary Clinton there.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Speeches don‘t—you know, George Will, Michael Smerconish

I know you read him, too.  He is so good on satire.  He‘s not as good defending conservatives as he is at satirizing liberals, which he is brilliant at.  He said that Hillary Clinton is basically now that, I could give a great speech, if I wanted to.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  But I‘m not going to because they don‘t really matter.  And he referred to it as her “inner Pericles” that she‘s expressing.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Michael, can she win the argument that, I could give a good speech, if I wanted to, but I‘m a person of action, he‘s not?  Can that work?

SMERCONISH:  I think that Bill can give a great speech.  I think he can still deliver a stemwinder.  And you know, I think he‘s still her greatest asset.  You were saying, Why is she running so well in Pennsylvania?  I think it‘s residual good will toward the Clinton years, and she‘s a beneficiary of that.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SMERCONISH:  But I have to agree with one of your other guests.  It is a movement -- 20,000 plus people in Wilmington, Delaware, 75,000 people came to live events in the weekend before Super Tuesday.  I‘ve been watching for three decades.  I‘ve never seen anything like it.  And if Pennsylvania gets swept up in that, he could carry the state.

WILKES:  I‘m telling you...

MATTHEWS:  What happens when the unstoppable force meets the unmovable object?  What happens when that air game of zeitgeist, of excitement, of the movement, as Sybil put it—what happens when that reaches the ward leaders and the mayors like Chris Daugherty and Eddie Rendell, the governor and former mayor of Philly, and the city organization of Philly?  What happens then, Michael?

SMERCONISH:  It may render them powerless.  It may render you powerless, the editorial endorsements powerless, the ads powerless.  There is something—there is a move afoot.  I base on it the phone calls that I receive on a day-to-day basis from my listeners, the e-mails that I get.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SMERCONISH:  I feel it.  I see it.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Sybil, last thought.

WILKES:  One of the things, Sybil, I noticed that the sort of Southern Baptist cadence of the Clinton speech has all but—all but disappeared.

(LAUGHTER)

WILKES:  Well, you know what?

MATTHEWS:  What do you think that means, Sybil?

WILKES:  I think that sometimes we kind of adapt to our environment, and wherever we are, whatever works for us, we will take.  I think you‘re absolutely right.  In terms of our listenership, on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” we have eight to ten million listeners and—in 120 markets around the country.  We also are working with the NAACP with the 1-866-MY-VOTE1 (ph) line, and it is an incredible number of people who are registering to vote for the very first time...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

WILKES:  ... and it is—it‘s something that people have not been able to anticipate.  And it is something that our ward bosses—I‘m from Chicago.  I know ward bosses, and I‘m telling you, they‘re not going to have any control over this.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to (INAUDIBLE) Bob Brady, the Philadelphia chairman, on this show and see if he can stand up against the tsunami of influence coming at us.  By the way, when you set said I‘m going to be rendered powerless, that must mean that I do have power, Michael.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  Are you kidding me?  I read Howard Kurtz today.  Of course you have power.

MATTHEWS:  Was that a Valentine‘s Day message?  A big article about me and our show, HARDBALL, on the front page of the style section of “The Washington Post” today.  Would you give it—what grade would you give it, Michael?

SMERCONISH:  If I were Chris Matthews—you two are Valentine‘s, you and Kurtz.

WILKES:  What a love letter, yes.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

SMERCONISH:  Holy smokes.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You guys are reading my mail.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you very much, Michael Smerconish, Ken Blackwell.  When are you going to run for something again, Ken?

WILKES:  Yes!

SMERCONISH:  Yes, Ken.

BLACKWELL:  I‘m just writing and moving votes.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You can always switch parties, and you can always change your...

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL:  With my poetry.  With my poetry.

MATTHEWS:  You got a lot of freedom in this country.  You can go right, left, center, you know, anything that might work out there.  Thank you.  Sybil, it‘s great to have you on.  I loved your advertisement.  You‘re really good at promotion, which is what we do here.  Anyway...

