updated 2/29/2008 11:14:50 AM ET 2008-02-29T16:14:50

Guests: Eugene Miller, Kevin Conwell, Maria Teresa Petersen, Mike Barnicle, Chris Cillizza.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  What‘ll make Hillary run?  Her husband says she‘s got to win Texas and Ohio.  Her delegate hunter says she only has to win Texas or Ohio.  What is it?  Let‘s find out what‘ll keep Hillary in the fight.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  In just five days now, voters in Texas and Ohio will go to the polls in what amounts to a make-or-break Tuesday.  And so in just five days, we‘ll be able to see whether Hillary Clinton can continue her campaign and go on to the next big state, Pennsylvania.

Or will we?  Does Senator Clinton have to win both Ohio and Texas, as former president Clinton said last week, or can she manage to stay alive in this race and go on with just one big win on Tuesday?  We‘ll try to answer that, and we‘ll look at the latest polls from both Ohio and Texas in just a moment.

Also: What do Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain all have in common?  This week, all of them received support from someone they probably wish had just stayed quiet.  First, Louis Farrakhan praised Obama.  Then a radio talk show host embarrassed John McCain by mocking Obama.  And now in the latest example, a prominent Latina Clinton supporter in Texas said she couldn‘t support Obama because he‘s black.

What do you do when your supporters cause more harm than good?

And when U.S. Congressman John Lewis switched his support from Clinton to Obama yesterday, it was just the latest case of Clinton losing a superdelegate.  Will we see even more endorsements like this from African-American leaders?  We‘ll get into this issue and all the political news in our “Politics Fix” tonight.

But first, the crucial states in Texas and Ohio.  Those primaries are very crucial.  NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell has been covering this campaign, and “The Washington Post‘s” Eugene Robinson‘s an MSNBC political analyst.

Let‘s start with the latest poll out of Texas.  It‘s a one-day survey by Insider Advantage, and it has Clinton up 47 to 43, a 4-point advantage for her.  The Real Clear Politics average of all Texas polls has a very close race, with Obama leading by 1 point—I don‘t know, 1.6 -- up by 1.6.  It‘s really exact there.  And in Ohio, the Real Clear Politics average has Hillary Clinton leading by nearly 7.

So that‘s the question.  Let‘s take a look.  Here‘s Bill Clinton, the former president, last week, laying it on the line as to what he thinks Senator Clinton has to do next Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If she wins in Texas and Ohio, I think she‘ll be the nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, then we got the other thing.  We have to look at some more here.  We‘ve got some more tapes.  Let‘s look at the—at what Harold Ickes had to say on Monday.  Here‘s what he did.  He‘s the delegate hunter.  He told a room full of supporters, quote, “I think if we lose in Texas and Ohio, Mrs. Clinton will have to make her decisions as to whether she goes forward or not.”  So he‘s saying that she has—she only has to win one, in effect.

And here‘s what—we heard the third point—here‘s what Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania had to say on the very issue.  He said, basically, that Bill Clinton is the guy to watch.  He said you have to win both.

Which is it, Andrea Mitchell?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  It‘s both.  It‘s very clearly both.  I just finished an interview with Ed Rendell for the “Today” program, and he said she‘s got to win both.  He thinks she will win both.  He just was at a session at the University of Pennsylvania this morning with Bill Clinton, a speech that he was giving, a non-political speech, and he said that the former president agrees that  she‘s got to win both.  But the question then will be, What if she wins the popular vote narrowly in Texas and doesn‘t win the delegates?  Which is very likely, considering the complicated formula.  Does she then go on, even though it‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but if she wins Ohio and wins the popular in Texas, that‘s two wins.

MITCHELL:  I think she goes on.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s your view, Gene?

EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I tend to agree.  I think Ickes is being smart in terms of keeping the campaign‘s options open, but to me, Texas is the key state.  It‘s the second most populous state in the country.  It‘s huge.  And I think if she wins the popular vote in Texas, she can claim a legitimate reason to carry on.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I think most are now agreed around this table that if she wins two big ones next Tuesday, there‘s no reason to pull down the flag.  However...

MITCHELL:  No.

MATTHEWS:  OK...

MITCHELL:  Plus, they just had a conference call, a pep rally, if you will, for donors.  They had a big announcement, $35 million in February raised, most of it on line, small contributors, the kind of on-line fund-raising that we‘ve been, you know, praising Obama...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  ... for pulling off.  Thirty-five million dollars is more than twice what they did the month before.  And this gives her the money to be very competitive coming up as she goes towards Pennsylvania.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go to middle case—She wins Ohio, loses Texas across the board, loses delegates and popular vote in Texas, which, if you look at direction of the polls, is very probable, certainly plausible.  If she comes out of next Tuesday and it‘s Tuesday night, she sees the numbers coming in from Texas, she‘s going to lose, she sees the numbers coming in from Ohio, she‘s going to win, then what, Andrea Mitchell?

MITCHELL:  Rendell says she‘ll have to consider very seriously getting out.  That‘s the message.  She‘ll have to drop out, is the sense from other governors and superdelegates and major supporters of hers.

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re with Bill Clinton on this.

