updated 3/12/2008 4:45:50 PM ET 2008-03-12T20:45:50

Guests: Elizabeth Benjamin, Robert Kessler, Ben Smith, James Tedisco, Clarence Page, Eugene Robinson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Who‘s sorry now?  New York‘s governor hangs in the wind.  New York‘s Geraldine Ferraro says that if Barack Obama were a white guy or any woman, he‘d be nothing.  The beat goes on.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Resignation.  Can the New York governor last another day?  New York Republicans are now calling for his impeachment.  And reports say that Governor Spitzer could resign at any hour now.  Today and tonight, we‘re going to be talking about the top Republican in the New York State Assembly, who is leading the impeachment effort against Spitzer, Assembly Republican leader James Tedisco.  He‘s joining us in just a moment.

Plus: Today is the Mississippi primary, another chance for Barack Obama to add to his lead in states, delegates and popular vote over Senator Clinton.  MSNBC is, of course, the place for politics, and HARDBALL will be back tonight at 7:00.  And we‘ll also have a special election night edition of HARDBALL, as always, tonight at 10:00 o‘clock, with the all the results from Mississippi, and with a special interview right at the top at 10:00 o‘clock with me and Senator Barack Obama.  It‘s going to be great to talk to him about the big developments in the news since the last time we talked.

But we begin tonight with the New York governor‘s prostitution scandal with Elizabeth Benjamin, she‘s a columnist for “The New York Daily News,” and Ben Smith‘s with—he‘s with “The Politico.”  He‘s a senior reporter.

Let me go to both of you right now.  Is this going to reach a peak tonight?  Elizabeth, are we getting close to the end?  Is there a negotiation going on?  Give us what you know about the situation of the scandal involving a prostitute—a prostitution ring, and the governor of the Empire State.

ELIZABETH BENJAMIN, “NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”:  Well, I think negotiations have been going on since this first started.  And it‘s really sort of changing by the minute, and it‘s anyone‘s guess when it‘s going to end.  This morning, we were hearing reports that there was going to be something happening at noon, and noon came and went and nothing happened.  Now we‘re hearing some quotes from senior aides to the governor that, in fact, he‘s still considering whether or not he‘s going to resign and perhaps not going to make a move today.  And the longer, of course, he waits, the more in limbo the state is, and the budget deadline is April 1.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s your deadline at “The Daily News” tomorrow, for the tab tomorrow morning?  How long can you go tonight and still have a big—have wood tomorrow morning with a big headline of him quitting?

BENJAMIN:  Well, for my purposes, you know, I file to the Web and I‘m in charge of the daily politics blog, so I can file all night long.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BENJAMIN:  And if, in fact, he resigns, you know, that‘s big news. 

You‘re going to pull apart the front page as late as you possibly can.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at the tabs—that‘s why we call it “wood”—the front page of both tabs today, “The Daily News” and its competitor, of course, “The New York Post.”  (INAUDIBLE) to show you how hot this is.  Look at this stuff.  This is made for the tabs.  “Pay for luv, gov.”  I‘d love to sometime sit down, Elizabeth and meet the guy—I assume it‘s a guy because there‘s a certain roughhouse quality to these—maybe it‘s a woman, who knows—who writes these incredible, incredible headlines.  Have you ever met these people, the guys with the eyeshades or women with the eyeshades?

BENJAMIN:  I have not.  But I have to tell you, it‘s a rare skill.

MATTHEWS:  It is a rare skill.  I try to match it every night, and it‘s tough.

Let me go to Ben Smith.  Ben, can you report any further about this delicious New York tab story here that you‘re putting to print for “The Politico”?

BEN SMITH, POLITICO:  Well, I mean, I think the really important negotiations here aren‘t necessarily political ones.  They‘re between the governor and the prosecutors, and we don‘t know what‘s going on there, but...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I knew that.  Thanks for the obvious.  He‘s trying to stay out of jail.  Excuse me.  He doesn‘t want even a misdemeanor charge and he—he—all right, let me get back to you.

SMITH:  As long as he can hold out...

MATTHEWS:  Is he negotiating away his job to keep himself out of criminal exposure?

SMITH:  You know, we don‘t know, but one reason to hold out is not necessarily to stay governor but to—but because of the chit, that—to stay out—to stay out of legal trouble.  Prosecutors often will give public officials a break if they‘ll step down.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.

