updated 2/27/2008 6:50:09 PM ET 2008-02-27T23:50:09

Guest: Clarence Page, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, David Wilhelm,

Christopher Dodd, Dan Balz, Jonathan Darman, Margaret Carlson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, tonight, won’t be just any night. 

There will be blood.

Let’s play HARDBALL.

I’m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  “Meet me in Ohio.”  That’s what Hillary Clinton said on Saturday, and that’s where we are tonight, in snowy Cleveland, where in four hours, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will take the stage for an MSNBC debate moderated by NBC’s Brian Williams and Tim Russert.

It’s a critical night for Clinton.  Two new polls show Obama gaining on her in Ohio, passing her in Texas and also nationally.  The big question tonight: Which Hillary will show up tonight, the gracious and cordial candidate who said she was honored to share the stage with Obama in Texas or the Hillary Clinton who scolded him in Cincinnati, or some other Hillary?  We’ll have a preview of the debate in a moment.

MSNBC will have everything covered tonight.  We’ll have a special live edition of HARDBALL at 7:00 Eastern time.  “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” is at 8:00.  The debate itself begins at 9:00 Eastern.  And then at 10:30, please join Keith Olbermann and myself for full post-debate coverage and analysis.

Also today, former Democratic presidential candidate Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut endorsed Barack Obama.  We’ll talk to the senator here on HARDBALL tonight and ask him why he picked Obama over Clinton.

And Republican presidential candidate John McCain denounced a shock jock radio talk show host for calling Obama a hack—a hack—and much worse while warming up a crowd for the candidate.  More on that incident later in the program.

But we begin with a preview of tonight’s debate.  Chuck Todd is political director for NBC News.  David Gregory is chief White House correspondent for NBC News and Clarence Page is with “The Chicago Tribune.”

Gentlemen, I want you all to give me a sense of tonight, what you know, what you can report.  What is Hillary Clinton up to tonight to save her campaign for president?

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, I think we see that she is going to pull back a little bit.  She’s already talked earlier today about the fact that—she admitted she got a little too hot in Cincinnati.  So you already are sensing that maybe she isn’t going to be aggressive as she has been over the last 48 hours, that maybe she...

MATTHEWS:  Why would she let the cat out of the bag this way?

TODD:  Well, the other reason is to put—keep Obama on his heels.  I mean, the one thing she’s got going for her in this debate is that she gets to dictate the tone.  You know, it may be that he’s the frontrunner, but she’s the one that nobody’s quite sure, is she going to aggressive, is she going to be the nice person, you know, after the Austin debate?  What is she going to be?  Who is she going to be?  And that actually—that makes it a lot more difficult for Obama to figure out...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... he’s also going to have to answer some tough questions tonight.

TODD:  Well, he is...

MATTHEWS:  This is MSNBC moderating this one, OK?  It’s a real debate, all right?

TODD:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  This is—this is going to be tough.  It’s not just the debaters, it’s answering serious news people’s questions, which is a big part of this thing tonight, right?

TODD:  And it’s been a big part of all (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  Let me—let me go—well, all of our debates.  Let me go to—Senator Obama leads Senator Clinton nationally by 16 points in a new CBS/”New York Times” poll, up nearly 30 points since December.

David Gregory, you’ve been following this campaign on a lot of fronts.  What does Hillary have to do now, given the fact that she’s clearly dropping nationally?  These numbers nationally are serious.  I’ve never seen so much—well, there’s been a lot—I can’t say I haven’t seen it.  There’s a lot of slippage going on in just a couple weeks here.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I think she’s got to determine where his weaknesses are, where her weaknesses are.  This is about creating doubt in the minds of voters, particularly in Ohio and Texas.  That’s what’s immediately in front of her if she’s going to keep her campaign going.  So how do you create doubt about Barack Obama?

I don’t think the way she does it is by saying that she’s ready on day one.  The voters know that line.  They know that pitch.  It’s not working.  She’s got to slow him down by creating doubt, I think, on specific issues.  It’s not just to say that, I can be a better commander-in-chief, it’s to perhaps dissect some of those areas where he does have weakness on foreign policy.

And you said something very important.  You’ve got our colleagues, Brian and Tim, who are going to be firing very tough questions that are going to draw these two candidates out.  It’s how they feed off of that...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

GREGORY:  ... that I think is going to be important.  I also think we should expect her to be on the attack, but it’s the level of attack that will determine whether she can actually dictate play here.  If Barack Obama brushes her off, plays Mr. Cool, and basically puts her in a trap of the old kind of political attack, I don’t think she comes out ahead.

MATTHEWS:  Are you saying that she’s going to try to jab him four or five times briskly and hard, stab him hard, hit him hard, rather than go for the knockout with one punch, like she did last week with that Xerox line?

GREGORY:  Well, I think absolutely—I think she should.  I think she has to ask questions about, Is he everything that he’s cracked up to be?  What is it about all of his self-confidence, and his wife, Michelle Obama, saying this is the first time in her adult life that she’s been proud of America because Barack Obama is doing well?  Why is he backing away from a pledge on campaign finance in terms of taking matching funds?  Why does he have such a liberal voting record...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

GREGORY:  ... if he’s an independent thinker?  Those kinds of things that are a little bit more targeted by way of attack.

