updated 2/20/2008 12:03:47 PM ET 2008-02-20T17:03:47

Guests: David Wilhelm, Kevin James, Andy Barnett, Michelle Bernard, Mike Allen

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  On, Wisconsin.  Primary results are coming. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  And welcome to HARDBALL. 

Polls close in Wisconsin in two hours.  Hawaii caucus-goers don‘t get started making their picks for another five hours. 

Will Senator Obama make it 10 in a row tonight?  Will Senator Clinton bounce back and win in Wisconsin? 

In a moment, we will talk about what‘s at stake tonight and what the results do mean for the next battles coming up in Ohio and Texas.

Also tonight, we will hear—we have heard already about Hillary Clinton supporters switching to Obama.  Bill Clinton‘s 1992 campaign manager will be here to tell us why he‘s supporting Barack Obama this time over Hillary Clinton. 

And Mike Huckabee vows to stay in the race and take on McCain in Texas and beyond.  We will talk to two conservative radio talk show hosts with very different, 180-degree different ideas, on whether Mike Huckabee is hurting the Republican Party or helping it. 

All that tonight, along with the politics fix. 

But we begin with MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O‘Donnell, who is tracking the exit polls in Wisconsin. 

Norah, you know more than I do. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Tell me what you know. 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith—I mean, and Chris.  Keith will be joining you later, at 9:00 tonight. 

As you know, Wisconsin, once a solid blue state, is now really a purple state.  It has become more conservative.  Remember, George W. Bush came within thousands of votes of winning it in 2000 and in 2004.  And this is a state where you can truly vote independently. 

In fact, it‘s an open primary, where you can register on the same day and when you walk into the voting booth, you have the candidates of both parties right there on the ballot.  So, it‘s really unique. 

Now, in the Democratic primary, what we‘re seeing tonight is that more than one in four voters, 27 percent, consider themselves independent.  That‘s about the same number, actually, as four years ago. 

Are Wisconsin independents choosing to vote in the Democratic primary with the GOP contest essentially all but settled?  Well, our exit polls can‘t really provide a definite answer on this.  But what we can say tonight is that independents are a bigger slice of the Democratic primary electorate in Wisconsin today than they are of the Republican electorate. 

Here, you can see that independents are 20 percent of the Republican primary voters.  That‘s less than the 27 percent we saw for the Democratic primary today. 

Now, about half of Wisconsin Democratic primary voters consider themselves liberals, the other half moderate to conservative.  The 2008 Democratic primary electorate is essentially a bit more liberal than it was in 2004 when Kerry, remember, defeated Howard Dean. 

Now, also on the Democratic side, has the excitement of this race and essentially the ease of the voting brought new people to the polls?  This is one of the things we have been watching.  Well, we asked primary voters if they were voting in a primary for the first time.  Seventeen percent of the voters said this is their first primary election. 

That is comparable to what we saw essentially in New Hampshire, but it‘s not especially high.  Remember, in Virginia just last week, more than a third of the Democratic primary electorate consisted of first-time primary voters—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

OK.  Now let‘s bring in NBC News political director Chuck Todd to join us. 

Chuck, if the headlines across the country are, Hillary Clinton wins in Wisconsin, what will be the impact? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, the impact would be great.  It would slow the momentum here a little bit from this idea that Obama was going 10 and zero.  They would give her a win going into Ohio. 

So, it would be huge.  We can look at sort of how she would do it if she does win tonight.  And it would mean that—what Wisconsin is—sort of picture it like Missouri, except it‘s not—the voting electorate is not—not in the same geographic area. 

Basically, Obama is trying to win the primary by winning this part of the state, Madison and Milwaukee, and winning it big.  If Clinton is to win tonight, it means she‘s held her own in this area, maybe only loses it 55-45, and then just cleans up in the more working-class and rural parts of the state.  Green Bay is over here.  La Crosse is over there.  This would be a real strong place for her in the 7th Congressional District. 

So, if she puts together the coalition to win, it‘s basically because she did really well in the working-class towns, in smaller towns of this state, vs.—and then held her own, kept—kept the numbers down, Obama‘s percentages down in Madison and in Milwaukee. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I know those Midwestern states by the sweatshirts.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Michigan is one of the—is probably the best sweatshirt there ever was. 

TODD:  Right.  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Wisconsin is Madison to me. 

Is that a bad way to read the Midwest by their college sweatshirts?

TODD:  Yes, it is, particularly in Wisconsin.  You have got to read it

by seeing the packers shirts when it comes to Wisconsin. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

TODD:  And, literally, when you go to a Packers game, you do see the other part of Wisconsin.  That‘s the beer-drinking part of Wisconsin.  That‘s where Pabst comes from.  That‘s where—that‘s where Schlitz—that‘s not the Madison, not Dane County, not the liberal elite, per se. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean Schlitz, the beer that made Milwaukee famous, that one?

TODD:  There you go, Schlitz, that and the fake beer that was on “Laverne & Shirley.”  I always forget what that was called.

MATTHEWS:  I always thought it was 3.2 beer anywhere near Madison.  Is that still true? 

TODD:  Well, it was 3.2 beer—see, I just remember 3.2 beer being about Colorado.  But that was a whole ‘nother reason why I would remember what 3.2 beer was. 