MITCHELL:  Absolutely.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  I think the superdelegates will—would, at that point, let her know that this was not a promising way to go on and...

MATTHEWS:  Well, this is one heck of a high goal now.  I know it was just two weeks ago, she had to win both states substantially.  Now the new goal is some people would say she has to win both.  And you are among those that say she has to win both.

MITCHELL:  That‘s the bottom line.  I think she has to win both.  I don‘t think that she has to win them substantially.  That would be what she would want to do to get the delegate advantage.  But she has to win both.  Look, I think there are a couple of realists here, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Maggie Williams.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take a look at a big story.  So we‘re resolved here.  At least you‘re both resolved.  I disagree with you.  I think they‘re going to fight on if they win even one because I think we‘re talking about the Clintons.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t quit.

Here‘s President Bush, by the way.  Let‘s talk about another fight that‘s picked up.  I think the Republicans, including the president, think that Obama has this won because they‘ve turned their guns on this guy.  They are going after this guy.  Here‘s President Bush reacting today to what Senator Obama said about al Qaeda in Iraq in the most recent MSNBC debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator Obama was asked a similar question.  He said, quote, “If al Qaeda is forming a base in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and out interests abroad.”  So what (INAUDIBLE)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It‘s an interesting comment.  If al Qaeda is securing a al Qaeda base?  Yes.  Well, that‘s exactly what they‘ve been trying to do for the past four years.  That‘s—their stated intention was to create enough chaos and disorder to establish a base from which to either launch attacks or spread a caliphate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well (INAUDIBLE) in a fight because that‘s the classic circular fight we‘re all used to now.

ROBINSON:  Exactly!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Explain how that fight works.

ROBINSON:  Well, and the way the fight works is that Obama comes back and says, yes, but there would be no such thing as al Qaeda in Iraq...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  ... U.S. invasion.  We‘ve heard this fight about 87 million times in the last six (INAUDIBLE)

MITCHELL:  In fact, that‘s what he said to McCain yesterday.

ROBINSON:  Exactly.

MITCHELL:  McCain said, I got news, al Qaeda is in Iraq.  It‘s called al Qaeda in Iraq.  Obama came back an hour later and said, I‘ve got news for John McCain.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What came first, the chicken or the egg?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Because that‘s the question here.

MITCHELL:  Actually, in Obama‘s defense and Hillary Clinton‘s defense, in that question during—you know, during the debate—you know, when you‘re asked a hypothetical question—in that instance, Obama was asked a hypothetical question, Let‘s say we withdraw and al Qaeda reconstitutes in Iraq.  Would you, as president of the United States, then send U.S.  troops...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  ... back in?  So when you take out all the hypotheticals there, I think it‘s a little bit unfair for everyone...

MATTHEWS:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That said, Senator Obama was fully within his capacity to have said, Wait a minute, they‘re already there.

MITCHELL:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And he didn‘t do that.

MITCHELL:  He didn‘t do that.

ROBINSON:  Right, he didn‘t do that.

MATTHEWS:  Because that would have made him sound a tad more hawkish than he would like to seem.

MITCHELL:  And in fact, he showed his lack of...

ROBINSON:  Well, but...

MITCHELL:  ... of—of nuance on foreign policy.  We laugh about nuances, but...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  He was being hawkish, though, because the next sentence he spoke was that if they‘re trying to establish a base there, which, of course, they‘ve been trying to do, we go in.  We do what we need to do to protect U.S. interests.

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s—this is—this is under the area of Rich Mellon (ph) of foreign policy.  Here‘s President Bush on Senator Obama‘s willingness to engage with people that he won‘t engage with.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Sitting down at the table, having your picture taken with a tyrant such as Raul Castro, for example, lends the status of the office and the status of our country to him.  He gains a lot from it by saying, Look at me, I‘m now recognized by the president of the United States.  Somebody will say, Well, I‘m going to tell him, you know, to release the prisoners.  Well, it‘s a theory that all you got to do is embrace, and these tyrants act.  That‘s not how they act.  That‘s not what causes them to respond.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s Senator Clinton, making fun of Obama right there, you know, the celestial choir begins to sing.

MITCHELL:  Well, look, Obama staked out this position.  He‘s stuck to this position that he does not think there need to be preconditions, although he has tried to back off slightly by saying, of course, they would have to be well prepared.  What‘s the difference between preparation and preconditions?  I don‘t know.  But it is an area where he will be vulnerable in a he general election debate if it comes the fact that he is the nominee against John McCain.  There‘s clearly—you know, clearly a big contrast there.

ROBINSON:  It seems to me, though, that he wants to have this argument.  He doesn‘t seem to shy away from it.  And you know, the pushback would be not meeting with the Castro brothers has really worked for 50 years.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... that strategy.

ROBINSON:  Exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  And the other pushback would be that Ronald Reagan sat down with Mikhail Gorbachev.

ROBINSON:  Exactly.  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk about this thing (INAUDIBLE) development.  It seems like the Republicans are better at blowing the whistle at the end of the game than the Democrats.  They basically started going after Obama like he won.  You  had that character, Bill Cunningham, down in somewhere attacked him the other day.  You had the Republican chairman of Tennessee attack him.  The president now has weighed in, going after Obama.  Excuse me, has the game begun, the general election?