SMITH:  So that‘s one reason to hold out.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Robert Kessler.  He‘s joining us right now from “Newsday,” the Long Island newspaper.  Robert, I guess that‘s the question on the table.  Is there a deep negotiation going on to save the guy from prosecution?

ROBERT KESSLER, “NEWSDAY”:  Yes.  As we understand, his attorneys are negotiating with federal prosecutors to try to prevent him from possibly being indicted on something that may lead to a jail sentence, or at least the possibility of a jail sentence.

MATTHEWS:  Are these federal prosecutions we‘re talking about, a Mann Act violation, transporting a woman for sexual purposes?

KESSLER:  No.  I think it—once, again, it‘s not exactly clear, but our understanding is the southern district people are playing really hardball, pardon me...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  You don‘t have to pardon yourself.

KESSLER:  ... and they‘re talking about more serious charges, could be...

MATTHEWS:  What would it be?

KESSLER:  I‘m sorry?

MATTHEWS:  What would it be, that violation of that—structuring, it‘s called?

KESSLER:  It could be as serious as money laundering or structuring, which is a form of money laundering, in effect, to laymen.  But there‘s a give-and-take, as we understand, because theoretically, anybody who allegedly deals with prostitute would be, in effect, money laundering.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  You know...

KESSLER:  ... taking money and using it for illegal purposes.

MATTHEWS:  Elizabeth, let‘s get back to that.  The only thing I know about the way people do this money laundering is if some drug dealer wants to buy a Jeep or a car of any kind, what he‘ll do is he‘ll buy a junker, then flip it, trade it back in, and thereby reduce the cash price of the new car he‘s buying, thereby avoiding the limits, right?  Is that the kind of thing we‘re looking at here, where people are transferring money and keeping it below certain thresholds by $10,000, by putting it in smaller tranchese (SIC), that sort of thing?

BENJAMIN:  That‘s the general idea.  But the problem also was it was supposed to look like a business transaction, sort of your standard operating business transaction, and not necessarily buying sex, which, of course, is illegal.  And it‘s not, as we said here, the buying of the sex and the prostitution issue because that, of course, is a misdemeanor charge in Washington, if the prostitute was a Washington-based prostitute.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Ben...

BENJAMIN:  It‘s the hiding of the money.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BENJAMIN:  It‘s the small, regular charges that tipped off the feds and the IRS that made it look suspicious, and then subsequently from there, became a full-blown public integrity, public corruption case.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at what Eliot Spitzer ran as an advertisement for himself when he ran for governor two years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIOT SPITZER (D), NY CANDIDATE FOR GOVERNOR:  What I‘m most proud of as attorney general is that we were willing to walk into the buzzsaws, some very powerful interests.  I never backed down.  Look, I had a simple rule.  I never asked if a case was popular or unpopular, never asked if it was big or small, hard or easy. I simply asked fit was right or wrong.  In the end, it‘s not a bad rule.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Spitzer for governor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, words aren‘t everything, as Senator Clinton keeps telling us.  You can‘t just go by a guy‘s words.  You got to go by his performance.  Let me ask you about this question.  It looks to me, Ben Smith of “Politico,” that these things don‘t happen by accident.  Why was the governor of New York—why did he find himself in the crosshairs of a complicated financial investigation by the IRS?

SMITH:  Well, the IRS—the—what‘s been reported is that the IRS was tipped off by—I guess by a bank to these unusual transactions.  They‘re arguing, particularly kind of in the left-wing blogosphere, at the moment, kind of mutterings that, you know, where did—you know, Eliot Spitzer has a lot of enemies, particularly in finance...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SMITH:  ... and this would be the second Democratic governor that the Justice Department has taken down recently.  The first one in Alabama is a huge mess at the moment.  Spitzer can‘t really play that card, though.  He‘s a former prosecutor.

MATTHEWS:  No, I just want to know...

SMITH:  He‘s the guy who never forgave anybody anything.

MATTHEWS:  Ben, I just want to know.

SMITH:  Yes, that‘s what we know.

MATTHEWS:  Was this an accident where they came across it, or were these guys gunning for them?  Do you know, Robert, whether there‘s any evidence that the IRS was sicced on this guy, and therefore they found him, or whether they just happened to catch him through this screen that shows any kind of odd transactions of $3,000 to $5,000 to $10,000?  It seems to me an odd way to catch anybody.  It seems like a lot of people might be caught in that web.

