updated 3/7/2008 12:14:59 PM ET 2008-03-07T17:14:59

Guests: E. Steven Collins, Michael Smerconish, Pat Buchanan, Maria Teresa Petersen, Dana Milbank, Roger Simon, Gov. Charles Crist

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Will Rogers had it right when he said, I belong to no organized political party, I‘m a Democrat.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Tonight, the battle over the superdelegates.  Here are the facts.  Senator Barack Obama‘s ahead in elected delegates.  Based upon best estimates we have at NBC, Obama will still be ahead after all the primaries and caucuses are done, including any make-ups in Florida and Michigan come June.  The big question is, will that number be so high in elected delegates for Barack Obama that the Clinton campaign won‘t dare try to jump over it with the use of superdelegates?  More in a moment.

Plus, the governors of Florida and Michigan want those make-up ballots to happen.  In a few minutes, we‘ll talk to Florida governor Charlie Christ, a Republican, and a big booster of John McCain.  So what‘s he up to?  Why should a Republican governor have any say in how the Democrats pick their delegates?

Plus: Could Pennsylvania, the Keystone State, be the key to unlocking the Democratic nomination for Senator Clinton or Senator Obama?  We‘ll talk about that, and what it feels like on the ground, with Hilly talk show hosts Michael Smerconish and E. Steven Collins.

We begin, however, with the battle over delegates with Politico‘s Roger Simon and NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell.  Let me go to Andrea Mitchell, who‘s covered Philadelphia.  Andrea, I just got word from Congressman Chaka Fatah that U.S. Congressman Pat Murphy of Bucks County has been named to head up, the chair, the Barack Obama campaign in this primary season.  They are putting 95 percent of their resources and their thought into the suburbs.  They believe this is a suburban campaign, so it‘s going to Murphy against Rendell.  This is interesting.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  This is interesting because you‘ve got a lot of young, bright politicians, and you just mentioned, they are in Pennsylvania.  And it shows that they‘re going for their strength, which is those areas around Philadelphia, which are more likely to be Obama strongholds—upper income, people who might be more likely to support Barack Obama, where you‘ve got Philadelphia, as well, African-American.  And in between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, you‘ve got this broad expanse of blue-collar Pennsylvania...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  ... Rust Belt, coal mining areas, areas that would be more in favor of Hillary Clinton.

MATTHEWS:  And a lot of older people, too, and that fight‘s going to be real about how they deal with saving Social Security.  I‘ll get into that later.  Let‘s go—you first, Andrea, again.  Let‘s take a look at Florida.  We‘re looking at a number of options.  In fact, we have to go to Roger.  Man first here, Roger, because you had the idea about how to do this.

Roger, you wrote in today‘s “Politico” newspaper about the options the Democrats face for Florida and Michigan.  Let‘s run through them.  I want you both to comment on each one of them.  The first one—I love the way you talk here, Roger—“the heck with them” option.  Your thoughts, then Andrea‘s response.

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM:  This is the easiest option to do.  It‘s what exists now.  Florida and Michigan flaunted the party rules.  They did it in a pugnacious manner.  They were warned what would happen.  Now they should take their consequences.  That‘s one option.  They don‘t get seated at the convention.

MATTHEWS:  The word is “flouted” the party rules.

SIMON:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Flaunted is when you show off.

SIMON:  I was showing—you‘re showing off how...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  “Flout” is when you ignore and dump on, which I‘m doing to you.  I‘m sorry!  Let me go to Andrea Mitchell on that.  What about just leaving them alone and saying there‘s not going to be any...

MITCHELL:  Thank you, Bill Safire.

MATTHEWS:  I know—say there‘s not going to be any Florida delegates, there‘s not going to be any Michigan delegates.  Is that reasonable?

MITCHELL:  I think that saying that there won‘t be Florida delegates goes against the grain of Democratic politics because it was a Republican governor, a Republican legislature in Florida that came up with the decision.  The Democratic Party there really just went along with it.  And you know, counting every vote in Florida is an article of faith after what happened in Bush v. Gore.  So I don‘t think that you would get anybody in the Democratic Party to go along with not seating Florida.

MATTHEWS:  Even though those Florida members of those Democratic members of the Florida legislature, they all voted for the moving up of the date, as well.  They‘re—aren‘t they somewhat...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... incriminated here?

SIMON:  Exactly, and...

MITCHELL:  They are, but...

SIMON:  This was...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.

SIMON:  This was...

MITCHELL:  Go ahead, Roger.

SIMON:  Thank you.  I‘m sorry.  This was raised at the time, that the Democrats in Florida weren‘t really being forced into this.  They wanted to move their contest up.  The irony is if Michigan and Florida stayed where they were, they would have been very significant primaries and we would have all reported the results, and they would have gotten exactly what they wanted.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  OK, let‘s figure out—we‘re not going to just ignore Florida and Michigan, certainly not Florida.  Let‘s take a look at the second option you lay—explain the “kumbaya” option, Roger.

SIMON:  This is the option where we say, Hey, let‘s just seat these people.  Let‘s seat them on the basis of the two contests that were run.  Let‘s all join hands and be a united Democratic Party.  The difficulty is, they were two very odd contests.  In Michigan, there was only one major candidate on the ballot, Hillary Clinton.  In Florida, nobody campaigned at all, which Barack Obama says was a certain disadvantage to him.  It‘s a little hard for the party to do this now.

MATTHEWS:  Andrea, your thoughts on the “kumbaya,” let it stand as it was laid there, play it as it lays, basically?

