updated 2/21/2008 11:29:13 AM ET 2008-02-21T16:29:13

Guests: Sen. Claire McCaskill, LaToya Foster, Heidi Harris, Jim Moore, Joan Walsh, Jill Zuckman

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  A baseball game goes nine innings, football and basketball 60 minutes.  Does the presidential campaign only end when one side says uncle?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Ten in a row for Barack Obama since Super Tuesday.  With Obama‘s wins yesterday in Wisconsin and Hawaii, the odds are steeper and steeper for Senator Clinton.  How does she get the momentum back?  Can she get it back?  We‘ll break things down with NBC‘s Chuck Todd, Norah O‘Donnell and David Gregory just ahead.

Plus, whatever happened to Hillary Clinton‘s base?  Yesterday, Barack Obama chipped away even further at her base, her core constituencies, if you will.  So who‘s abandoning Senator Clinton and why?  And will this eventually cost her the crucial contests in Texas and Ohio?

Also ahead: During last night‘s election coverage, I asked an Obama surrogate about the candidate‘s Senate record.  He didn‘t have much to say.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re on national television.

KIRK WATSON (D), TEXAS STATE SENATOR, OBAMA SUPPORTER:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Name his legislative accomplishments, Barack Obama, sir.

WATSON:  Well, I‘m not going to be able to name you specific...

MATTHEWS:  Can you name any?

WATSON:  ... items of legislative accomplishment...

MATTHEWS:  Can you name anything that he‘s accomplished as a congressman?

WATSON:  No.  I‘m not going to be able to do it tonight.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll see if Obama supporter Claire McCaskill, the senator from Missouri, has a stronger answer.  I‘m sure she will.

And when Michelle Obama said she‘s really proud of her country for the first time in her adult lifetime, she upset a lot of people.  What did she mean?  And was she wrong for saying it?  And is that the kind of thing that a potential first lady should be saying?

But first, how does Clinton get back on track?  David Gregory‘s NBC‘s chief White House correspondent, of course, and Norah O‘Donnell is MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent, and Chuck Todd is NBC‘s political director.

We have to go to the numbers man first, Chuck.  We got to go to you.  Let me run through this.  Since February 5, Senator Obama has won more than a million more votes than Senator Clinton.  He‘s also won 291 delegates in those 10 states, compared to Senator Clinton‘s 155.  So what does that do?  Does this thing move towards a conclusion, or does the conclusion only come when one of the sides say, Uncle, we lost?

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, what it—as far as Hillary Clinton is concerned, it‘s no longer a numbers game because if it is a numbers game, she‘s lost it.  She can‘t win this on the numbers and mathematically.  She has to win it thematically, in some sort of perception where, suddenly, the superdelegates decide, oh, they have to step in and change the course of the party.

So it is starts with simply starting to win, and then more importantly, she has to figure out how to make him unelectable, make him that if they nominate him, it‘s a sure loser, turn him into George McGovern, whatever it takes.  That‘s what she‘s got to do because as far as the numbers are concerned—and sitting here, no matter how you play it, even if you want to throw in Florida and Michigan, for her to figure out how to get the delegates she needs without doing it behind the scenes, tearing the party apart, whatever, it‘s just mathematically starting to become impossible.

MATTHEWS:  Well, those are such...

TODD:  Improbable, not impossible.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a strong assessment, Norah and David, that the numbers are not going to work for her, for Senator Clinton, therefore she will have to hope that something breaks in her favor, as Tim Russert said last night, some new event, some new change in the story, and that that encourages the superdelegates, the automatic delegates—we used to call them the men in the cigar-filled rooms—to just say, Well, we‘re going to overrule the voters.

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  They need a game changer.  I mean, if you look inside the exit polls, it shows she‘s losing her base of support.  I mean, last night in Wisconsin, it was very close among women in general, even though she won white women just by a small margin.  Both working class voters who make under $50,000 a year—he is cutting into the base there.  Even on the question of electability, who would be the best to beat the Republican in November, he beat her on that.  He beat her on who‘s going to be the best commander-in-chief.  I mean, he‘s starting to win on things that were her strengths in the past.  That‘s a real problem for her.

MATTHEWS:  In a qualitative way, he won on the question—people—who best—who most cares about people like you?  It‘s one of my favorite questions in politics.  Does this candidate or this political leader care about people like you?  And that‘s the way people vote oftentimes.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Right.  He wins that and he wins on all these other metrics of enthusiasm and competence and competence on questions like being commander-in-chief.  All those matter very much.  And I think what Chuck is pointing to is an important assessment because there has been this storyline that somehow, the superdelegates are the deciders here because you have a deadlocked party and a deadlocked race.  But if you look at the numbers, it doesn‘t point to that conclusion at all.  It points to a conclusion where the superdelegates simply are in a role of reflecting the will of the Democrats who voted in these contests so far.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at Senator Obama in Dallas, and then we‘re going to see what Senator Clinton had to say today in New York.  She was up in New York for a fund-raiser.  Let‘s look at the candidates today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This was an unwise war.  I opposed it in 2002, and I will bring it to an end in 2009!  I will bring our troops home!

