updated 2/20/2008 12:02:28 PM ET 2008-02-20T17:02:28

Guests: Ron Brownstein, Roger Simon, Tad Devine, Dan Burton, Donna Edwards, Eugene Robinson, Clarence Page, Amy Sullivan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The Clintons saluted those who work hard and play by the rules.  Are they?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews, and welcome to HARDBALL.  Polls close in Wisconsin in four hours.  Hawaii, caucus goers, won‘t even start making their picks until midnight East Coast time.

Will Senator Obama make it 10 in a row tonight?  Will Senator Clinton bounce back and win Wisconsin?  In a moment, we‘ll talk about what‘s at stake tonight and what the results mean as we look ahead to Ohio and Texas.

Also tonight; What‘s going on in the fight for delegates?  Is somebody trying to deep-six the rules, or is this just a scorched-earth fight to the finish?

And farewell Comrade Castro.  Fidel‘s finished.  His brother‘s in.  What does it mean for the presidential race here in the U.S.?  All that tonight along with the “Politics Fix.”

But we begin with Wisconsin.  Ron Brownstein is the political director for Atlantic Media and Chuck Todd is NBC News‘s political director.  Let‘s go right now to Chuck Todd, who sits with me right now.  What‘s it mean if Barack wins tonight?

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  It‘s the type of victory he has.  A narrow win, and it really means we go on to March 4 and we go on and see, can he win in Ohio, can he win in a big state?  A big win tonight, and then all of a sudden, we find out he is continuing this idea that he‘s eating into her demographic base.  If he can win by 8 or 10 or 12 points tonight, well, then it means he‘s doing well with white Catholics.  It means he‘s doing well with working-class Democrats.  It means he might be starting to do well with white women.  And if that‘s the case, that could foreshadow good things in Ohio nor him.

If it‘s a narrow win, and for instance, she wins among hard-core Democrats in our exit poll, but he—his margin of victory comes from independents and Republicans, well, he‘ll have a good talking point for the general.  That should get him nervous that he‘s still not being able to reach into working-class Democratic blue-collar voters.  So it‘s how he wins tonight and the makeup of his victory.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a hell of a spread.

TODD:  I—I—you know, because I think he needs to be winning on these—all these demographic groups.  I mean, look, a win‘s a win, and getting more delegates is important and that‘s one way to keep score.  But you‘re asking me, How do we know if he‘s going to do well in Ohio?  Winning by 8 or 10 points in Wisconsin tells us he could do well in Ohio.

MATTHEWS:  Ron, do you buy into this analysis that he has to win by points?

RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA:  Well, I think I buy in the into the basic analysis, I mean, that this will tell—the margin and the composition of the result will tell us a lot.  Chris, this is a state where Hillary Clinton should be able to compete.  It is—Wisconsin does not...

MATTHEWS:  No, that‘s what I would have thought.

BROWNSTEIN:  It does not fit...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m looking at these demographics, and I don‘t know why it‘s so tough for her to win this thing.

BROWNSTEIN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  She‘s got white-working-class ethnic people, the kinds of people that voted for her in New York and New Jersey...

BROWNSTEIN:  Elsewhere.  Everywhere.

MATTHEWS:  ... in  Massachusetts.  What‘s so tough about her winning in Wisconsin?

BROWNSTEIN:  Right.  I mean, when you look at Wisconsin, white non-college voters outnumbered white voters with college degrees in 2004.  And of course, she has won white non-college voters in every state in every state, whereas the white college-educated voters have split more closely.  Seniors were twice as—almost twice as large a share of the vote in 2004 as the 18 to 29-year-olds were.  And although there is an African-American population, it was only 6 percent of the vote in 2004.  So when you add all of that up, the groups that she has done well with so far are there.

And the fact that the Clinton campaign has not made a stronger effort here I find kind of puzzling.  And I agree with Chuck, if he moves beyond - - -- I don‘t know what the number is, but if he moves beyond a narrow victory, the only way he can do that either is by changing the composition of the electorate to bring out more of his groups or by cutting into her vote in the groups that she has relied on so far.  And either one of those would have ominous implications for Ohio, but even more so for Texas, which is more precariously balanced between the coalitions...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BROWNSTEIN:  ... that each of these candidates have commanded so far.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the kind of elections we‘ve had so far.  This isn‘t just Democrats.  We keep reminding people because in many of these states, including Wisconsin, you can vote if you‘re a Republican or an independent voter, right?

TODD:  Or unregistered, Chris.  And this is big deal for Obama.

MATTHEWS:  How do you vote if not registered?

TODD:  Same-day registration.  Wisconsin‘s one of those states—a lot of the upper Midwest is—North Dakota...

MATTHEWS:  So to encourage you to vote.

TODD:  Correct.  Oh, I‘ll go register right now.  And you could go right now if you‘re unregistered, show up to the polls, register and go.  And that in places—this is why he‘s done well in caucuses.

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s like getting one of those Gap cards if you go to Gap or someplace like that and get immediate membership.

TODD:  But this is why Obama has done so well with these caucuses in some degree because a lot of these caucuses work that way.  You just have to show up that day and pledge your allegiance to the Democratic...

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s good for who?

TODD:  And that‘s always been, in all of these elections so far, has been good for Obama.

MATTHEWS:  Because?