MATTHEWS:  Norah, tell us how this all fits in with what you have seen so far and you can share with us about the exits. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, one point on the beer drinking, which is interesting, because Hillary Clinton actually talked about beer the other day in Wisconsin. 

She said, if you want somebody who you can drink beer with, then maybe go ahead and choose that person, but we ought to think we ought to have someone with experience in the White House.  She was essentially setting up that argument that—the likability, that some people would rather have a beer with their president.

We have seen those polls before, just as it showed with George W.  Bush, and she said, we elected a—last time we elected a president who someone would rather have a beer with, and where did that get us?  So, she‘s been actually trying to hit that argument about experience. 

What we have seen essentially from the exit polls, Chris, too, is that we have an electorate there in Wisconsin, like most of the rest of the country, that is deeply concerned about the economy.  It is the top issue.  Nine out of 10 Democrats say the economy is not so good.  And you have seven out of 10 in Wisconsin saying that NAFTA has taken jobs away. 

And Barack Obama in the past couple days has tried to take NAFTA and wrap it around Hillary Clinton‘s neck.  It, of course, was the signature trade policy of the President Clinton administration.  Hillary Clinton, there have been some reports that she voiced concerns about NAFTA law inside the White House.  Nevertheless, he made that charge. 

And it‘s an issue that Wisconsin voters, according to our exit polls, are concerned about, the economy.  Why does that matter, Chris?  You and I have talked about this.  Because white working-class voters is something we‘re going to be looking at very closely tonight.  How did they break?  Why does that matter?  Because they have been a pillar of support for Hillary Clinton. 

Yet, we saw in the past exit polling in Maryland and Virginia Obama is starting to win those white working-class voters.  If he gains on those, that is going to be really important in other industrial states, like Ohio and Pennsylvania, as you well know, Chris.   

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

Let me go that same great question to Chuck. 

Take two pictures in hand and tell me how the people vote.  Imagine a college town like Madison or a college town like Columbus coming up in Ohio in two weeks.

Now imagine a town that is de-industrialized, the rotted, the rusty factory shell as you come into town, the Blockbuster and the diner being only—the only thing there with the gas station.  Everything else is basically done, people living on checks.  They don‘t have really jobs anymore.  How do the people vote in those two different towns? 

TODD:  Well, I think that‘s interesting.  I feel like you‘re describing—it could be Green Bay in Wisconsin.  It could be Dayton in Ohio. 

I think definitely in the college towns you‘re seeing—that‘s just where Obama is cleaning up.  And there‘s a lot of smaller but fairly populated college towns in Wisconsin in different pockets of the state, different places where he could do well. 

In a place like—that—this is where he‘s struggling.  And I will be very curious frankly to check in Wisconsin to check by the river, right, to check on the Mississippi.  That‘s where the working-class Catholics are in Iowa.  They‘re by the river, where a lot of these—the white ethnic vote is, same around Lake Erie in Ohio.

You also want to—that‘s I feel like where you want to check in to see, has Obama penetrated that area?  Has he finally gotten through?  Is he starting to get these downscale voters to listen to him?  Has he finally said enough substance that these folks are listening?

Clearly, Hillary Clinton knows that this the core of her support.  But this NAFTA thing is such a problem for her.  And if NAFTA turns out to have been a tough sell and we‘re seeing that in Wisconsin, that NAFTA is not working well, boy, then Ohio could end up being a lot more competitive than we thought it was going to be a couple weeks ago. 

MATTHEWS:  Norah, what can we see in the numbers that you‘re looking at about this very question of opportunity, optimism?

I mean, I wonder.  I was in Milwaukee recently.  And it looked to me like it was an old—obviously, it‘s a beer-making town.  But they really try to be upbeat.  The architects of the city, everybody seems to be forward, upward, positive.  The lakefront area is so beautiful now.

I wonder whether some of these older areas are really trying to be optimistic. 

O‘DONNELL:  I have been all throughout Wisconsin through the 2004 campaign, ate my share of bratwurst in Wisconsin.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s a beautiful state and cheese curds and all of it.

But it is a state that‘s an industrial state, as you mentioned.  It is concerned about the economy.  One of the interesting exit poll numbers, as we‘re talking about lower-income vs. upper-income voters, we see that those making over $50,000 is about 60 percent of the electorate today.  Under $50,000 is about 41 percent of the electorate. 

In the past, we have seen Barack Obama, as we mentioned, do better among wealthier individuals.  We know that.  The question is whether he will start breaking into Hillary Clinton‘s base, those lower-income voters, particularly in a state like Ohio, which has the largest number of foreclosures in the country, in a state like Ohio, areas like Cleveland, which you—as you mentioned earlier, there are just streets that you can go by and there are just houses with the windows boarded up and foreclosed upon. 

That‘s why she released this 13-page economic manifesto yesterday .

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

O‘DONNELL:  People have to question, do they have time to read a 13-page economic manifesto? 

But her campaign‘s point is, look, I‘m the detail-oriented candidate.  I‘m the solutions-oriented candidate, not the one with the high-flying rhetoric that may be plagiarized, according to their campaign...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

O‘DONNELL:  ... but specifics.  Does that sell?  Can she break through with that message? 