MITCHELL:  I agree.  I mean, in Florida, at least everybody was on the ballot.  In Michigan, only Hillary Clinton was on the ballot.  I don‘t think they get away with doing that.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s take—the third option, Roger, “split the baby in half.”

SIMON:  “Split the baby in half” is give half the delegates to Hillary, give half to Obama, maybe reduce the overall delegates to punish the two states by 15 or 20 percent, which means 20 or 30 people don‘t get to have a party in Denver.  And the up side is we don‘t insult the voters of Michigan.  We don‘t insult the voters of Florida.  We seat them.  But they won‘t determine the outcome of the race.

MATTHEWS:  Andrea?

MITCHELL:  That has some virtue, except for the fact that Hillary Clinton needs every last delegate that she can squeeze out of both the superdelegates, and she‘s counting on Michigan and Florida, where she has strength.  So I don‘t think the Clinton camp would go along with that.

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s something that sounds reasonable to somebody like me, which is to make up these things, have a Florida primary in June, have a Florida primary or caucus in Michigan in June, and do it right.  Roger?

SIMON:  This is the “mulligan” option, do it over.  The big drawback is it‘s hugely expensive, maybe $25 million in Florida, and nobody wants to pay for it.  Howard Dean says that he doesn‘t want to pay for it.  The Democratic Party says they don‘t want to pay for it.  You have to remember both Florida and Michigan are not at all cowed by the Democratic Party.  They say, Hey, we held our contests.  Just take our results.  We really don‘t have to do it over, if we don‘t want to.

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Andrea?

MITCHELL:  Well, we just came from interviewing Hillary Clinton and Bill Nelson, the senator from Florida, who‘s her biggest supporter there.  He‘s in favor of the do-over, and Clinton today did not object to it.

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  ... leave it up to the states.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think they might...

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  ... pay for it?

MATTHEWS:  Is it untoward, as the voters watch this election, people watching this program, we watching this election, for the candidates to pay for their own election?  It‘s a little scary, isn‘t it?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Andrea?  It doesn‘t seem right.

MITCHELL:  It isn‘t, especially on a day when the Obama campaign announced that they have raised $55 million, breaking all historical records last month.  She raised $35 million.  She also announced today that they‘ve raised $4 million since the polls closed Tuesday.  The money race is completely out of control.  They should just take some of that extra, but they now need that money because this race is going to go all the way.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but can you imagine what Ralph Nader and other critics of the two-party system would say if we put out the word or anybody—“The New York Times” reported that in Florida, the two candidates are rich enough to pay for their own election and they‘re going to actually run the election themselves, basically, Roger?

SIMON:  And a lot of the money they have raised, let‘s point out, has already been spent.  It‘s going to be making up the debt.  It‘s the not like they have an extra $25 million hanging around.  But you‘re right, it‘s untenable, I think, for Hillary Clinton to say, yes, I‘ll throw in $25 million, let‘s have an election.  That‘s an awful lot of walking-around money.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Final solution, it‘s called the “Lone Ranger” solution.  I‘m still looking for a good one.  What is it, Roger?

SIMON:  Howard Dean comes in and settles it.  But Howard Dean just doesn‘t seem to have the muscle or the inclination to settle it.  Or some say Al Gore can settle it.  But you got to remember, Al Gore, even with his Nobel Prize, is not all that a unifying figure in the Democratic Party.  A lot of people still blame him for losing in 2000 an election they thought he should have won.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s look at the numbers now.  Andrea, I want you to

start the discussion here.  Let‘s take a look at the numbers as they stand

there.  “The Washington Post”/ABC, by the way, have a new poll out now with

an election match-up between—now, this poll was taken right before the

Tuesday results coming out of Ohio and Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont, so

you got to take a little off of this.  But there‘s Senator Clinton up by 6

over the Republican nominee, John McCain.  Senator Obama leads the senator,

by the way, 12 points, 52 to 40.

Now, I‘ve got to say, based upon everything we‘ve seen, that Obama‘s probably down a bit, Senator Clinton‘s probably up a bit, given her big success on Tuesday night.

Let‘s take a look now at the delegate situation, if we can, the elected pledged delegates right now.  Look at those numbers, everybody at home.  Those pledged delegates are the elected delegates, 1,366 to 1,227, more than a 100-vote advantage to Senator Obama, superdelegates.  They‘re the big shots.  They‘re governors, senators, whatever, former party chairs, current party chairs.  There is an edge there to Hillary Clinton, not overwhelming, though, about  a 41-vote disadvantage for Barack.  Those numbers are in the favor right now of Barack Obama.

Andrea, everybody we talk to in our business says that she can‘t really overcome those numbers, that his advantage is there to stay through the end of June.  Is that real?  Is that your assessment?

MITCHELL:  I—yes, I think that is real.  Now, there was a report, and it came from Tom Brokaw and with really good sources, that the Obama camp expected about 50 superdelegates to switch over on Wednesday, a dramatic announcement after his anticipated victories.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  What the Clinton people have managed to do is freeze that.  It didn‘t happen.  It won‘t happen because there is a growing perception that, Well, maybe he‘s not as strong as we thought, the momentum‘s shifting after Tuesday night to her.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  But he did pick up two new ones today, so you have to add two to that count, two new ones, superdelegates to him.  I don‘t think it‘s reasonable that she will catch up.  So that‘s what makes Florida and Michigan so important to bring it back full circle.

MATTHEWS:  Well, even when it does, I don‘t see the numbers working. 

Anyway, thank you, Andrea Mitchell.  Thank you, Roger Simon.

Coming up: What are the Democrats doing about Florida and Michigan?  Should they hold a make-up primary in either case or both cases?  How are we going to get Michigan and Florida counted at the Democratic convention this summer?  Somebody‘s got to come up with something.