WILKES:  Thank you.  (INAUDIBLE) my boss on, too.

MATTHEWS:  I know they have to get that.  Thank you.

Barack Obama‘s gone eight for eight since Super Tuesday.  Can he make it 10 for 10 after Hawaii and Wisconsin next Tuesday?  Wisconsin‘s governor, Jim Doyle, is coming here.  He‘s an Obama booster and he‘s going to tell us why and how they‘re going to win there in that very interesting state, Wisconsin.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If you will stand with me and vote for me on Tuesday, I promise you, we won‘t just win Wisconsin, we‘ll win this nomination.  I‘ll win the general election, and together you and I will change this country and change the world!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  There‘s a big difference between us, speeches versus solutions, talk versus action.  You know, some people may think words are change, but you and I know better.  Words are cheap.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That‘s Hillary Clinton today, taking aim at Barack Obama.  And President Bill Clinton is delivering the same message today as he campaigns all-out for his wife, Senator Clinton, in Wisconsin.  That state‘s primary is just five days a way.  It‘s this coming Tuesday right now.  And we‘ve got the governor of Wisconsin, Jim Doyle, who‘s backing Barack Obama, joining us right now.  Governor, it‘s great to have you on the show.

GOV. JIM DOYLE (D), WISCONSIN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  You know, we just heard, by the way, that Hillary Clinton, the senator from New York, has won the New Mexico caucuses.  That‘s a little bit of late news coming in from the slow-counting State of Enchantment.  Anyway, they got the results in now.  She‘s won a caucus, which she usually loses, caucuses.

What do you make of this debate right in the state you‘re in right now, your state, Governor, that somehow, campaign speeches don‘t mean anything?  I was thinking of Winston Churchill.  I was thinking of all the great leaders, Lincoln.  Almost all great leaders could give a good speech, and I can‘t think of a single great leader who couldn‘t give a great speech.  Maybe there‘s somebody out there I haven‘t heard of.  But Kennedy could certainly speak.  Reagan could talk.  I can‘t think of a great American president who couldn‘t talk.

Why is she bragging about her ability to do things but not be able to talk as well as Barack?  What‘s the point here?

DOYLE:  I can‘t figure it.  You know, I‘ll just tell you my own personal experience.  I was leaning very heavily towards going with Barack Obama.  I‘ve known him for a number of years.  He‘s a man of incredible accomplishment that she‘s apparently demeaning at this point, from organizing on the streets of Chicago.

This is a guy who went from Harvard Law Review on to the—into Chicago to work with people to get things done.  So, to demean his whole set of accomplishments is something.  But speaking is very important.  And, for me personally, I was very much going in that direction.  Probably should have done it a little earlier.  That‘s where my heart was.  That‘s where my kids were.  That‘s where my wife was. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DOYLE:  But then I heard the—the speech after the Iowa caucus. 

And, the next day, Barack called me.  And I said, I‘m on board. 

I mean, what he has done in this campaign is an accomplishment of enormous magnitude, what he has done bringing people together. 

I was in a shop floor of GM yesterday with autoworkers, black and white, men and women, young and old.  The kind of—the way they looked and talked and spoke to Barack Obama and what they saw, the hope they had in their eyes, something that, as you have in your show have said a number of times, many of your guests have said, it‘s inspirational, and it is really one of the great hopes for our country to be able to come together and actually deal with these issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know what I see now?  We‘re looking this, Governor,.  We‘re looking at these faces of smiling kids, black and white.  They‘re all about 20 years old.  It is—it is different from all the people you and I grew up with.  I know you grew up in the Kennedy tradition and as a Democratic family.  But it does seem different. 