KESSLER:  No, as we quoted one person who was familiar with the investigation today, saying, We got lucky.  What happens, as far as we can determine, is banks flood the IRS with millions of these SAR reports, Suspicious Activity Reports.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

KESSLER:  And it just happened to be one analyst sitting there, said, Gee, this is Eliot Spitzer.  And the initial thought was, It couldn‘t be Eliot Spitzer.  It might be an impostor, as we understand it, or else perhaps he was being blackmailed, or a third less likely possibility at that moment was perhaps he was engaged in political corruption of some sort, trying to launder money.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

KESSLER:  But originally, as they said, it was just luck of the millions of somebody noticing Eliot Spitzer‘s name on one of these bank reports.  In effect, his bank turned him in...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

KESSLER:  ... and somebody at this IRS said, Gee, this is interesting. 

And...

MATTHEWS:  Well, I find it—yes.  I find it questionable whether they were looking into a prostitution ring, the Emperors Club, the VIP, it‘s called Emperors Club VIP, or they were looking into tax movements of money that might be suspicious for other reasons of laundering, or they were looking after this guy, Governor Eliot Spitzer.

By the way, there was a picture of B-roll there, an old picture of the governor in a very happy time with his vivacious, very attractive, obviously, first lady there in New York.  It‘s such a sad story that she had to get hauled out before the public—there they are in a moment of unhappiness.  And you just have to wonder, how do people get themselves from that moment of joy and happiness to this picture here?  Well, it‘s humanity.  Even superdelegates can make mistakes.

Anyway, thank you, Elizabeth Benjamin.  Thank you, Ben Smith.  Thank you, Robert Kessler.

Coming up, the top Republican in the New York Assembly.  He‘s a Republican says he‘s going to try to impeach Spitzer if he doesn‘t resign quickly.  I think he‘s given him 48 hours.  We‘re going to talk about what‘s going to happen in the next two days, to see whether the New York leadership of the Assembly in Albany take the guy out of office or they wait and let him do it himself.

And later to Mississippi, where Barack Obama hopes to win over Hillary Clinton tonight, adding to his numbers by the way.  He‘s leading in states, delegates, he‘s leading in popular votes so far.  There‘s estimates that he might add to all three categories tonight.  We‘re going to have to see.  Tonight we‘re coming back at 10:00 o‘clock.  And I‘ll be talking with Barack Obama tonight at 10:00 o‘clock here on MSNBC.  Come back and watch us at 10:00, if you can‘t watch us until then.  We‘ll have latest numbers from our exit polling coming back here in a moment.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Assemblyman James Tedisco is the top Republican in the New York State Assembly, and he wants Governor Eliot Spitzer to resign immediately for his alleged role in a sex scandal or Tedisco will start impeachment proceedings.

Assemblyman, thank you so much for joining us, Mr. Leader.  How much time are you giving the governor to act to leave office, from now?

JAMES TEDISCO ®, NY STATE ASSEMBLY MINORITY LEADER:  Well, we—right now, we‘ve given the governor 24 to 48 hours.  We understand the ramification that he‘s probably negotiating with the law enforcement officials in relationship to his resignation and how it‘s going to impact him legally.  The fact of the matter is, we don‘t know when he‘s going to resign, but we think sooner better than later.  The fact that Hillary Clinton has taken his endorsement off her Web site may mean that it could be imminent and coming through shortly.  But you know, we‘ve got a total distraction here.

We‘ve got deadlock happening at the capital.  It‘s on circus.  We‘ve got a budget we have to get in place within two weeks.  We have a $5 billion deficit.  As you know, this governor came in with extreme optimism, a tremendous mandate.  He was going to be the ethics governor, hold us up to the highest ethical standards, go after those special interests groups.  And really, that just really crashed and burned, and he broke that bond and that contract with the people of New York state with his ethical involvement, potential illegal involvement and the bad decisions he made and the choices in Washington, D.C.

So he no longer can lead this state.  He has lost all the support of the people, the legislators, the leaders.  We need to get the lieutenant governor in place, have him sworn in and follow through with his budget and move forward.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Assemblyman, let me ask you this question  Do you believe he should be prosecuted, as well as kicked out of office or leave office?  Are you happy with the idea that he may be able to negotiate a deal which gives him immunity from prosecution by federal authorities and state authorities?

