updated 2/28/2008 3:35:07 PM ET 2008-02-28T20:35:07

Guests: Linda Douglass, Lynn Sweet, Jay Carney, Ron Christie, Susan Molinari, Jill Zuckman, Susan Page, Chrystia Freeland

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Shame, shame, shame?  The Clinton campaign finds its words.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Here‘s Senator Clinton on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And you know, no matter what happens in this contest—and I am honored.  I am honored to be here with Barack Obama.  I am absolutely honored.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And here‘s Senator Clinton on Saturday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  So shame on you, Barack Obama!  It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public.  That‘s what I expect from you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, which Senator Clinton will show up on the debate tomorrow night?  She‘s coming out swinging against Obama this weekend, but is it too much, too late?  Will this political assault help or hurt Hillary Clinton in the must-win states of Texas and Ohio?  More on the Democratic fight in a minute.

And a new “USA Today”/Gallup poll shows Obama leading Senator Clinton nationally now by double digits.  But how will he perform if he‘s elected?  We‘ll take a closer look at Senator Obama‘s legislative record.

Plus: Mike Huckabee was an easy fit on “Saturday Night Live.”  He fit in quite well.  But will he fit in as a Republican VP candidate?

And political lone rider Ralph Nader announced on Sunday on “Meet the Press” that he is, in fact, running for president a third time.  Could Nader play the spoiler this year, or is the party over for him?  More political news in our “Politics Fix” tonight.  But we begin with Senator Clinton, who is hotly challenging Obama on the campaign trail.  Chuck Todd is NBC‘s political director and Linda Douglass is with “The National Journal.”

Linda, let‘s—let me go to Linda first and take a look here.  By the way, here‘s the latest CNN poll from Texas for Democrats, where Obama now has a lead over Clinton of 4 points.  Last week, Senator Clinton was up by 2.  So he is pulling ahead, at least right now in Texas.

I want to go to Linda Douglass.  You‘ve been watching politics for a while, and after a while, we sort of get a fix on these people.  What‘s your fix on Senator Clinton‘s mood and approach to the campaign right now?

LINDA DOUGLASS, “NATIONAL JOURNAL”:  Well, you know, there‘s been this debate going on inside the campaign about how she should go after him, how hard she should go after him.  Clearly, she‘s listening to the people who said, Look, this is your last stand.  You‘ve got to do everything you can to try to reinforce any doubts that are growing among people who still aren‘t sure they know enough about Obama.  So she‘s decided just to go for it because if you saw that Harold Ickes, one of her top advisers, said today if she doesn‘t win Ohio and Texas, she‘s really going to have to take another look at whether she goes on.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the word “shame”?  It‘s an unusual word for younger people to use.  And Senator Clinton‘s—well, I consider her younger because she‘s about our age, but younger, meaning old people use that word a lot, I mean, very old people.  I just wonder, when you say the other guy is shameful, it just seems—what does it mean?  It just strikes me somewhere—I don‘t know what.  I don‘t know what.  Help me out, Chuck, here.  Well, you Linda, first.  What does she mean when she says he ought to be ashamed of himself, basically?

DOUGLASS:  Well, what she‘s saying is that he was being hypocritical.  She‘s saying that he‘s distorting her record on NAFTA, and that‘s something we can talk about perhaps a little bit later.  It had a scolding quality, though.  It had the quality of a mother scolding.  And she did say later on to a reporter that she was very angry when she saw the mailer.  It came off the top of her head.  Don‘t assume, she said, that everything I say is calculated and planned beforehand.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

DOUGLASS:  So she might not necessarily have said that if she had another thing to do it.

MATTHEWS:  The only thing is, Chuck, that Maggie Williams, her top aide now, used the word “shame” again.  Well, maybe they‘re all using it, come to think of it.  Didn‘t Plouffe, the campaign guy for Obama, also accuse them of shame for putting—where somebody put this picture of Obama in West African garb on the Drudge Report today, and they‘re sort of blaming the Clinton crowd for that, without knowing who did it.

DOUGLASS:  Right.  And it could very well have come from the right on this one, could have some from conservative bloggers, could have come from, you know, somebody who would like to see Obama not get the Democratic nomination.

So you know, look, I don‘t know if it‘s—you know, it‘s interesting about Hillary Clinton‘s tone on Saturday, Chris, in that it seemed to—it seemed as if she didn‘t—you know, it‘s almost as if she was reacting to the fact that everybody read her final moments in that debate on Thursday as some sort of resignation, that she was somehow coming to terms with this idea that she might not be the Democratic nominee, and she just got a little fight in her.

And you know, I think it‘s very plausible, by the way, that that is the first time she saw those mailings.  You know, a lot of times, we think when the campaigns have these fights, we think, well, the campaigns are sharing this stuff with the candidates.  Well, sometimes the candidates are in this bubble, and it could be it‘s the first time she saw it and she reacted by being someone, anyone—how anyone would have reacted when they see themselves attacked in a paid flyer.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we all wonder what it‘s like to be in a campaign under personal attack, when your record is played with even slightly or substantially, and you‘re very carefully nuanced and pegged a position on trade, a particular point, and then have somebody make a joke out of it by taking it all the way in one direction, saying she was in love with NAFTA.  Well, here she is, Senator Clinton, responding on Saturday to this literature pointing her out as a big friend of NAFTA in Ohio, where they don‘t like NAFTA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  So let‘s have a real campaign.  Enough with the speeches and the big rallies and then using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove‘s playbook.  This is wrong.  And every Democrat should be outraged because this is the kind of attack that not only undermines core Democratic values but gives aid and comfort to the very special interests and their allies in the Republican Party who are against doing what we want to do for America.