Here‘s your candidate, Senator Barack Obama, speaking at a General Motors plant yesterday in Janesville, Wisconsin. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Last night, I was in Madison, and I gave a big, rousing speech to 20,000 people.  Today, I want to take it down a notch.  This is going to be a speech that‘s a little more detailed.  It‘s going to be a little bit longer, not as many applause lines. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So, it‘s interesting, Governor.  Hillary Clinton is saying: 

Well, I could give a great speech if I wanted to, but I don‘t want to.

And he‘s saying:  I better move from the great speechmaking to the nuts and bolts, to show the beef here, to mix the metaphor. 

DOYLE:  Well, and he—he went on after that inner—after leading in that way, to give a very detailed discussion about something that I care about very deeply, about how we restore a strong manufacturing and modernized manufacturing base to this country, where people in Janesville, Wisconsin, can go off to work every day, take incredible pride, built great products, and earn a decent living. 

And he gave a very, very detailed economic message of his vision of how that should happen.  This idea that he is not a person of accomplishment, again, I would just say, look at what he‘s done in the last year, if you don‘t think this guy can accomplish things.  He has built one of the most extraordinary political movements that I have ever seen in this country.  He has people so excited.

MATTHEWS:  But what‘s he done in the...

DOYLE:  Now, this is going to be a tough state. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But what‘s he done in the Senate?

DOYLE:  It‘s going to be a tough state for him, but he‘s done well. 

MATTHEWS:  What has he done in the Senate?  What has he done?  What has he done for this new industrialization of the industrial Midwest? 

DOYLE:  Well, he has...

MATTHEWS:  What has he done along the lines he‘s talking about? 

DOYLE:  Well, he has certainly led, and, by all accounts, in a very fractious Congress, the most very significant ethics reform that we have seen in a very short period of time in the Senate. 

He has had significant accomplishments there.  In his career in Illinois, very focused on how you—how you brought business and had the economy grow in that state. 

I will tell you, he has worked at these issues from the level of being down on the street, actually helping people get jobs and get day care they need, to the highest, you know, the halls of Congress. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DOYLE:  This is a man—and I—also, we should not diminish what he has done in this campaign.  This is an—if you don‘t think he can organize or lead, look what‘s happened in the last year, as he has built one of the great political movements in this country‘s history. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just looking for a tangible hope that anybody can come along and save states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where it used to be, you could come out of high school and get a semi-skilled job at a big plant and provide for a family, a young family. 

And it seems today, you can‘t do that.  Maybe it‘s a different economy.  Do you believe we could ever get back to a country where a kid, men, or female, or whatever, a young woman, a young man, could come out of high school, work hard, deliver for their family without having an advanced education? 

DOYLE:  It‘s going to be hard, frankly...

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that what we‘re talking about here? 

DOYLE:  But it‘s going to be hard on just a high school education.  You can certainly do it if we really pay attention with a good technical—two-year technical education and real job skills. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DOYLE:  In Wisconsin, we have done pretty well manufacturing-wise.  And it‘s because we have focused on high-end, high-quality, high-engineering manufacturers. 

If you want the best motorcycle built anywhere in the world, you are going to buy a Harley, made in Wisconsin.  Or the best medical equipment, you‘re going to get GE Medical, made in Wisconsin.  So, it‘s high-end manufacturing.  It‘s going to take a little bit more than what it might have taken a generation ago.  But I agree with you completely. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you send me a free one for that advertisement, Governor?

DOYLE:  We have to focus on how people can get good jobs.

MATTHEWS:  Can you send me a free Harley for that advertisement you just did there?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You got a Harley ad right here on the show.  Anyway, it‘s great—are you from a famous political family?  How come I kept hearing the name Doyle in Wisconsin all these years.  Your father ran for governor?  What happened?

(CROSSTALK)

DOYLE:  My father was the—my father was largely the founder of the Democratic Party in Wisconsin.  My mother was elected to the state legislature in 1948.  So, I come from a great political family. 

And, you know, I grew up at a time, as I know you did, when John Kennedy, you know, an Irish Catholic family...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

DOYLE:  ... when he spoke, I thought he was talking right to me.  And I see that same thing with Barack Obama. 