And we‘re going to be watching that very closely in the state of Wisconsin.  It is a—that is a state that would be made for Hillary Clinton because of all these different economic issues and the—and the geographic and racial makeup of the state. 

MATTHEWS:  Wisconsin basically shut the door and closed the curtain down on Lyndon Johnson back in 1968.  He saw the poll numbers coming in from Larry O‘Brien, his political guy, and he quit the presidency, because he did not want to get humiliated in Wisconsin. 

TODD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  That issue of the war in Iraq, I see that it‘s number two in the exit polling today in terms of issues that people care about.  Is that not the definitive issue in the college towns and in the neighborhoods of the colleges, the war, Hillary‘s vote in support of authorizing the war and Barack Obama‘s absolute opposition to the war since it began?

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  I think that I would love to probe the minds further of these -

of the college—of this college-educated crowd, which keeps influencing this Democratic primary in Obama‘s favor. 

But it feels like that that is the issue that‘s influencing those folks, and then the economy is what is driving the lower-income.  And the question is, which one is going to do a better job of going—of picking off the other‘s big issue? 

Obviously, Clinton has struggled with the Iraq issue from the get-go.  It probably will always be seen as what was the initial vulnerable point—vulnerability point in her candidacy.  But, if Obama fails to pull this off, it will be because he never was able to connect on the economy. 

O‘DONNELL:  Chris, one other thing, too.  I mean, look at what has changed in sort of the tone of this debate over the past week or so, with Hillary Clinton, after the Potomac primaries, essentially hitting Barack Obama very hard. 

After deciding that maybe they wouldn‘t play in Wisconsin, they put up an ad.  They challenged him.  Why doesn‘t he want to debate here?  They sent out mailers attacking him on health care.  Largely, the economy and health care were the main things they have been talking for—in Wisconsin, not about the Iraq war. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And we‘re going to be seeing later on some numbers—I don‘t think we can share them—about how people reacted to those TV ads, right?

One of the things we poll on in the exit polling is how people reacted to TV commercials put on by the two candidates, right, Chuck? 

TODD:  Well, Chris, one other thing I wanted to say about that very issue, I talked to an unaffiliated Democratic strategist who knows Wisconsin really well and lives out there, and couldn‘t believe that the Clinton campaign chose to do process as their line of attack in Wisconsin, when the bread-and-butter issues...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  ... clearly were there for her to the taking. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, whether you will debate me or not, that‘s process.

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  That‘s right. 

Why they weren‘t hitting him directly on health care, directly on the economy stuff that will—that can play well.  Wisconsin is always a very intellectual electorate.  They don‘t like negative ads.  I mean, I remember Russ Feingold wrote his manifesto on his garage door, what he promised to do. 

And he won his Democratic primary going away because he was the guy that didn‘t go negative.  So, negative ads usually backfire in Wisconsin, more so than other states.  More importantly, they love the bread and butter.  They want a lot of issues.  They want the substance.  And that‘s why it was a curious strategy over these last five days from the Clinton campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  It strikes me, Norah and Chuck—and you first, Norah—that this is a state that sort of is really almost Athenian in its democracy.  You can walk in the door, as you pointed out earlier.  You can vote the same day you—register the same day you vote.  You can vote on the same ballot for either party. 

It seems like it gives a lot of freedom to people that don‘t want to identify with a political party. 

O‘DONNELL:  Right.  And that will be interesting to see if those are the type of voters that have trended toward Barack Obama.  First-time voters, we mentioned that it‘s 17 percent tonight.  That‘s not as high as what we saw in Virginia, but it‘s a pretty big number.  It‘s what we saw in New Hampshire. 

But, wow, a lot of people, I‘m sure, are listening tonight and say, boy, it would be great if you hadn‘t gotten to registering, you could go and you can register that day in Wisconsin.  People can register today and you walk in, and you get both Democrats and Republicans on the ballot.  It‘s very unique.  And Wisconsin, of course—I don‘t know if you knew this, Chris, but actually created the primary.  So, it‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

Wouldn‘t it be great if unaffiliated reporters that don‘t identify with either political party...

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  Like myself, yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... would be free to go in and vote in any primary they liked and they would have as much democratic opportunity as, say, people who were more partisan in a way that maybe is offensive to some people?

TODD:  Chris, move to Virginia. 

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  Yes. 

TODD:  You don‘t have to register by party in Virginia.  Come on over across the Potomac.

O‘DONNELL:  I live in D.C. and I can‘t vote, yes.

MATTHEWS:  No, I do think this system we have in so many states where you have to say, I‘m a D or I‘m an R in order to have any say in picking the nominees does put off some people. 

Anyway, thank you very much. 

We are going to know a lot more in an hour or so. 

Norah O‘Donnell, Chuck Todd, we will see you both back at 9:00 Eastern during our live coverage with Keith Olbermann of the Wisconsin primary results, perhaps, as early as 9:00.  Who knows?

Coming up, why is Bill Clinton‘s campaign manager of 1992, David Wilhelm, now backing Obama against Senator Clinton? 

And don‘t forget, as I just said—we advertise here frequently—

9:00 tonight, join Keith Olbermann and myself for all the results and analysis from Wisconsin, the Dairy State. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  So, why is Bill Clinton‘s 1992 national campaign manager backing Barack over Hillary Clinton?  He will come on and tell us in just a minute.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Well, David Wilhelm was campaign manager, national campaign manager for President Clinton back in 1992.  Last week, he announced he‘s supporting Barack Obama for president. 