MITCHELL:  What McCain would like to do is get back into the game, get the attention by going after Obama.  That...

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) anticipated the next spot we‘re going to show.  Here‘s Senator McCain today in Houston, Texas, hitting back at Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator Obama—

Senator Obama stated that he would—if al Qaeda was establishing a base in Iraq after we left Iraq, as he wants us to do immediately, then would consider going back to Iraq.  So yesterday, Senator Obama said, Well, we shouldn‘t have gone in, in the first place.  And if we hadn‘t gone in in the first place, we wouldn‘t be facing this problem.  Well, that‘s history.  That‘s the past.  That‘s talking about what happened before.  What we should be talking about is what we‘re going to do now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And here‘s the present.  Here‘s Senator Obama in Austin, Texas, going back to Senator McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I believe Senator Obama better stay focused...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I—I guess that wasn‘t—here we go right now.  OK, I guess we don‘t—we‘ll get that in a second.  We‘re using a lot of film here today.

MITCHELL:  Can I just make one other point, a completely unrelated point?  George Bush about the price of gas—you know, it used to be that candidates were always told by their advisers, you know, This is what the price of milk is, this is what the cost of bread is.  There was a famous question to Bill Clinton during the ‘92 campaign, when it was posed to him that, you know, gasoline is going to go to $4 a gallon, if it isn‘t in some places already.  And he said $4?  This is the energy patch guy...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... only about a dollar off—half a dollar off now.

ROBINSON:  He didn‘t do that well in the oil business.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take a look at—here‘s—here‘s Senator Obama in Austin, as I said, linking Senator Clinton—I mean, Senator McCain to President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We are not standing on the bring of a recession because of forces out of our control.  I think that‘s very important to understand.  This was not an inevitable part of the business cycle.  It was a failure of leadership in Washington...

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

OBAMA:  ... a Washington where George Bush handed out billions of dollars in tax breaks to the wealthy few over the course of seven-and-a-half years, and John McCain promises to make those same tax cuts permanent, embracing the central principles of Bush economic policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So he‘s turning this election into a third term for President Bush, right?

MITCHELL:  Well, and that is the best argument that any Democrat can make in a general, given the overall poll numbers—not—you know, the Republican...

MATTHEWS:  Stay the course.

MITCHELL:  ... base still likes George W. Bush, but that is not what most Americans, 70 percent or more...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I think if they can keep rubbing it in—that‘s how—you know, that‘s how Jimmy Carter got elected in ‘76 -- you‘re going to get more Nixon, even though the guy‘s name was Ford.

ROBINSON:  What will—what will McCain do?  How will he establish some distance...

MITCHELL:  That‘s the question.

ROBINSON:  ... between himself and President Bush?  I mean, they‘re obviously very close on...

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s the Harry Truman strategy, which is go against the left, go against the right, go right down the middle, go for the burbs (ph).  We‘ll see if he can do it.

Andrea Mitchell, thank you—Gene Robinson.

Coming up: With friends like these, Obama, Clinton and McCain have all faced heat thanks to support from some interesting characters.  Should the candidates be judged on the company they keep or the supporters they get, or who actually just says something nice about them?  And where should the candidates simply draw the line and say, I don‘t want that from you????

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  All of us are sometimes in the awkward position of having to react to unfortunate statements or actions by friends and supporters.  For a presidential candidate, however, the challenge can e especially tricky.  Condemn a high-profile supporter, and you risk the votes of their friends and followers.

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster joins us now with more on this tricky situation—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, other than dealing with their own mistakes, this is as difficult as it gets for a politician, as John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have all been reminded.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CLINTON:  And I thank all of you for coming out early.

SHUSTER (voice-over):  When Hillary Clinton led a rally last week near Dallas, Texas, her supporters in attendance included Adelfa Callejo.  The 84-year-old Hispanic activist is a prominent Latino leader in north Texas.  This week, Callejo told a Dallas television station there is a deep division in the community between Latinos and African-Americans.

ADELFA CALLEJO, HISPANIC ACTIVIST:  And when the blacks had the numbers, they never did anything to support us.

SHUSTER:  Then Callejo said this.

CALLEJO:  Obama has a problem that he happens to be black.

SHUSTER:  In a satellite interview yesterday with the same station, Hillary Clinton was informed of Callejo‘s comments and was asked to respond.

CLINTON:  I believe strongly that, you know, the fact we have an African-American and a woman running for the Democratic nomination is historical.  And I‘m very, very proud of that.  And I want people, though, to look beyond, look beyond race and gender, look at our records.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is this something where you reject and denounce her support because of her comments?

CLINTON:  Oh, people have every reason to express their opinions.  I just don‘t agree with that.  I think that we should be looking at the individuals who are running, and that is certainly what I intend to do.

MATTHEWS:  One day earlier, Clinton said Barack Obama‘s response wasn‘t strong enough when he was asked about Louis Farrakhan.

OBAMA:  I have been very clear in my denunciations of him and his past statements.