So shame on you, Barack Obama!  It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public.  That‘s what I expect from you.  Meet me in Ohio.  Let‘s have a debate about your tactics and your behavior in this campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s the tough claim, “Meet me in Ohio,” like, I‘m going to take you down.  Here‘s Senator Obama responding immediately on Saturday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  In terms of the two mailers that she specifically referred to here, these are mailers that, by the way, went out—started going out several days ago, if not weeks ago.  So I‘m puzzled by the sudden change in tone, unless these were just brought to her attention.  It makes me think that there‘s something tactical about her getting so exercised this morning.  And unlike some of the attacks that have been leveled about me that have been debunked by news organizations, these are accurate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Linda, who sang “Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis”?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I had that thing bouncing around my head.  It was Judy Garland or somebody, “Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis.”

DOUGLASS:  Yes, Judy Garland.

MATTHEWS:  And then she said, Meet me in—I‘ll meet you in Ohio.  It was almost like “High Noon” talk here from Hillary Clinton.

DOUGLASS:  Well, see, I think this NAFTA thing is very difficult for her.  I mean, granted, Obama used a word in that mailer, saying Hillary Clinton said it was a boon, which is something she didn‘t say.  It was reported by a newspaper that later took it back.  But you know, he‘s making the case that if she‘s running on her president‘s record, if she has cited NAFTA as one of President Clinton‘s accomplishments, which she has done—she‘s later criticized NAFTA.  She‘s been more critical lately—but that if she wants to run on her husband‘s record, was she there being, as he, Obama, said, the co-president or not?  So it‘s a very tough issue for her in a place like Ohio, where trade is a huge issue.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at Senator Clinton on Sunday because this campaign is really getting down to something near, it seems to me, a “High Noon” situation.  In the main streets of Texas and Ohio, we‘re going to decide, to some extent, how this campaign plays out the rest of the year.  Here‘s Senator Clinton on Sunday in Providence, Rhode Island.  By the way, Rhode Island‘s also got a primary coming the 4th of March.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  None of the problems we face will be easily solved.  Now, I could stand up here and say, Let‘s just get everybody together.  Let‘s get unified.  The sky will open.

(LAUGHTER)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I have never seen Senator Clinton so theatrical.  Now, does that—you‘re laughing too, everybody, because we‘re used to her being very buttoned-down...

DOUGLASS:  I loved it.

MATTHEWS:  ... very organized.  And here she is, almost opera bouffe, or whatever the term is, lampooning her opponent in vivid language here.  What do we make of this, Chuck?

TODD:  I liked it.  I thought it showed a little emotion.  I really—you know, it sort of—you know, you get the feeling that this is, you know, from her stern nature on Saturday to this, where this is probably how she feels about this.  It‘s almost she can‘t believe she‘s losing this guy and she feels like she‘s losing to a guy that somehow is selling, you know, almost like a—you know, like, a “Music Man” deal...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  ... like, you know, selling some sort of something that they—that the folks can‘t—in River City are buying, and she doesn‘t understand why they‘re buying and she thinks that they‘re going to regret it a year from now...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  ... or two years from now.  But we have we have to remember, the most optimistic—how many times do we say the most optimistic candidate, the candidate that is viewed the most optimistically or has the most optimism ends up winning elections like these?  And I think that that‘s where Obama‘s trumped her on this, is that Obama‘s borrowed a page from Bill Clinton‘s playbook.  He just sounds more optimistic.

MATTHEWS:  Is this one of those mothers of River City, “We‘ve got trouble with a capital “T”?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I love that musical!  I mean, is that what this is about, fear of Obama being the guy that won‘t deliver the boys‘ band uniforms when he promises to?

DOUGLASS:  Well, I mean, I think a couple things.  First of all, Chuck is absolutely right.  I mean, this was her kind of letting it rip, which is what happens to candidates when they feel like they might actually be losing sometimes.  You‘ve seen this at the end of a campaign.  They‘re often much looser and take many more risks...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

DOUGLASS:  ... than you‘ve ever seen Hillary Clinton do.  On the other hand, you know, it‘s, again, a risky message for her to be delivering, that, Don‘t get your hopes up, that all this talk about optimism isn‘t realistic.  I mean, there‘s a certain kind of an “eat your peas” message that she keeps trying to give in countering Obama‘s message of inspiration, that you have to wonder how that‘s going over.

MATTHEWS:  You know, also, Chuck and Linda, she is getting information

I always like to point out to people in my business, journalism, that the politician always knows more than we do in terms of tracking polls.  They‘re getting—aren‘t they getting—Linda first.  Aren‘t they getting fed on a daily diet how this thing‘s going in Texas?  I‘m hearing young Latinos, for example, and Latinas, are getting their parents to think about voting for their hero, Barack Obama, and breaking the old, you know, categories apart down there in Texas.  And we saw that poll we just showed that for whatever is going on, he‘s moved ahead a bit of her in Texas, where he was, what, 20 points behind.