TODD:  He is getting the new voters to the polls.  And he‘s the one that‘s been exciting the particularly younger voters, but a lot of these new voters to show up, whether it‘s new African-American voters or younger voters.

MATTHEWS:  Let me talk to you.  Let me go right now, Ron, is that your theory, that—well, it‘s mine, too—that if you can vote if you‘re a moderate or independent voter or you‘re a Republican who doesn‘t think it‘s important to vote on the Republican side, since it‘s locked up for McCain, have some fun and vote for somebody you have sort of an interest in, Barack Obama, perhaps?

BROWNSTEIN:  Obama has won independents in about two thirds or more of the states for which we have exit polls.  Clearly, he is expanding the electorate.  Hillary Clinton is, too, as well.  The share of vote cast by women is going up almost everywhere.  But by and large, when you look at who is coming into the Democratic primary this year, young people are casting votes as a larger share.  Affluent voters, upper middle-class white voters, are coming out in larger numbers.

You know, we talked about this last week.  It is striking that in most states now, if you look at the white vote, it‘s disproportionately toward college-educated, rather than the traditional image of the Democratic Party as the working-class blue-collar party.  And that is partially a long-term trend, but it‘s also partially Obama‘s effect in changing the electorate.  And if he can continue to do that, well, you know, states that should be leaning toward Hillary Clinton suddenly could tilt the other way.  And this may be one of them tonight.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m looking at the percentage of four-year college graduates.  I‘ve been noticing these incredibly high percentages.  The country has than a quarter has had—less than a quarter of the Americans who can vote have full four-year college degrees behind them.  But in this Democratic process, supposedly the people‘s party, and almost 55 to 60 percent of the voters in these caucuses and primaries have been college grads.  Doesn‘t that skew to Obama?

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes.  Well, if I can take in vain the name of another network, Gary Langer of ABC calculated today that a majority of the white voters in the Democratic primaries cumulatively so far have been college graduates.  And now, they are not breaking overwhelmingly toward Obama, but he is competitive there...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BROWNSTEIN:  ... whereas the non-college voters are very much toward Hillary.  So you‘ve got Obama putting together this coalition of—overwhelming strength among African-Americans, competitive with upscale white voters, and that is proving to be at least as large, if not slightly larger on a state-by-state basis, as Hillary Clinton‘s.  When you get to Ohio and Texas, the balance tilts more back toward her, but not so overwhelmingly, especially in Texas, that he could not overcome it, especially if he gains momentum out of Wisconsin tonight.

TODD:  This has been a long-term shift, by the way.  I mean, what‘s happened also is you have a lot of these independents, the college—four-year college-educated independents and even moderate Republicans who have been moving to the Democratic Party over the last four to eight years.  So this is a shift that Obama‘s almost taken advantage of.

MATTHEWS:  And I think there‘s going to be some Republicans tonight, guys, who just are really sick and tired of what‘s going on in their party and in the country, and I think they‘re going to positively vote for Barack.

Let me ask you about—let‘s take a look at an ad.  This will give you a sense, all of us watching right now, how the Hillary campaign is targeting certain kinds of voters in Wisconsin.  But it‘s running in Ohio, by the way, the same kind of voters they‘re targeting, obviously.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You pour coffee, fix hair, work the night shift at the local hospital.  You‘re often overworked, underpaid, and sometimes overlooked.  But not by everyone.  One candidate has put forth an American family agenda to make things easier for everyone who works so hard—universal health care, increased day care and help with elder care.  She understands.  She‘s worked the night shift, too.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m Hillary Clinton and I approved this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s amazing, it‘s so clearly playing on her background, her gender even, playing on the fact that she‘s credible on these issues.  It‘s a pretty powerful ad, I would think.

TODD:  I think it is, too, and I think you have Republicans who would immediately say if this were a general election, there go the Democrats.  They‘re doing the—they‘re trying to create class warfare.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s just class or it‘s concerns—historically, who‘s better looking out for their older parents...

TODD:  Well, I do think...

MATTHEWS:  ... the wife or the mother...

TODD:  I think that she has that built-in advantage with the fact that I think more women are seen as the check balancers...

MATTHEWS:  Care givers.

TODD:  ... and the care givers, both for their children and for their parents.  But also, this is—this is playing—she‘s playing now to the split.  She‘s playing to the split that‘s in the Democratic Party now that really is a class split.  We talk about race and we talk about gender.  This really is the deeper split here may be class.

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, it‘s—she‘s really playing here is we‘re seeing both class and gender, as Chuck—as Chuck notes.  Hillary Clinton‘s best group consistently throughout this primary overwhelmingly are these downscale working-class women.  Among working-class men, the race is much closer.  But among working-class women, she has had a commanding lead in almost every state, and certainly in the cumulative vote.

Obama does better upscale among men.  Those college-educated men are his best group, whereas the college-educated women are much more of a swing group, torn between their kind of a class attraction of Obama and the gender attraction to Clinton.

But when you look at where both candidates are focusing—this is a powerful ad.  Obama has been very strong also, though, over the last week in targeting working-class voters with a much ramped-up economic message, including criticism of NAFTA and trade.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BROWNSTEIN:  I mean, he seems to feel that he has his base defended and he can go after the last sort of the castle keep for Hillary Clinton, which is her hold on working-class voters, especially women.  If he can break through there, obviously, this would be very difficult for Hillary Clinton to carry on past Ohio and Texas.