David, it‘s nice to see you again. 

DAVID WILHELM, FORMER BILL CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER:  Good to see you.

MATTHEWS:  Tell us about your thinking about this.  I know you don‘t want to get to yucky here about your feelings.  But what is it that led you to back Barack over Senator Clinton this time? 

WILHELM:  Well, there are reasons that are substantive.  There are reasons that are political. 

One—a substantive reason is, for the better part of the past decade

and I grew up in southeastern Ohio, Appalachian Ohio—I have been working to bring investment capital into central Appalachia, into the rural Midwest.  And I‘m very, very impressed by what Barack has to say about rural economic development. 

He talks about the need for a green engine, the role that renewables can play in rural America.  He talks about the need to bring investment capital into rural America.  He talks about the role that infrastructure development and so own.  This is big and important stuff in the part of Ohio that I‘m from.  And I‘m proud to be backing him because of that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Can he bring—can he brings his big ideals to reality? 

In other words, is he doer or a talker? 

WILHELM:  Oh, I think he‘s absolutely a doer.  He was a doer in Illinois.  He‘s a doer now. 

I think the reason he‘s a doer is that he can be a 65 percent president, not a just 51 percent president.  And what I mean by that, Senator Moynihan once pulled me aside when I was chair of the DNC.  And he said, you know, David, the key to really bringing about societal change, big reforms, big things, is to pass them by large margins, to pull together a big, sustainable majority. 

And I fundamentally believe, of the two candidates that remain in the Democratic race, Barack Obama has the potential to build that new American majority, that 65 percent majority that can make change possible. 

So, for rural parts of the country, like where I grew up, that is a big deal.  And, if we‘re going to have the change that we want, I think Barack Obama is the right guy. 

MATTHEWS:  How does he do that in an environment like we saw like when the Clintons came into office in ‘93, and, immediately, people like Bill Kristol on the right said, we‘re going to kill health care in its cradle; there‘s not going to be any health care?

Senator Clinton, then first lady Clinton, said, no I‘m going to get the full boat.

WILHELM:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m going to get everything I want. 

Somebody wants everything.  The other wants them to get nothing.  We get nothing.  That‘s what the pattern has been.

WILHELM:  Well, I...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Nothing...

WILHELM:  Yes, I know.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... on health care, on any issue you think of. 

WILHELM:  But I think, over time, there has been a growing Democratic majority. 

Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992 with 44 percent of the vote.  It was an extraordinary moment.  No one at that time thought the Democrats would win at that point in American history. 

But, over time, the Democratic vote performance has gone up 44 percent, 47 percent, 48 percent, 49.5 percent. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WILHELM:  Now, can we—can we create the scenario, can we elect a president, a Democratic president, with well over 50 percent, but somebody who can appeal and bring in independents?

And you saw the exit poll in Virginia.  Eight percent of Republicans that voted in last week‘s Virginia primary said that they would back Barack Obama for president.  That‘s extraordinary. 

And the other thing that‘s going on that has convinced me that, at this moment in American history, Barack Obama is the right guy is the extraordinary level of enthusiasm, the turnout that is occurring. 

In Wisconsin tonight, we don‘t—I have no idea what‘s going to happen.  But, in single-digit weather, there are record turnouts on the Democratic side.  Twenty-seven percent of participants in the Democratic primary are independents. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WILHELM:  Something is going on.  Barack Obama is able to appeal to the better angels of our nature.  That‘s a big deal. 

It‘s easy to belittle that, but that‘s a big deal.  That‘s what‘s going on in America right now.  And that‘s where I think I want to be. 

MATTHEWS:  David, will he come into office and name a couple top Cabinet people from the Republican Party, independent business people, for example, the Defense, to Treasury?  Would he create that image right away of a 65 percent president?  Is that what he would do? 

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  I have no idea. 

MATTHEWS:  Kennedy did that with Doug Dillon and with McNamara.

WILHELM:  I have no idea.  But it wouldn‘t be a bad way to go, in my view...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WILHELM:  ... because, in order to get things done, we have got to have a 65 percent majority.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WILHELM:  We have got to have a 65 percent president.  We have got to have somebody who can work with independents and Republicans of goodwill. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

WILHELM:  That‘s got to happen.  Barack Obama will make that happen. 

That is a fundamental reason why I‘m backing him. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re tapping into what people want, whether he can deliver.  I think a lot of this country, like me, is sick of the 60 percent requirement to get anything done in the U.S. Senate, the failure of anybody in Congress since 1965 to do anything on any issue we care about, whether it‘s Social Security reform or Medicare salvation or it‘s climate change more recently or it‘s energy independence or it‘s balancing the budget.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Any area, this government has failed us again and again and again.  And people are tired of being in this rut.  And they don‘t want to hear that one party is blaming the other for 49 percent or 51 percent of the trouble.  They want one president to get 65 percent or 60 percent of the country behind them and get something done, I think, no matter whether it‘s Hillary or McCain or it‘s Barack, I think. 

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  I think that‘s the point. 

You can have all the issue papers all day long.  I have—I have got my hands on Barack Obama‘s economic agenda.  It‘s 40 pages long.  It‘s 27 pages longer than Senator Clinton‘s. 