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

OBAMA:  But I don‘t want to just end the war, I want to end the mindset that got us into war!  I‘m tired of a politics of fear that uses 9/11 as a way to scare up votes instead of a way to bring the country together to confront a common enemy!

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  President Bush and the Republicans have undermined the greatness of America, have disregarded our values, put our Constitution in cold storage, come back and ruled with fear and fatalism.  That is not America at our best, and we‘re going to once again demonstrate who we are, what we stand for, and take back our future!

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, both candidates look a bit tired there today.  But let‘s take a look at the exit polls last night and analyze what we learned last night.  In Wisconsin, Senator Obama beat Senator Clinton by nearly 30 points -- 30 points! -- among white men.  Among white women, Senator Clinton beat Senator Obama by just 5 points, a much narrower margin there.

Chuck, let‘s go through that.  What is all that—and let‘s take a look at some more of this before we bring you in.  Obama beat Clinton by 23 points among people younger than 65.  In other words, only the category older than 65 went with Senator Clinton last night in Wisconsin.  Senator Obama beat Senator Clinton by 10 points among those making less than $50,000 a year.  That‘s for a family income.  He beat her by 21 points among those making more than $50,000 a year.  Senator Obama beat Senator Clinton among people who‘ve finished college—that‘s four years of college—and people who did not. So he basically ran the board on her yesterday.

What do you make of this assessment as we go into, in two weeks from yesterday, Ohio and Texas?

TODD:  Well, first of all, you look at the snapshot of Wisconsin, and you sit there and you‘re, like, Boy, there‘s a lot of Wisconsin that you can find in Ohio.  And then all of a sudden, oh, by the way, there‘s a lot more of what Obama usually does well with, which is African-Americans and affluent voters in the Democratic primary.  Also in Ohio, more of those folks, frankly, than there were in Wisconsin.

So you can suddenly see how, demographically, he‘s putting together—she‘s going to not have a coalition that can get her 50 percent anymore.  And he‘s suddenly got a pool of voters that he‘s working with that‘s unbelievable.

You know, Chris, the last 10 contests—this is just stunning.  Last night was his most narrow victory at 17 points.  The other nine contests he won by more than that.  It is—these are blowouts that he‘s won in these last 10 contests...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  ... not just—they‘re not narrow, and it‘s allowed him...

MATTHEWS:  But suppose, David...

TODD:  ... to win by almost 200,000 votes...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... next week or two weeks from now is like the Patriots losing to the Giants.  I mean, isn‘t it like, as long as Hillary Clinton wins one or two big ones, is she still in the race?  In other words, does the PR work that way?

GREGORY:  Yes, it may work that way, but it‘s getting further and further away from working that way, the more time there is between these contests, the more he eats into her base.  I mean, Hillary Clinton‘s campaign is bleeding everywhere, an.  One of the aspects, I think, in terms of how they tend to react is—it seems to me she needs to stop being so put off by his success and describing him as sort of, in a way, like it‘s a joke.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

GREGORY:  You know, saying that his campaign is only about—it‘s a campaign about a campaign.  You know, Bill Clinton says the fairy tale...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... see the crowd react to those words, you‘re really making fun of the crowd.  You‘re saying they‘re being taken in.

GREGORY:  You‘re not taking any of it seriously.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

GREGORY:  OK, it is serious.  It‘s an existential threat to her campaign.  And now we‘re going to start to judge this campaign on how it conducts itself when it‘s in crisis mode, and that‘s where it is.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  I mean, one of the challenges they have going forward is whether to go negative and whether to continue to draw contrasts.  They have tried to do it on experience.  They‘ve tried to do it on health care and other issues.  Barack Obama won on every single issue last night.  The problem with going negative is that in a traditional campaign, you know, they usually do that in order to drive up the opponent‘s negative and to tamper down the undecideds who may vote for them.  We‘ve been—I‘ve been talking to our election desk about this.  The problem with that analysis is that he‘s bringing so many new voters to the process, people who‘ve never voted before, independents, that that strategy‘s not working for them.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  So what does she do?  I mean, it is truly a unique campaign in so many ways, and the strategy going forward for her is very difficult.  We also saw again last nigh in the exit polls—they think her attacks are unfair on Barack Obama.

MATTHEWS:  You reported that last night.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, by more than 20 points, they thought that she was unfair.  So what does she do in these upcoming debates also here on MSNBC?  How does she draw those contrasts?  How do they play that war in order to get back her base?

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go—give you some more information here.  According to NBC‘s hard count of pledged delegates—those are elected delegates—Senator Obama has 1,168 to Senator Clinton‘s 1,018.  When you factor in delegates yet to allocated and superdelegates, our estimated grand total right now is 1,384 for Obama, an even 1,300 for Senator Clinton.

It doesn‘t seem like a big edge, but what do you think, David, 84 points, 84 delegates.

GREGORY:  Right.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  Is that decisive?

GREGORY:  Is it decisive ultimately, if that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  If that‘s how it ends up, like, an 84-vote difference after another month or so.

GREGORY:  I do think you could see the Clinton campaign making an argument, but as Chuck pointed out, there would have to be blowouts in Ohio and Texas for it to mean something mathematically worthwhile.  That‘s something that the Obama campaign has been arguing.

MATTHEWS:  Your last thought, Chuck, on that, on the numbers?