And later, the battle for Pennsylvania.  We‘re going to have the keys to the victory for somebody in the Keystone State.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Florida and Michigan were denied Democratic delegates after both states broke party rules by moving up their primary dates.  Now the governors of Michigan and Florida, one a Democrat, one a Republican, are complaining out loud and insisting that their states be represented at the Democratic national convention this summer.

Florida governor Charlie Christ, a Republican who supports John McCain, joins us now.  Governor, it‘s hard to figure out what you want the Democrats to do and what you‘re willing to do to help them.  What do you want the Democrats to do to make sure your Democrats in Florida are represented in Denver this August?

GOV. CHARLES CRIST ®, FLORIDA:  Chris, in an ideal world, what we‘d like to see is the Democrats seat the delegates who‘ve already really been selected as a result of the fact that we had a record turnout vote on January the 29th here in the Sunshine State.  That‘s ideally what we would like.

MATTHEWS:  But those Democrats who voted in that primary should have known that those delegates—that those delegates would not be selected for the convention because the party ruled that your state was in violation.  They should have known that when they voted.

CRIST:  No, I understand that, but I think it‘s important to note that there was a record turnout.  They wanted to have their voice heard.  They wanted to make sure that, you know, half of the voters of the Sunshine State, that their votes were not disenfranchised.  So I think it‘s very important as the governor of this state, as Governor Granholm does of Michigan, to make sure that those votes count, that they matter, and that they make a difference in the selection of the next leader of the free world.

MATTHEWS:  What about the Democrats who knew what was going on, who voted and knew that their ballots weren‘t going to be counted for presidential preference purposes and didn‘t vote on that line?  Should their votes be counted?  Should they be allowed a chance to participate under a system they understand to be legitimate?

CRIST:  Well, as I understand it, Senator Bill Nelson, who‘s a friend of mine—one of our U.S. senators, obviously, Democratic U.S. senator from Florida—issued a statement today along the lines of something we discussed yesterday, that if a recount is something that people think might be reasonable, what ought to be done is the Democratic National Committee should pay for it, and it could be overseen by the state of Florida.

As you know, Chris, estimates for doing so are probably around $20 million.  It‘s an awful lot of money, but if the Democratic National Committee would pay for it, as the Democratic U.S. senator Bill Nelson has suggested, we wouldn‘t have a problem with that.  But our preference is to go ahead and seat the delegates that have already been selected by a record turnout.  We want to respect those who took the time to go out and vote.

MATTHEWS:  But if you‘re encouraging the Democrats to take that as the second-best solution to this, shouldn‘t you be paying for it, or else you‘re just telling the Democrats what to do?  What is your role here, Governor, if you don‘t intend the state to hold these elections, this make-up primary?  What is your role here?

CRIST:  My role is to fight for the people of Florida, which is what my role is every day, whether it‘s dealing with democracy in voting, education...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CRIST:  ... public safety, whatever it might be.  That‘s what Jennifer Granholm, Governor Granholm‘s role is in Michigan.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CRIST:  Governors are to fight on behalf of the people of their state, just like any other elected representative might be, and that‘s what I‘m doing with this issue.  And It‘s important.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CRIST:  You know, I come from a state where just 90 miles south of Key West, the people of Cuba don‘t have this precious right that we have...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CRIST:  ... the opportunity to exercise.  I want to do everything I can within reasonable bounds to make sure that that precious right, that cherished right to vote is recognized, respected.  And half the voters of Florida, even though they‘re not members of my party—that those votes aren‘t disenfranchised.

MATTHEWS:  If there is a poll of Democrats in your state by any polling organization which is legitimate, and it comes out to a decision that the voters of Florida, the Democratic voters, would like to have another primary, will you finance it?  In other words, if they say they want a primary, will you give them a primary?

CRIST:  Well, I think what should be done is what Senator Nelson suggests.  If the conclusion is that you want to have a second primary because the party, for whatever reason, decides they‘re not going to seat the delegates, even though there‘s been a vote in the Sunshine State, then let the Democratic National Committee pay for it.  The rationale behind that, Chris, is the voters of Florida have already paid for one primary.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, in the past—you know, you‘ve studied politics before you became governor.  You know more than I do about the South.  There‘s a long tradition of holding run-off elections and the government pays for those run-off elections.  This is, in a sense, a runoff.  It‘s a second effort to get a final result.  What‘s wrong with the state paying for it, as a principle?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... have an election.

CRIST:  ... a lot of states are facing.  You know, we‘re constitutionally required to make sure that our budget is always kept in balance.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Right.

CRIST:  We‘re having a tight budget year, as you probably are aware, maybe not as tight as Michigan, but it‘s a tight budget year.  As a result of that, we have to be practical, we have to be reasonable and we have to be prudent with the taxpayers‘ money.  What Senator Nelson I think has suggested is a very good suggestion, if, in fact, the conclusion is drawn that a re-vote would take place.  Again, what I‘m advocating is that we go ahead and seat the delegates that already have been selected by virtue of a vote taken January the 29th.

MATTHEWS:  Well, a lot of people might think—I‘m not sure what I think because I think you‘re a good guy—but a lot of people might think that what you‘re really doing here is pushing for another election in Florida, knowing that the Democrats don‘t have the scratch to pay for it, they won‘t pay for it, but that will make you the good guy down there because you fought for a second election and you were the fiscally responsible governor who didn‘t want to pay for it, so you get it both ways, and you get the Democratic Party hating itself.