MATTHEWS:  What a great guy you are. 

Thank you, Jim Doyle, Wisconsin, leading the Kennedy tradition on into the Barack tradition, I guess. 

Thank you, sir, for coming on. 

DOYLE:  Up next:  It‘s Valentine‘s Day, as everybody knows, or ought to know.  You ought to remind yourself on the way home tonight and do something about it.  And the Republican National Committee has some special messages for Senator Clinton—these are sarcastic messages, obviously—and Barack Obama. 

Plus:  Mike Huckabee has been winning states down South, but now he‘s taking his act even further south to pick up a buck. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what other heartfelt politics are out there on this Valentine‘s Day? 

Well, the Republican National Committee has some special election-time holiday cards.  They‘re all, I think, early-warning signs of the attacks yet to come. 

A few of the Republican highlights—quote—“Three years in the U.S. Senate qualifies me to wish you a happy Valentine‘s Day.”  Hmm.

“If I could rearrange the alphabet, I would put T. and ax together.” 

Hmm. 

“Will you be my valentine?  Yes, no, or present?”  That refers to how he voted in the state legislature in Illinois. 

Pretty good stuff. 

The Democrats have their own Valentine‘s Day message.  It comes in the form of a YouTube video about John McCain. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Make the tax relief permanent. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We need to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. 

BUSH:  I opposed the amnesty, placing undocumented workers on the automatic path to citizenship. 

MCCAIN:  My friends, I do not support amnesty. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of displays of affection, Larry Craig.  The Senate Ethics Committee has slapped him with a stern admonishment, citing improper conduct and an attempt to evade legal consequences. 

The letter, signed by every member of the committee, also criticizes Craig for keeping his arrest secret, and only attempting to withdraw his guilty plea when the story became public.  The new chastisement represents yet another setback for Craig, who had hoped to clear his name through the Ethics Committee. 

Anyway, it‘s Valentine‘s Day.  Senator, I hope the worst is over for you.  I do think your embarrassment has been a lesson for us all.  We need to start respecting people the way God made them.  Think about that one. 

Now to the office—today‘s “New York Times” notes something that I have noticed and that I love.  The headline, suddenly everyone hanging out at the water cooler is a political expert.  The article notes that ordinary Americans in offices all across the country are talking about this election.  They are not just talking about it.  They are digging through the nitty-gritty, picking up our delegate counts, analyzing superdelegates, making state-by-state predictions, you know, the stuff of pundits.  It‘s going on at watercoolers everywhere.  Just go look and listen.  And I think it‘s great. 

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

John McCain may have locked up—all but locked up the Republican nomination for president, but that doesn‘t mean that Mike Huckabee is letting up.  Much to McCain‘s chagrin, Huckabee has vowed to keep on fighting for delegates state by state, which is why he spent today in the battleground state of—well, take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  When you have answered this question, ask one more:  Could it be? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALES (singing):  The Cayman Islands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You heard it, the Cayman Islands.  What gives?  Well, Huckabee flew down there to the islands for a paid speech today. 

Here‘s what he told reporters afterwards

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, Senator McCain campaign every day, and I‘m paying for their campaigns.  I‘m paying because I‘m a taxpayer.  And I have to pay for their Senate salaries, even if they‘re not on duty.  The taxpayers aren‘t paying a dime for me to campaign.  And I don‘t take anything from my campaign, so I have to make a living. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the total number of delegates in the Cayman Islands -

you guessed it—zero, not to be confused with the number of dollars a presidential candidate can make on a paid speech day in the Cayman Islands

not that there‘s anything wrong with it, tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next:  Barack Obama has got the big mo‘, but how do you slow him down?  And, if you‘re Senator Clinton, how do you beat him to the nomination at this point? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILISSA REHBERGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Milissa Rehberger with breaking news. 