TODD:  Well, right.  I mean, no, I mean, she‘s not going to win with 65, 70 percent of the vote anywhere.  She‘s only done it a couple of times.  You know, if anybody has a shot at winning in blowouts, apparently, it‘s Obama.  So—and then you throw in the fact that Texas, he‘s already created this delegate cushion that he‘s got because of the crazy way...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  ... that they‘re allocating delegates in Texas.  So literally, the rules—the problem Hillary Clinton has, Chris, is that Pennsylvania doesn‘t come soon enough.  Pennsylvania—closed to independents.  It would only be Democrats.  It would be a lot of blue-collar folks.  This would be a great state for her, it just doesn‘t come soon enough.

GREGORY:  But can I just say, it comes to these one-on-one debates, she is not going to win the charm game with him.  She‘s not going to win it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ll see tomorrow night.

GREGORY:  She—well...

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll see next week.

GREGORY:  But—but that‘s not her strength.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

GREGORY:  Her strength is that she wins on points.  She‘s going to have to win on issues.

MATTHEWS:  Her problem, also, I think we all agree, she has to go on the attack tomorrow night, and all Barack has to do is plan for that and have a setpiece response—There you go again.

GREGORY:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Or, I knew you‘d do something like that, you know, Hillary, I thought you were better than that.  I can hear the response right now.  Anyway, thank you, Norah O‘Donnell.  Thank you, David Gregory.  Thank you, Chuck Todd.

Barack Obama‘s selling point may be about the future, but what about his track record?  What have been his actual accomplishments as a U.S.  senator?  We‘ll try to get some answers from one of his top supporters, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Well, during our coverage last night, Texas senator Kirk Watson was invited to talk about his support of Barack Obama.  Here‘s some of that interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re a big Barack supporter, right, Senator?

WATSON:  I am.  Yes, I am.

MATTHEWS:  Well, name some of his legislative accomplishments.

WATSON:  We...

MATTHEWS:  No, Senator, I want you to name some of Barack Obama‘s legislative accomplishments tonight, if you can.

WATSON:  Well, I—you know, what I will talk about is more about what he‘s offering...

MATTHEWS:  No, no.  What has...

WATSON:  ... the American people right now.

MATTHEWS:  ... he accomplished, sir?  You said you support him.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Sir, you have to give me his accomplishments.  You‘ve supported him for president.  You‘re on national television.

WATSON:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Name his legislative accomplishments, Barack Obama, sir.

WATSON:  Well, I‘m not going to be able to name you specific...

MATTHEWS:  Can you name any?

WATSON:  ... items of legislative accomplishment...

MATTHEWS:  Can you name anything he‘s accomplished as a congressman?

WATSON:  No, I‘m not going to be able to do that tonight.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was Texas senator Kirk Watson who couldn‘t answer my questions last night.  And by the way, I continued to ask him, as everybody who watched knows, he still couldn‘t come up with the answer.

He wrote something rather delightful today.  He wrote this on his Web site, Senator Watson did.  “So that really happened.”  That‘s what he wrong, “So that really happened.  On Tuesday night after an important and historic victory in the Wisconsin presidential primary by Senator Barack Obama, I appeared on the MSNBC post-election program.  HARDBALL with Chris Matthews, who is, it turns out, as ferocious as they say, began grilling me on Senator Obama‘s legislative record.  And my mind went blank.  I expected to be asked about the primary that night or the big one coming up in Texas on March 4, or just about anything else in the news.  When the subject changed so emphatically, I reached for information that millions of my fellow Obama supporters could recite by heart, and I couldn‘t summon it.”

State Senator Kirk Watson, by the way, was invited to be on HARDBALL this evening for a second chance, but he declined.  He‘ll be on sooner or later.  We like this guy.

And with us now is Senator Claire McCaskill, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, who has endorsed Barack Obama for president.  Senator McCaskill, I have to tell you, maybe I thought he had the look of a guy like myself, who isn‘t much of a detail sort of person.  I thought, This is the perfect guy to ask these kind of questions to.  But it does stun me that someone would come on national television and say, I‘m here as a surrogate, and all I asked him was a wide-open question, What has this fellow done as a U.S. senator?

And so now the same question to one of Senator Barack Obama‘s colleagues, you.  Senator McCaskill, what has Senator Obama accomplished as a colleague of yours in the U.S. Senate?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI, OBAMA SUPPORTER:  Well, he‘s accomplished a great deal in a very short period of time, whether it was working with Senator Lugar in terms of securing loose nukes, loose nuclear weapons, around the world, whether it was his efforts with Senator Coburn to open up the records of spending of government to the people on the Internet.

Obviously, one that I cared very much about, he was the first senator to effectively go after the wounded warriors disgrace at the Walter Reed Hospital and got a great deal of his initial legislation, the first senator to file that legislation, got most of that passed into law within a matter of months.  And then obviously, the one that‘s right in Senator McCain‘s back yard, earmark reform.

I think that if we‘re going to talk about who is capable of bringing people together—even though Senator McCain has a good record in terms of looking down his nose at earmarks, he was not able to accomplish the kind of reform on transparency that Senator Obama was able to accomplish in a very short period of time after he arrived in the Senate.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That‘s over with.  Let‘s talk politics, Senator.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You support Senator...