MATTHEWS:  Would you, Clarence Page, go after someone’s spouse like that and try to tag Michelle Obama, who’s still something of a civilian in this business?  She’s not running for anything.  Can you go after her on that “proud” line?

CLARENCE PAGE, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Well, if I were Hillary Clinton, I wouldn’t go after anybody else’s spouse...

(LAUGHTER)

PAGE:  ... if you follow my line of thinking here.  That’s going to invite a retaliation talking about her spouse.  No, I think it’s best to stay away from spouses, children, other family members and stay to the issues.

Ohio, as you know, is economically devastated right now.  Their factory base has been hollowed out in the last two or three decades.  They lead the country on mortgage foreclosures, subprime mortgages.  Economic issues, I suspect, will are going to important for trying to reach Ohio voters right now.

And Hillary Clinton has had a tone problem in recent days.  You know, that wasn’t just a—a—one big punch when she flubbed the Xerox line, it was an attempt at a one-two punch.  You know, her first line in regard to—I hope you use your own words, or words to that effect...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PAGE:  ... got applause.  It was just when she kind of overreached with that attempt with the Xerox line that you heard the boos.  And she had the same thing—you know, that night she sounded very nice, conciliatory.  We in the media interpreted it as a valedictory.  A couple of days later, she was punching back, saying, “Shame on you, Barack Obama.”  And I think she’s gotten negative feedback from that, too, for being too shrill.

So now she’s—I think that’s part of why she’s setting up tonight, saying that, you know, it’s going to be kind of straight and even down the middle.

GREGORY:  But let me just add, Chris, I don’t think this is just about policy prescriptions and about these kinds of details because they’re too close on the issues.  Sure, there may be a spirited debate about NAFTA tonight, and that could move votes in a state like Ohio.  But this is still...

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  Let’s...

GREGORY:  ... a question about tone, personality and emotion.  And people who say otherwise, listen to the candidates themselves.  Hillary Clinton has been attacking him—“Shame on you, Barack Obama,” she said—you know, ribbing him on the idea that he...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

GREGORY:  ... you know, he’s all eloquence and all hope and no real substance.

MATTHEWS:  Let’s take a look at him.  Here he is today in Ohio, Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think things have gotten a little hotter over the last couple of days.  But these things have gone sort of in ebbs and flows.  There were some tensions, you’ll recall, in South Carolina, and we had a pretty hot debate in Myrtle Beach.  And I have to say, you know, just speaking for myself, when I looked in retrospect at that debate, although I think there were some legitimate differences that were put out there, that, you know, I’m not sure that my tone was always the one that I wanted to communicate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And here’s Senator Clinton today, also in Ohio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  There’s a big difference in this campaign between me and my opponent.  See, I believe in quality affordable health care for everyone.  And some of you may have seen, I got—I got a little—a little hot over the weekend down in Cincinnati, you know because...

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

CLINTON:  I don’t mind having a debate.  I don’t mind airing our differences.  But I really mind it when Senator Obama’s campaign sends you literature in the mail that is false, misleading and has been discredited.  That is not the way to run a campaign to pick the Democratic nominee for president.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there we are with the targets on, gentlemen.  The question is, Can Senator Clinton tonight go after the NAFTA paraphernalia that came out from Obama?  Can she wave that—I know she’s not supposed to bring a document, but can she point to that and say this is unfair campaigning because it brings her into question on NAFTA?  Can she win the point without suffering on the NAFTA question?

TODD:  Well, I think that’s the whole point of this attack, actually, was to make it about the politics of the attack, so that, actually, you deflected the actual issue difference.  I mean, look...

MATTHEWS:  Can she do that, that perfectly?

TODD:  I think she’s already done it very well.  I think the fact is, this became a debate about tactics, and on this particular instance—she usually doesn’t win tactical stuff, but in this particular instance, look, getting rid of NAFTA because this is her husband’s achievement...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Can she slam him, David—can she slam him on—David, can she slam her opponent for tactics on NAFTA without defending NAFTA?

GREGORY:  I think it’s going to be difficult but—because, ultimately, this is still Bill Clinton’s policy that she was ultimately for, even though she’s backed away from that somewhat.  The issue is not going to be, though, even NAFTA in particular.  It’s going to be, tactically, is Barack Obama doing something that kind of detracts from everything he’s supposed to be about?  Is he saying he’s—he’s the politics of hope and the politics of the future, and these are old-style attacks?

I mean, this is what she has to try to do, it seems to me, is chip away at everything that he is in the voters’ mind, create that doubt.  She’s not going to do it on one particular issue.  She’s got to do it in a sense of the overall.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Clarence and your sense.  Give me a track tout for tonight.  Give me a sense of what it’s going to look like tonight, as you see it.

PAGE:  Well, I just want to mention one thing about NAFTA.  Ohio is having their primary the same day as Texas, where they like NAFTA.  So they better not be too harsh on NAFTA tonight.

MATTHEWS:  Really.

PAGE:  As a—an Ohio native—go Bobcats—I can appreciate what NAFTA has done to the state, but it’s one of those issues that has different impact in different regions.

MATTHEWS:  But what do you think of tonight?  Do you think that she’s going to go after him with all guns blazing, or is going to try to modulate it?  Remember Al Gore talked about his Goldilocks debate, how he got it just right the third time?  Is it possible...