Officials at Northern Illinois University confirm there has been a shoot opening the campus in DeKalb, Illinois.  That‘s about 65 miles west of Chicago.  This is the scene. 

Authorities say a gunman opened fire in a lecture hall, injuring as many as 15 people.  Hospital officials say they are treating at least 15 people, including at least three or four with head wounds.  Reports say a male shooter had a shotgun and a pistol.  There are now reports he is either in custody or possibly dead. 

Campus police are saying the gunman either way is no longer a threat.  Still, right now, the campus is under lockdown.  University officials had warned students on the school‘s Web site to get to a safe area and take precautions until given the all-clear.  All classes have been canceled. 

Once again, officials confirm there has been a shooting at a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.  Authorities say as many as 15 people have been injured.  Campus police say the gunman is no longer a threat. 

We will be following this to you—now back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

With Obama‘s delegate lead and his double-digit victories in Virginia and Maryland and the District of Columbia, how does Hillary Clinton change the race and blunt this momentum? 

Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist.  And Lanny Davis is a Hillary Clinton supporter and close friend.  And he served as a White House counsel during President Clinton‘s administration. 

Lanny, you start, because you know a lot about what‘s going on inside the Clinton campaign.  It looks to me like that they sort of a NeverLost guide right now, someone in the car telling them where they have to go, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, go back to Florida, grab those state delegates, go to Michigan, grab those delegates, get this.

Isn‘t that sort of the only route now if you were doing NeverLost in the Clinton car right now? 

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  I think the route is to talk about Democratic issues where, contrasted to Barack Obama, she has the more popular position among our base.  Blue-collar Democrats are our base.  Women and senior citizens and Latinos are our base. 

She‘s for universal health care.  He is not, as you know.  She voted against the Dick Cheney energy bill.  He voted for it.  She does not believe that it‘s realistic to meet with the dictators of Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, Iran, and North Korea in the first year of his presidency, which he has committed to do.  She has more experience and the vision for our base of Democratic voters. 

So, now, to answer your question, Chris, she‘s taking those issues and that vision to our base in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas.  This feels like the day before New Hampshire, where everybody counted her out.  The wave came in, hit the wall, as you described it, the wall of our Democrats, our blue-collars, our worker Democrats. 

And what happened to that wave?  It receded, and she won New Hampshire. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, let‘s—let‘s—let‘s...

DAVIS:  Same thing in California, hit the wave, hit the wall of Camelot, and receded.  I think we‘re going to win in those three big states. 

MATTHEWS:  I think Camelot was the wave in that case. 

But let‘s talk to Steve. 

It looks to me like that is the fight here.  All war and politics is asymmetric, that what Lanny laid out is women, a lot of older women especially, Latina, and all Latinos, Hispanic people, senior citizens.  These have been the base of the Hillary Clinton campaign.  They also have a lot of local political support from big-city mayors, governors, labor leaders.  Can they hold that ground against this sort of Zeitgeist, this sort of discussion that‘s going on at the water cooler about Barack Obama? 

MCMAHON:  That‘s the big question.  And the base that Lanny just referred to has been Senator Clinton‘s base throughout this campaign, except for Tuesday.  And on Tuesday that base stood with Barack Obama in Virginia and in Maryland.  And so the question is going to be, when you get to Ohio and Texas, where‘s that base going to be?  When you get to Wisconsin next week—

And you mentioned, how do you get the momentum back if you‘re Hillary Clinton?  I think the way you get momentum back if you‘re any candidate is you exceed expectations and the expectation right now is that she can‘t possibly win in Wisconsin, which is why she should go to Wisconsin and win there.  Because if she waits until March 4th, this campaign could very well be much different by March 4th.  The base that she has today or that she had last week, even in those states where she‘s strong, could be with Barack Obama by then.  I think—

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s ask Lanny.  What is the choice here between spending a lot of time between now and next Tuesday there, risking looking like you really tried, and taking the loss by not a full commitment of effort?  Does it make any difference, if you lose, you lose, so why not go for it? 