MCCASKILL:  By the way, that poor guy—that poor guy last night, I mean, it was a little intimidating.  And you know, I thought we were going to have another crying moment, except it was going to be this poor state senator from Texas.  I felt terribly for him!

MATTHEWS:  Well, he can join the Zell Miller lonely hearts club then, maybe.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know if we want to be too tough about this.  You know what it is?  This isn‘t “Success” magazine here, Senator.  You know, the idea is to come on here and ask tough questions...

MCCASKILL:  I understand.

MATTHEWS:  ... and see if people know what they‘re talking about. 

That‘s sort of what I do.

MCCASKILL:  I understand.

MATTHEWS:  In real life—you know, in a real life—as a real life person, I‘m sort of a nice guy, but on this show, I play HARDBALL.  Let me ask you about this question...

MCCASKILL:  I get it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know that.  Let me ask you this question about Senator Obama and women.  There is such a gender point, it seems, in these post-election analysis we look at.  Last night, men—women, rather, were about split.  Men were overwhelmingly 2 to 1 for Senator Obama.  Give me—

I know it‘s a sensitive point in American life, but we should talk about it, gender.  How does it relate to this election?

MCCASKILL:  Well, I think it‘s hard for women.  We all care very much about gender equality, and so it‘s easy to kind of gravitate over to gender preference.  Obviously, what‘s important is for everyone, regardless of whether they‘re a woman or a man, to decide who‘s going to set the right tone in this country right now?  Who is going to be able to work across the parties and find some common ground?

And, you know, divisiveness has been an issue.  It‘s been an issue in Washington.  Ideological splits have not produced good results for the American people.  And, so, I think that a lot of women are looking at this election.  And even though there is a significant guilt—I have significant guilt.  Hillary Clinton is a strong, smart woman.  She is—she is—she would be a terrific president.

But I feel very strongly that it is important that we focus on who is the best leader for our country right now.  And that is why I am enthusiastically trying to help Barack Obama. 

MATTHEWS:  Guilt for voting for the male, as opposed to the female; is that what you mean? 

MCCASKILL:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  That kind of guilt?

MCCASKILL:  Sure. 

I mean, I have got—I have got a lot of my supporters and friends that are disappointed in me, that feel like that I owe a—almost a blind loyalty to Senator Clinton, because she is capable and strong and would be a good president.

But—and I think that is why it is—it‘s—this is—gender is such a point in this election.  And, frankly, I feel for a lot of my African-American friends who have endorsed Hillary Clinton, because I think they are—they‘re getting some of the same guilt.  And—and it is not fair on either side. 

MATTHEWS:  We looked at the NBC numbers last night.  And I know you get access to them as well.

Where gender was important to a voter, where a voter said, this is important to me, the gender of the candidates, they tended to vote for Hillary, in other words, self-identified gender voters.

MCCASKILL:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that? 

MCCASKILL:  Well, I—that doesn‘t surprise me. 

But what is really neat about this election, and which is so exciting

and I don‘t think there is anything that John McCain can do or, frankly, Senator Clinton can do, to stop it—and that is, there is a groundswell of new enthusiasm from people who have never participated, certainly not to this extent, before.

And it is those people that are carrying the day.  And I think that any attempt to characterize Barack Obama as an empty suit or as simply rhetoric is missing entirely the point of what is going on in our country this year. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it is time for you to organize some tutorials, Senator, for people who are going to be on this program...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... representing Senator—Senator Obama, obviously. 

Thank you.  It‘s great having you, Senator Claire McCaskill, of Missouri. 

MCCASKILL:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next: 10 in a row for Obama.  And it is not only the  quantity of the victories, but the quality.  We have got a “Big Number” that is very big for Barack.  Wait until you catch our “Big Number” tonight.  It is a little daunting. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Houston, I think we have achieved liftoff here. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is happening in politics?  Well, “Saturday Night Live” comes back this weekend.  So, who is going to play Barack Obama?  So far, Barack Obama has played Barack Obama. 

Check this out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)   

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Hey, great Obama mask. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  Yes.  Well, who is that under there? 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

B. OBAMA:  Hello, Hillary.

Hello, Bill. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Nice to see you.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  Yes, nice to see you, Barack.  So, you dressed as yourself. 

B. OBAMA:  Well, you know, Hillary, I have nothing to hide.  I enjoy being myself. 

(LAUGHTER)

B. OBAMA:  I‘m not going to change who I am just because it is Halloween. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  Well, that is...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  That‘s great.  

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  But “Saturday Night Live”‘s boss, Lorne Michaels, told “The New York Post” today that he has been holding auditions to find the perfect Barack.  All I can say is that Darrell Hammond can play Dick Cheney, so maybe he can play his cousin. 

Anyway, speaking of Barack Obama, it turns out that Portugal‘s prime minister, Jose Socrates, is a big fan of Barack‘s.  In a speech today, he quoted Obama telling a crowd, “Yes, we can.”  Socrates said he has been inspired by Obama‘s phrase and wanted to use it in his country, which has been suffering from low economic growth.  (SPEAKING SPANISH) senior Obama.