MATTHEWS:  But just to cross over some of these demographics, nothing hurts the working class more than war.  They‘re the ones of that fight the wars.  And this war in Iraq is deeply unpopular among Democratic voters, right?

TODD:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  And that  is Obama‘s issue, not Hillary Clinton‘s issue.

TODD:  But it isn‘t what you‘re seeing as the main issue in Ohio right.  And I think that—you know, it‘s interesting, watching this Ohio fight play out, and you‘re seeing in that ad, you know, she‘s always got a huge vulnerability, and that‘s her husband and the word NAFTA, right?  He was the guy who brought in NAFTA.  No one of five states, arguably...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

TODD:  ... that could claim that they‘ve been hurt by NAFTA more...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Absolutely, and we‘ve seen Tom Sawyer (ph), the former congressman...

MATTHEWS:  Where is Hillary Clinton on NAFTA?

TODD:  She has talked about calling a time-out but never explained what it is.  So she‘s really tried to walk the line on NAFTA.  In a vacuum, if Ohio were a month-long campaign and these two candidates were running for governor or for the U.S. Senate with their respective NAFTA records, this might not be close and Obama would be able to beat her on this one issue.

MATTHEWS:  Will Obama exploit that issue, or will he be dainty on that one, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN:  Somewhere in between.  I mean, certainly, he‘s criticized NAFTA, but he‘s also gone out of his way to try to say that he would not completely abandon free trade. As Chuck says, Hillary Clinton talks about a time-out.  She also talks about converting trade agreements into five-year agreements that would be reviewed.  And she talks about reviewing NAFTA.  She‘s sort of suggesting that she would back away from the free-trade agenda of her husband, but without being so explicit that she kind of unnerves the business side.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know, you can‘t see that.

BROWNSTEIN:  There‘s no doubt that both of them—there‘s no doubt that both of them, I think, have been moved in a direction toward a more skeptical posture toward free trade.  Chris, it‘s been a progression from 2000 to 2004, 2008.  Each election cycle Democrats move further away from the free-trade emphasis of Bill Clinton, and that is continuing even with his wife in this campaign.

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s interesting because that was probably his most signature issue, NAFTA, besides bringing the budget into balance, was NAFTA.

TODD:  And they did it with Republicans united behind them.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

TODD:  And he split the Democratic Party doing it.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Ron Brownstein.  Thank you, Chuck.  That is a sad story, in a way, we‘re describing here with the split down the middle of the Democratic Party, but maybe that‘s the name of the game in these primary fights.

Coming up: Just when you thought primaries were all about who had the most delegates, a new report says that the Clinton campaign may try to target Obama‘s elected delegates if things stay tight—in other words, go after the people elected by the voters and try to get them to switch—after they‘ve pledged to support certain candidates like Obama, to get them to switch to Hillary Clinton instead, after pledging on their immortal souls to vote for the candidate—well, it‘s not that strong, a little more secular than that.

Anyway, do not forget tonight at 9:00 Eastern, join Keith Olbermann and me for live coverage of the Wisconsin primary.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  We have to win in November.  We have to win.  Everything we‘ve been talking about is at risk if we don‘t win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Well, someone in Hillary Clinton‘s campaign may be threatening to target Barack Obama‘s elected delegates if Senator Clinton needs more than just the superdelegates to win the nomination.  A senior Clinton official told “The Politico,” quote, “I swear it is not happening now, but as we get closer to the convention, if it is a stalemate, everybody will be going after everybody‘s delegates.  All the rules will be going out the window.”

Well, following that report, Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson refuted the story in a conference call today.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  We have not, are not and will not pursue the pledged delegates of Barack Obama.  And I think Senator Obama‘s campaign owes you all a clear answer to the question of whether or not they will—they will pursue our pledged delegates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, the whole thing raises the question, Is it OK to borrow someone‘s words with permission, as Barack Obama did from Deval Patrick in his speech this Saturday, but it‘s OK to steal votes?

Roger Simon broke the initial report for “The Politico” today, and Tad

Devine is a Democratic strategist.  You are chuckling, sir, but that does -

your article, your report, does raise the question.  When you read about this in the news, I mean, you read about it in the documents of the Democratic National Committee, the only reasons these delegates are not legally bound is because in the case when there‘s a vote by acclimation, when everyone‘s finally agreed that somebody has won, delegates should be free to go vote for the winner.  But now the buzz, according to your piece, is that the Clinton people are thinking about grabbing delegates elected to vote for Barack.

ROGER SIMON, “POLITICO”:  There is a certain disarray in the Clinton campaign right now, and I think there‘s a certain grasping for straws.  And at least some people in the campaign have determined that the least controversial path would be for Hillary Clinton...

MATTHEWS:  Ha!

SIMON:  ... to get to the convention with a lead in pledged delegates.  However, how does she do that?  Well, if he comes on like gangbusters in these contests that are still to be decided, you could go back to the delegates who voted for Barack Obama early and say, Look, now is the time to jump on board the Clinton train.  She is the people‘s choice.  I don‘t think that‘s workable.

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  You mean superdelegates who voted for her. 

What about people like...