DOUGLASS:  Well, and certainly, that‘s the case in Texas, that they‘ve got to be terribly nervous about Texas.  But the gap is still large.  She‘s still leading in Ohio, but that gap, too, is closing.  The new poll that was out today has gone from, what was it, a 17-point lead, I think, to an 11-point lead for Hillary Clinton.  She still, though, in Ohio is appearing to win with those blue-collar workers who are absolutely essential...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

DOUGLASS:  ... to any victory she might have.  So that talk of realism and, Don‘t be too optimistic about the future, don‘t have rose-colored glasses, may be aimed directly at them, and that may be what the tracking polls are telling her to say.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Chuck, let‘s talk about tough politics here. 

This isn‘t as tough as it‘s getting.  It‘s getting tougher right now.  It‘ll probably be tougher by the end of the week.  This picture of Barack Obama when he was on his trip to Africa last year—everybody knows politicians, from Prince Charles on down or on up, wear the local costumes when they visit, especially in third-world countries.  You really try to identify with the people.

But no friend of Obama put that picture out.  And I‘m just wondering about these things.  Even Jon Stewart, a non-politician, last night in the Oscars, with a billion people watching, talking about Barack Obama‘s middle name being Hussein and his last name rhyming with Osama—I mean, even that little seemingly neutral information gets into some older people‘s heads, and they go, We got a problem here.

TODD:  Yes, but you know what‘s interesting is the Obama people have, like, taken this head on.  Look, I was somebody early on—I remember when I first saw this guy‘s name pop up as an Illinois U.S. Senate candidate.  And you know, we would joke in the offices when I was at “The Hotline,” Wait a minute, some guy named Obama, which sounds like Osama, thinks he‘s going to win a United States Senate seat?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  So I think the idea—I think that the one thing that Obama knows how to beat back is this stuff.  I mean, he‘s lived with this name his whole life, you know?  You know, 46 years he‘s had to deal with this.  So I think he knows how to handle this stuff.  And they beat it back fast.  And it‘s always—in some ways, I think they end up inoculating themselves pretty well on this front.  I mean, anybody that...

MATTHEWS:  Because people don‘t want to look stupid and paranoid.  People don‘t want to—Linda, people don‘t want to look stupid and paranoid.  But older people—and I can tell stories in the millions about politicians playing to older voters.  They play on the past.  They play on fear.  They play on confusion.  They play on suggestion.  You know how it‘s done with older voters.

DOUGLASS:  Well, and they play on, frankly, ignorance, I mean, ignorance being a lack of information.  And there‘s a lot of underground stuff out there alleging that Barack Obama is a Muslim...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes.

DOUGLASS:  ... and that there‘s some secret plot that he wants to be president so he can, you know, overthrow the government.  And of course, you know, he‘s a devout Christian...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes.  I know.

DOUGLASS:  ... but he does have Muslim relatives.  But I mean, the whole point is, even though you‘re right that people probably don‘t want to believe this kind of thing and won‘t, there‘s a segment of the population that will.  And that‘s why this underground campaign continues to grow.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s so much like the John F. Kennedy campaign in ‘68 (SIC).  It‘s certainly a minority of people, but it isn‘t hard to scare people when they don‘t know what‘s coming.  Anyway, thank you very much, Chuck Todd.  Thank you, Linda Douglass.

Join us live at 7:00 Eastern tonight for the HARDBALL “Power Rankings”

it‘s Monday, that‘s when we do it—and the top stories driving this presidential campaign.

Up next: Barack Obama is looking to run out the clock on Hillary Clinton in Ohio and Texas.  But if Obama wins the nomination, is he ready for the pressure of a national campaign against McCain?  We‘ll take a closer look at his record.

And tomorrow, I‘ll be in Cleveland for the final debate between Clinton and Obama, moderated by these two gentlemen, Brian Williams and Tim Russert.  Right now, more HARDBALL coming back in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”:  Like nearly everyone in the news media, the three of us are totally in the tank for Senator Obama.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We will make every effort tonight to keep these biases hidden, but should it become obvious, please remember we‘re only human.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I think they‘re making fun of Campbell Brown.  I don‘t know what they‘re doing there with CNN.

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was part of a “Saturday Night Live” skit suggesting that the CNN debate the other night was too soft on Obama.

Hillary‘s tried to cast Obama as all style and no substance.  So does his legislative record match the oratory of unity and change that he‘s put out on the campaign trail?  Lynn Sweet is the Washington bureau chief for “The Chicago Sun-Times” and Jay Carney‘s with “Time” magazine.

Well, I think it‘s fair to say, Linda—rather, Lynn—that they could have mocked any one of the news organizations that I can think of, including this one, but they chose to mock CNN the other night, maybe because it was another network.  Who knows?

But let me ask you this.  Senator Clinton was quick to utilize that on Sunday, saying Barack‘s getting too easy a ride.  Is he?