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  ... that second sound bite you had—you know, that second sound bite you had, where she—where she referred rather humorously to how hot she got in Cincinnati.  I think she’s going to try to play it cool but forceful.

MATTHEWS:  Boy, this is strange stuff.  It’s going to be a hot night tonight, I think.  I think she’s going hotter.  My hunch.

TODD:  Oh, no.  I don’t think so.

MATTHEWS:  You don’t think so?  David, what’s your bet?  Hot or cold tonight?

GREGORY:  I think she’s—I’m with Chuck.  I don’t think she’s going to be as hot because I think that she realizes it won’t work.

TODD:  The porridge will be just right, right, David?

MATTHEWS:  Oh, the Goldilocks...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Back to Al Gore.  Thank you very much, Chuck Todd.  Thank you David Gregory.  Thank you, Clarence Page.

Coming up, everything you need to know leading up to tonight’s debate.

Plus, we’ll hear from both campaigns as we preview the final face-off

perhaps the final face-off—between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. 

And I’ll be back for another live edition tonight at 7:00 o’clock, a totally different show for you HARDBALL buffs, totally different hour coming up at 7:00 to get ready for this big debate tonight.

By the way, the debate begins at 9:00 Eastern, and then we’ll be back, Keith Olbermann I, for about an hour-and-a-half afterwards.  If it’s even better, we’ll stay forever.

You’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Will the sound man please turn Mr. Reagan’s mike off for a moment?  (INAUDIBLE) Can you turn that microphone off, please?

RONALD REAGAN (R-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Mr. Green, when you asked me—I am paying for this microphone, Mr. Green!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  “I am paying for this microphone,” which is a line stolen directly from the movie “State of the Union” starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.

Anyway, back to HARDBALL.  That’s Ronald Reagan, as I said, in 1980, when the power went out during a primary debate.  The power didn’t go out, somebody pulled the plug up in New Hampshire.

Tonight’s debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton gets started at 9:00 Eastern.  With all the aggressive charges and countercharges we’ve heard from both sides over the last couple days, it promises to be a fun fest tonight, with lots of fireworks amidst the drama.  However, there are some key issues and things to look for tonight of substance.  HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CLINTON:  I am so pleased to be here and...

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  While the Clinton approach tonight remains to be seen, the top issues in Ohio are clear.  First, the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.  Most Ohio voters hate NAFTA because they believe it has cost them jobs.  And this Obama mailer has gotten under Clinton’s skin.  On the cover, Obama quotes his rival saying NAFTA was a boon to our economy.  Actually, Clinton never said that.  But Clinton did encourage the trade agreement and Barack Obama opposed it.

OBAMA:  I think things have gotten a little hotter over the last couple of days, but these things have gone sort of in ebbs and flows.

SHUSTER  Another top issue, health care.  Look for Obama to talk about how his expanded coverage plan will cover working families in union households.  Look for Clinton to argue Obama will leave 15 million people behind and that her universal plan is better.  Another issue will be experience.  Hillary Clinton has been arguing that Obama is unprepared.

CLINTON:  The American people don’t have to guess whether I understand the issues or whether I would need a foreign policy instruction manual to guide me through a crisis.

SHUSTER:  Today, Obama picked up a counterpoint to that with the endorsement of former candidate Chris Dodd.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Having spent a quarter of a century in the United States Senate, I made a strong case on the basis of experience.  And look at the results I got in the campaign.

SHUSTER:  According to Dodd and Obama, the larger issue is judgment. 

Clinton has long been vulnerable over her vote supporting the Iraq war. 

Finally, there’s the more immediate judgment issue, and that is tone.  Going into the debate, Clinton has toughened her attacks by going at Obama directly.

CLINTON:  So shame on you, Barack Obama!  It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public.

SHUSTER:  Obama wants to remain above the fray.

OBAMA:  You know, I would expect her to argue vigorously her case for why she should be president, and I’m sure she’ll point out the differences that she has with me.  I will do the same.  But I’m sure it’ll—it’ll be conducted in a civil fashion.

SHUSTER (on camera):  Nobody else is sure, however, and that’s another reason this debate is so intriguing.  Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is on the line, whether the issues and the focus favor her or not.

I’m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

Joining me now is U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones if this area in Cleveland, who’s the national co-chair of the Clinton campaign, and David Wilhelm, who was Bill Clinton’s campaign manager back in 1992, and he’s now supporting Barack Obama for president.  Congresswoman, thank you for having us here.

REP. STEPHANIE TUBBS JONES (D-OH), CLINTON CAMPAIGN NATIONAL CO-CHAIR: 

Thank you.  I’m glad...

MATTHEWS:  Thanks.  It’s great to be in Cleveland.  I was always an Indians fan because my older brother was always a Yankees fan.

JONES:  Makes for great...

MATTHEWS:  And that explains my...

JONES:  ... competition...

MATTHEWS:  It explains my attitude of sibling rivalry.

Let me ask you, if you were—if you were Barack Obama, what would you worry about tonight when your candidate goes at him?

JONES:  That my candidate will focus the issues and just put on the record her positions and his positions and make clarity for them so the people of America will understand that she’s the better candidate.

MATTHEWS:  And you think that kind of linear approach, detailing the issues, will win the election for her.

JONES:  Well, here’s the thing.  The American people are smart, and the people in Ohio are even smarter, and they are concerned about issues.  We got caught up in same-sex marriages and abortions years ago...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I remember that.  That was 2004.