But none of it matters.  None of it matters if we can‘t build this new American majority...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

WILHELM:  ... regardless who the candidate is.  My judgment, the candidate in this race that can get that done is Barack Obama. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, whatever side you‘re on, it‘s good to see you in the fight, Mr. Wilhelm, a strong mind and a good heart. 

WILHELM:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next, is Mike Huckabee 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. 

So, well, what else is new out there politically? 

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:  Well, they‘re tough words, and I wouldn‘t have said them, but they certainly sound authentic, don‘t they?

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

I scream, as they say in Vermont, Howard Dean screams, we all scream for ice cream. 

Not only is Obama taking heat for borrowing another‘s politician‘s words these days, but Mike Huckabee is taking 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 ‘70s pop hit without permission.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

Well, Scholz wrote—quote—“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, the name of the band—“stands for.”

Well, yesterday, we brought you the highlights of President Bush‘s big Africa tour.  Well, one thing he won‘t be doing on this trip, taking a safari.  Laura Bush, the first lady, explains the reason to The Washington Post today.  It seems that during 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.  On Wednesday get ready for the 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.  Back in the year 1504 Christopher Columbus used the eclipse to convince island locals that he would steal the Moon if they didn‘t cooperate with him.  Well, the Native Americans in turn gave him food for his crew and he was able to keep on exploring and 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 of the race by now.  Having proven his ability to deliver the conservative vote, he could have stepped aside and patiently waited for John McCain to make him his vice presidential running mate perhaps.  But alas, for John McCain, Huckabee is still in this race even after admitting in Wisconsin that he, quote, “may be killing his own political career.”

What‘s this, human sacrifice on the campaign trail?  Hardly.  Something tells me that he doesn‘t think he‘s killing his political career at all.  One need only look back at Ronald Reagan who campaigned against a sitting Republican president, Gerald Ford, all the way to the convention, did quite well.  Did he tick off some Republicans?  Sure, but four years later, in 1980, Ronald Reagan won the nomination of the Republican Party and the American presidency.  So tonight‘s “Big Number,” 1976, 1976, the year that could very well explain the whole Huckabee number.  That‘s tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next, should Mike Huckabee drop out of the race and let John McCain try to unite the Republican Party?  Pah-tay.  That debate is straight ahead.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Well, with John McCain as the presumptive Republican nominee for 2008, why is Mike Huckabee still in this race?  Is he the remaining social conservative voice that needs to be heard or is just hurting the party by sticking around?  Kevin James is a radio talk show host on KRLA.  And Andy Barnett is a former radio talk host and blogger at the—andybarnett.com—at andybarnett.com. 

Let me hear from both of your thoughts on the subject.  First, Kevin. 

What is he up to?  What is Barack—what is—no, what is.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I forget—I‘ve been talking about the Democrats so long tonight.

KEVIN JAMES, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, KRLA:  I can tell you what Barack Obama is doing.

MATTHEWS:  . I have forgotten.  Mike Huckabee, what is he doing—is he doing something good for the republic and Republican Party? 

JAMES:  Well, I don‘t think he‘s helping the Republican Party at all.  I think he is positioning himself pretty well for 2012.  Look, every time I go on the Internet, Chris, it seems that John McCain is a year older.  Sometimes he is 71, next time I see he is 72, then he is 73, and I don‘t know if John McCain is going to be a one-term president or two-term president. 

But if you just look at the numbers themselves, he‘s 71 or so.  Chances are he may just be a one-term president.  I think Mike Huckabee is aligning himself up for a run in 2012.  And we‘ll be starting that election, what, a year from now.  So Mike Huckabee is doing that.  Plus, you‘ve got to—hats off to Mike Huckabee.  He has—you know, he came out of nowhere essentially in this national—on the national stage. 

He created a national stage for himself and for his message.  But even Mitt Romney is still beating Mike Huckabee by 69 delegates.  It‘s essentially mathematically impossible for Mike Huckabee to get the nomination.  We just heard in the last segment, the Democrats are turning out, record turnout.  The Republican Party needs time to make headway there. 

If there‘s one Achilles heel with that record turnaround with the Democrats, it‘s the fact that there‘s a rift in their party.  We shouldn‘t have the same rift or another rift in the Republican Party. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So you are saying—you say, Kevin.

JAMES:  . when they need to make up the room (ph).

MATTHEWS:  Bottom line is—Kevin, bottom line is, he should stay in or get out? 

JAMES:  Out.  Out.  He‘s done. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go to Andy.

JAMES:  He can still make it to.

MATTHEWS:  Andy Barnett, same question to you.  Is he serving the interests of the republic or the Republican Party, both or neither? 

ANDY BARNETT, ANDYBARNETT.COM:  Well, let me first address Kevin, with all due respect I think he needs to stay in this race and here is why.  Let‘s not talk about Mike Huckabee and his future, let‘s talk about the voters that are rallying around Mike Huckabee.  I mean, some of these races, they are not—they are not slaughters—he‘s not being slaughtered. 