LYNN SWEET, “CHICAGO SUN-TIMES”:  Well, if you‘re talking about overall press coverage, I think Senator Obama has just benefited from a long, long roll of favorable press.  It‘s what launched him on his presidential bid, and he‘s just been, you know, a pretty lucky guy in that he‘s had just tons of favorable press along the way, Chris.  But in the last few weeks, it‘s changed a bit, and he‘s had—as it seems more likely that he‘s the nominee, people are taking a harder look at him.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘ve always taken a hard look at him.  You‘re the go-to person on Barack Obama.  Let me ask you a big, broad question which is probably better for a columnist or an editorial writer than a reporter.  Does his oratory stack up with his record?  Is he as good as he seems to say he is?

SWEET:  Well, I‘ve done what I call unvarnished reporting, and I do act as a columnist.  So I would just say that the record sometimes is mixed.  And here‘s a quick example.  When he was asked about earmarks during the debate last week by John king, he said, Oh, I disclosed, and you can call my office.  Well, it‘s, like, here‘s a perfect example of what is mixed.  He did disclose his earmarks for 2007.  He has refused to disclose his earmarks for 2005, 2006.  So you know, I always figure more disclosure is better than less.  But as I just said, it‘s just a selective...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SWEET:  It‘s a selective record that he has on this.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what they called in the Watergate days limited, modified hangout. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s true. 

Jay, let me go to you on this.  You write—you edit a big magazine.  You‘re a big bureau chief for a magazine, “TIME.”  Is he as good as he seems to say he is? 

JAY CARNEY, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “TIME”:  Well, in some ways, he is, because there‘s not much of a record to go by.  I mean, he‘s not been a senator for very long.  And his time in the Senate was spent—a great deal of the time he‘s been in the Senate has been spent on the campaign trail. 

One way that he is not as good as he says he is, is that he portrays himself as, you know, in beautiful language, as somebody who wants to bring the country together, who can reach across the divide.  And he has proven his ability to do that electorally by attracting independents and red-state Democrats and such in these primaries.  But his record is pretty orthodox Democrat. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CARNEY:  Very orthodox Democrat, very orthodox liberal. 

I mean, when you look at the issues that—you know, if it‘s a McCain/Obama race, there‘s issue after issue where McCain has moved from the conservative right to the center or the left legislatively.  There are very few, if any at all, where Barack Obama has taken a stand that‘s in any way out of the wheelhouse of a traditional Democrat. 

MATTHEWS:  Lynn, that‘s the question, I think , that‘s driving Senator Clinton a little crazy, in terms of her frustration.  She hears him give this wonderfully soaring oratory about how we‘re all going to work together under his new dispensation, under his leadership, and, yet, is there any evidence he knows how to corral 60 votes in the U.S. Senate, rather than just 48, and get something done? 

SWEET:  Well, that‘s his big selling point now, Chris.  He says that he can come to office and bring, in effect, bigger majorities. 

And I would say that‘s what we have not seen in the years that he‘s been in the Senate.  Actually, he tends to take—he doesn‘t on the campaign trail tend to share credit with people who have helped him along the way.  When there was this bipartisan what they called gang of 14 on judges, he chose not to be on that. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SWEET:  I think that, once you‘re a president, it does help your persuasive power quite a bit, so that probably would change.  Whether or not it would change, if you—you know, if you just look at him as he was in the Senate, was he a leader in creating these coalitions, you know, so far, he hasn‘t been in long enough to show that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Jay, I guess the question is, when we get to health care, something we have to deal with—if we‘re ever going to deal with it, we have got to do it soon—it‘s been talked about since the Truman administration, giving health care to people that work, but don‘t get it, for example, just that group of people.

CARNEY:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Any evidence this guy can put together a coalition that will get something done, whether it‘s a more Republican-seeming bill, like the one in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney‘s, or the one that is Schwarzenegger is working on? 

It seems to me the only way liberals get something done is to do something a bit conservative.  The only way conservatives get something done is doing pretty liberal—it looks liberal.  You have got to surprise people.  You have got to put together an unusual coalition.  You can‘t just say, give in, you guys...

CARNEY:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... and do it my way. 

That doesn‘t work, ever. 

CARNEY:  Right.  Well, there are two—exactly.

There are two ways to look at this.  I thought Hillary Clinton bested Barack Obama in the most recent debate on this issue, because she—she argued her point more effectively, that, if you want to cover everybody, you need to start off with a plan that is, you know, literally universal, with a mandate. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CARNEY:  But, if it comes to Barack Obama in the Oval Office, and he‘s trying to get something done with Republican support, which I think you have to do on this issue, because it‘s too big—you need bipartisan support.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CARNEY:  I think he has shown, with his plan, that he‘s not asking for, you know, everything at once, and that there may be a little bit more room for maneuver with the Republicans. 

SWEET:  But here‘s the thing.  The quick thing is, you know, he has—bills himself as a bridge to the other side.  And there is some evidence that there is a two-way street. 

You know, Senator Clinton has that, too.  But, quickly, on health care, there already is the coalition that has been formed that will show that this time around with health care, it‘s different.  There are—labor unions are working already with the chamber of commerce types in some bills. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SWEET:  So, when this gets to Congress, if there‘s a Democratic president, you‘re going to have these coalitions formed because it is different than when we tried this in the 1990s. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SWEET:  So, the president, whoever it is, will have a running start in this coalition-building business, if they choose to go ahead and work on health care seriously, which the Democrats say they want to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think Michael Moore did an awful lot for this with the movie “Sicko” that was mentioned last night, because he talked about people who have insurance and are kept being told by their insurance companies, we won‘t cover this thing. 