JONES:  But right now, it’s economic issues, and the people of America...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that same-sex thing...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that same-sex thing on the ballot in 2004 cost John Kerry this state?

JONES:  I don’t think that that necessarily cost John Kerry the state. 

There were a lot of other things that cost John Kerry...

MATTHEWS:  I think there are a lot of African-American ministers out there pushing that issue on the other side.

(CROSSTALK)

JONES:  Absolutely.  It is an issue that causes a dilemma for a lot of people...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

JONES:  ... particularly those in the church...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Yes. 

JONES:  ... who believes that the Bible says one thing...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

JONES:  ... and—and that same-sex is against that.  But I...

MATTHEWS:  No tricks this time, you don’t think? 

JONES:  What I believe is, the people of Ohio are focused.  They are out of jobs.  They are out of their houses.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

JONES:  They don’t any have health care.  They need money to have income.  And that’s where they’re going to be focused.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Where is Senator Clinton’s jaw here you will be punching for, to use a metaphor from boxing? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is it NAFTA?

DAVID WILHELM, FORMER CLINTON PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER:  Well, NAFTA is part of it.

But she’s got a tough job tonight.  She’s got to change the dynamic of the race.  But she’s got to do it in a year when people want to put an end to squabbling, want to put an end to bickering.  They want unity.  They want to us move our country forward.  So, how, in that context, do you change the dynamic of this race? 

(CROSSTALK)

JONES:  The people of America want solutions. 

(CROSSTALK)

JONES:  Unity may not necessarily mean solutions. 

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  They want solutions. 

JONES:  They want solutions. 

WILHELM:  And they will get with solutions with Barack Obama, because...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is squabble a gender-specific term? 

WILHELM:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  It’s not? 

WILHELM:  No.  It is not. 

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  It is not.

(CROSSTALK)

JONES:  But let me put it like this.  I can have fun with this. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  This is getting physical here.  Go ahead. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Feel free.  Feel free.  Go ahead.  Take him down. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I don’t care.

WILHELM:  We’re going to be together after this. 

MATTHEWS:  None of that.

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  You got that right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This isn’t the “Capital Gang” here. 

(CROSSTALK)

JONES:  This is the loving arms of the Democratic Party, right. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This isn’t the “Capital Gang.”  Go at her. 

(LAUGHTER)

JONES:  Let me say that, when you start dealing with a woman candidate, when she gets forceful, it’s, she’s—you know, she’s angry.  She’s clawing. 

MATTHEWS:  She’s grating.

JONES:  She’s squealing.  She’s shrill. 

But all she’s doing is being forceful, which is what you want in a president of the United States. 

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  I think tonight is a great opportunity for Barack Obama, because Hillary is going to have to get tough, and she will be tough in the clinches.  But, if Barack can parry those—those attacks, and do it with style, and do it with dignity. 

JONES:  Will you explain what parry means...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Parry is like in a sword...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... like an old sword fight movie, where the guy—the guy goes for and you parry the... 

(CROSSTALK)

JONES:  I think the public ought to know what parry means. 

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  I’m serious about it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I wish they would have a sword fight.  It might be interesting. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  She goes for the thrust and he parries it, right? 

(LAUGHTER)

WILHELM:  Exactly right. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  And the way he does that provides him with an opportunity to talk to the people of Ohio...

MATTHEWS:  OK, OK. 

WILHELM:  ... about kitchen table issues.

MATTHEWS:  We just heard some expertise here.

WILHELM:  Not kitchen sink issues.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We heard from—expertise from you and from David Gregory...

JONES:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  ... about how she will do it, now with a home run ball or a Sunday punch, if you want boxing, but a series of jabs to point out his inadequacy on issues.  What does Barack do if she very politely, very forcefully, as you say, points out four or five areas where he’s off base?  What does he do? 

WILHELM:  Well, first of all, he will respond very clearly. 

JONES:  He won’t do like that guy the other night on TV? 

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  Wait.  Wait.  Wait.  Wait. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You mean the guy that didn’t know anything? 

WILHELM:  Now, here’s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  At least he didn’t know the answer to the question. 

WILHELM:  You know why—why the experience thing doesn’t work at the end of the day?  Because the American people have adequate opportunity to take stock of these two candidates.  Day after day after day, they see Barack Obama.  They see he has the right stuff.  There is nothing harder to do on the face of the earth than...

JONES:  Like the movie “The Right Stuff,” huh? 

WILHELM:  Like the movie.

JONES:  OK.  All right.  Mm-hmm. 

WILHELM:  And there is nothing harder than on the face of the earth to do than to run for president.  And people get a very personal opportunity to judge these candidates up front and personal.  And they have had that opportunity with Barack Obama, and he has stood up to it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let’s talk dirty tricks.  And we have no idea who pulled this trick.  Nobody knows who do it. 

WILHELM:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Somebody gave Drudge a picture of Barack Obama on that trip last year to East Africa, to Kenya, wearing local costuming.  I find nothing...

JONES:  Well, now, don’t get in trouble, because I said the same thing.  And they said he’s not...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I find nothing wrong with it.  It’s the—because everybody travels. 

WILHELM:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Prince Charles puts on the local garb.  And his mother—his father is from over there.  It’s nothing wrong with him to do it.  But the way it was put out it seemed to be a hostile purpose behind it. 