CLINTON:  And there‘s a difference between denouncing and rejecting.

OBAMA:  If the word “reject” Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word “denounce,” then I‘m happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce.

SHUSTER:  Last night, Clinton‘s campaign became concerned enough about her local television interview that spokesman Doug Hattaway stated, quote, “We were taken back (SIC) by the question.  She had never heard of this before.  If it was actually said, of course, she denounces and rejects that kind of politics in any way, shape and form.”

It‘s not unusual for candidates to be put on the defensive by their supporters, as John McCain learned painfully this week.

BILL CUNNINGHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  And the Clinton news network at some point is going to peel the bark off Barack Hussein Obama!  That day will come!

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And I condemn It.  And, if I have any responsibility, I will take responsibility, and I apologize for it. 

SHUSTER:  In December, Billy Shaheen, Hillary Clinton‘s national co-chair in New Hampshire, told “The Washington Post” that Barack Obama was vulnerable to general election attacks because Obama used drugs as a teenager. 

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I not only disapproved it, but that it did not reflect the campaign that I‘m running.  And I did personally apologize.  And the gentleman in question has stepped down from a leadership role in my campaign. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  The issue is, how do you reject a supporter or organizer when they represent a group of voters you‘re counting on?  The conservative talk radio listeners are important to John McCain.  Latinos and African-American voters will play a crucial role in those big Democratic primaries next week—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.

David is going to stay with us.

Chuck Todd is joining us right now.  He is of course our renowned political director. 

This is not so much analysis as hunch in politics.  I want to start with you, David, because you‘re enterprising this piece and put that together.  What do you do when somebody like Farrakhan, a tricky customer, to say the least, who is known for making anti-Semitic statements, gutter religion, things like that, when he also has millions of people that maybe not be his followers, but who do look up to him as kind of a nationalistic sound, a voice of anger that they do listen to, and respect to some extent?

SHUSTER:  I think you do what Barack Obama was probably doing.  And that is, you pray it doesn‘t come up in a debate.

But if it does, you have to be prepared to know what your answer is

going to be.  And I think that‘s where Obama got caught.  Perhaps he didn‘t

he either hadn‘t thought this through, or hadn‘t figured what he was going to do if he got this kind of question.

MATTHEWS:  That was a clever line by that local reporter there, asking Senator Clinton, do you reject and denounce, the very words that she was forcing Obama to use in denouncing Farrakhan. 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, look, I think she did Obama a huge favor during the debate, when she basically forced him to clean up—clean up his language. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re right.  Ironically, she gave him a break. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  She, weirdly, gave him a break.  I mean, she jumped in and said, no, no, no, no, you have really got to be tough on this.

And so—and Obama caught it.  He then realized he had left an opening.  She saw the opening.  She drove a truck through it.  And he said, this debate is about me.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s fast thinking, David.  He realized it in time. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He was going to have to cut lose some people on...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... some African-Americans who do look up to Farrakhan, maybe not politically, but they look up to him culturally in many ways, to say, OK, I‘m going to risk your votes, but I‘m not going to have these people who are worried about Farrakhan‘s larger message come at me. 

SHUSTER:  I think that‘s the distinction that we were talking about earlier, because when you talk about how good Barack Obama is, he was able to realize, OK, you know what, I‘m going to concede the point.  Within about a minute or so of Hillary Clinton reminding him, he said, you know what?  It‘s not worth it.  I will concede the point.

Hillary Clinton, in this interview, she was reminded by the interviewer, here‘s what this person said.  And she still essentially didn‘t get it.  It was only afterwards when her staff put out this statement. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Cut her this much slack.  Did she even know that that Latino woman had made that statement? 

SHUSTER:  No, but she was read the statement by the reporter. 

And, at a certain point, there‘s Barack Obama trusting Hillary Clinton‘s judgment.  At a certain point, Hillary Clinton is going to say, you know what?  She could have said, if this is true, then of course I reject it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s turn over the pillow to the Republican side. 

Here‘s Bill Cunningham, the inimitable Bill Cunningham, criticizing Senator Obama at a McCain rally.  He was doing the warmup here. 

(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‘re going to have a little cookie and cream party.  All is 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 kumbaya together around a table of Barack Obama.  It‘s all going to be great.

Things are going to be wonderful. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Kumbaya, sir, not kumbaya. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  If you‘re going to get it, get it right.

There was a trickier one, because there McCain took this fellow on. 

Then he had to take—then Rush Limbaugh jumped to this fellow‘s defense.

TODD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And then all the talk show world of the right was out against McCain again. 

TODD:  Boy, this is the difference between McCain‘s instincts for the conservative talk radio movement and George W. Bush‘s.

This happened in South Carolina.  Remember the Vietnam veterans against McCain?  These guys came up and denounced him.

And Bush, the campaign sort of apologized for it.  But Bush never—never threw that guy completely under the bus.  McCain basically said, no, I‘m throwing him under the bus.  I‘m going to throw this guy under the bus. 