And I think that‘s what‘s getting to people, not the uninsured.  It‘s the general population that has insurance, but worries whether it will cover them on the really important stuff that costs a lot of money. 

Thank you very much, Lynn Sweet. 

Thank you, Richard Wolffe.

Richard Wolffe?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Jay Carney. 

SWEET:  Whoa.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Change these things.

SWEET:  Oh.

Up next:  On the eve of the final debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and with her leads in Ohio and Texas starting to shrink—in fact, one is gone in Texas—“Saturday Night Live” comes to her rescue. 

Can Tina Fey succeed where Bill Clinton couldn‘t?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

So, what else is new out there in politics?  Well, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler came to Hillary Clinton‘s defense this weekend on “Saturday Night Live”. 

Warning:  There‘s a bit of graphic language coming here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)    

TINA FEY, ACTOR:  What bothers me the most is that people say that Hillary is a bitch.  And let me say something about that. 

Yes, she is. 

(LAUGHTER)

FEY:  And so am I.  And so is this one. 

AMY POEHLER, ACTRESS:  Yes, deal with it. 

FEY:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

FEY:  You know what?

(LAUGHTER)

FEY:  Bitches get stuff done.  That‘s why Catholic schools use nuns as teachers, and not priests. 

(LAUGHTER)

FEY:  Those nuns—those nuns are mean old clams, and they sleep on cots, and they‘re allowed to hit you. 

(LAUGHTER)

FEY:  And, at the end of the school year, you hated those bitches, but you knew the capital of Vermont. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

FEY:  So, I‘m saying it‘s not too late, Texas and Ohio.  Get on board. 

Bitch is the new black!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that?  I‘m not sure what to make of it. 

Anyway, Mike Huckabee, generally available for free airtime, made his “SNL” cameo this weekend. 

Here he is explaining how he can win the Republican nomination, despite its mathematical impossibility. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)   

SETH MEYERS, ACTOR:  Basically, it takes 1,191 delegates to clinch your party‘s nomination.  And, even if you won every remaining unpledged delegate, you would still fall 200 delegates short. 

(LAUGHTER)

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Wow.  Seth, that was an excellent explanation. 

(LAUGHTER)

HUCKABEE:  But I‘m afraid that you overlooked the all-important superdelegates.  Don‘t forget about them. 

MEYERS:  Right.  Well, I won‘t forget about them, but the superdelegates are only in the Democratic primary. 

(LAUGHTER)

HUCKABEE:  Uh, they can‘t vote in the Republican primary? 

MEYERS:  They cannot. 

HUCKABEE:  Uh-oh. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s Gilda Radner stuff.  “Never mind.”

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, don‘t be surprised if you‘re watching the Arkansas Mike Huckabee show somewhere down the road.

Now to Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, who is probably more popular here than he is over there.  The video you‘re seeing right now is Sarkozy walking around the annual farm fair in Paris on Saturday when a bystander said to him—quote—“Don‘t touch me.  You‘re spoiling me.” 

Well, Sarkozy‘s response—quote—“Get lost, you total jerk.”

Well, in France, it‘s not what you say.  It‘s how you say it. 

Speaking of French accents, an amazing thing at the Oscars last night.  I can‘t remember an Academy Awards presentation that was as strikingly international as this one, accents everywhere.  Take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  Thank you so, so much. 

DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, ACTOR:  My deepest thanks to the members of the academy for whacking me with the handsomest bludgeon in town. 

JAVIER BARDEM, ACTOR:  And I want to dedicate this to my mother.  I have to say this in Spanish.  I‘m SORRY.  (SPEAKING SPANISH)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  This is amazing.  What are we doing here?  This is mad.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  Thank you so much.  This is such a big deal. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  I‘m so happy, so grateful. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Thank you very much. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  I‘m overwhelmed.  It‘s just amazing. 

TILDA SWINTON, ACTRESS:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s Tilda Swinton, who played the villainess in that movie “Michael Clayton.” 

Anyway, we truly live in international times, four acting awards given out by the Academy Award, all four to people not from this country. 

Actually, this, ironically, makes me very proud of our country, that we can do this, recognize talent wherever it comes from. 

And now it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number.”  When this campaign is over, no matter who wins, we will all debate the role that Bill Clinton played in Hillary‘s campaign.  Did he help turn out the vote?  Did he remind voters of the past?  Was he a distraction? 

This past Saturday could help answer that question.  Senator Clinton was about and then responded to a question about Bill‘s South Carolina comments that some people thought were racially loaded. 

Here‘s what Bill said in January:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice, in ‘84 and ‘88.  And he ran a good campaign, and Senator Obama has run a good campaign here. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER:  And here‘s Hillary Clinton‘s response this Saturday:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And I think there are enough of you here today who know him personally and know his heart.  If anyone was offended by anything that was said, whether it was meant or not, whether it was misinterpreted or not, then, obviously, I regret that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re all doing a lot of that this year. 