JONES:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What are we into here?

WILHELM:  But wait a minute.  Who put it out?  That’s what we don’t know.

MATTHEWS:  That’s what we don’t know.  We don’t know. 

WILHELM:  Here’s the problem for Senator Clinton’s campaign. 

JONES:  The response was...

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  Here’s the problem.  When you say publicly in “The New York Times,” we have a kitchen-sink strategy, we’re throwing everything but the kitchen sink, that sends a message to staff—I’m a former campaign manager—that, go ahead, get it out there. 

JONES:  No.  David, come on.

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  Do what you need to do.

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  I am not a lawyer. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you holding the Clintons responsible for that drop into The Drudge Report of that costumed picture of him over there? 

(CROSSTALK)

JONES:  Tell me.

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  I have no idea. 

MATTHEWS:  But you suggest it. 

WILHELM:  I didn’t do it.  I didn’t suggest it.

MATTHEWS:  But you said that they encouraged it.  

JONES:  Oh, come on, David. 

WILHELM:  I don’t know.  I don’t know. 

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  Did I say they encouraged it?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The kitchen sink argument.  You said when you have a kitchen sink attitude from the top. 

WILHELM:  I said what happens when the people at the top...

(CROSSTALK)

JONES:  David, that’s what you did when you were in charge? 

WILHELM:  No, it is not.  But I didn’t have a kitchen sink strategy. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let’s do something I like to do on this show. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you have any evidence at all the Clinton people put out that picture? 

WILHELM:  No, I do not. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

What do you make of that picture and why somebody would put it out? 

(CROSSTALK)

JONES:  I have no idea why anybody would put it out. 

But you know what I think is the beauty of America is the diversity that we enjoy.  And the representation of clothing of different countries to me is an exciting thing.  I would not have encouraged anyone to put the photo out, but I don’t think it’s as dastardly as you all are trying to make it be. 

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  Oh, I am not even suggesting it’s dastardly.  But I don’t think...

JONES:  The campaign is.

WILHELM:  ... that whoever—whoever put it out was trying to do Barack Obama a favor.  I do not believe that.  And I—I—look, I think that...

(CROSSTALK)

JONES:  You know, what is more important...

WILHELM:  You know what I think the major problem with Senator Clinton’s campaign has been the last week? 

JONES:  That we don’t have you, right? 

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  Well...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  I think...

(LAUGHTER)

WILHELM:  I think it’s that they have trivialized the campaign around issues about Barack Obama’s speeches, this kind of thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

WILHELM:  Trivial issues, rather than NAFTA, health care reform, job creation.

JONES:  No, because the media doesn’t seem to want to get on the issues and distinguish. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I think this is the most engaged I have ever seen two people here.

Anyway, thank you. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This is very close engagement here.

JONES:  Yes, it is.

MATTHEWS:  And maybe it will be like tonight, a preview of the weigh-in.  This is the weigh-in we just watched here. 

Thank you very much, U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones of this area, Cleveland, my favorite city this week, and David Wilhelm, the former national chairman of the Democratic Party. 

Up next:  If you think the race between Barack Obama and Hillary has gotten rough, wait until you hear about what happened to—what tore apart a Pennsylvania family the other day.  People are fighting about this campaign physically. 

And don’t forget, tonight’s debate begins at 9:00 Eastern, only on

MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  

And, so, what else is new out there in politics? 

Well, according to TheSmokingGun.com Web site, which has the police report, Jose Antonio Ortiz in the Philadelphia suburbs allegedly stabbed his brother-in-law about in a fight about the relative merits of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  Ortiz allegedly stabbed Sean Shurelds after Shurelds, an Obama supporter, said that Barack was beating Hillary in this race for president. 

Ortiz angrily replied that Obama was not a realist, and allegedly stabbed the Obama backer for saying he might be.  The victim was brought to a hospital in critical condition, but is expected to recover. 

Whoa.  Slow it down. 

Speaking of political passion, the office of Larry Craig sent out this press release today—quote—you won’t believe this—“Craig accepting applications for summer internships.”  Who is knocking on that door? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Guess what, mom and dad?  I just got an internship with that senator from Idaho with the wide stance.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of young people, a new study from the American Enterprise Institute shows that less than half of high school students know that the Civil War was fought—catch this—anywhere between the years 1850 and 1900. 

When do they think we fought, North and South, between the First and Second World Wars? 

And now it’s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number.”  It’s the economy, stupid.  It was true in ‘92, and it’s true in 2008.  Not only is it the economy, stupid.  More precisely, it’s jobs, stupid.  With plants moving overseas and with major layoffs, it’s tough times for some people out here, especially in Ohio. 

For proof, one need only look to Ford Motor Company.  Tonight’s “Big Number,” how much money is the motor company offering some of its workers to take a buyout?  One hundred and forty thousand dollars to leave the company.  The downside, you have got to give up your health care for your family -- $140,000 buyouts on Ford Motor Company, tonight’s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Former presidential candidate Chris Dodd endorses Barack Obama today, and takes a jab at Hillary Clinton.  Senator Dodd’s coming to HARDBALL—next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I’m Bertha Coombs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks rallying on news from IBM—the Dow Jones industrial average gaining 114 points, the S&P 500 picking up nine, while the Nasdaq surged 17. 