SIMON:  No...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What about people like...

SIMON:  I don‘t mean superdelegates.

MATTHEWS:  I voted in Maryland.  When you vote in Maryland, you vote for specific delegates who are pledged to particular candidates.

SIMON:  They aren‘t pledged, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Are you saying they‘re up for grabs?

SIMON:  They‘re up for grabs.  There are no pledged delegates.  As Tad Devine, an expert on this subject, can tell you, there are no pledged delegates in the Democratic Party.  All delegates are free to vote their conscience.  That is what supposed to make the convention a deliberative body.  The Democratic Party itself in a memo a few weeks ago said the idea that there are pledged delegates is one of the most enduring “myths”—their word, not mine—one of the most enduring myths of politics.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I read some language in the DNC papers that said, You shall, within your conscience, vote for the candidate that you promised to vote for.  What‘s that word “shall” supposed to mean, Tad?  Doesn‘t “shall” mean you will?  Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I thought shalt meant something—thou shalt.  It‘s not a “you will,” it‘s not a prediction, it‘s an order.

TAD DEVINE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Chris, I think the language says delegates shall, in all good conscience, fairly reflect the expressed sentiments of voters who participate in primaries and caucuses.  That‘s the last time—when I read it, that‘s what it said.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

DEVINE:  And that‘s what it means.  It means the standard is a standard of conscience.  You know, we used to have a provision that bound delegates in 1980.  The Kennedy campaign called it the “robot rule.”  The Hunt commission got rid of it and replaced the old rule 11-H with a new rule 11-J.  That is the standard of conscience.

And what Roger reported is absolutely correct, technically.  Now, do I think that people who are deeply committed to Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, who went out and won an election on their behalf, are going to go to the convention and pick someone else?  No, I don‘t in the real world, but they‘re free to do so. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what does it mean for someone like myself or someone in my family to go vote in a state like Maryland for one of the two candidates, and then be shown a ballot that says, vote for the following delegates who are pledged to a particular candidate?  If they don‘t stick to that pledge, what does it all mean?  Is it just more of this electoral votes and Supreme Court getting involved in further alienation of the voter from the person they elect? 

SIMON:  Well, I‘m sorry.  I think you‘re right. 

I think a lot of what has been written about in the last few weeks is all about the process, and people are learning that there‘s a lot of gamesmanship to this process.  The whole concept of superdelegates is one that probably the average voter didn‘t know about. 

But there are 795 people elected by nobody.  That‘s one out of every five delegates voting who are party big shots, basically.  And 46 -- I‘m sorry—I worked it out before coming on.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SIMON:  Fifty-six percent of the superdelegates are members of the DNC themselves.  They get to vote.  Their votes are counted just as much as the people, Chris, that you and your wife went out and voted for on Election Day. 

MATTHEWS:  But I‘m going just back to the ones you reported on today.  Is it your belief, Roger, after listening to Howard Wolfson today and everybody else, do you really believe the Clinton people are out poaching for Obama elected delegates; they‘re going to try to grab some? 

SIMON:  I believe it‘s unworkable, now that it‘s come to the light of day.  They said they weren‘t doing it now, but, if it got past April 22, past Pennsylvania, and it was neck and neck, they would go after his delegates and they were sure he would go after their delegates. 

MATTHEWS:  So, it‘s Heisenberg‘s uncertainty principle.  The fact that we observed this happening, you reported it, it won‘t happen?

SIMON:  It‘s quite possible. 

I don‘t think—I don‘t think it‘s—it‘s—it‘s any less controversial than what they were trying to avoid, which is having the superdelegates decide it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Now, who‘s this person that told you they were going to grab delegates from the elected Obama people?  Who is this person that ratted them out? 

SIMON:  Oh, I‘m not going to put it in “The Politico,” but I‘m going to tell you on national TV. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Well, are they over 40, under 40, male, female, what ethnic background?  Can you help us? 

(CROSSTALK)

SIMON:  This is—this is, as identified, a senior Clinton official. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this Howard Wolfson by another name? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, let me read you—I want you to respond to this right now. 

This is what it says in the DNC papers. 

And, Tad, you‘re so close to the actual words. 

“Delegates elected to a national convention pledged to a presidential candidate shall, in all good conscience, reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.”

And your reading of that, sir, is, the “shall” is not determined; the “in all good conscience” means what, morally bound? 

DEVINE:  Yes, it does, Chris. 

And it‘s not just those words on that piece of paper.  It‘s all of the so-called legislative history that went into it.  If you look at, for example, the technical advisory commission reports of the Hunt commission and you look at the deliberations that went into the proceedings that framed the language which evolved into that language, you would see that the binding of delegates is out and the standard of conscience is in. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Is there a place you can e-mail if you believe in democracy in the Democratic Party...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... where you can simply e-mail this person now and say stop messing around with my democracy?  We have enough problems with the Supreme Court and the Electoral College.  Don‘t tell me that the party I vote in, in this case, the Democratic Party, won‘t let my vote count because somebody decides to play a game on me.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Your call, Roger Simon, since you broke this can of molasses open. 

SIMON:  This is, to quote a great book title by E.J. Dionne, why Americans hate politics. 