How many days after Bill‘s comments was Hillary still forced to talk about them, those comments back in South Carolina?  Twenty-eight days.  That‘s how long things last, long legs for those comments by Bill Clinton, still hanging in the American air 28 days after he spoke them—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  John McCain has all but won the Republican nomination.  Who is he going to pick as his running mate?  That‘s coming back in a minute.  It‘s going to be fun, going through the pile of people who want that job. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

A big bounce back for stocks after rating agency S&P reaffirmed top credit rankings for major bond insurers Ambac and MBIA.  That helped give the Dow a boost of confidence, the Dow gaining by triple digits, up 189 points, the S&P up more than 18-and-a-half, and Nasdaq saw a 24-point gain. 

Surging oil prices, they‘re at the gas pump now.  AAA is reporting a nationwide average of $3.13 a gallon.  And, today, oil prices closed a little more than $99 a barrel in New York‘s trading session. 

Existing home sales are down, falling to their lowest level in almost a decade.  The four-tenths-of-a-percent drop was severe, but still less than what many economists had expected. 

And Pfizer is voluntarily pulling ads for the cholesterol drug Lipitor featuring artificial heart inventor Robert Jarvik.  Pfizer says the ads led to—quote—“misimpressions,” because Jarvik appears to give medical advice, even though he has never practiced medicine. 

That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to Chris and HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Now that John McCain has all but locked up the Republican nomination, who will he tap for V.P.?  Will he go for someone to fill a void or to reinforce a strength of his, for a governor, someone young?

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Good to see you all. 

Thanks. 

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  As the speculation intensifies over John McCain‘s potential running mate, Christian conservatives are beginning to push for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.  Huckabee will finish second in the delegate count and has been consistently gracious towards McCain. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

HUCKABEE:  And John McCain‘s a hero in this country.  He‘s a hero to me. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Some McCain supporters consider Huckabee a hero for derailing Mitt Romney‘s early march to the nomination in Iowa. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)   

MEYERS:  Governor Mike Huckabee. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Huckabee also has state-of-the-art communication skills, as he demonstrated in a “Saturday Night Live” skit this weekend poking fun at his continuing campaign. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)   

HUCKABEE:  But I‘m afraid that you overlooked the all-important superdelegates.  Don‘t forget about them. 

MEYERS:  Right.  Well, I won‘t forget about them, but the superdelegates are only in the Democratic primary. 

(LAUGHTER)

HUCKABEE:  Uh, they can‘t vote in the Republican primary? 

MEYERS:  They cannot. 

HUCKABEE:  Uh-oh. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  As funny and likable as Huckabee is, in raw political terms, however, his tax history in Arkansas is a problem to fiscal conservatives.  It‘s an issue, according to top McCain advisers, who are already throwing cold water on the suggestion of a McCain/Huckabee ticket.  That could open up the door to several Republicans most Americans have never heard of, including South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The next president of the United States, Senator John McCain. 

SHUSTER:  McCain has not forgotten Sanford‘s political courage in endorsing him eight years ago in the midst of a bruising campaign against George W. Bush.  Sanford could help McCain in the South and with voters driven by economic concerns.

When it comes to tax policy concerns, no Republican on the McCain speculation list is as trusted by GOP lawmakers as Rob Portman. 

ROB PORTMAN ®, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  Mr. President, thank you very much.  I am very proud to stand at your side. 

SHUSTER:  Portman was President Bush‘s budget director.  Before that, Portman was a popular Republican congressman from Ohio.  Ohio will be a crucial swing state in the general election. 

Florida is also a crucial swing state.  And that‘s where Governor Charlie Crist comes in. 

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST ®, FLORIDA:  I don‘t think anybody would do better than the man who stands next to me, Senator John McCain. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

SHUSTER:  Crist‘s endorsement of McCain last month provided a crucial boost in McCain‘s Florida primary victory. 

If McCain is thinking of going younger, his advisers point to 47-year-old Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

GOV. TIM PAWLENTY ®, MINNESOTA:  Did you know that seven governors have become U.S. presidents and four have become vice presidents? 

SHUSTER:  Pawlenty endorsed McCain early, stayed with him when all seemed lost and is considered a rising conservative star, who could help McCain make a run at Midwestern battleground states like Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. 

There are other names being thrown around including Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who says she is not interested.  

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY STATE:  I have always said that the one thing that I have not seen myself doing is running for elected office in the United States. 

SHUSTER:  Senator McCain has told reporters he‘s hasn‘t settled on how the vice presidential selection will work, let alone who might be on any consideration list.  Still, it‘s a process that should begin no later than April, when McCain is expected to secure the delegate threshold needed for the Republican nomination. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you David Shuster. 

Let‘s bring in Republican strategist Ron Christie, who was an aide to Vice President Cheney—that‘s how he pronounces it—and Susan Molinari, who was a senior political advisors to Judy—Rudy, not Judy, Rudy Giuliani.  How quickly we forget. 

SUSAN MOLINARI, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Thanks, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me try something.  I want you guys to really be smart now.  We‘re not going to do this in total fairness.  We‘re just going to pick all the ones that we think the smart move would be.  I believe in counter-programming.  I think Barack Obama does have the upper hand right now.  He could lose this thing to Senator Clinton next week, for all I know, but he‘s got the upper hand right now. 