IBM announcing a $15 billion stock buyback.  It also raised its earnings forecast for the year.  Shares of Big Blue were up almost 4 percent today.  Stocks had been in the red after a series of troubling economic reports early in the day, including word wholesale inflation jumped 1 percent last month.  That’s more than double what analysts had expected. 

There was also news foreclosures rose 57 percent in January, compared to a year ago.  Meantime, it was reported home prices fell almost 9 percent in the final quarter of last year.  That is the biggest drop on record. 

And oil gaining $1.65 in New York trading, closing at another record high of $100.88 a barrel. 

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

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1984)

WALTER MONDALE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  When I hear your new ideas, I’m reminded of that ad, where’s the beef? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was, of course, Walter Mondale with that memorable line against Gary Hart back in a debate in 1984, 24 years ago. 

Well, tonight, the Democratic debate’s going to be between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  It gets under way here at 9:00 Eastern.  It’s an MSNBC debate.  I’m here in Cleveland to cover it. 

And, today, former Democratic presidential candidate Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut endorsed Barack Obama. 

Let’s listen up. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT:  Having spent a quarter of a century in the United States Senate, I made a strong case on the basis of experience.  And look at the results I got in the campaign here. 

So, while experience, I think, is valuable, it isn’t just experience here.  It’s maturity.  It’s judgment.  It’s balance.  It’s the ability to speak in a way that touches people, that—that I think people are looking for in the national leadership this time around. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that’s the big question. 

Senator Dodd, thank you for joining us. 

I have a hunch that one of the reasons you’re for Barack Obama is that you share his world view, as a former Peace Corps guy, that you do want better relations with the Third World. 

DODD:  Well, that’s true.  I think it’s very important.  It isn’t—domestic issues are dominant.  In Ohio and Texas tonight, people are worried about their jobs and health care, their kids’ education, energy, environmental issues.  But we also want to see our country regain its footing around the world.  And I think Barack Obama offers that opportunity as well. 

He cannot only win an election, but I think he can also do something that we’re desperate for.  And that is to start to move this country in a direction that can regain that moral high ground that we would like to see America represent. 

MATTHEWS:  Did the fact that he carried Connecticut have something to do with your decision today? 

DODD:  Not entirely, no. 

And, frankly, Chris, it was within the last 36 hours, I—part of me said, why not just sit this out, sit in the bleachers?  I have been a candidate for a year-and-a-half.  In fact, I said this morning—I started out by saying, I envisioned actually this press conference over a year ago, that I would be standing with Barack Obama.  The only distinction was, I envisioned Barack Obama endorsing me as the presidential candidate around. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

DODD:  So, humor aside on all of this, I decided that you can’t sit in the bleachers on this one. 

I think there’s a danger of this campaign becoming highly divisive.  I think there’s a danger of this campaign running to August, to the convention, which I think would be highly detrimental to the Democrats winning that election. 

Obviously, Mrs. Clinton is a good friend.  I called her last night.  It was a difficult conversation, as you might imagine.  But I always believe you have got to call people at moments like that.  And she will have a great future, I’m confident, as well.  But I think, at this moment, Barack Obama represents our best chance to win that election, but, more importantly, bring the country together. 

On that note, Chris, let me just say, the—when you see these massive crowds, it isn’t just about Barack Obama.  Those 18,000 people in the Hartford Civic Center or at the University of Cincinnati last night, those are people who are looking for this country to get back on its feet again.  That’s what, really, those crowds represent.  They are coming out to see him, but they are coming out to be heard as well. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DODD:  And I think people are missing that point.  It isn’t—it isn’t about him.  It’s about what they are seeking for our country.  And I think he represents that.  And that’s why I’m standing with him tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  What is he like when you deal with him as a senator in the cloakroom and when there’s no camera on? 

DODD:  He’s a very comfortable guy in his own skin. 

I—just talking here a minute ago, and there’s a calmness about him that I think he gets and understands, which I found maybe most surprising, given the fact that he’s relatively new to all of this, that you walk into a room with 17,000 people—I don’t care how calm you might be—that’s got to affect you. 

Barack Obama understands how ephemeral this is, how fleeting this can all be.  He understands it’s also people crying out for some change in our country, desperate for us to get back on our feet.  I think he understands that too many Americans think America’s best days are behind her. 

And that’s not the legacy we want to leave to our children.  We want to leave a country that’s more optimistic and confident about itself.  And so I get a feeling here that he gets that, understands that, is not going to be swayed by the emotions of the moment, but determined, really, to do what’s necessary to bring the country together, reach out to people, Democrats and Republicans. 

For the first time in 25 years, I’m not only hearing about Reagan Democrats.  I’m hearing about Obama Republicans.  And that’s—that’s a seismic change in politics in this country. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think if Barack Obama’s elected president and wins this nomination, finally goes on to win the general election, that there should be a shake-up in the Congressional leadership as well or should we have the same people there, like Harry Reid, the establishment?  If the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton, loses this fight for the nomination, should the establishment team on the Hill stay there or should there be a new team led by someone like you? 

DODD:  No, I’m happy where I am, Chris, entirely.  I think our leaders are doing a good job.  I think we have a chance to build on majorities here as well, in both the House and the Senate.  Harry Reid has to deal with the thinnest of margins here.  It’s very difficult.  You know this place well, Chris, from your years up here.  It’s hard these days to get these kind of majorities to move forward. 