And what he did is, he has now probably got talk radio, who has never been with him yet—they were siding with him with that “New York Times” story—now he has got them all mad again. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Could it be that both these guys are smart enough?  Hey, look, I don‘t know what is going to will win in this election.  This is a very big change election coming up, probably.

But both of them seem to be averting getting stuck on the far right or

the far left.  They‘re willing to sacrifice their far left in the case of -

you could argue that—in the case of Farrakhan.  Obama says, OK, I can to lose some of his supporters.  And this guy is saying, McCain saying, I can afford to lose a few Rush Limbaugh supporters. 

SHUSTER:  Oh, I agree. 

I think John McCain picks up three votes for every one vote he might lose on the far right.  But the irony is here, Chris, that this was easily preventable.  As you know, if you‘re speaking at an event, you have an obligation to say to the campaign, hey, here‘s what I am going to say.  Is this OK?

If you‘re inviting somebody to an event, you better damn well know the kind of stuff that they‘re going to say and at least try to make sure, OK, this is the message, don‘t go half-corked off here. 

TODD:  Yes, this is going to be a tricky thing, though, for McCain the whole time.  He‘s going to have some supporters that are going to come out for him simply because they want to be against Obama and the whole... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You never know what your allies are up to. 

TODD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Chuck Todd.

Thank you, David Shuster.

Up next:  The White House chef reveals how President Bush likes his hot dogs cooked.

And Barack Obama reveals a little too much information on Ellen DeGeneres‘ show. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

So, what else is new out there in politics? 

Well, former White House chef Walter Scheib, first hired by the Clintons, then re-upped by the Bushes, is out with a new book of culinary tales from the White House.  Chief among them, George Bush‘s hard line when it comes to cooking hot dogs. 

According to Scheib, President Bush was absolutely adamant that his franks be baseball park steamed, not grilled. 

Well, to paraphrase Barack Obama, I disagree, not only with the president‘s decision to go in for steamed hot dogs, but the mind-set behind it.  Basketball hot dogs, which you buy during the game, are great.  Then again, so are the bags of peanuts you sit and crack open inning after inning. 

But, when you‘re home, the way to eat a hot dog is after it‘s grilled, with the grill lines running clearly across it.  Opinions, of course, differ. 

Yesterday, we brought you a news release for the Tennessee GOP.  It was entitled “Anti-Semites for Obama,” and it played up Obama‘s middle name, which, of course, is Hussein, while showing that African garb he wore over in East Africa last year. 

Well, after Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander intervened, the Republican Party of Tennessee removed the press release from its Web site, because as Alexander‘s said—quote—“It could be easily misinterpreted, taken out of context, or be considered inappropriate.” 

Is there a nice, clear, well-context way to call somebody an anti-Semite? 

In the latest issue of “Us Weekly,” Barack Obama is asked if he wears boxers or briefs?  -- quote—“‘I don‘t answer those humiliating questions‘,” he answered, ‘but whichever one it is, I look good in them.” 

Well, there‘s a vain comment.

Here‘s Obama, by the way, on Ellen DeGeneres the other day when she asked him to think about his first day in the Oval Office. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW”)

ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST, “THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW”:  What is day one?  Do you wake up at 8:00?  Do you get breakfast?  Do you like—what‘s your day one? 

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, first of all, I think I will just go into the Oval Office and sit at the desk and say, wow, this is really cool. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  See, he will be ready on day one. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  By the way, we do like our presidents to be happy in office. 

And now it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number,” and a royal number, it is.  A big story out of Britain today, as news broke that 23-year-old Prince Harry has been secretly fighting in Afghanistan.  Even though some in the media knew about this story before today, a news blackout kept it under wraps, but no longer. 

For those interested in royal matters, the prince said his grandmother, the queen, was a strong supporter of his desire to serve at the front. 

How many weeks has Prince Harry been covertly fighting in Afghanistan?  Ten.  Ten weeks of fighting without a word mentioned in the press, good show.  Jolly good show—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Barack Obama keeps winning.  And now U.S. Congressman John Lewis, that great civil rights hero, has switched his support from Hillary Clinton to Obama.  Will other African-American leaders who initially backed Clinton now do the same?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Rebecca Jarvis with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks falling on word of weak economic growth in the fourth quarter and a larger-than-expressed increase in jobless claims, the Dow industrials dropping 112 points on the day, the S&P 500 falling 12.  The Nasdaq lost 22 points. 

Oil, on the other hand, surged $2.95 in New York, closing at a record high of $102.59 a barrel.  And, for a third straight day, the dollar closed at a record low against the euro. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Civil rights leader and George U.S. Congressman John Lewis, who is one of the most respected African-American elected officials in the country and a longtime friend of the Clintons, decided to drop his support for Senator Clinton for president today and cast his superdelegate vote for Obama at the convention this summer. 

Here‘s how he explained his change of heart or change of mind to NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA:  I had what I call an executive session with myself.  And I made a decision to go down this road. 

What is happening in America right now, it is unreal.  It is unbelievable, that Mr. Obama has emerged as a symbol of the hopes and dreams and aspiration of so many people.  That‘s what we were fighting for, to create a truly interracial democracy in America, where we can lay down the burden of race.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Great man. 