You have the people of Florida feeling this coming November that they weren‘t represented in picking the Democratic candidate, so you have a very clear field to win the general election with John McCain, perhaps as his running mate.  So all the politics are aligned for you to be doing what you‘re doing, regardless of whether it‘s in the public interest.

CRIST:  Well, what I do is in the public interest, always trying to make sure that the people‘s voice is heard, that their votes are not disenfranchised is exactly what I should be doing.  It‘s also exactly what my Democratic friends, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, Governor Jennifer Granholm are doing.  So the argument falls apart when you say that maybe it‘s something I‘m just doing to benefit Republican Charlie Crist. It‘s not that. 

I‘m trying to make sure that half the voters in my state gets their vote—get their votes counted.  That‘s what I should be doing. 

MATTHEWS:  Would a third alternative...

CRIST:  That‘s what Governor Granholm should doing in Michigan. 

MATTHEWS:  I understand. 

CRIST:  And she is, to her great credit.

MATTHEWS:  We will get—we will get her on.  What about a third alternative, simply split the ballots in half to make that your delegates at least go to the convention, 50/50? 

CRIST:  Well, that‘s something to consider.  But bringing up the 50/50 deal makes me think of my own party and the—the failure on that part. 

They‘re only, currently, at least, saying they are going to count half our delegates.  I mean, my advocacy is not just on the Democratic side of the aisle...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CRIST:  ... but the Republicans, too. 

I think they ought to count all the delegates and seat them.  Obviously, the significance is not as significant because of what‘s happening in the Democratic primary.  And I want the next president to be a Republican.  Let me put all the cards on the table. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CRIST:  But I got sworn in as governor of the state of Florida.  I‘m governor of all the people of Florida.  And it is my duty to advocate for all of them, a constitutional duty. 

That‘s what I‘m trying to do, and that‘s what I try to do every day. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said. 

Thank you very much, Governor Charlie Crist of Florida.  Thanks for coming on the show. 

Up next:  With the Clinton campaign back in the fight, why is the campaign fighting with itself? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is happening in politics? 

Well, Tom Hanks is a big fan of politics, it turns out, hence, his role in movies like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “CHARLIE WILSON‘S WAR”)

TOM HANKS, ACTOR:  How did a guy like you get into the agency? 

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, ACTOR:  What, you mean a street guy? 

HANKS:  You ain‘t James Bond. 

HOFFMAN:  You ain‘t Thomas Jefferson, so let‘s call it even. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Seen it three times. 

Anyway, last night, Norah O‘Donnell interviewed Tom Hanks here in Washington.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  ... backed Barack Obama.  Are you upset?  Or do you think it‘s good for the Democratic Party that this is going to go on and on and on? 

HANKS:  I think it‘s fascinating.  Whether it‘s good or not is not going to matter.  That will be decided later on. 

This—it‘s always been two-fisted.  I think, look, if we could have survived 2000, in which hanging chads and an odd recount in Florida did not send the tanks out onto the streets or rioters in—out into the populace, we are going to be OK with all the fisticuffs that are going on right now. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s our Jimmy Stewart these days.

Now to Bill and Hill.  Hillary Clinton, of course, won big on Tuesday night, but Bill wasn‘t on hand to help her celebrate that night.  But check this out.  Here they are on the cover of “New York” “The New York Post” today, holding hands as they stroll through Washington‘s beautiful Rock Creek Park.  What a great picture. 

Today‘s “Washington Post” also reports that Mike Huckabee could already be positioning himself to run for president again—a key part of his master plan, getting a national radio show.  Will he be accepted among the ranks, do you think, of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham?  And, if he does get to their level, will he still want to give it up all to run for president?  That, my friends, is always an interesting question. 

Barack Obama picked up another endorsement today from the magazine that once featured covers like this one, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, or this famous one here coming up of Janet Jackson. 

Well, “Rolling Stone” magazine, which reminds some of us, at least who can still feel it, of the 1960s, is backing Barack Obama for president.  It‘s the first time the music mag has backed a presidential candidate during the primaries.  Its case for Obama—quote—“Undoing the damage of the disastrous Bush years will take a leader who can unite a deeply divided nation.  And politicians with gifts like Obama‘s are so rare, that its imperative for each of us to our part.”

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

The town of South Pasadena is celebrating No Cussing Week after a proclamation was passed by the town city‘s council.  It‘s a way of urging its citizens to comport themselves happily and politely. 

I guess word didn‘t travel to the Clinton campaign, where tensions are on the rise.  Today‘s “Washington Post” featured a big story about vicious infighting inside the Clinton camp, despite its big victories in Texas, Ohio, and Rhode Island this week. 

If you read the piece, there seems to be one word that comes up over

and over again.  It‘s a word that hammers home just how, shall we say,

passionate things are getting inside that Clinton campaign.  That word is -

quote—“expletive,” a lot of “Expletive you” and “Expletive you.”

How many times was the word “expletive” quoted in today‘s “Washington Post”?  Four, four tasteful uses of the word expletive to show infighting within the Clinton campaign.  I can only guess it could have been used a lot more often in that piece—tonight‘s “Big Number,” four.

Up next:  Play HARDBALL.  Obama and Clinton fight for the next big primary contest, my home state of Pennsylvania.  What are the keys to victory in the Keystone State?  Come back and watch in one minute.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Another major sell-off on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrials plunging 214 points, the S&P 500 tumbling 29, and the Nasdaq dropping 52.  Hurting stocks, more negative news about housing.  Home foreclosures soared to an all-time high in the final quarter of last year.  Meantime, the delinquency rate on mortgages, when payments are at least 30 days past due, climbed to the highest level since 1985.  Also, Americans‘ percentage of equity in their homes fell below 50 percent for the first time since 1945. 