This is everything they hate about politics.  They think they go to the polls and cast a vote, and that vote determines something, it means something.  Then they pick up the paper or turn on the TV, listen to radio, and they find out, wait, it‘s not that simple.  There are a lot of escape clauses.  There‘s a lot of gamesmanship.  And, you know, it‘s not going to get better.  The Democratic Party is heading towards some version of a train wreck at the convention. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank God for Howard Wolfson, who today gave a Shermanesque statement, and said they will not engage in poaching of Obama delegates.  Thank God there‘s a man of conscience within the political world named Howard Wolfson.

Anyway, thank you very much, Roger Simon. 

Thank you, Tad Devine.

I‘m a little bit comical tonight. 

Up next:  Mike Huckabee, is he borrowing a page from Ronald Reagan‘s playbook?  Is that why he‘s still in this race for president?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Well, what else is new out in politics? 

Well, some comments from Michelle Obama in Wisconsin are getting a lot of attention right now.  Let‘s listen up. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF SENATOR BARACK OBAMA:  Let me tell you something.  For the first time in my adult lifetime, I‘m really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not what I would have said, but it certainly sounds authentic, doesn‘t it? 

Anyway, speaking of the Obamas, Barack just picked up two key Vermont endorsements, Ben and Jerry, the ice cream guys.  They‘re lending the campaign two Obama-mobiles, retrofitted Honda Elements, which will tour their state, giving you out free “Cherries for Change” ice cream. 

I scream, Howard Dean screams, we all scream for ice cream. 

Not only has Obama taking heat for borrowing another‘s politician‘s words.  Well, Mike Huckabee has taken heat for using someone else‘s song.  Tom Scholz, a founder of the band Boston, has written Huckabee a letter of complaint for using this 1970s pop hit without permission.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.  The song is “More Than a Feeling.”

Scholz wrote: “Boston”—that‘s the band—“has never endorsed a

political candidate, and, with all due respect, would not start by

endorsing a candidate who is the polar opposite of most everything Boston”

again, that‘s the name of the band—“stands for.”

Yesterday, we brought you, by the way, the highlights of President Bush‘s big Africa tour.  One thing he won‘t be doing on this trip to Africa is taking a safari. 

Laura Bush, the first lady, explains the reason to “The Washington Post.”  Well, it seems that, during the 19 -- the 2003 trip to Botswana, the president was treated to the impromptu sight of a pair of elephants doing what elephants do to make more elephants.  The president likes his safaris G-rated. 

Now to the politics of space.  This Wednesday, get ready for a sight to behold, a lunar eclipse in which the sun, the Earth, and the moon are all directly aligned, as red refracted light turns the moon a coppery orange. 

In the year 1504, Christopher Columbus used the eclipse of that year to convince island locals that he would steal the moon if they didn‘t cooperate.  Well, the Native Americans in turn gave him food for his crew, and he was able to keep on being Christopher Columbus. 

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

You might have expected Mike Huckabee to have dropped out by now.  Having proven his ability to deliver the conservative vote, he could step aside and patiently await John McCain tapping him for V.P. 

But, alas, for John McCain, Huckabee is still in this race, even after admitting in Wisconsin that—quote—he may be “killing his political career” by staying in.  What‘s this, human sacrifice on the campaign trail? 

Not likely.  Something tells me that he doesn‘t think he‘s killing his political career at all.  One need only look at Ronald Reagan himself, who campaigned against a sitting Republican president, Gerald Ford, all the way to the Republican Convention back in ‘76.  Did it tick off some Republicans?  Sure, but, four years later, Ronald Reagan won the Republican nomination for president and the job itself. 

Tonight‘s “Big Number”: 1-9-7-6, 1976, the year that could very well explain the Mike Huckabee strategy.  And grand strategy, it is—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Florida‘s been one of the big battleground states in the fight for the White House.  And now that Fidel Castro is stepping down in Cuba, how will the presidential candidates here handle Cuba relations, and how will Florida voters react to it? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MIKE HUCKMAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Mike Huckman with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

And oil closing above $100 a barrel for the first time ever—

$100.01, to be exact.  Crude surged $4.51 today, after yesterday‘s explosion at a Texas oil refinery and on concerns that OPEC may cut production next month.

With that, the Dow Jones industrials fell almost 11 points today.  The S&P 500 lost a point, and the Nasdaq dropped 15. 

After the closing bell, Dow component Hewlett-Packard reported quarterly profit rose 38 percent and earnings beat analyst estimates.  In after-hours trading, shares of the world‘s biggest personal computer-maker are up almost 5 percent. 

Earlier today, Wal-Mart reported a better-than-expected fourth-quarter profit, but the world‘s largest retailer warned that first-quarter earnings could fall below analyst expectations.  Wal-Mart shares, though, were up fractionally today. 

And Sony‘s Blu-ray format has won the high-definition DVD battle.  As expected, Toshiba announced it will abandon its rival HD-DVD format. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1962)

JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We support for Cuba and for all the countries of this hemisphere the right of free elections and the free exercise of basic human freedoms. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I think that‘s what got Kennedy killed in November of 1963, standing up against Castro and his devotee Lee Harvey Oswald. 

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.

That‘s President John F. Kennedy at the Orange Bowl in Florida back in

I think it was ‘63, greeting members that—no, that was earlier.  That was the ‘62 speech—greeting members of the Cuban Invasion Brigade. 