I mean, sure, in New England he‘s being slaughtered maybe, and in some of the northern states.  But you look at the southern states, Huckabee has won many of them.  You look at some of the Midwestern states.  I‘m from Kansas and Missouri, you look at both of those races.  In Kansas, Huckabee slaughtered McCain.  In Missouri it was an incredibly close call.  Up here in Minnesota it was a close call. 

It‘s not like he‘s just being annihilated by McCain.  There are a lot of social conservatives that care about social issues that are really concerned about John McCain.  And they are rallying around Mike Huckabee because he‘s a solid choice when it comes to the issues... 

JAMES:  He‘s being annihilated in the delegate count and they are rallying around Mike Huckabee because Mitt Romney is out, is one reason. 

BARNETT:  They are rallying around Mike Huckabee because he is a solid choice when it comes to the issues of sanctity of life, traditional marriage, First Amendment rights for believers, Christians, and people of faith.  The moral issues that are affecting our country, he is a solid choice. 

Now let‘s face it, you look at John McCain‘s.

JAMES:  But, Andy, that‘s only one leg.  That‘s only one leg, Andy, on your three-pronged stool.  You‘ve got fiscal conservatives that are part of the party, as you write about. 

BARNETT:  Well, fiscal conservatives don‘t like John McCain. 

JAMES:  And you‘ve got the national security conservatives. 

(CROSSTALK)

JAMES:  . of course, they don‘t.  But they are not with Mike Huckabee either with what he has done in his state, with the—being so open borders.  And that goes to national security as well.  So Mike Huckabee, he has got the social conservatives, but he is fooling them on the other points. 

BARNETT:  Well, I have got to be honest with you, Kevin, to a lot of voters out there, these social issues matter a whole lot more than some of these other issues, they just do.  Let‘s face it.  There are a lot of people that are really concerned with 40 million babies that have been murdered since 1973.  And you know what, that is an important issue to them. 

And John McCain is not pro-life.  Let‘s face it.  Everybody says, oh, McCain is pro-life, he votes pro-life.  He‘s for embryonic stem cell research.  He‘s not solid on protecting traditional marriage.  He‘s not solid on the issues that are affecting us as a culture.  And a lot of us believe we‘re in a culture war. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you first, Andy.

JAMES:  But he is going to be the nominee.

MATTHEWS:  .what has been the impact of electing George Bush Sr., George Bush, the current president, Ronald Reagan, two terms, that‘s four terms of pro-life Republican presidents—actually five terms.  What has that accomplished in terms of the pro-life movement? 

BARNETT:  Well, we‘ve gotten justices like Justice Alito and Justice Roberts, who are hopefully—we‘re waiting to still find out, but hopefully they are going to be solid justices.  And we‘ll see what happens.  I mean, that is the main contention with social conservatives.  They are concerned about what kind of judges are going to be appointed to the bench. 

And let‘s face it, McCain making comments like Justice Alito wears his conservatism on his sleeve, and he‘s too conservative.  That bothers a lot of people within the Republican Party, and especially the evangelical voters. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Kevin, about how do you.

JAMES:  Andy, you‘re singing my song. 

MATTHEWS:  How does John McCain unite the party so that you get 50 percent or more and win the election in November?  How does he do that?

BARNETT:  Well, let me.

JAMES:  Well, I will tell you one way.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Kevin first.

JAMES:  One thing he has got to do, Chris—one thing he has got to do, Chris, he really does need to do more than just reach out to the conservatives.  As we‘ve talked about before, he has got to negotiate with the conservative wing of the party.  And that‘s not just the national security conservatives and it‘s not just the—you know, the social conservatives that Andy talks about.  He has got to do things. 

He has got to take affirmative steps.  He is the most important—arguably the most powerful senator in the United States Senate right now.  There are things he can do.  For example, the Secure Fence Act.  He can—we talked about this before.  He can join Duncan Hunter, he can join Mary Fallin in expediting that. 

He can use the power that he has right now to prove that he‘s willing to bring this party together.  But the one thing we‘ve got that we need is time.  With the turnout and the energy that the Democrats have, we‘ve got to play some catch-up.  And we can‘t do it with Huckabee running around, who is a mathematical impossibility, just throwing oil in the ointment. 

BARNETT:  Listen, Huckabee is standing up for those conservative voters—those social conservative voters, who care about these issues, who don‘t want to be left behind.  I think his voice is important.  Yes, it is mathematically impossible.  No, he is not going to get the nomination.  We all know that. 

But his voice is important to the party and keeping that base of the party alive.  I‘m telling you, if social conservatives.

JAMES:  Then they need to focus—they are focusing on the wrong man, Andy.  They need to focus on McCain, not.

(CROSSTALK)    

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Andy, is the price of your support—and cultural conservatives, the price of your support, that John McCain support a life amendment to the Constitution?  Is that the price he has to pay?  Support for a life amendment to amend the Constitution? 

BARNETT:  Well, I know a lot of people who will be very pleased if he did something like that.

MATTHEWS:  No, is that the price you‘re exacting here? 

BARNETT:  What are you trying to say?  I‘m sorry. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you—oh, very simple.  If he doesn‘t support a constitutional amendment to ban abortion you won‘t back him. 

BARNETT:  No, that‘s not necessarily true.  But what he is going to have to do to reach out to the social conservatives in the party is he is going to have to—one way he could do that is he could pick a solid social conservative for a vice president. 

MATTHEWS:  Like who? 