Oil closed at another record high of $105.48 a barrel.  That certainly doesn‘t help.  After gaining 95 cents today, crude climbed, as the dollar slid to new lows against the euro. 

And retailers reported mixed sales results for February, among the big winners, Wal-Mart and Costco.  Big losers included J.C. Penney and Nordstrom. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The Democrats have a caucus in Wyoming this Saturday, a primary in Mississippi next Tuesday.  Then it‘s on to Pennsylvania for that big, long run to April 22 with the primary.  And the state‘s bracing itself. 

Look at the front page here of “The Philadelphia Inquirer” today.  I think it‘s the oldest paper in the country.  There it is.  “Ready For an Absolute Zoo?”  And the headline of “The Philadelphia Daily News” opinion piece is “Democratic Circus Comes to PA.” 

And it‘s going to have a lot more than three rings. 

So, joining me are three Philadelphia people that know this city well, radio talk show hosts Michael Smerconish and also E. Steven Collins. 

Mr. Collins, welcome to the program. 

E. STEVEN COLLINS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Smerconish is a fairly regular face here. 

You are both welcome to be here. 

Michael, you‘re—you‘re charmingly happy today.  And I want to know why.  Is this going to be a circus or a zoo for the next six weeks? 

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, I‘m happy, because, like you, I‘m a junkie.  I can‘t get enough of this. 

This is like the Super Bowl is finally coming to Lincoln Financial Field, and we football fans are going to enjoy ourselves on the sofa and put our feet up for the next six-and-a-half weeks.  This is as good as it gets.

And, you know, I have to say, I was one of the ones who said, in the face of a lot of pressure to move our date forward, maybe this is the year to keep our powder dry.  And thank goodness we did, because a lot of it is going to get determined in Pennsylvania. 

MATTHEWS:  You sound like one of the people I work for here.  Everybody wants this thing to keep going.  Michael, you‘re one of the ones that—you‘re like a ballyhoo boy, keeping this game going. 

Mr. Collins, sir, what do you think about Barack Obama‘s chances of beating Hillary Clinton in a state that seems almost confected for her, in terms of the older people, working white people, ethnic groups that vote ethnic, the usual old stuff you and I grew up with and Michael grew up with?  Isn‘t that old thing good for the Clintons? 

COLLINS:  Well, I think it‘s good for the Democrats.  And, primarily, I think Barack Obama has shown, over and over and over again, that he is speaking their language. 

I mean, these people are looking at losing their hopes.  They‘re looking, in a few months, they‘re going to increase gas prices.  We‘re going to be paying $4 here.  Whether the president knows it or not, that‘s the reality. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COLLINS:  Barack Obama has crystallized so many of these issues and gotten so many people excited about the future of our country through his work and—and through his vision. 

And I—I think that‘s why there‘s such, as Michael said, excitement here, not for a zoo or a circus, but a hot contest between two different people with different  views that are legitimate candidates for the presidency. 

MATTHEWS:  Michael, how do we avoid the old battle lines in this city?  I know, in the last election for mayor—I moderated a debate up there—the lines weren‘t like they used to be, just black/white.  You know, the whites vote for the whites and the blacks vote for the blacks, and it‘s the same old nonsense.  It never gets us anywhere. 

Are we going to avoid that ghettoization in this race in Pennsylvania this time? 

SMERCONISH:  You know, I don‘t know if I would agree with that kind of a term to describe it.  I think it is a phenomena you will see, because Barack Obama continues to get...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You wouldn‘t use the term to describe this upcoming race? 

SMERCONISH:  Well, I don‘t—I don‘t like that term ghettoization, because, I mean, look, nine out of 10 African-Americans appear to be supporting Barack Obama. 

I had a long conversation with Mary Mason, who is really the—the voice—and has been for a long time—of the African-American community.  And I said to her, I can understand it.  I mean, I remember—I remember when my mother‘s Yugoslavian sisters were writing checks to a guy named Dennis Kucinich because he was a Yugoslav, and...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SMERCONISH:  ... and he appeared ready to win an election.  And they didn‘t even know who he was.  They just knew he was the Yugo out there in - - in Cincinnati.  You‘re going to see some of that.

I will tell you what I think.  I think, if you handed me a map of Pennsylvania right now, I could shade in those areas that—that Hillary will carry.  I could shade in those areas that Barack Obama is going to carry. 

I think what‘s up for grabs are those Philadelphia suburbs, Chester...

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH:  ... Montgomery, Delaware County. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what I want—I was going to ask you. 

SMERCONISH:  I think that is what it comes down to.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SMERCONISH:  A lot of Those folks, I have to tell you, Chris, are listeners of mine.  And Barack Obama has drawn a lot of white support in that area.  I think that a lot...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I mean. 

SMERCONISH:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m trying to avoid ghettoization.  By the way, you make it positive, saying people vote their interest group or their ethnic group.  Fine.  That‘s fine.  But, when you start voting against another group, that‘s not fine. 

Let me go to E. Steven...

SMERCONISH:  I don‘t buy into that.  I don‘t believe that, by the way.  I don‘t think that‘s happening.  I don‘t believe what Rendell said.  I don‘t buy it. 

COLLINS:  And I—and it‘s interesting you say that, Mike, because I think the governor was talking about a time that‘s passed. 

He is, after all, a minority, as a Jewish-American.  There are people in this state would wouldn‘t vote for a woman, a Catholic, an Italian, or whatever.  The reality is, people are looking so past race.  To me, I‘m hoping, in the bottom of my heart, it represents a sea change in how American politics evolves and is evolving as we watch it. 