If you‘re a Republican working with Senator McCain, you‘re thinking, how do you counter program Barack Obama?  I say you put Kay Bailey Hutchinson on the ticket with you, a woman, a moderate, a conservative, but not really hard line on abortion rights, on the other side of abortion rights, rather.  She‘s pro-life, I think, but a little vague there. 

Kay Bailey Hutchinson, you have a woman.  If Hillary has lost the nomination by then, you are exploiting the territory.  Susan Molinari, what do you make of that move?   

MOLINARI:  Certainly, I‘m a big fan of Senator Hutchinson‘s.  I think she does bring the benefit of being a woman, bringing the state of Texas, which is important.  Two senators, I‘m not show sure how that floats against the talk of change.  You know, that would be the one downside, but clearly she‘s got a terrific record and she‘s a female who stands strong on the military, so she could carry that. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make, Ron, of this?  I‘m thinking—if—you know, somebody is going to lose this Democratic fight, either Barack or senator Clinton.  Somebody is going to lose and they‘re going to be disaffected, at least, and open to exploitation.  Why not put a woman on the ticket if Hillary Clinton loses this nomination and say to suburban women, here‘s your chance to vote for the first woman vice president and to vote for the Republican candidate for president? 

RON CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Well, Chris, I think Susan‘s right.  I think that Kay Bailey Hutchinson is very widely respected in Republican circles.  Texas won‘t be an issue for us if she‘s on the ticket.  But Senator McCain‘s problem, in my humble opinion, is that he is widely viewed as being a little up there in years and, of course, Senator McCain‘s intensity going around the country and saying I want to change things up.  I don‘t think having two members of the United States Senate is too much by the way of change.  I think he has to get somebody younger, somebody who has impeccable conservative Republican credentials. 

I don‘t necessarily know that, as Susan pointed out, that Kay Bailey Hutchinson does all of those things.   

MATTHEWS:  OK, do it for me. 

CHRISTIE:  The one I would take, Chris, and this is my dark-horse candidate, Rob Portman.  David Shuster had that in his piece a few moments ago.  Rob Portman is a tax cutter.  Rob Portman has significant government experience.  He worked as the United States trade representative.  He was the head of Office of Management and Budget.  He‘s a budget geek.  He can crunch the numbers, but he‘s very articulate.  He comes across very well on television and for those who say John McCain isn‘t conservative enough or John McCain is perhaps a little too old, Rob Portman knocks those issues right out of the park. 

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Susan, your thoughts about the ideal Republican running mate for John McCain. 

MOLINARI:  I think Rob Portman is certainly one of them.  I served with both Rob Portman and Governor Mark Sanford and I think they are both extremely widely respected by conservatives.  They do bring some of that youth to the ticket.  Rob Portman is considered a tax cutter.  So the conservatives would really trust the ticket on that mark. 

Sanford is considered a huge economic conservative.  Mark Sanford brings the south.  Rob Portman brings Ohio.  Those are two great choices.  And, of course, to those of us who remember the brilliance of Governor Haley Barbour and what he was able to do as RNC chairman on TV, I‘d always want to be on his side.  He showed an effectiveness in dealing with Hurricane Katrina.  He‘s southern.  The grass roots of the Republican party love Haley Barbour. 

MATTHEWS:  Place your bet.  Who is he going to pick?  Ron Christie first, who‘s he going to pick?

CHRISTIE:  I think someone like Rob Portman or perhaps Governor Pawlenty would be my two tops picks. 

MATTHEWS:  Susan Molinari, Congresswoman, who will he pick? 

MOLINARI:  I wouldn‘t count out anyone that we talked about before, or Governor Charlie Crist, who has a 78 percent approval rating in an important state in the general election, and whose endorsement was very critical. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it will be Sanford.  Thank you very much Ron Christie and Susan Molinari. 

Up next, it‘s the final debate before Ohio and Texas.  It‘s coming up tomorrow night here on MSNBC.  Can Senator Clinton do enough tomorrow night to bring it all back her way?  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RALPH NADER, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Dissent is the mother of assent. 

And in that context, I have decided to run for president. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Shortly after Ralph Nader made that announcement on “Meet The Press” yesterday, the Democrat candidates responded. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I think that Ralph Nader deserves enormous credit for the outstanding work he did as a consumer advocate for many years, but his function as a perennial presidential candidate I don‘t think is helping put food on the table. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Senator Clinton told the “New York Times,” quote, “wow, that‘s unfortunate, really unfortunate.  I remember when he did this before.  It‘s not good for anybody, especially our country.” 

Well, our politics fix round table tonight, Jill Zuckman of the “Chicago Tribune,” Chrystia Freeland of the “Financial Times” and the “USA Today‘s” Susan Page.  I want a round table here starting with Jill.  I see your picture first on the Hollywood Squares chart there.  First one, what is Ralph Nader going to bring to this campaign?  Will he move the Democratic candidate, whoever it is, to the left, like he did with Al Gore, push him over, push her over? 

JILL ZUCKMAN, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Chris, I think that Ralph Nader has just lost whatever he—whatever he had going for him in 2000, with each successive campaign, I think fewer people are interested.  And I also think, look how much enthusiasm there is in this Democratic primary, the numbers of people coming out and voting in the primary.  I just think the more enthusiasm there is for whoever the Democratic nominee is, the less interest there‘s going to be in Ralph Nader. 

MATTHEWS:  Chrystia, the Nader impact? 