TEDISCO:  Chris, we don‘t wish him any ill will.  In fact, we‘re saying a lot of prayers for his wife and him and his family.  This is not a political issue.  It‘s not Democrats against Republicans.  It‘s right and wrong and moving this government forward.

I was an educator before I became a public servant, the last 26 years as an Assemblyman, so I‘m not an attorney.  We have a counsel looking at the potential that if in 48 hours, he does not resign, that we would put forth articles of impeachment according to the constitution.  That hasn‘t been done in about 100 years, but the constitution says it has to start in the New York State Assembly with a resolution.  And if it passes by two thirds vote there, it goes over to the Senate for ratification.  And we would potentially have to remove him by legislation.

We‘d hate to do that.  We hope he resigns for the betterment of himself and the family and all New Yorkers.  But we‘re in stagnation mode right now, and we have to move this government forward, and we can‘t do this with this individual right now.  So we don‘t wish him any ill will...

MATTHEWS:  But there is a sense that he‘s not very likable, that you guys don‘t like him.  I mean, I‘ve watched this fight with Bruno and him from the beginning.  He went in there with all this promise of being smart, Ivy League-educated, lots of money in his background.  He was a gifted kid in terms of his background, a lot of good luck growing up in his sort of the gene pool he came from.  He was grown—I mean, he had a father that looked out for him financially.  He had everything going for him.  He didn‘t have to steal any money, and yet you guys don‘t like him much, do you.

TEDISCO:  Well, he‘s bright.  He‘s intelligent.  He‘s hard-working.  The only problem with the governor is it seems to be his way or the highway.  And most prognosticators felt this was just a byway for him.  He was on his way to the White House.  That has crashed and burned right now.  He‘s ruined his political reputation.

But I hold no ill will against him.  I‘m the guy who he called a—said he was going to be an “F-ing” steamroller last January and he was going to roll over me and everybody else.  And ever since then, it‘s kind of been downhill.  Now, you can change your politics, you can change your policies, but you can‘t change your personality.  And Chris, he just may have this personality flaw and may not have a risk aversion here because he has done something which, when he was attorney general, he investigated, he indicted, he convicted, and he put people in jail for exactly the process he has gone through.

So there‘s a question of his stability (ph) and his ability to lead this Empire State.  So we need a new leader.  We have to go forward, and it can‘t be Eliot Spitzer.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Assemblyman James Tedisco, who‘s the leader of the Republicans in the Assembly in Albany.

Still ahead, we‘ll preview tonight‘s Mississippi primary, where Barack Obama is hoping to beat Hillary Clinton.

And up next, President Bush caught on the tube, the YouTube.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is happening in politics?  Well, YouTube.  Once again, it means you are there.  It also means that a moment otherwise lost to time is trapped for relentless viewing.  I‘m talking about the cell phone that caught President Bush‘s performance at a closed-door white-tie dinner here last weekend. 

Here he is, leader of the free world, conqueror of Afghanistan and Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (singing):  Like that big fuss you made over Harriet and Brownie. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH (singing):  Down the lane, I look and here comes Scooter, finally free of the prosecutor. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH (singing):  Yes, you‘re all going to miss me, the way you used to quiz me, but soon I will touch the brown, brown grass of home.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was quite a hoot, all that joking by the president about Brownie, the guy in charge of the New Orleans disaster, and, of course, Scooter Libby, the guy involved in the CIA cover-up. 

If it‘s one thing, I can‘t stand, it‘s reporters, the best of them,

laughing at events and political acts that warrant anything—I mean

anything—but laughter.  There is nothing, nothing funny about Bush‘s

reference to Brownie, that disastrous appointment followed by that

catastrophic handling of the Katrina horror in New Orleans, nothing funny about a bad war fought for bad intelligence, and a top aide, Scooter Libby, who committed perjury and obstruction of justice to cover it up, nothing funny about a president who commuted that sentence to keep the cover-up protected. 

Otherwise, I‘m sure it was an enjoyable get-together between journalists and the people they‘re charged with covering. 

Now there‘s something every American needs to hear.  It‘s what Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King said about Illinois Senator Barack Obama the other day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVE KING ®, IOWA:  When you think about the optics of a Barack Obama potentially getting elected president of the United States, and, I mean, what does it look like to the rest of the world?  What does it look like to the world of Islam? 