Anyway, will other African-American politicians now fall in line behind U.S. Congressman Lewis and support Barack Obama for president?

Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Conwell has switched from Hillary to Obama in just recent weeks.  And Ohio State Representative Eugene Miller is a Hillary supporter, and stays there. 

Gentlemen, I want to know what you‘re experiencing in terms of your community, in terms of the pressures on you, the thinking, the heart, the whole element of this decision-making. 

Councilman, you first.  What was it like?  What led you to switch? 

KEVIN CONWELL, CLEVELAND CITY COUNCILMAN:  Let me say this. 

Supporting Hillary Clinton, there was nothing wrong with that.  I was supporting the congresswoman.  She‘s a great congresswoman, a good friend of mine.  She did great things for my community. 

However, the groundswell when Barack Obama people hit Ohio, and they hit Ohio running, and my residents fell in love.  And 80 percent to 90 percent of my residents in the Glenville-University Circle area, they are going to vote for Obama.  And I‘m going to with my residents.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you this.  Who do you think would be the best president? 

CONWELL:  Barack Obama. 

MATTHEWS:  Hillary or Barack?

CONWELL:  Barack Obama, without question. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, then, why were you supporting Hillary? 

CONWELL:  Well, I supported Hillary because of the congresswoman, and supporting a congresswoman.  She‘s a great congresswoman.  Supporting her politically was a great thing. 

However, sitting back, talking with my residents, and discussing Barack Obama made me switch to Barack Obama. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you going along with Congresswoman Jones? 

CONWELL:  Yes.  Yes.  I was going with Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones.  And I find that there‘s nothing wrong with that. 

MATTHEWS:  But you changed your mind? 

CONWELL:  Yes, with my residents.  I‘m in love with my residents. 

They wanted to go with Barack Obama.  And I listened to my residents. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Representative Miller, your experience, in terms of your constituents that you have to represent and your own belief that Hillary Clinton—at least your support for her to be president, how do you square it? 

EUGENE MILLER (D), OHIO STATE REPRESENTATIVE:  Well, I feel very comfortable with the decision. 

I represent 11 million Ohioans here in the state of Ohio.  And Ohio, we‘re number one in foreclosures.  With that, Senator Clinton has the best plan for foreclosures.  Senator Clinton has a plan to have a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures in this state and in this country. 

She also has a plan on having a five-year moratorium, freeze, with adjustable rates.  Here in Ohio, we‘re under a lot of pressure.  Ohio, we‘re suffering.  We‘re right now going through deregulation with electricity.  We have one of the highest rates, in northeast Ohio. 

Senator Clinton has plans when it comes down to solar energy.  She has plans when it comes down to renewing those efforts here in the state of Ohio and throughout the country. 

MATTHEWS:  How are your constituents reacting to your support for Senator Clinton? 

MILLER:  Right now, the constituents, I‘m out and about throughout this state campaigning.

In my House district—I have a very diverse House district.  In the House district, you have some areas that are supportive of Senator Obama and some areas are supportive of Senator Clinton. 

MATTHEWS:  Has anybody threatened to vote against you because you‘re for Clinton? 

MILLER:  Right now, I‘m probably one of the most vulnerable candidates on the ballot.  I have an opponent I beat within one and a half percent.  I‘m on the ballot a week from today—I‘m sorry, on March 4th.  I have very, very—a very, very hard time.  And I‘m out here working because I know that Senator Clinton has the best plan for Ohio, and the best plan for this country. 

I dropped out of high school.  I‘m right now financing my way through college, working on a master degree.  I owe 100,000 dollars in student loans.  Senator Clinton has a plan that‘s going to help people like myself and throughout the country, when it comes down to making more Pell grants available, and when it comes down to assuring that the rates for student loans will be at a good rate for a person like myself in Ohio, and throughout the country. 

I have to support Senator Clinton.  I‘m raising two daughters to be self-reliant.  One day they can look and say, you know what, dad?  I can be president of the United States because Senator Clinton became president of the United States.  I love and respect Barack Obama.  I met him.  He signed my book.  I‘m African-American male, as you can see, and so he is.  I‘m proud of his accomplishments.  But I also want to look and see young girls throughout the country, throughout the world, to say, you know what, I can be a president just like Hillary Clinton one day.  That‘s one of the reasons I‘m supporting her in this state. 

MATTHEWS:  If Senator Clinton had more surrogates like you, she wouldn‘t be in the trouble she is in right now.  Let me go to councilman, how do you respond to that very strong endorsement by a fellow African-American of Senator Clinton? 

CONWELL:  Let me say this: unemployment in my community is at 17 percent.  Barack Obama has a plan to put people back to work.  Barack Obama also has a plan dealing with health care.  Barack Obama has a plan to deal with college, as well as Pell grants, which the state representative mentioned.  He has a plan also. 

MATTHEWS:  So you feel the plans are—you think the merits of the two candidates are equal and you‘re going with your constituents to break the tie?   