But you have got to stop.  You have to look at what this guy, Barack Obama, really means.  He has charged people up across this country.  He has reinvigorated the entire democratic process.  Young voters, 18 to 24, are turned on.  They‘re excited, and for good reason.  I mean, you have got to look at those aspects of what Barack Obama represents. 

SMERCONISH:  Hey, Steven, let me—let me piggyback on what you just said. 

I believe—Chris, this is going to shock you—that Barack Obama‘s race relative to whites is a net plus, not a net minus.  And I—I listened to what Governor Rendell had to say on that whole Lynn Swann—

Lynn Swann was a weak candidate.  Your brother should have led that ticket, and I said so at the time. 

COLLINS:  That‘s right. 

SMERCONISH:  What I see going on, I see a lot of folks that are in my social circle, they want to feel good about themselves.  They‘re anxious to vote for an African-American for president.  And I think, in the burbs, it helps Barack Obama. 

COLLINS:  Yes, but Michael...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead. 

COLLINS:  ... you also have to stop for a minute and examine beyond black candidate.  You‘re looking at an imminently qualified—a person with true command and vision.

He has gotten all of us in—throughout this country excited about the promise of tomorrow, that American can—America can one day, in the very near future, be restored to its greatness.  I mean, after years of George Bush and now McCain, and his—his going directly to the White House to get a blessing from this president, you have got to look at that and see, that is done.  We‘re finished with that.

COLLINS:  Well, until—up until this...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SMERCONISH:  Go ahead, Chris.  I‘m sorry. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to ask you guys, both of you gentlemen, about the big—I would pay a lot of money—or at least I would make a lot of effort to be in the room.  Tomorrow at noon, in Philadelphia, on Walnut Street, at a charming little place called City Committee, the Democratic City Committee of Philadelphia, which is unbelievable in its history. 

COLLINS:  Good point.  Good point. 

MATTHEWS:  It is legendary, what must have happened in those—in those rooms years ago, of course, not know. 

Bob Brady, the chairman of the City Committee, the U.S. congressman from the city, is hosting, with his 70 -- or 60-some ward leaders, 67 counting 66-B, all the ward leaders, they are going to hear from Bill Clinton, the former president.

I think, as we are on the air right now, they haven‘t quite gotten a surrogate for Senator Obama.  But I want E. Steven to talk about that room. 

What do you think that‘s going to be like, with all these ward leaders of different backgrounds all looking out for their wards deciding which candidate they want to see as the Democratic nominee?  What is that going to be like? 

COLLINS:  I think it‘s going to be—it‘s going to be as exciting as the race is going to be, because while you mentioned Bob Brady as the chairman and the congressman of the City Committee, his vice chair and the person who really has—is monumental in Philadelphia, Carol Ann Campbell, is vice chair.  And she‘s a Barack Obama supporter. 

She is so excited about this.  So, you have these two people running the party.  And, within their ranks, in every ward throughout Philadelphia, people are making a decision.

I personally think that, in the end, the Barack Obama team will win, not because of race, but because of the promise of tomorrow, the idea that hope has been restored.  And that‘s coming across throughout our city and the suburban areas and around this entire state. 

SMERCONISH:  Hey, Chris, I spoke to Congressman Brady 30 minutes ago.  Here‘s what he told me; he said he will not stand in the way of those ward leaders if they want to endorse, but he questions whether this is worth a battle for a ballot that‘s going to end up on the floor.  And I think what he was saying is, these ward leaders know what to do.  They are going to do what they want to do in their own areas. 

And I think what he meant is we have a race on our hands that transcends the ward leaders.  Folks are coming out for—this is not one of those things where a ward leader says in a particular division, hey, can you give me one for Barack Obama or for Hillary?  It‘s not that kind of row-office election. 

Folks who are coming out are coming out for one or the other.  And you can pull your vote out, and that‘s going to be the strength of the ward leaders.  But my gut tells me no endorsement among the city committee. 

COLLINS:  I agree. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s nothing better than this kind of contest, because I agree, you can‘t—these guys would cut the wrong candidate in their ward if you put the name on the sample ballot, wouldn‘t they, Michael? 

SMERCONISH:  Absolutely.  Yes, that‘s what he means, it will end up on the floor.  You print your own sticker and stick it on.  We‘ve seen it all in Philly. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s so great.  We can talk about this for an hour.  the rest of the country wants to know what we‘re talking about.  We‘re talking about old-style city, ward-to-ward politics, which a lot is going to happen on election day. 

COLLINS:  Old school. 

MATTHEWS:  Old school and it‘s every ethnic group in the world.  Philadelphia, here they come.  Michael Smerconish and E. Steven Collins, thank you for giving us a pregame. 

Up next, the politics fix; why is the Clinton campaign comparing Barack Obama to Ken Starr?  That‘s fighting words.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and our politics fix.  Tonight‘s round table, Maria Teresa Petersen of Voto Latino, Dana Milbank, one of the toughest columnists ever, with the “Washington Post,” and MSNBC—he‘s no introduction—Pat Buchanan. 

Let me have you all look at this latest attack—this guy Wolfson is tough, quote—he works for Clinton, Senator Clinton.  Here‘s what he said about the opponent, “when Senator Obama was confronted with questions over whether he was ready to be commander in chief and steward of the economy, he chose not to address those questions, but to attack Senator Clinton.  I for one do not believe that imitating Ken Starr is the way to win a Democratic primary election for president.” 

He‘s tying them into to Ken Starr.  He‘s probably never met the guy. 