DAVIS:  No, I think there‘s a strong base of support in Wisconsin.  Last night, you and I, Chris, looked at an e-mail that I received from a lady from Racine, who described Barack Obama talking way above her head in an ethereal beautiful oratory, but she sees Hillary Clinton talking to her, suffering economically, as many people in Wisconsin are. 

It‘s fascinating to me to hear the governor, who I respect greatly, say that his greatest accomplishment—he couldn‘t think of any other than his campaign—was a passage of a reform bill, which actually prohibited lobbyists paying for meals if you‘re sitting down, but if you‘re standing up, it‘s OK.  That‘s really thin stuff.  I think she can campaign in Wisconsin.   

MCMAHON:  Lanny, I didn‘t come on to be an Obama surrogate.  But I will say this, his greatest accomplishment is bringing hope back to politics, is bringing so many independents and Republicans into the Democratic primary, and demonstrating that a Democratic candidate can actually appeal to people outside the narrow band of the Democratic party, the narrow partisan --  

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s Senator Clinton, where she goes after Senator Obama. 

Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Over the years, you‘ve heard plenty of promises from plenty of people in plenty of speeches.  And some of those speeches were probably pretty good.  But speeches don‘t put food on the table.  Speeches don‘t fill up your tank.  Speeches don‘t fill your prescriptions or do anything about that stack of bills that keeps you up at night.  That‘s the difference between me and my Democratic opponent.  My opponent makes speeches.  I offer solutions. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that‘s the smart tact, Lanny, what we just heard? 

DAVIS:  First of all, I think she‘s on message, talking about bread-and-butter issues, the heart of the Democratic party base.  But I certainly agree with the comment from your guest that Barack Obama has done a great deal for the Democratic party.  I give him great credit for energizing young people and for broadening our base.  The combination, which reminds me of the new politics of the ‘60s and the McGovern movement that energized young people and upper-income professionals, are for Barack Obama, combined with our blue-collar base, where Chris Matthews comes from, knows well, that‘s a monumental majority for us in the general election.  We‘ve got to combine them. 

But I still think Hillary Clinton is more on our message as Democrats, lunch-bucket Democrats, than Barack Obama is at the present time.  And I know he‘s trying to shift right now to talk economic issues, but he‘s pretty late in the day. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s—one of the things that happened today, gentlemen, is that McCain‘s senior adviser, somebody that everybody knows is good in the business of advertising for politicians, Mark McKinnon, he‘s actually a Democratic, I hear.  He says he‘s not going to work for McCain if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee.  Doesn‘t that make the point—doesn‘t that make the point, Lanny, that this guy is feared by the Republicans?  They don‘t want to go against the guy, based on his background and the hope he offers?  Why doesn‘t Mark McKinnon want to do ads against this guy if he‘s a weak candidate? 

DAVIS:  An inspiring blank slate has attractiveness, but when the slate gets filled in, as Republicans tend to do in the general election—right now Barack Obama has not much known about him, even the governor of Wisconsin couldn‘t think much of what he has actually accomplished.  The Republicans have their negative work to do. 

Hillary Clinton, we know she‘s been vetted.  She‘s been tested.  That hate machine that we know exists, Chris, on the right, hasn‘t ever gone after Barack.  So right now I admit to you, and there is certainly a lot of inspiration in what he says, but the substance in a general election, we‘re not sure. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you and I opened up, governor—what‘s his name? 

MCMAHON:  Doyle. 

MATTHEWS:  Governor Doyle like a tuna fish can today, didn‘t we?  We did it together, Lanny?  Didn‘t we do it together, you and I, buddy?  Thank you, Steve McMahon and Lanny Davis. 