Anyway, today, Fidel Castro stepped down as Cuba‘s leader.  And the presidential candidates of this year reacted. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  ... need a president who will work with countries around the world, in Europe, in the Western Hemisphere, to push Cuba now to join the community of nations and to become a democracy.  And I will certainly do that as president. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  So, we have to be absolutely confident that the transition to a free and open democracy is being made before we provide that additional aid and assistance.  Once that happens, I‘m sure the American people will do whatever‘s necessary to help the people of Cuba. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And Barack Obama released a statement that reads in part—quote—“If the Cuban leadership begins opening up Cuba to meaningful democratic change, the United States must be prepared to begin taking steps to normalize relations and to ease the embargo of the last five decades.”

Joining me now is U.S. Congressman Dan Burton, a Republican of Indiana, and Donna Edwards, who is a Democratic nominee for Congress for Maryland‘s 4th District. 

Mr. Burton and Ms. Edwards, I want to remind you all that John

Kennedy, in the week before he was assassinated, made it clear that until -

when Castro leaves power, when the tyranny ends in Cuba, when there are free relations, everything can change in our relations with that island republic, but, until they do, nothing changes. 

Is there something that you want to change, Donna Edwards? 

DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:  Well, I think that, today, we seen demonstrated that 50 years of policy with Cuba has been failed on the part of the United States. 

I mean, I grew up hiding under my desk in—in kindergarten.  And we have had 50 years of failure of policy.  It‘s time to reevaluate.  It‘s time to reassess.  And it‘s time to move toward a path where Cubans can determine their destiny. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you want to kill Helms-Burton? 

EDWARDS:  Well, I think that Helms-Burton hasn‘t worked. 

It just hasn‘t worked.  Everybody around the world has engaged with Cuba except the United States.  And, so, it‘s a failed policy for us here in the United States and in the hemisphere, but it‘s also a failed policy for Cubans. 

It‘s time for us to engage with them, you know, one-on-one, to have diplomatic exchanges, to reengage travel with Cuba, so that they, Cubans themselves, can begin to make...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

EDWARDS:  ... the transition that inevitably is going to happen. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Burton, explain Helms-Burton, our current policy toward Cuba. 

REP. DAN BURTON ®, INDIANA:  Well, it‘s an embargo policy.  And it‘s to keep pressure on Fidel Castro and now Raul Castro to make positive changes toward democratic institutions down there.  That has not happened.  They are continuing to be a despotic regime.  And, under Raul, I anticipate that will go on. 

We must keep the pressure on them until we see some positive changes towards democracy.  Once that happens, I agree with the Democrat candidates and the Republican candidates for president, that then we start—start working with them and help the Cuban people realize their dream of freedom and democracy. 

MATTHEWS:  Do we have a debate here, Donna Edwards?  Is your belief that Cuba has to move toward democracy before we open the door?  Or do you say open the door first to trade, and then hope they go democratic? 

EDWARDS:  Well, I think what we do—we do what we have done in other parts of the world.  And that is, we actually engage with Cuba.  Let‘s engage by traveling.  Let‘s have academics go into Cuba.  Let‘s have businessmen fully engaged in Cuba, the way the rest of the world is, and guarantee there is going to be a transition. 

I mean, we have seen a historic move just here today with a peaceful succession in Cuba.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

EDWARDS:  And we‘re going to see more progress. 

MATTHEWS:  If free trade with Cuba brings democracy, why hasn‘t it worked?  With the rest of the world trading with Cuba, it doesn‘t seemed to have moved them away from tyranny, has it? 

EDWARDS:  Well, I think that what—I mean, what has happened with Cuba is that the United States actually needs to be more engaged and not less engaged.  It‘s a good thing when U.S. academics are traveling back and forth to and from Cuba.  It‘s a good thing when our law-makers are able to travel to Cuba, as I have, and have seen first-hand what‘s going on on the ground in Cuba.  The best thing that we can do right now in this hemisphere is to actually engage. 

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Burton, why do you think Cubans on the island still support the Castro brothers?  What is it that allows that lock on those people to continue? 

BURTON:  Well, I don‘t think they do support Castro.  I don‘t think they‘ve supported Fidel or Raul.  That is a communist regime where they have block captains who watch everybody in each individual block, and anybody that even speaks out against the government ends up in a Gulag.  Thousands and thousands of Cubans who want freedom and democracy have been in the communist Gulags for a long, long time.  And many of them have been shot. 

Fidel Castro and Raul have even killed friends of theirs who they thought might want some positive change down there.  Cuba is still a terrorist nation according to the State Department of the United States.  They still advocate and try to export revolution, as they did Che Guevara.  They are working with President Chavez of Venezuela to continue the despotic regime down there.  And that‘s why the United States of America needs to keep the pressure on them and help the people of Cuba who really want freedom and democracy get what they want. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the fact that Castro for years has used our—the specter of Uncle Sam coming at him as his excuse for tyranny basically?  He has to repress the people because they have to defend them against us. 

Hasn‘t that been his PR all along? 

BURTON:  It may have been world wide, but he didn‘t need any reason to repress his people.  He is a communist. 

MATTHEWS:  No but an excuse.  I know he doesn‘t need one.  He‘s a communist, but why hasn‘t he used that as an excuse, the fact that we‘re coming to get him? 