DANA MILBANK, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  It was great stuff and even Clinton was asked about at a press conference in the afternoon, and she said, I don‘t want to comment on that.  She‘s being asked to comment about her own communications director.  There are Ken Starr elements, of course.  She can play the victim here. 

MATTHEWS:  Anyone who attacks the Clinton candidacy is a Ken Starr bad guy?   

MILBANK:  In her view, yes. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  What is astonishing is this guy prepared this, Chris.  It wasn‘t something that leapt out.  You never speak of rope in the house of a man who has been hanged.  But what are they doing bringing up Ken Starr and the Clintonites?  For heavens sakes!  Bring it all back. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Maria Teresa, is—politics is really topic selection.  Why do they select Monica and White Water?  Why do they want to go back to that and Paula Jones and the whole menegarie of bad news? 

MARIA TERESA PETERSEN, VOTO LATINO:  I agree with Pat.  He prepared the statement, which I find absurd.  But, at the same time, I think it actually cultivates a lot women voters.  They remember the hard time Hillary had to try to survive that.  I think it was a little tactical on their part, believe it or not. 

MATTHEWS:  They begin to think of Susan Mcdougall in leg irons. 

PETERSEN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s how they imagine this guy.  So Barack Obama somehow put Hillary in leg irons here.  It‘s interesting imagery here. 

MILBANK:  It‘s more than that.  I mean, you have Ken Starr on one side, and who is Hillary Clinton imitating?  George Bush almost right out of the text books.  She was surrounded by six flags, American flags. 

MATTHEWS:  They all do that. 

MILBANK:  A lot of generals and others.  And she is playing the fear card and she has played it brilliantly.  It‘s right out of 2002 and 2004. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m going to ask—I think it‘s Yiddish—chutzpah question, if Barack Obama stays true to the campaign he‘s been on, which is to marginally win most of the caucus, most of the primaries, end up with 100-plus or 200-delegate advantage among elected delegates; will the Clintons dare, even after a revote in Florida and a revote in Michigan—it adds up to a deficit of 150 votes or whatever—will they dare try to win this nomination fight in an un-Democratic way by doing it through non-elected big shots?  ? 

MILBANK:  I don‘t think there‘s any question but that they will.  What better than an un-democratic primary, since we have an un-democratic electoral system anyway? 

MATTHEWS:  I mean clearly un-democratic. 

MILBANK:  The Clintons have basically defined winning ugly.  And Bill Clinton was able to do that.  He had many pyrrhic victories, lost both chambers of Congress, was able to preserve his—

MATTHEWS:  What happens when 2,000 delegates march out of the Denver Convention this last week in August on the week before the Republican convention in St.  Paul, 2,000 delegates walk out because the Democratic party has betrayed them and voted to nominate someone they didn‘t vote for? 

BUCHANAN:  Hillary has three games she can win.  One of them is pledged delegates.  She‘s going to lose it.  The other is raw vote total.  If she wins that, she ought to go hard right at him; you know, George Bush was not elected president over Al Gore. 

The third thing is, if she wins eight or nine—

MATTHEWS:  Suppose it goes the other way and Barack Obama wins both elected delegates and total votes and now Al Gore shows up and says, wait a minute, don‘t screw him the way they screwed me. 

BUCHANAN:  Here‘s the thing.  The third thing is the big states and the momentum, who is winning at the end.  Reagan got waxed in New Hampshire and Florida and Illinois and then he started rolling through and winning—

MATTHEWS:  He lost!

BUCHANAN:  I know he lost.  But people said when they got to the convention, you know, maybe we‘re making a mistake.  If you got pledged delegates, aren‘t they there for a purpose?  Is it not, as Edmund Burke said, to exercise their independent judgment, not vote—

MATTHEWS:  Cross your heart, hope to die.  Don‘t you want Hillary to be the Democratic nominee?  Pat Buchanan, don‘t you want her to be the nominee, deep down? 

BUCHANAN:  No, I don‘t want either of them. 

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you want her to be the Democratic nominee?  You‘re laughing.  I know you want her.  You are like Charlie Crist, who was just on the show.  You guys are dying to get her. 

BUCHANAN:  Barack is easier to beat, in my judgment. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s more of a risk. 

BUCHANAN:  It‘s a big risk. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Maria Teresa, are these conservatives who keep arguing the need for Hillary Clinton to get a fair shake, are they really just trying to get her as their opponent? 

PETERSEN:  Earlier, I was watching the governor of Florida and all of a sudden that he‘s advocating so strongly on the Democratic behalf, I would pause a little bit, right?  Why are you advocating? 

MATTHEWS:  He does seem to be unusually concerned about the other party that he ran against and beat. 

BUCHANAN:  They should get the—

(CROSS TALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Maria Teresa, your thoughts? 

PETERSEN:  I think it goes back to your points earlier, is that I think you would find a lot of dissension in the Democratic party if he is leading by delegates and the popular vote, and all of a sudden comes the Democratic—you know, the convention; they are in trouble. 

MATTHEWS:  Not since Bull Moose will there be such a walk out.  We‘ll be right back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with our round table, Pat and Dana and Maria Teresa Peterson.  Let me start with Maria on this one.  It seems to me like we got a lot of primaries.  We‘ve got a lot of caucuses left.  It‘s going to go to June.  Puerto Rico matters a lot. 

But at the end of it all, it will probably be a Barack advantage.  But let‘s face it, the drama of the next couple months could help Senator Clinton. 

Let‘s start with Pennsylvania, if she were to get a resounding victory in a big state, she could tie it together with Ohio, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and California, all as big wins in big states for Senator Clinton.  That has a lot of gold-medal potential. 

The other guy got the most medals, but she got the most golds.  Put it in context here, Pennsylvania? 