That’s not what we’re looking for here.  I think these leaders want as well a president they can work with, that can help us move the country in a different direction, that can motivate members around the country to come back to Congress with a determination to sit down and get a job done, on health care, on job creation, on energy policy, on foreign policy.  That’s what’s missing here.  That’s why Barack Obama can be so important to the country. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, great.  Thank you for coming on today, the day you endorsed Barack Obama.  Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. 

Up next, it’s the final debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, at least before Ohio and Texas.  What can we expect tonight?  And which Hillary Clinton will we see tonight?  Will we get the tough, the nice, somewhere in between?  We’ll see.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing, and the world will be perfect. 

OBAMA:  We can do these things if you are ready for change.  But I’ve got to say, in the waning—waning days of this campaign, a lot of people are saying, oh, no, no, don’t believe. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Tonight, it’s the debate tonight and it’s the politics fix right now.  Dan Balz of the “Washington Post,” “Newsweek’s” Jonathan Darman, and “Bloomberg’s” Margaret Carlson.  Let me show you these new poll numbers.  Here’s a new Ohio poll out.  It has Senator Clinton leading by only about eight points now, 47-39, with John Edwards for some reason being polled at nine percent.  You’ve got to figure out where that’s going to go. 

Let’s take a listen—that is the only poll?  OK, let’s go with that one.  What do you make of that, Dan? 

DAN BALZ, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  That’s been the structure of this race for the last couple of weeks.  What we’ve seen is she’s had a very big lead, as she has had in a number of these states going in.  It’s begun to close.  Ohio is a tougher state for Senator Obama than some of the others have been, because of the makeup of this state.  She’s holding on; he’s closing.  The question is, how much farther can he go?

MATTHEWS:  What is it, Dan, that keeps Obama from moving up here in Ohio as he has done nationally in the polling? 

BALZ:  Well, there’s a classic breakdown in this race in this state.  That is that with non-college-educated voters, she does extraordinarily well, with college-educated voters, he does extraordinarily well.  The mix in this state favors her. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go take a look at Margaret.  We’ve got in Texas—we’ve got a new CNN poll that has Barack up by four.  He’s moving ahead in Texas.  What is it going to be, a split?  It looks like it might be next Tuesday? 

MARGARET CARLSON, “BLOOMBERG”:  That would be interesting for us, because the Clinton people have been careful to say that if she loses Texas and Ohio, it’s over.  But they haven’t said what happens if she wins only one of them.  I suspect she goes on, because that’s what they want to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think, Harold Ickes suggested they only have to win one today.  He seems to be moving that goal line a bit.  What do you think of that? 

CARLSON:  Harold was totally out of touch with reality today at the breakfast.  But I think, you know, he is probably channeling the campaign on that, which is, they want go on, and so a win of one is enough and then they’ll say, Pennsylvania, we’ll let Pennsylvania decide.  However, this doesn’t mean that she ends up with enough delegates. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I have a sense—Jonathan Darman, thanks for joining us.  I have a sense that the Clintons are looking up to a fallback position, which is they squeak it in Ohio and they win Rhode Island and make a big deal that they won two out of three next Tuesday.  What do you make of that prospect? 

JONATHAN DARMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  That’s a possibility.  I think what they have to do in the next couple of days then is come up with something for an explanation as to why they got the victory.  They can’t just say, hey, we won.  They have to say, people are giving her another look.  She’s got momentum now and it’s because of this.  It’s because this is happening now that wasn’t happening a month ago.  And that’s why they need something—they need a new story line here to emerge and that’s not, you know, a great thing for them to hope for at this point, because it’s just been so long since they won a news cycle. 

MATTHEWS:  Let’s take a look at some—we had some really rotten business today.  Here’s radio talk show host Bill Cunningham at a John McCain rally today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CUNNINGHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Obama just came back from meeting with Ahmadinejad.  He’s got a meeting the next week with Kim Jong-il in North Korea.  Then he’s going to saddle up next to Hezbollah.  They are going to have a cookie and cream party.  All’s going to be right with the world when the great prophet from Chicago takes the stand and the world leaders who want to kill us will simply be singing Kumbaya around the table with Barack Obama. 

It’s all going to be great.  Things are going to be wonderful. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Margaret, there’s a winning personality for you.  I hate to see he  has an Irish name.  I have to say.  That was the offensive part to me. 

CARLSON:  Chris, let’s not claim him as our own.  With someone like him, you know what he’s about.  It couldn’t have been a surprise to the McCain campaign that he went a little bit wild.  He is wild.  That’s his stock in trade.  McCain apologized profusely, said, this is not what he’s about.  He has a lot of respect for Senator Barack Obama.  But, of course, the damage is done. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Dan, this interesting sort of marginal

creeping into the national discussion of—well, it even happened in a

neutral way on the Academy Awards the other night.  Jon Stewart mentioned

his middle name is Hussein.  He made a joke about somebody with a name that

sounded like Hitler having a hard time in the 1944 election, in 1944.  I

tried to talk about is Osama sounding like Obama.  And this thing where the

somebody put out the picture of Obama wearing this east African, Kenyan costume, and now this character putting out this sort of stuff.  Is this now going to creep into the debate, the discussion?  Is it ethnic stuff? 