Up next, Hillary Clinton‘s lost eight primaries now and caucuses in a row.  Can her team right the ship?  She did win, picked up a late victory from that New Mexico contest.  She‘s won out there.  We‘ll go inside the Clinton campaign next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  You may have heard that I eat a lot of hot peppers.  They keep me healthy.  They keep me going.  And they remind me of south Texas. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s familiar politics.  That‘s the old school for Senator Clinton.  Sell the local food is what everybody does from the blintzes to the cheese steaks in Philly. 

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  The round table tonight, Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women‘s Voice, Maria Teresa—is it Teresa or Teresa?  Teresa Peterson of Voto Latino, and the “Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson.  You‘re always in a good mood, Gene, to start this thing.  Let‘s talk about the helter-skelter across the Potomac River from where we are right now.  Somewhere in the catacombs of the Clinton campaign headquarters there‘s stuff flying across the room, maybe pizza remains, but everywhere—we‘re reading in the “Wall Street Journal” today, this morning that Mandy Grunwald is trying to defend a TV ad she‘s written and she‘s getting blasted by Mark Penn, who says it‘s lousy, and then she yells back to him, it‘s the message that‘s lousy. 

I mean, this is great stuff.  I wish I could peak in the window.  They are staying there all night.  What is going on in the Clinton HQ? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Anybody would love to be a fly on that wall.  But it‘s, you know—it‘s got to be a time of some tension in the Clinton campaign, to tell you—you know, to put it—to state the obvious, and to understate the obvious.  Look, she‘s got to win out.  She‘s got to win these big primaries and she‘s got to win them big if she‘s going to catch up in pledged delegates.  It doesn‘t look likely. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s exactly what they love.  Michelle, that‘s exactly what they don‘t want to hear.  Not only do you like have to win the World Series when you‘re three-one down, you got to win three in a row, but you got to win all three games big.  Is this—is this, what do you call, sand bagging is what we used to call it, the opposite of low balling, sand bagging somebody?  I think that‘s what Gene just did here is sand bag themselves. 

MICHELLE BERNARD, INDEPENDENT WOMEN‘S VOICE:  They are sand bagging themselves.  I think that the Potomac Primaries have put them in a very bad position.  The campaign is feeling like she‘s dying a very slow death.  Everybody‘s saying, I‘m not pulling the plug.  You did it.  No, you did it. 

It‘s not my fault.  I think it‘s going to be very difficult for her. 

MATTHEWS:  Marie Teresa—Maria Teresa—

MARIA TERESA PETERSEN, VOTO LATINO:  She has Texas and she has to do well in Texas.  What folks aren‘t paying attention to that she has—she needs to—in order to do well, she has to lock up Houston, Dallas, and Austin.  Bust most of her field work right now is going on in south border states—the south border cities.  It will be interesting what she‘s able to accomplish. 

MATTHEWS:  Is Texas—what is Texas now?  Texas is much more Latino than it was.  Somebody told me 24 percent of the electorate actually shows up. 

PETERSEN:  Exactly.  

MATTHEWS:  Thirty some percent is citizens but 24 percent actually voting.  Blacks about, what, mid-teens? 

PETERSEN:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  So you got that vote.  The white, the Anglo vote—there‘s

a phrase you don‘t hear up north—the Anglo vote, which is white, I guess

that vote is the rest. 

PETERSEN:  Exactly.  Her biggest problem is that everybody keeps talking about the Latino vote, which is 25 percent of the electorate.  

MATTHEWS:  Does that bug the Anglo and black vote to hear that focus from her?  Does that say, we‘re not bothering with you?  What‘s it do to them? 

PETERSEN:  I don‘t think so.  If folks are with her, they definitely recognize the need.  The problem is, historically, unlike Californians, Texan Latinos haven‘t gone out to vote. 

MATTHEWS:  I thought they voted at 24 percent last time. 

PETERSEN:  No, 24 percent of all eligible voters, right?  So if you think about it, that‘s not huge. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m looking down there, it‘s real group-to-group campaigning, Gene, down there. 