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, “THE FINANCIAL TIMES”:  I think Jill is absolutely right.  The justification for a Ralph Nader candidacy is if you think the establishment has the Democratic party sewn up and there‘s no room for the grass roots to make an impact.  You can‘t argue that that‘s the case right now.  There‘s so much enthusiasm for people that haven‘t been involved in politics. 

MATTHEWS:  Try as he did yesterday against Tim Russert, he had a very difficult time explaining that he did not cost Al Gore Florida. 

SUSAN PAGE, “THE USA TODAY”:  Yes, you know, I think one thing we learned, though, in 2001 was you don‘t have to get very many votes, if the election is close, to have an impact.  Ralph Nader draining off even a few votes in a key state, it could have more impact, even if he doesn‘t do very well nationally.  So, I think this is cause for some concern, especially if the nominee is Hillary Clinton.  There‘s a bigger opening for Ralph Nader against Hillary Clinton as a Democratic nominee than against Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee. 

MATTHEWS:  Explain that, Susan, if you can. 

PAGE:  Because Barack Obama has more credibility as someone who is opposing the special interests and standing up against the lobbyists.  That‘s been one of his themes from the start.  And that‘s certainly what Ralph Nader was talking about yesterday as a justification for his campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me start with this, and then I want to go to Jill and then Susan.  What is Senator Clinton‘s end game here that seems to have started on Saturday?  Telling Barack Obama because of some literature he‘s put out in Ohio that he ought to be ashamed of himself.  Very strong language; what is up? 

FREELAND:  Well, we did see a really interesting change over the weekend.  And if you think about the Texas debates where she was almost valedictorian, quite gentle, quite (INAUDIBLEL) in how she treated Senator Obama and then over the weekend we saw two new tones. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at this two tones here, both the one on Thursday, then the one on Saturday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  And, you know, no matter what happens in this contest—and I am honored—I am honored to we here with Barack Obama.  I am absolutely honored. 

Shame on you, Barack Obama.  It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Jill, what do we make of that?  Most people have mood swings and attitude swings, which I have to say in my case change radically time to time, but to go from basically applauding him as a human being to saying he ought to be ashamed of himself is a wicked turn of tone, I think.  But you say what you think. 

ZUCKMAN:  It comes across as a little schizophrenic.  I think that the Clinton campaign is trying everything they can possibly try to stop his momentum.  And I think the other thing is he is going on offense against Senator Clinton when it comes to NAFTA.  In Ohio, a state that‘s been so badly hurt by the loss of manufacturing jobs, NAFTA‘s a four-letter word, and if you let that concept take—take hold, that you‘re for that, then you‘re in deep trouble. 

I mean, she‘s only up at this point by about 11 points, compared to 20 points maybe a week ago.  So, she‘s got to do everything she can to hold on to that. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll come back with Susan Page‘s view on Senator Clinton‘s end game you have to call it.  It‘s getting close to the end.  We‘ll be right back with the round table for more of our politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Quit misleading people about what I do.  Quit telling people what is not true about my plan.  You know, come on, enough is enough.  Let‘s get real here and compare exactly what both of us stand for.

(END VIDEO CLIP

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  I want to go to Susan Page on that.  You know, it‘s always dangerous in politics to talk to the crowd and not be aware of how it sounds on television.  There a very strong attack on her opponent, Barack Obama. 

PAGE:  But, you know, it‘s interesting, this attack that Barack Obama‘s not ready to be president is not really working for her.  We have a new “USA Today”/Gallup poll back this afternoon and what we found was that Americans are divided on whether Barack Obama has enough experience to be a good president.  But of the half of Americans that say he doesn‘t, 29 percent of them still plan to vote for him, still support him. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that apparent contradiction?  I want him in, but I don‘t know if he‘s ready.

PAGE::  Because I think it‘s clear that they care more about visionary leadership, turning the page, changing the country, than they do about someone with the best experience. 

MATTHEWS:  I think people would prefer a roll of the dice compared to what they have today.  I‘m just guessing.  Chrystia?

FREELAND:  And I think also this question of whether anybody is ready to be president is a really important one.  What can prepare you to be president?  Maybe only having been president.  We‘ve seen, particularly in other countries like Britain, Gordon Brown, who was Tony Blair‘s understudy for ever, is having a really hard time stepping up. 

So experience maybe doesn‘t always work. 

MATTHEWS:  Jill, your thoughts on this latest turn of the numbers?  These national numbers keep cooking up there for Barack, up to a 12 point spread in tomorrow‘s “USA Today.”

PAGE:  It‘s great for Obama.  He‘s been racking it up state by state.  And now the national numbers are following him and sucking away from Senator Clinton, who always had those high national figures, but wasn‘t having the states follow.  The other thing about Obama is, to a certain extent, I think people aren‘t as concerned about experience because they look at him as a blank slate and transfer what they believe on to him. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  Got to go.  I‘m sorry.  Jill Zuckman, great having you on.  Chrystia Freeland, thank you very much.  Thank you, Susan Page.  Join us again in one hour for the HARDBALL power rankings.  I‘ll be in Cleveland tomorrow.  It‘s the final debate before Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama before Texas and Ohio.  We‘ll be right there tomorrow night only on MSNBC.  Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

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