Anyway, poor Rudy Giuliani.  The guy just can‘t seem to catch a break.  It turns out that 290,000 paper ballots in Franklin County, Ohio, misspelled his name, Giuliani with a G-U-I, instead of the correct G-I-U spelling.  Fixing the mistake would cost $81,000, so they‘re going to leave it alone.

Just remember, U before I, except after G, at least in this case here. 

And what else is new?  We have been giving you the highlights of Bush‘s whirlwind African tour this week, from Bush clothing to the avoidance of smitten pachyderms. 

In our latest installment, there is this: a photo capturing President Bush doing a little shoulder shimmying at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new U.S. Embassy in Rwanda.

In truth, I‘m very proud that our president has been so committed—seriously—to fighting AIDS and malaria in a continent where I lived for a couple years and worked over there in the Peace Corps and still care a lot about.

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

As you know, Barack Obama is a 10-contest winning streak right now.  Ten in a row spells momentum.  And, at this stage in the fight, momentum may mean more momentum.  But it is not just the number of states that Obama is winning.  It‘s the margin by which he is winning them.

You won‘t believe this.  Among the 10 victories he‘s had in a row right now, how badly has he beaten Senator Clinton?  By an average of 33 points.  That is his average point spread over Senator Clinton, who was once way out there as the front-runner -- 33-percentage-points victory on average in the last 10 states, that is tonight‘s very Big Number.” 

Coming up:  Michelle Obama says she is proud of this country for the first time in her adult life.  Was she right to say it, or is she giving fodder to her husband‘s rivals? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks rallied on expectations that the Federal Reserve will continue to cut interest rates.  The Dow Jones industrial average gained 90 points.  The S&P 500 saw a gain of about 11.  And the Nasdaq gained almost 21 points. 

That news about potential interest rate cuts came out of speculation based on the minutes from the last Federal Reserve meeting that shows most policy-makers agree—quote—“Substantial additional policy easing in the near term might well be necessary.”  That, translated, means potential interest rate cuts.  The Fed also revised its economic forecast downward to predict slower growth, higher unemployment, and higher inflation for the rest of the year. 

Meantime, consumer prices took another big jump last month, rising a larger-than-expected four-tenths-of-a-percent.  That matches December‘s increase. 

And oil closed at another record high, over $100 a barrel.  Crude oil rose 73 cents in New York‘s trading session, finishing the day at $100.74 a barrel. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF SENATOR BARACK OBAMA:  What has been going on this year is something that we felt on the ground ever since the day Barack announced.  And that is people in this country are ready for change and hungry for a different kind of politics. 

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:  Well, that was Michelle Obama in Wisconsin on Monday.  Her words got a lot of people talking, including Cindy McCain, who is the wife, of course, of John McCain.

Cindy McCain reacted the following day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CINDY MCCAIN, WIFE OF SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:  I am proud of my country.  I don‘t know about you, if you heard those words earlier.  I am very proud of my country. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, today, Michelle Obama clarified her initial remarks. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

M. OBAMA:  You know, I think it is—you know, the clarification has been made. 

What I was clearly talking about was that I am proud in how Americans are engaging in the political process.  I mean, everybody had said what I said, which is, we haven‘t seen these record numbers of turnouts, people who are paying attention, going to rallies, watching the debates.

I mean, for the first time in my lifetime, I am seeing people rolling up their sleeves in a way that I haven‘t seen, and really trying to figure this out.  And that is the source of pride that I was talking about. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, LaToya Foster is host of the political affairs television program “In the Know.”  And Heidi Harris is a radio talk show host on KDWN.

Thank you both for joining us.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, the first question I have to put to you, LaToya, is, was Michelle Obama saying what she meant to say?  Did it come out the wrong way?  How would you describe her intent and whether you support it or not?  Do you support her intent of what she said or not? 

LATOYA FOSTER, HOST, “IN THE KNOW”:  I do.

I think that her words were overly scrutinized and taken out of context.  I think that people really knew what she meant, that—you know, that she is proud of how this country has progressed, the way this country is embracing change.  I don‘t think that she meant to say that for the first time in my lifetime.  Maybe this is the time I have been most proud of my country, but not for the first time in my lifetime. 

And she clarified that.

MATTHEWS:  So, she said it wrong?

FOSTER:  She said it wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.     

FOSTER:  Bad choice of words.

MATTHEWS:  Heidi, your thoughts on this subject? 

HEIDI HARRIS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  You know what I think?  I think it really tells you what she really believes. 

I don‘t think that Michelle Obama is embarrassed to be an American, but I think that a lot of liberal people act as if they are not really proud to be Americans, because we are not entirely perfect and we don‘t do everything right.

Well, I don‘t think we do either, as a conservative, and I am proud to be American every single day.  I would like to see things change.  We all would.  But you still have to be proud to be an American.  That is where I think she screwed up. 

FOSTER:  But she never said that she was not proud to be an American. 

She said, for the first time in my lifetime, I am so proud. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No.  Let me tell you, let‘s go back.

HARRIS:  No, no, no, no, no.

MATTHEWS:  Not that we‘re biblical here.

“For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country.”

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: “Proud of my country.”

HARRIS:  That is correct.  Right.  So, that is what I am talking about. 