BARNETT:  . and I‘m—somebody like Senator Sam Brownback, Governor Bobby Jindal in Louisiana.  There are a number of choices out there that would, I think, solidify the base and get people behind him. 

MATTHEWS:  So it wouldn‘t be OK to pick a Sanford, an economic conservative, fiscal conservative, that wouldn‘t be good enough? 

BARNETT:  Not for the people I‘m talking to.  And I talk to a lot of the.

JAMES:  What about.

BARNETT:  . evangelical base, the social conservatives. 

JAMES:  . a Mitt Romney?  What about a Mitt Romney? 

BARNETT:  You know, Mitt Romney, I was.

JAMES:  Andy, what about a Mitt Romney?

BARNETT:  Mitt Romney, I think, is—I don‘t know that it‘s going to excite everybody, but I think it would help.  It would certainly help.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Guys, we‘ve learned a lot tonight. 

JAMES:  It certainly would help him on that.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re learning a lot.

(CROSSTALK)

JAMES:  . argument of not understanding the economy. 

MATTHEWS:  I think we‘re learning a lot here tonight.  Kevin James, thank you, Andy Barnett, thank you both, gentlemen. 

JAMES:  Thank you.

BARNETT:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, polls close in Wisconsin in just over an hour from now.  Will Barack Obama win his ninth in a row or can Clinton change the momentum of the race with a win tonight?  By the way, we don‘t know yet.  We‘ll get those results, then we‘ll know.  We‘ll preview the Wisconsin Primary in our “Politics Fix.” We‘ll take a look at what‘s coming, but we don‘t actually know what it is.  We‘ll know when we get the results.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re just over an hour away right now until results from the Wisconsin Primary, we hope.  Will Hillary Clinton keep it close?  Will she win tonight?  What‘s going on?  The Wisconsin Primary edition of the “Politics Fix,” coming up next when HARDBALL returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL on this big election night.  Time now for our “Politics Fix” with Michelle Bernard of the Independent Women‘s Voice; Politico‘s Mike Allen; and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan. 

Michelle, I want you to tell me about the importance of tonight before we say another word. 

MICHELLE BERNARD, INDEPENDENT WOMEN‘S VOICE:  I think it‘s hugely important for two—well, actually, for several reasons.  But number one, for Hillary Clinton, I think that she really needs a demonstrable win in Wisconsin and in Hawaii.  She has got to win very, very big in order to arrest Barack Obama‘s momentum. 

And if she‘s not going to do that, regardless of everything we‘re that hearing from her campaign about the landslide victory she‘s expecting in Ohio and Texas, I just don‘t think it‘s going to happen. 

MATTHEWS:  Mike Allen. 

BERNARD:  And for Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS:  Mike Allen, tonight‘s.

MIKE ALLEN, THE POLITICO:  Well, Chris, what your viewers.

MATTHEWS:  . impact?

ALLEN:  Well, Chris, what viewers need to look for tonight are the voter groups.  If Senator Obama has made inroads into women, if you find him splitting women, if you find splitting people who don‘t have college degrees, if you find him splitting with her people who make under $50,000 a year, these are core constituencies for Senator Clinton. 

If he makes inroads there while losing none of his own, he‘s going to have almost unstoppable momentum.  Senator Clinton is going to need a meteoric type event to change the game going to Texas and Ohio. 

And, Chris, as you know better than I do, there are two debates and debates are perfect for a meteoric game-changing event. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat, let me ask you about tonight right now, what‘s happening here?  Because I wonder whether—it seems to me, it‘s fair to say, although people don‘t like to talk like this, every time you vote in a two-person race for one person, you‘re voting against the other.  And you‘ve got to wonder what‘s driving it.

And if people vote for Hillary, they‘re voting against Barack, if they vote for Barack, they‘re voting against Hillary.  That comes with the deal.  How important is it this time? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think it‘s very important.  I think if Barack wins this by a fairly good margin, it is not only important because of what it does, maintain his momentum, but it is important for what is going to happen in Ohio. 

Wisconsin is tailor-made for Hillary, they are working class, Catholic folks, blue collar.  Sure there‘s liberal community in Madison, African-Americans in Milwaukee.  But if she gets beaten badly here, I think it‘s a portent that she could get beaten—you know, she‘s pretty much tied in Texas. 

Then I think that the people will start leaving the grandstand if she gets beaten fairly well. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this—the TV ad, do we have the TV ad ready—of the Clinton ad yet?  She has an ad here that is addressed very much to the people you‘re talking about.  And if it‘s not working, it‘s not working.  Here it is.

Here is Senator Clinton‘s latest ad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You pour coffee, fix hair, you work the night shift at the 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 has worked the night shift, too. 

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Michelle Bernard, do you find that a tad antiseptic?  It‘s almost like an ad for a hotel or something.  It didn‘t look like gritty people working the night shift.  Gritty people that work the night shift sweat, they work, they look like they work.  They get their clothes dirty.  It‘s late at night and they look late at night.  That ad looked just too clean and, I don‘t know, debonair for what it was portraying.  I just wonder about the quality of the ad. 

BERNARD:  Well, it‘s not only just the quality of the ad, but you know, from my perspective, you saw maybe one or two men in that ad.  She‘s still appealing to women.  She‘s sort of the women‘s candidate and the candidate of children... 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, there‘s nothing wrong with that if you are the women‘s candidate, play it.  Don‘t you just work it? 