BALZ:  Chris, it’s been there for a long time as we know.  There have been e-mails around that suggest that he’s a Muslim, which he is not.  There’s going to be this all the way through the campaign if he’s the nominee.  I think it’s going to be incumbent both on Senator McCain and on Senator Obama, if he ends up as the nominee, to try to keep their supporters quieted down, but it’s going to be very difficult. 

MATTHEWS:  Jonathan, is this like the Pope coming to take over in 1960, is that what we’re talking about here? 

DARMAN:  You are definitely going to see this Muslim issue surface again and again and again if it’s Obama versus McCain.  And I think the last point that Dan was making is significant.  For both Obama and McCain, who have both said they are going to run this high-minded politic, that’s not a passive thing.  You actually have to actively go out there and say, OK, every surrogate of the Republican peter, OK, every surrogate of the Democratic party, we are not going to run the race as we have in the past. 

Are they actually going to do that?  What is that going to look like when one of them is down by five or ten points? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Senator Clinton has been almost perfect on that regard.  We’ve had no evidence that either her or Obama—of course himself—wouldn’t do it to himself—or McCain.  Wasn’t it impressive that McCain did stand up today and take down this warm-up character that had made these comments? 

CARLSON:  That is the kind of guy that McCain is.  He is a straight

talker.  You have to give him a lot of credit for that.  These surrogates

though, remember, there are a couple of surrogates for Senator Clinton,

John—Robert Johnson, the head of BET, her co-chair in New Hampshire, who

brought up things about Obama that were derogatory and then they, you know

Johnson apologized and Shaheen resigned.

These things happen and the question is whether people decide you had a hand in it, you tacitly approved it, you want it out there, you’re using these people to get it out or not.  And I think in the McCain case, you think he didn’t want to do that. 

MATTHEWS:  We’re going to be right back with more on the panel.  We’ll talk about last call.  In a minute we’ll ask every one of the three panelists what is it going to look like tonight based on what we heard today in this big debate which could be the last debate of this whole election for the Democrats?  Anyway, you’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We’re back with the round table and more of the politics fix.  I want to go to Dan Balz and then to Margaret and then to Jonathan.  Tonight is a big night.  I don’t have to say it too many times because everybody knows it.  It’s the last scheduled debate before Ohio and Texas and Rhode Island and Vermont and it could be the last big get-together for the Democrats. 

How in the world can Senator Clinton score points against Barack Obama without looking like the bad person in the debate, without looking too tough? 

BALZ:  Well, I think she’s done it in earlier debates.  I mean, the interesting thing is we were all crediting her with having the great debate skills six months ago.  All of a sudden, now, everybody is saying she can’t debate.  I don’t think that’s the case.  She can be a very good debater when she is herself.  She is a person strong on policy, able to articulate what she knows, and what she thinks about those things, and can deliver criticism of her opponent when she feels the need. 

She has been fairly deft in those earlier debates at slipping things in on Senator Obama.  I think she’s going to have to do that kind of thing tonight. 

MATTHEWS:  Margaret, can Senator Clinton still be subtle in her attack, and deft and make the point without hurting herself, after this weekend of scolding, or hitting him so hard, calling him shameful in a tough way this weekend?

CARLSON:  Chris, that clip you showed at the beginning, Senator Clinton was like Ethel Merman in “Auntie Mame.”  She was—with the celestial heavens will open.  You can’t do that at the debate.  And you can’t say shame on you at a debate, because now it’s not a debate like we were used to before with all those podiums.  They are sitting very close together.  It’s much more intimate.  You can’t mock or ridicule the person next to you for their very essence, which is how they speak. 

She won’t be doing that.  I think it will be more on issues.  We’ll here again about mandates versus no mandates.  I think NAFTA will come up, because she has made such an issue of that in those fliers, which is, were you for NAFTA before you were against it.  Where are you on NAFTA?  I think NAFTA—it’s big in Ohio.  It’s going to make a huge difference in the vote there. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go to Jonathan with the same question, because over the weekend, Senator Clinton hit him in a number of directions.  She hit him with kind of a tough almost scolding, you’re a shameful person the way you’re dealing with this campaign, and then she used that high mockery, sophisticated sort of don’t be ridiculous kind of thing; this kumbaya stuff isn’t going to work; this celestial choirs are going to play for you.  How does she put all that together in a symphony tonight? 

DARMAN:  I don’t think you’ll see too many of those really tough lines from her tonight because over the past week, as she’s been delivering them, you get the sense looking at her, that she’s not completely comfortable doing it.  She’s sort of 80 percent there and there’s a part of her that thinks, I really shouldn’t be doing this.  Tonight, is she going to take that risk or sit there and wait for him to make a big mistake? 

It can’t just be just that he has an off night.  He can be a little too cerebral tonight.  His mind can trail off.  He’s got to actually do something totally on his own that confirms this idea that he’s not ready to be commander in chief. 

MATTHEWS:  Great having you on, Jonathan Darman.  Thanks for coming on from “Newsweek.”  Dan Balz of the “Washington Post” and Margaret Carlson of “Bloomberg.”  Join us again in one hour for another live edition, a brand new show, of HARDBALL.  Then two hours later at 9:00, the final debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, certainly the final one before Texas and Ohio, in next Tuesday’s primaries.  Right here—it’s all going to be here tonight on MSNBC.  Right now it’s time for “TUCKER.”

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 user’s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be 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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