PETERSEN:  First of all, Pennsylvania, we have to recognize that Barack wasn‘t on the Michigan ballot.  But I think that‘s disclosure.  But for Pennsylvania, if she does take it—and you‘re right, it‘s absolutely very similar to Ohio—I think it really—all of a sudden it says, were people double thinking?  Was it buyers‘ remorse?   Someone mentioned that earlier.  Is it?  And does it really make a testament to not like what Mark Penn said, saying that, you know, the other states don‘t matter.  But does it give you time for pause and saying, well, is it equivalent to her basically saying, look, I‘m the best person on go up against John McCain, given the demographics of Pennsylvania itself. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s Pat Buchanan salesmanship.  You can argue that she‘s going to argue—I don‘t want to put you together politically. 

PETERSEN:  Oh, no. 

BUCHANAN:  No problem. 

MATTHEWS:  No problem for you. 

PETERSEN:  Give me more time, Pat. 

MATTHEWS:  Star quality and a bad new story, in terms of corruption or something, could combine to give it to her.  It takes two to tango? 

BUCHANAN:  If he loses Pennsylvania by anything like the margin he lost Ohio, Democratic super delegates and Democrats everywhere are going to say, look, Reagan Democrats looked at him.  They are moving toward him.  They are recoiling and move it away.  This guy can lose it all for us when we‘ve got it won. 

MATTHEWS:  When you have to win Pennsylvania. 

BUCHANAN:  Whereas, Hillary at least is good for 48 percent and maybe can go to 51 percent. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the way I look at it, too.  Hillary‘s not a risk.  Hillary‘s good for—she‘ll never get past 55 percent, but she can get up to 51.  That‘s if every single human being that ever thought of voting for her votes for her.  Barack is either 45 percent or 55 percent.  Barack is a risk.  What did Clinton call him, a flip of the coin or something? 

BUCHANAN:  A roll of the dice. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s right in a weird way.  It is a risk because he can win big or lose big. 

MILBANK:  There‘s outside risk as well for that. 

MATTHEWS:  So is Hillary Clinton—let‘s talk about Pennsylvania.  I‘ve learned a lot in talking to people today.  First of all, they‘re going to put the head of the effort by Barack Obama, to go up against Ed Rendell, the governor, it‘s going to be Pat Murphy, the only combat veteran coming out of Iraq from the suburbs. 

They want to it be a 95 percent suburban campaign.  Not a big city, not a black versus white campaign, suburban, that‘s where their hopes are. 

MILBANK:  Yes, but very, very tough.  We saw what happened after February 5th, when we thought Hillary had had that resurgence, but then 11 in a row here.  Obama may be able to pick up a couple before then, but he just can‘t get the steam-roller effect there.  It‘s very, very difficult for him. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the well-educated types in the suburbs? 

BUCHANAN:  More catholic, more ethnic, more working class than Ohio.  They got those groups up there in Pennsylvania.  Pittsburgh‘s got medical and universities and things, but it‘s more Ohio than Ohio was, in that sense.  So it looks like Hillary‘s going to do well.  If he can‘t win in Pennsylvania—

MATTHEWS:  But, you know, the Democratic party, Pat, unlike the Republican party of Pennsylvania, is really centered, most of it, in the southeast, around Philly and those big burgs, where my brother represents.  You got Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks—these are huge counties.  

No, they are people with college degrees, four years of college, advanced degrees, professionals, commuters, professionals, all kinds of people with money and educations.  I think they are Barack people. 

BUCHANAN:  You‘ve got a lot of those people, but I looked at the demography of the thing compared to Ohio, you found it was more Catholic than Ohio.  It is more working class.  More people under 50,000 dollars. 

(CROSS TALK)

BUCHANAN:  But it‘s much, much older and he ain‘t getting any of the old folks. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me get Maria Teresa in.  Maria Teresa, Pat is making the argument it‘s the old stuck in the mud, stick in the mud.  I agree that Pennsylvania is a traditional state.  But it does have these huge suburbs.  They call Philadelphia the new Brooklyn.  It‘s part of that big megalopolis of the east coast. 

PETERSEN:  I think Philly, in all fairness—Philly has been a machine, right, a political machine.  Whoever the leaders in Philadelphia get behind, they are definitely going to be the ones that are going to resonate and move those communities. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s going to split tomorrow.  OK, let‘s talk about this wonderful meeting tomorrow morning at 12:00 on Walnut Street in Philadelphia.  You can walk past it, but can‘t go in.  This is city committee they call it.  It‘s where all the ward leaders, the 67 ward leaders, black, Italian, Jewish, Latino, Irish—it‘s the old school, Pat.  They would love to see you, Pat, because you look like one of these guys.  You could walk in, let the beard grow, 5:00 shadow would help, little rough, come in and talk tough. 

These are tough guys, tough women, working people, real people, real people.  They are going to look at these two candidates and say, which one of these two candidates can win the presidency and get rid of the Bushes.  They don‘t want anymore Republican rule in this country.  They want working class values.  They want jobs.  They want Social Security protected.  They want education for their kids.  They want all this back again. 

Who is going to win that fight in that room tomorrow? 

BUCHANAN:  I would make the case—if you‘re making the case for Obama, you make one case, Hillary the other, just what you‘re talking about.  What I do, the parties in England, when they say, OK, on this vote, everybody is free to vote any way you want. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the way it‘s going to be.  I think Bob Brady is going to let the ward leaders vote their way in their wards.  Maria Teresa Petersen, Dana Milbank, Pat Buchanan, join us again tomorrow at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for HARDBALL.  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.

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