ROBINSON:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s pretty obvious Senator Clinton had a bad night we‘re all covering here, you and I together, the Potomac Primaries this Tuesday.  And here she was on the screen—we‘ve shown practically the whole speech of her talking just to younger Latinas, Latino women. 

ROBINSON:  Right.  The problem—looking back at the Potomac Primaries, the problem there was that some of these groups that had been with her all along through the primary season were with Obama in Virginia and in Maryland.  And that‘s a big problem.  As Maria Teresa said, the actual weight of Latino voters who come out to the polls is roughly equal to the weight of the African-American vote in Texas, historically.  Maybe she can change that by getting some excitement up in Texas. 

But it‘s not sand bagging to say she‘s got to win big because you know the delegate math as well as I do.  If she‘s going to catch up in pledged delegate, she‘s got to rack up big margins in the remaining big states, Texas, Ohio—

MATTHEWS:  I just wanted to blame you, so nobody can blame me, Gene.  I‘m just trying to shift the blame like Mark Penn is trying to do to Mandy Grunwald.  I‘m trying to do the same game here.   

ROBINSON:  I‘ll be big.  I‘ll take it. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, sir.  You‘re an ally in the field.  We‘ll be right back with the round table, with more of the politics fix.  You‘re watching with HARDBALL.  We‘ve done Texas.  Let‘s do Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio.  We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table with more of the politics fix.  This is fascinating stuff.  Michelle, I want to ask you to explain it all to us now.  Right now, Hillary Clinton is a little off her game.  She‘s coming back and saying, this guy can give a great speech, but I can get the job done.  This guy is ethereal, I‘m practical.  Is that going to turn people on or off?   

BERNARD:  No, it‘s boring.  It‘s going to turn people off.  This election is not really about policy.  Their policies are just about the same.  It‘s going to be about respect.  It‘s going to be who people believe in.  It‘s going to be about ethics.  I think she doesn‘t do herself—

MATTHEWS:  Maria Teresa, I just had the governor of Wisconsin on, a big Barack backer, and I said name one thing this fellow Barack Obama has done to reindustrialize your part of the country, which you say is your number one goal, couldn‘t do it. 

PETERSEN:  I think, at the same time, she may want to suppress that.  Right?  At the same time, you‘re getting a lot of new voters.  You‘re getting a lot of enthusiasm for it based on speeches.  Maybe that‘s exactly what she‘s going after. 

MATTHEWS:  After what? 

PETERSEN:  Maybe she wants to make sure folks don‘t go out and get energized. 

MATTHEWS:  She says, this guy gives great speeches, but don‘t go watch.   

PETERSEN:  Don‘t go watch.   

MATTHEWS:  Gene, is the new slogan of the Clinton campaign, don‘t get your hopes up?

ROBINSON:  No, I think she‘s got to go with her strength.  At some point, you‘ve got to be the authentic you.  You—

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve got to be me. 

ROBINSON:  This is her strength.  She‘s got to be Hillary.  She can‘t be Barack.  She shouldn‘t try to be Barack.  She should just try to be Hillary Clinton, present her case to the American people, and meanwhile try to work those super delegates, twist arms and see if you can get the nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  I say she can win thing still if she gets the organization in the big cities together, block by block, precinct by precinct, get those guys working, men and woman both.  Not just women, don‘t stick to the base.  That‘s a big mistake.  You can‘t just stick your base.  You‘ve got to get men out there, labor guys working.  You‘ve got to work the organizations, labor unions.  You got to work the old ethnic groups, the old—the blacks are probably going to mostly go for Barack.  Get for everybody else.  Work the streets block by block.

She‘s got until March 4th to win a couple states.  She‘s got until April 22nd to win in Pennsylvania.  The ground game over the air game is the Clinton strategy that might work.  Michelle Bernard, see I can answer these questions.  Maria Teresa—I love that name.  Maria Teresa Petersen and Eugene Robinson, who I blame for everything.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.

Sir, thank you.  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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