There are a lot of liberals who think, well, I don‘t want to be proud of my country because I‘m ashamed.

FOSTER:  Totally taken out of context.  Totally taken out of context. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the context?

FOSTER:  What—again, what she meant to say—and, of course, I‘m not her.  I was not in her mind.  I can‘t speak for her.

But I do believe that what she meant to say was that, at this point in time, I am so proud of this country and how far we have come, that we are embracing change, that an African-American or a woman could possibly be sent to the highest office in the land, that they both have—have endured their share of inequality.  This is a beautiful time in this country.  People who have never been engaged want to be engaged this time.  People who have never voted before...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FOSTER:  ... are anxious about getting to the polls. 

That is what she is talking about, the way that people are embracing change in this presidential election. 

MATTHEWS:  What would you think, Heidi, if you were part of an ethnic group that rarely, if ever, won statewide office, that had only been, in the whole history of our country, two or three times—and they were very recently—that somebody from your ethnic group had won a U.S. Senate seat, that hardly—only one or two governors in the whole history of the country in your ethnic group, that no one had ever really gotten a really good chance to be president in your ethnic group, and, finally, someone in your ethnic group, African-American, gets a real shot at the presidency?

Wouldn‘t you say something like this, if you had always been disenfranchised until now? 

HARRIS:  You know what is so interesting?  First of all, Barack Obama...

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m just asking you a question.

HARRIS:  Right.  But here is the thing.  Barack Obama...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Would you answer that question?

HARRIS:  Barack could vote before I could.  Who was more disenfranchised, first of all?

MATTHEWS:  No, what would you—well, try answering my question, if you can, please.

HARRIS:  OK.  OK.

But I don‘t under—see, here is the thing.  Barack has never focused his campaign on his race, which I think has been great.  So, I was surprised that Michelle—and I—and I don‘t think she went racial.  I don‘t look at it at all as saying she wasn‘t proud of her country because of race.  I didn‘t read it that way at all. 

Like I said, I think...

MATTHEWS:  What do you think she meant? 

HARRIS:  I think that she meant, like a lot of liberals do, that she is not entirely proud of the country because we are not perfect. 

I agree that we are not perfect, but I am still proud of the country. 

MATTHEWS:  What would be her complaint against America?  What do you think her complaint against America was, as you speculate? 

HARRIS:  Well, I think she thinks it‘s not liberal enough.  We don‘t have free—free medical care for everybody and some of the things that she and her husband would like to see.

So, because of that, she is not truly proud of the country.  Meanwhile, we have got President Bush down in Africa, like Santa Claus, giving out money left and right.  That is not something to be proud of?  She should be thrilled about that. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me—let me try this—thanks, Heidi.

Let me try this by Michelle.  What do you think Michelle really meant, not the politically correct version that she has to put out after this rigmarole, but, initially, if nobody had said anything about what she said?  “For the first time in my adult life, lifetime, my adult lifetime, I am proud of my country.”

What do you think she meant? 

FOSTER:  Going back to what you had just asked about the inequalities and the disenfranchisement of African-Americans, I think that—well, let me tell you what African-Americans are sitting around in their living rooms right now are saying.

Wow, Barack Obama, an African-American, has won 10 in a row.  That is huge.  It is almost amazing and it‘s almost shocking, because of the inequalities that African-Americans have received and disenfranchisement, and women as well.  Both have had their share of struggles. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think we‘re into a very a tender area here, both you ladies.

FOSTER:  Absolutely.  It‘s a sensitive area.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Heidi, for joining us.

HARRIS:  Thank you. 

FOSTER:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, LaToya.  I know you have to go.

FOSTER:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, LaToya, very much for coming here. 

Up next: on to Texas and Ohio.  Let‘s talk politics, what last night‘s results in Wisconsin say right now about the next round of battles between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  The politics fix is next. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If she wins in Texas and Ohio, I think she will be the nominee.  If you don‘t deliver for her, I don‘t think she can be.  It is all on you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that is Bill Clinton for vice president, according to that sign.  Welcome to HARDBALL and the politics.  Our round table tonight, Jill Zuckman of the “Chicago Tribune,” Joan Walsh of Salon, and Texas political reporter Jim Moore.  We have to go to the scene of the action down there.  Jim Moore, how close is it in Texas after last night‘s blowout for Barack up in Wisconsin and Hawaii? 

JIM MOORE, TEXAS POLITICAL REPORTER:  Well, everything is closing now, Chris.  But I don‘t think that the essential dynamics of the electorate down here have changed a great deal.  He is still having trouble with the Latino, Hispanic vote down on the border and the big population in Houston.  White males are breaking for Obama, as well as he is going to have the big African-American turnout.  Hillary is still going to carry the women, and she is still going to carry the Hispanic vote.

Now, whether it is enough to offset what will happen with him with African-Americans and with white males is what we don‘t know, but the polls are getting closer and I really think this election for Obama down here in Texas is going to hinge on the white male vote. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, we were getting some reports, Jill, about not just the gender somewhat of a solidarity that seems to be breaking against here among women.  We just talked about it.  But men, it seems like those white men, to get very surgical about it, who were with John Edwards, have moved over to Barack. 