CONWELL:  But you know what?  Barack Obama was a community organizer.  He has an up-close view, a genuine concern, and a sensitive ear to reach to help other people.  He is a grass-roots person, and I love Barack Obama for working with the people. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make, Representative Miller, of the fact that John Lewis, probably the most respected civil rights leader in American politics right now, has made a decision to switch from an endorsement of Clinton to an endorsement of Barack, just yesterday. 

MILLER:  Yesterday, I was Youngstown, Ohio representing the senator.  What I told the people there—I said, if I use my emotions, I would probably be caught up in Senator Obama.  But I have to use my mind to say what is best for the people of this state and the people of this country.  What I‘m saying is that we have to be supportive and get behind. 

Ohio is number one in foreclosures, number one.  We have to figure out a way to work on these different things.  When I look at my agenda for the people of the state of Ohio, it‘s in line with Senator Clinton.  It‘s easy for me to sit here and support her.  To answer your question, if I used my heart, then I would probably sound like Congressman Lewis.  But I‘m using my mind, what‘s best for the people, what‘s in line with our great Governor Ted Strickland, and what is going to help us in this state and throughout the country. 

MATTHEWS:  Good debate tonight.  Thank you gentlemen, both of you, Kevin Conwell of the city council of Cleveland, and Eugene Miller, state representative in Ohio.

MILLER:  Can I say this: Barack Obama also has a plan dealing with foreclosures in the United States, a great plan.  I listened to both of them, and Barack Obama is my choice. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, sir.  That was the last word from Counselman Conwell.  The politics fix with Mike Bloomberg being the issue coming up next.  Bloomberg is out of this race.  Nader has already picked his VP.  We‘ll talk about the politics coming up in this general election that is shaping up already, with the president already going after Barack Obama, John McCain going after Barack Obama.   By the way, was John McCain born an American citizen or was he born on foreign soil or was he a natural born citizen who was born on foreign soil?  Interesting question.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL, and to the politics fix.  Tonight‘s round table, Maria Teresa Petersen of Voto Latino, MSNBC political analyst Mike Barnicle and Chris Cillizza of the WashingtonPost.com. 

Lady and gentlemen—you first, Maria Teresa.  I want you to think.  John McCain was born in the canal zone in 1936.  Is there any question that he‘s a natural born American? 

MARIA TERESA PETERSEN, VOTO LATINO:  Absolutely not.  His parents are American, therefore he is American. 

MATTHEWS:  I think that means natural born.  I don‘t care if it‘s a C-section.  It‘s natural born.  Mike Barnicle, I don‘t know how you argue this differently.  Was he a foreigner because he was born somewhere else of his natural American parents?  I don‘t get it. 

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Everyone needs a good laugh.  That “New York Times” story was a terrific thing to start the day with.  It provided a huge laugh.  They actually said it has revised a musty debate, this thing about John McCain.  I don‘t know where that debate is taking place other than—

MATTHEWS:  Not here, my friend. 

BARNICLE:  Other than 42nd street.  Here‘s the deal: Martin Van Buren was actually the first president of the United States born on American soil, born after July 4th, 1776. 

MATTHEWS:  But there was a grandfather clause, as you know, back in that 1787 document called the Constitution.  Let me go to Chris Cillizza.  Is this going to be an issue?  They brought in their big guns, Ted Olson, the former solicitor general, a brilliant lawyer, to put together a brief on this.  It seems to me that‘s anticipating what you want to call a mischievous move.  What‘s it all about? 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, THEWASHINGTONPOST.COM:  I think it‘s an interesting debate, Chris.  I don‘t think there‘s any there there, frankly.  I agree with Mike.  It makes for an interesting story.  It makes for good chatter.  But John McCain from a military family, a decorated military veteran, the fact he was born in the canal zone to American parents; if that disqualifies, I think there will be a lot of hue and cry.  I don‘t see it happening. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I think natural born, by the way, means natural born.  You‘re born to American parents.  You are natural born.  It doesn‘t say native born.  It says natural.  Let‘s move on to the Bloomberg development.  Mike Barnicle, I was not among those who were jumping up and down with jitters and excitement about Mike Bloomberg running for mayor—mayor made sense, for president.  I never understood what his grand national constituency might be. 

Now he‘s offering his support for one of the two major party candidates, whether it be Senator Clinton, Senator Barack, of course John McCain has the other one pretty much nailed.  If they move to the center and are non-partisan, do you think he‘ll have a positive effect in that direction? 

BARNICLE:  First of all, I think something happens to people who are mayors of New York, John Lindsay (ph), Rudy Giuliani, Mike Bloomberg.  They confused the Hudson River with the Pacific Ocean.  Mike Bloomberg is a terrific mayor.  He‘s a terrific politician.  He speaks the truth to a lot of things.  I think his endorsement means something at some point in this campaign.  I don‘t know what he‘s trying to do now with the op-ed piece. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean they‘re confused?  they think it‘s the hub of the universe? 

BARNICLE:  Yes, exactly.  When everyone knows the hub of the universe is Worcester, Massachusetts. 

MATTHEWS:  Worcester, Mass.  Boston claims that title and we all know it.  Let me go to Chris Cillizza.  The mayor of New York, he‘s not Jimmy Walker, clean as a whistle.  He‘s big time.  Was he ever big time enough to be president of the United States? 