BURTON:  He didn‘t need an excuse.  He used that to try to change the world‘s attitude against him.  The fact is, anybody that has watched Cuba, anybody that‘s watched Fidel and Raul Castro knows he‘s a hardcore communist.  He tried to send revolution into Africa.  He‘s done it in central and south America and he‘s a bad apple and so is Raul. 

The people down there, I believe, do want positive change.  I do believe they want democracy and freedom.  And I think if we keep the pressure on, it will happen.  Raul, as a matter of fact, is starting to move very slowly in that direction. 

MATTHEWS:  Miss Edwards, if you get into Congress, what would you do on Cuba? 

EDWARDS:  I support the efforts of the Cuba Working Group.  It‘s a bipartisan working group of more than 100 members of the House of Representatives that actually just yesterday called for a reassessment of Cuba policy.  I think that‘s what we have to do.  And we need to re-establish relations with Cuba around issues of travel, even family travel, so that we can begin to open up a process where Americans have dialogue with Cubans on the ground, so when that real transition happens after Raul, and it will, indeed, happen, that we have some people on the ground here in the United States and in Cuba who understand really what‘s going on on the Island. 

And Cubans can make their own determination about their economic and their political future. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I want to thank you both and salute you both for a very civil discussion of what can become a very hot issue in this country.  Thank you, Congressman Burton.  Thank you, perhaps soon to be Congresswoman Edwards. 

Up next, we‘ll have the first numbers from our exit polling of today‘s primary in Wisconsin, the qualitative numbers, who voted, what was their issues, et cetera.  What are the voters there thinking about as they head to the polls?  It‘s a big one in Wisconsin tonight, and I think the most important question is who votes today, Republicans, Democrats, independents, how many people went to college, ethnic breakdown.  We‘re going to learn a lot perhaps fairly soon tonight.  That‘s all coming up here on HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  We just came, as you know, from Wisconsin.  We‘re hoping to get a good turnout today.  It was very, very cold in Wisconsin.  They tell me they‘re very hearty citizens and they‘ll all be out to vote. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Before we get to our round table, here‘s some hot stuff tonight.  Let‘s check in with MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell, who has some early exit polling information from the voters of Wisconsin.  You know, Norah, I grew up with Wisconsin being a key, key primary.  It was the primary that Lyndon Johnson was afraid of and quit the presidency because he knew he was going to lose it.  What do you hear? 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  You‘re right.  The Democrats have been fighting hard for the votes in Wisconsin.  It is actually the state that invented the primary form of a political contest a little more than a century ago.  The polls don‘t close until 9:00 p.m.  Eastern tonight, so we can‘t characterize the race. 

Here‘s what we finding out about voters turning out today.  First of all, in this primary, as in earlier contests, the Democrats feel that the most important issue facing the country is the economy.  It was the top concern of 43 percent of those going to the polls.  Almost evenly split in second place was the war in Iraq and health care.  Health care actually inched up as a concern from the Potomac Primaries that we covered just last week.  And remember, we saw Hillary Clinton attack Barack Obama on health care with those mailers in the state of Wisconsin. 

Now, taking a closer look inside those figures, 90 percent of those Democratic primary voters today believed the economy is not doing well.  Only 10 percent felt optimistic about the nation‘s economic news.  And the number of voters who feel the economy is in the tank has grown by double digits since the election in 2004. 

Also, Democratic primary voters this year have higher income levels compared to four years ago.  In fact, they have slightly higher income levels than their neighbors in Michigan and Illinois where, of course, there have already been primaries in those states. 

And finally, trade is a big issue.  Seven in 10 believe that international trade takes away more jobs than compared essentially to four years ago.  And, remember, Barack Obama just slammed Hillary Clinton the other day on NAFTA.  He‘s trying to essentially tie it around her neck, her husband‘s policy, saying NAFTA doesn‘t put food on the table.  So, we‘re going to continue to watch this. 

And, Chris, you mentioned it, Wisconsin is a great state.  These exit polls are going to be great throughout the night.  Because it‘s a purple state.  It‘s the home of Joe McCarthy.  It‘s the home of Russ Feingold.  What‘s interesting about Wisconsin is so many independents can vote and people, if you‘re a first time voter, you could go up today.  You could actually register to vote today and you actually get a ballot that has both the Republicans and the Democrats on the ballot.  It will be interesting to see how that breaks out tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s just like getting a Gap card, isn‘t it?  You go to Gap.  You get one of those lifetime memberships the first time you walk in the door.  I love it.

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s a unique state. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s democracy in the purist form.  Thank you, Norah

O‘Donnell.  Now our round table tonight, Eugene—speaking of Eugene, now

Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post,” Clarence Page of the “Chicago Tribune,” and Amy Sullivan of “Time.”  She‘s also author of a great new book, “The Party Faithful,” about religion and party politics, not necessarily the kind you‘re used to when you hear religions.  It‘s much more liberal. 