BERNARD:  Well, no, but if she wins the Democratic nomination, if she wins the presidency, she‘s going to be the president of the entire nation.  You know, we keep focusing on women, we keep focusing on African-Americans and Latinos, we are finally—now that we‘re looking forward to Ohio and Texas, sort of talking about the white male and who is the white male going to vote for.  And she‘s still ignoring that—that demographic. 

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of the forgotten white guy, here we have Pat Buchanan.  I mean, this is an amazing conversation. 

BUCHANAN:  I‘m the white male.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Here we have American politics where the white males have dominated since 1788 and we‘re talking about the forgotten white guy. 

BUCHANAN:  You saw Barack Obama in Cleveland today.  He got up there, sending your jobs abroad, NAFTA did this.

MATTHEWS:  That is Pat Buchanan talk. 

BUCHANAN:  That is Cleveland talk, it is Youngstown talk. 

MATTHEWS:  It is pitchfork (ph).

BUCHANAN:  It is Milwaukee.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Look, 70 percent in Ohio, there is 90 percent think the economy is bad, 70 percent think trade deals send jobs abroad.  The white working class is worried about economic insecurity, is my job going abroad and the guys who have lost their jobs? 

And you have got—I agree with you, Chris.  It has got to be a tougher, more masculine-oriented message. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, look, OK, I don‘t know what it is, but it seems to me

let me ask you about this, Mike Allen.  It used to be when Pat and I were growing up, a high school graduate who did well and wanted to work hard for his family could go get a job at a plant.  He could work at a plant and make enough money to provide for a family, get the kids through school, work 40, 50 hours a week with overtime, provide—you know, go bowling, go play golf on weekends, play cards with his buddies at the Knights of Columbus.  He could have a good life. 

Today that‘s impossible.  A lot of people want that world back.  Can they get it back?  Is that a political opportunity for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? 

ALLEN:  Well, Chris, you‘re exactly right about this.  And this is why Senator Obama may have hit the jackpot as far as his message and his persona and where the country is, the economic conditions you talk about and people‘s realization of what those conditions are. 

Now, Chris, I have to say, if you‘re in Wisconsin, please TiVo us, you have an hour and 15 minutes to vote.  You should do that instead of listening to us.  But I will say that as people—those conditions you talk about dawn on people, they have a lot of concerns. 

Now I have a buddy who this weekend proposed by hiding the ring inside an iPod.  You look inside that ad that you just showed, that antiseptic ad, and I agree with the way that you and Michelle described it, and what you see is what the Clinton campaign is really doing.

What they are really doing is going to spend two weeks trying to raise doubts about Senator Obama.  They are going to say, Democrats, if you‘re going to have buyers remorse about Barack Obama, have it now, not when he‘s the general election nominee. 

And that‘s why what the campaign‘s real message is, is talking about him being liberal, raising questions about his finances, trying to say that he‘s style over substance, the empty rhetoric.  That‘s what the campaign is really going to be doing in these two weeks, that‘s what those debates are going to be for.  And that‘s what the campaign is doing all day long on the phone with reporters.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look—and I want you to take a look at something that‘s gritty here, and it might be controversial.  Let‘s take a look at Michelle Obama talking about what this election means to her right now. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

M. OBAMA:  And let me tell you something, for the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan, too militant, too tough? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, listen, for the first time in my life—my adult life, I‘m proud of my country?  Cindy McCain has already hit him on it. 

Republicans will hit this every single day because it goes to the question

it puts Barack Obama and her out there on the McGovern left, you know, we will crawl on our knees to Hanoi and all of that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, wait a minute, she didn‘t say that. 

BUCHANAN:  She didn‘t say that.  She said the first time in her life she is proud of her country.  People wired like me, Chris, that goes right to the gut.  And it may not go to the gut of some people, but... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s try the other people.  Michelle, does it go to your gut if she‘s that tough?  I mean, it sounded to me like Hillary Clinton used to say things like, I pledge allegiance to the America that can be.  Now that bothered me a little bit.  But the fact is, that a lot of people out there are aspirational, not just about their own lives, but their country. 

They don‘t feel that we‘re measuring up in terms of opportunity and of fairness in this country.  So they really do want the country to be better.  What‘s wrong with that? 

BERNARD:  Well, I mean, I‘ve got to tell you, I hear what Pat is saying, but I really disagree on this point.  You really have to look at Michelle Obama as the person that she is. 

And I‘m sure that there are other times in her adult life when she has been very proud of her country, but as a black woman and as the spouse of a candidate who may be the first African-American Democratic nominee, she is talking to a population that is going to see in their lifetime Jim Crow and the possibility of a first African-American president.  And I think that‘s the heart of what she was speaking to. 

ALLEN:  Yes.  Good for you, Michelle.  I agree completely.  I think this is a completely bogus attack.  But that does not mean it‘s not damaging.  And, Chris, you‘re right, that it is going to be used a lot.  I mean.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We got to run.  Michelle, Mike, thank you very much.  Pat, thank you.  Join us again in one hour from now for live coverage of the Wisconsin Primary results.  Right now it‘s time for “COUNTDOWN.” 

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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