CILLIZZA:  No, Chris.  I think this is a guy who is a businessman.  He‘s not worth six billion or seven billion—what‘s a billion between friends.  But he‘s not worth as much money as he is worth because he makes bad business decisions.  The reality of this race was Mike Bloomberg was looking at a minimum 500 million dollar personal investment in order to keep up with fund raising of the two major parties.  Five hundred million dollars, I think, he realized could affect the race in some level, take six, eight percent of the vote, but he couldn‘t win the race. 

In the end, this guy wanted to win.  This guy was interested in being president, not being a distraction to the two major party candidates. 

MATTHEWS:  So he could never see the 270 electoral votes? 

CILLIZZA:  No, I don‘t think so.  While were at it, I know he‘s being talked a lot about for vice president, but if you look at  --  

MATTHEWS:  Where?  where?  Stop right there.  You‘re not going to do that on this show.  He‘s not being talked about it here on this HARDBALL show.  Even though you said that, he‘s not being talked about for VP on this show. 

Maria Teresa, are you talking about him for vice president?  Let‘s see, McCain/Bloomberg?  I don‘t think so.  What do you think? 

PETERSEN:  If you look at what the “New York Observer” came out with from Doug Schoen is that he‘s actually planting that seed. 

MATTHEWS:  To be VP from someone?

PETERSEN:  We have to take a step back.  No one spends 100 million dollars on a mayoral campaign unless they don‘t have their sights on bigger office.  So I think the fact that he took that op-ed piece yesterday; he wants to be relevant in whichever party it is, and he wants to maintain himself.  That‘s why he actually took out that piece.  What better time than right before March 4th?  He wants to maintain relevancy. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to give Mike Barnicle a chance.  Do you think there‘s a chance in the world that either the Republican candidate, John McCain, would pick an ex-Republican, or the Democratic candidate would pick an ex-Democrat to be their running mate? 

BARNICLE:  I don‘t think there‘s a chance in the world that Mike Bloomberg wants or would take the vice presidency.  It‘s not in his nature to be number two.  As Chris pointed out, the guy has made an enormous fortune by being the guy, making the decisions.  He‘s not going to be vice president and go to someone‘s funeral over in Africa or Asia. 

MATTHEWS:  I think we can agree, he can also buy a bigger house than the vice president‘s house and live there quite nicely.  We‘ll be right back with the round table.  We‘re going to talk about Hillary Clinton‘s plan to create five million new jobs.  Does she have the track record to produce?  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the politics fix.  At that Cleveland debate the other night, Tim Russert asked Senator Clinton about her pledge to create five million new jobs after she had failed to deliver the 200,000 new jobs as New York senator back in 2000.  Let‘s take a look at his question. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM RUSSERT, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Tonight, will you say that the pledge of five million jobs might be a little exuberant?   

CLINTON:  No, Tim, because what happened in 2000 is that I thought Al Gore was going to be president.  When I made the pledge, I was counting on having a Democratic White House, a Democratic president who shared my values about what we needed to do to make the economy work for everyone and to create shared prosperity.

As you know, despite the difficulties of the Bush administration and a Republican Congress for six years of my first term, I have worked very hard to create jobs.  But obviously, as president, I will have a lot more tools at my disposal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Was that a satisfactory answer? 

PETERSEN:  You know, I think it‘s difficult, because what she predicated the very first time she ran was she was going to create these jobs on the assumption that there was going to be a Democratic president. 

MATTHEWS:  Who said that was the assumption? 

PETERSEN:  She did. 

MATTHEWS:  Just now she did.  But that‘s called an excuse. 

PETERSEN:  Exactly.  Just taking that point of view, it‘s like, how are we going to guarantee that there‘s going to be a Democratic Congress and Senate?  Come on.  So I think it‘s very difficult that she‘s pigeon holing. 

MATTHEWS:  I think that was the case of where the staff and her got together and figured out a good answer to an impossible question.  Tim found the impossible question and she predicted it.  Mike Barnicle, she anticipated Tim‘s question obviously, but was that answer satisfactory? 

BARNICLE:  I think all three candidates, McCain and the two Democrats, just throw words at this horrendous issue, make more horrendous, especially if you‘re jobless.  Hillary Clinton‘s problem on this, Chris, has more to do with the cosmetics of politics rather than the substance of the issue.  If a voters doesn‘t believe that she can win the job she‘s looking for, they‘re going to hesitate before they vote for her. 

MATTHEWS:  Interesting.  Chris, your thought on this sort of mouse trap Tim almost caught her in.  But she had some excuse to get out of it. 

CILLIZZA:  You know, Chris, I think she was very ready.  Remember, her campaign was not happy.  They wanted more jobs talk, more economy talk in that debate.  It‘s a huge issue in Ohio.  I‘m sure she was well prepared.  That‘s what people want to hear.  If ever she was going to say, that might be a little ambitious, it wasn‘t going to happen in Ohio right before the primary. 

MATTHEWS:  It won it for Mitt Romney in Michigan.  Thank you, Maria Teresa Petersen, Mike Barnicle and Chris Cillizza.  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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