Let me go to my colleague, Gene Robinson.  Interesting numbers there that show that people—the economy is tanking, 90 percent say that.  Iraq is up there as still the number two issue, but also health care and the NAFTA thing.  I saw that in Ohio.  It‘s going to come back up to haunt perhaps Senator Clinton in Ohio again.  You know, Sherrod Brown got elected to the Senate out there on it.  They don‘t like trade in states that have been de-industrialized. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  No, they don‘t.  It would be a cruel irony if Hillary Clinton kind of got hoist on that petard, if she goes down because of NAFTA, because there are some credible reports that she was not wild about NAFTA when her husband was making it law.  So—

MATTHEWS:  She can‘t ride the sidecar for normal victories, and claim I wasn‘t there during the bad stuff? 

ROBINSON:  Exactly, she‘s trapped with it.   

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Dominic Carter on that question.  Dominic, you‘re watching this from New York.  It looks to me like always—somebody is talking to me in my ear.  Pardon me, Clarence Page.  What happened to Dominic Carter?  Oh, that‘s what happened.  Clarence Page, same question.  I didn‘t get to ask the question.  This—

CLARENCE PAGE, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Transformation, here I am. 

MATTHEWS:  Give me the national significance of tonight‘s vote if it goes either way, do it either way, do it both ways? 

PAGE:  I think what you‘re saying is correct, that the economy is this issue that‘s been shadowing the campaign.  And in the upper Midwest you have had a lot of devastation in so far as jobs moving overseas.  I‘m a native Ohioan, Chris, and I can go back there and I was back there last week and marveling at the big industries, the big factories that just aren‘t there anymore.  And even for a place like Wisconsin, which has been more economically fortunate, there is still the insecurity.  There are mortgage foreclosures, et cetera.  So, that is a top issue right now. 

But, you know, as far as making the predictions go, ever since Jesse Ventura carried Minnesota, a state with same-day registration, I have refused to make predictions on states that have same-day registration. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right, because you don‘t know who is voting up.  Amy Sullivan, I just heard Clarence talk about Ohio and I think of those states in the Midwest, there are some in Indiana; I‘ve seen them in Ohio, where there‘s nothing left in town but a Blockbuster and a diner and a lot of rusty machinery.  How are those people—do they see hope or do they just want Social Security benefits pumped up?  What way are they going, security or hope? 

AMY SULLIVAN, “TIME”:  Well, I think you‘re going to see them going in both directions, honestly.  Wisconsin looks a like Ohio in that there are a lot of folks who have lost their jobs.  There‘s a lot of folks who do have good reason to feel the economy is really going down and they will be responsive to these arguments about trade.  But if you look at Ohio, one of the largest, growing areas is a place like Columbus, which is really becoming much more cosmopolitan.  You have a lot of young singles moving there, lots of folks around the colleges and state government. 

So you—it‘s not as easy as categorizing these Midwestern states—

MATTHEWS:  So you can project from Madison to Columbus? 

SULLIVAN:  I think you can, actually.  I think tonight‘s going to be able to tell us something about how to look at Ohio.  But I think Clarence is right, predictions are certainly not the game we should be in. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s go into not predictions but projections.  Ha!  Let me go—let me go.  You know what I‘m doing here.  There‘s a new word that came into the political parlance about the last cycle, as we say, four years ago, which is called dynamics.  The dynamics have changed.  I‘m going to hit you with a dynamics question.  Dynamics means this thing leads to that, leads to that. 

ROBINSON:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  Tonight is Wisconsin, to some extent Hawaii caucuses later tonight, but way too late to have an impact on the newspapers here.  If the headlines tomorrow are Obama wins substantially or if the headlines are Hillary Clinton squeaks it or it‘s a squeaker and nobody seems to have won, how does that lead toward Ohio in two weeks and Texas in two weeks? 

ROBINSON:  You know, as we‘ve seen in this season, every primary has had an impact I think on the next one.  So I think if Obama wins—were to win big, for example, that would be a big boost for him in Ohio. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  If not? 

ROBINSON:  If not, if he wins but not by much, probably no impact, because that‘s what a lot of people expect.  If she wins, then that‘s huge for her. 

MATTHEWS:  Clarence, is it possible that the beginning of the end could be sounded tonight, or are we still going to go ahead to the heavily advertised by the Clinton campaign, Texas and Ohio?  Have they put such a billing on those two states that we‘re still going to go there and it‘s still going to be decisive. 

PAGE:  Chris, anything is possible. 

MATTHEWS:  You are Jack Germond!  You are getting older and we are surrounded by Jack Germond now.  These early polls don‘t mean anything!

PAGE:  No, they mean something, but anything is possible.  We really need to stay on the edge of our seats here and see what happens.  Wisconsin folks just love—just traditionally love to wander from right to left and back again.  They‘ve got a perfect system to decide anything tonight.  I would still say, you know, that this is a place where Obama‘s got a really good chance, depending on how many non-traditional voters turn out today—that would be a sign.

Texas and Ohio and both places, the numbers, you know, demographically are so well balanced that either one of them could still do it. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure. 

PAGE:  So, you know, anything can happen right now. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a seesaw.  Thank you very much, Gene Robinson, Clarence Page and Amy Sullivan, author of “The Party Faithful.”  I recommend you read that book. 

Join us again in one hour for a live edition of HARDBALL tonight as we get closer to the results from Wisconsin.  It‘s the Dairy State.  And it‘s 9:00 Eastern, by the way, tonight; we‘re going to have Keith Olbermann and I for the live coverage of the Wisconsin primary, two hours of analysis and coverage of this big primary tonight.  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.

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