JILL ZUCKMAN, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Yes, she has had a hard time with white men and they are totally going for Obama.  He has traditionally had a hard time with white women.  That is her strength.  But the more he wins, the better he does in areas where she should be doing well.  He‘s taking away from her base and just seems to keeps growing and growing. 

MATTHEWS:  Now, this is really tricky business for anyone.  Joan, what do you think about the fact that every time Hillary—it is almost like a Catch 22, to hold on to her base, she has to do a lot of women‘s groups.  You see a lot on TV, just watching these reaction shots from behind her, just the crowds around.  She has to do women‘s groups just to build your base. In politics, you go where your strength is.  As Willie Sutton says, you go to the banks, because that is where the money is.  Every time she does this, does this drive men away?  What do you think?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:  Can I turn it around for a second and be provocative with you, Chris? 

MATTHEWS:  Any way you want.  I am being provocative as it is.  Go ahead. 

WALSH:  That is why we are here.  It is HARDBALL.  Are we ever going to ask what is going on with those white men?  Are we always going to blame her.  If two-thirds of the white population wouldn‘t vote for Obama, we would be sitting here saying, isn‘t that a shame that whites are racist and they won‘t support Obama.  It is assumed that it‘s fine for white men to not to support Hillary Clinton.  It is just fine.  It‘s her problem.  It is her fault.  I would like to examine that personally. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it is a negative vote when they vote for Obama against Hillary?  I believe in every one of these cases, there is a for and against factor going in every one of these.  You vote for Barack, you are against Hillary.  If you vote for Hillary, you may be voting against Barack. 

WALSH:  Sure, there is a potential for it.  And look, I don‘t say that to diminish him.  He is an exciting.  He is a wonderful candidate.  And I have many white male friends who love him for who he is and are not sexist.  But I think there is an element of sexism here and the only way we ever talk about it is Hillary doing too much for the women, as though it is the women who are causing the men to react that way and I think that is unfair. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think about that?  Let me go down to Texas with that question, because someone was on this program a couple of days ago saying that Hillary faced a white male challenge down there in Texas.  Jim Moore? 

MOORE:  Well, it is me. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, now I know where it came from. 

MOORE:  There is just no denying it.  I mean, I have been down here since the mid-‘70s and this is what I do.  It is my obsession, like it is yours.  And she does have a problem with white men down here.  And now, in the general election, perhaps it is going to affect Obama, because those voters will end up voting for John McCain.  But the thing that is out in front of all of us now, that historically has not been so front and center, is this whole matter of both sex and race, and we are having to confront it in ways we never had before.

And nobody in Texas ever talks about this antipathy that exists between blacks and browns down here.  I was talking to a guy down on the border, a Hispanic voter last night after I got off of the program, and he said, there is absolutely no way he will vote for Barack Obama.  And the most delicate way I could explain it is to say there is a cultural difference this election is going to highlight. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Ann Richardson won down there.  She won on race for governor, then got beaten by George W. Bush in a pretty rotten campaign, from what I can tell.  

MOORE:  White males. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about Kay Bailey Hutchison, gets I think the biggest pluralities in the state as United States senator down there, the senior senator.  How do they do?  What does that tell you about Hillary?  Is Hillary just a bigger personality, more controversial?  How would you describe her problem compared to the challenges these other women candidates have faced down there, Democrats down there, and a Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison? 

MOORE:  Hillary is too closely associated in this state with her husband and her husband‘s legacy, and her politics are generally viewed as far too progressive and far too governmentally intrusive among the electorate down here. So that what hurts her.  And the thing that helps Kay Bailey, of course, is the fact that she is very much a conservative and white males in Texas have no problem voting for a female conservative.  I can assure you their first choice would probably be a male in parts of this states.  But they will vote for her. 

WALSH:  Obama is as liberal as Hillary is, so it is not merely about policies. 

MOORE:  That is correct. 

ZUCKMAN:  It is too easy to say these white male voters are being sexist.  I think it is tied up with who Senator Clinton is.  If she were a different women politician, we might have—

WALSH:  Jill, I absolutely agree with you.  I absolutely agree that she has a lot of negatives.  She has a legacy.  But when you say, it is too easy to say that, no one is saying it, Jill.  Every time I look at any kind of gender analysis, it is all about wow, those women have solidarity with Hillary, and it is not too easy, because no one says it.  It is actually something you are not allowed—your are really not supposed to say.  I think that—

MATTHEWS:  I think that Joan is right. 

WALSH:  There are elements of it. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you are right, Joan.  I think that in a race involving gender and ethnicity—I hate to call it race.  We are all the same race—that it is something that is—you have to—it is almost like—I always say Joan and Jill and Jim, I always hate to get into the motives, because it is so hard to read—if you put a person under a—what do you call it, sodium pentothal and shot them up, they still couldn‘t tell you why they vote certain ways. 

WALSH:  You can‘t see their hearts.  It‘s true. 

MOORE:  Yes, but it‘s naive.

MATTHEWS:  You can never read into another person‘s heart.  It is the hardest thing to do.  Go ahead, Jim. 

MOORE:  Isn‘t it naive to say that people are not voting for him, because he is black?  The black turnout has been huge.  And that is because he is a black candidate.  Women are voting in larger numbers for Hillary, because she is a female candidate.  And it is naive for us to ignore those dynamics.  And men, white men, especially in Texas, are voting against Hillary because she is a female, and it is really silly of us to say that that is not having an impact on the election. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  In fact, if you look at the history, at least on the books, in the constitution African-Americans got to vote back in 1870, women didn‘t get to vote until 1920 or ‘21.  So has been a lag there. 

WALSH:  Theoretically. 

MATTHEWS:  I know all about Jim Crow, Joan. 

WALSH:  I know you do. 

MATTHEWS:  We will be right back—but I wanted to point out the primordial aspects of our cultural fight here.  We will be back with the round table, with more of the politics fix, with everybody.  You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  I want to ask Jill, Joan and Jim the same question.  That is this; it seems to me there are two different score books in picking who the Democratic nomination is going to go to.  The Barack people say, we are going to get more delegates elected, and at the end of this election season, maybe June or earlier, it will be clear that Barack Obama has more elected delegates, and then the Super Delegates will basically go that direction.  They will go with the people. 

The Clinton people are saying as of today in a conference call—I heard it—no, if neither candidate gets the requisite majority of delegates elected, then it is all up to the Super Delegates, and it starts all over again.  There is no resolution by the voters.  What is a fair reading of the scoreboard right now?  Is there going to be a unified scoreboard here? 

ZUCKMAN:  I think that the Clinton explanation is something they have to say.  It‘s not necessarily the way it will play out.  You can‘t keep losing primaries and expect to win the nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  Joan? 

WALSH:  Well, I think they technically the Clinton people are correct that the Super Delegates could do that.  I think, in fact, if Obama has a real majority, and I am not talking about a gigantic majority, but a majority of more than a few pledged delegates, the Super Delegates probably will go with him.  But it has never been tested before, Chris, and anyone who acts like there is a rule that they have to go with the majority or they have to go with what their home district did is not telling the truth, because it is not the rule. 

We are going to test this now and I think a lot of Super Delegates are probably going to, for political reasons or otherwise, go with the winner, because it would be kind of an amazing thing to overturn a decisive majority for him or her. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask the same question for Jim; if there is a decisive majority won by Barack Obama of the elected delegates, will the Super Delegates go with that majority, the plurality?  

MOORE:  Well, we know this much about the Clintons, and that is that they don‘t quit.  I don‘t think that unless he has enough delegates that they will stop, and they will begin to try to exercise influence on the Super Delegates.  But it doesn‘t take a crystal ball to look into that and say, we‘re running the risk of tearing apart the Democratic party if we do this.  The question at that point becomes whether the Clintons will step back and use their better judgment to say, we can‘t do this, because we‘re going to turn our party into a gigantic Democratic version of what happened in Florida and tear it apart before the general election starts.  I think they should find a quiet way to accept the outcome. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me put that on the table, starting with Joan, the middle case; they split next Tuesday, the 4th of March; Hillary holds Ohio by a couple of votes; perhaps Barack squeaks it in Texas.  They go into Pennsylvania seven weeks later; Hillary winters Pennsylvania by a squeaker.  What is accomplished?  Are they still basically fighting it out through Puerto Rico and Denver? 

WALSH:  They are going to fight it out probably through Puerto Rico, Chris.  I don‘t know.  I really think I‘ve been persuaded by your own Chuck Todd, looking at these numbers, that if she doesn‘t begin to get 65 percent of the delegates in some of these big states, she‘s really going to fall far enough behind that even the Clintons, as tough as they are, probably will not challenge a delegate lead of several hundred. 

If it continues to be closer, if she does better than we expect in these three last big states—I can‘t do the math in my head as quickly as Chuck Todd.  But, you know, it might be closer and there might be a case.  I don‘t know. 

ZUCKMAN:  Chris, I think that if we are still watching them fight it out in Puerto Rico, say hello to President McCain.  He‘s already started his general election campaign and they are still—

MATTHEWS:  Maybe instead of Chuck Todd to count these votes, we need Sweeney Todd to end this thing.  What do you think, Jim Moore?  This has got to be cut off at some point.  Sweeney Todd the barber to come in and end this thing. 

Do you think it‘s a war of attrition, Jim?  Do you think it‘s just going to go on? 

MOORE:  Well, there‘s just so much enthusiasm and not always a great deal of knowledge.  There seems to be one of these history tidal things coming in that‘s carrying Obama along, and he is not going away.  And it would be very difficult if he did not get the nomination for the Clintons to accommodate those people who put him in that position.  I don‘t think anyone is going away soon. 

MATTHEWS:  Joan, Jill and Jim, I‘m sure we‘ll be back talking about this again.  I‘m sorry, Joan, I‘m out of time.  What is your thought, quickly. 

WALSH:  I‘ll save it for next time. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  That will tease the next show.  Tonight at 10:00 Eastern on MSNBC, the premier of Decision 2008, the candidates, a three-part series on the lives of the leading presidential hopefuls.  Tonight‘s installments focus on Barack Obama.  Then at 11:00, Hillary Clinton. 

Next week, we‘ll look at John McCain.  That‘s Decision 2008, the candidates.  By the way, I‘ll be back at 5:00 and 7:00 tomorrow night.

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

END   

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