And I will tell you that, if he is elected president, then the—the radical Islamists, the—the al Qaeda and the radical Islamists and their supporters will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11, because they will—they will declare victory in this war on terror. 

Additionally, it does matter—his middle name does matter.  It matters because they read meaning that into that.  And the rest of the world, it has a special meaning to them.  They will be dancing in the streets because of his middle name.  They will be dancing in the streets because of who his father was and because of his posture that says pull out of the Middle East and pull out of the conflict. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, according to “The Congressional Quarterly,” this is not the first outburst of that kind from Congressman King. 

When the horrors of Abu Ghraib reached us, he said it was no worse than college hazing.  Although it may surprise you that someone who talks like he does would be all that familiar with higher education. 

By now, you have seen that 3:00 a.m. Clinton ad 100 times, which means you are very familiar with this young girl who is playing one of the sleeping children—there she is—when that 3:00 a.m. phone call began to ring.  There she is.  Well, it turns out that the young actress in that ad wasn‘t actually acting for Hillary.  It was taped years ago to serve as stock footage for one of these agencies. 

Anyway, the sleeping girl appeared on “The Today Show” just yesterday with this stunning message for our country. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”) 

MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  And, yet, Casey (ph), you‘re here to tell us that you are actually...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  An Obama supporter. 

(LAUGHTER)

LAUER:  And, actually, not only a supporter.  You are working for Senator Obama as a precinct worker. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Right.  During our caucuses in Washington State, I was a precinct captain.  And now I‘m a delegate for my precinct.  And I could progress to my county, my state, and I could even be a national delegate. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We should leave sleeping girls lie. 

(LAUGHTER)

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

If you drive a car, you heat your home or anything, you know that the energy costs are getting brutal these days.  It‘s certainly not like the old days of the big strike days like in “There Will Be Blood.”  Look at this scene, anyway.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THERE WILL BE BLOOD”)

DANIEL DAY-LEWIS, ACTOR:  Ladies and gentlemen, if I say I‘m an oilman, you will agree. 

There‘s a whole ocean of oil under our feet.  No one can get at it, except for me. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, those oil-rich days are apparently long gone. 

And, if you didn‘t realize that already, I offer you tonight‘s big, bad number. 

Today, the price for crude oil in the world approached an all-time high of $110 a barrel.  That‘s tonight‘s big, bad number, thanks to the Cheney energy program. 

Anyway up next: the Mississippi primary.  Barack Obama is hoping to win another state, the last contest, by the way, before my home state of Pennsylvania, which is now six weeks off, six weeks of running around in Pennsylvania for both candidates.  We will get the latest from our Mississippi exit polling tonight and preview where this race stands right now.  In Mississippi, they‘re already counting the votes. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARY THOMPSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Mary Thompson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.” 

Wall Street enjoying its best day in five years, stocks soaring on action by the Federal Reserve to ease the strains in the credit crisis.  The Dow Jones industrial average gained 416 points, its fourth biggest point gain ever.  The Dow surged back over the psychologically important 12000 level, closing at 12156.  The S&P gained 47 points, and the Nasdaq added 86. 

The Fed announced it will lend up to $200 billion in treasuries to big Wall Street investment houses and banks and allow them to use some of their riskier mortgage-backed securities as collateral.  Financial stocks surged on the news.  They led today‘s rally. 

And oil surged to a record, near $110 a barrel, before today‘s Fed announcement.  Crude closed at a record closing high of $108.75 a barrel, up 85 cents a day. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Polls in Mississippi close at 8:00 tonight.  And Barack Obama‘s counting on a victory over Senator Clinton in that big primary. 

Let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard of the Independent Women‘s Forum, along with Clarence Page of “The Chicago Tribune,” and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan. 

Let‘s talk politics.  We talked—we have done enough Spitzer, haven‘t we? 

MICHELLE BERNARD, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  The guy is facing whatever he‘s facing tonight.  He may have to resign.  For those who are watching, the Republicans in the assembly are moving to impeach if he doesn‘t resign.  He‘s apparently involved in some sort of negotiations at this point to save himself from whatever is worse than being kicked out of office. 

Don‘t you love this stuff? 

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  I thought you did.  Let‘s be honest.

PAGE:  It all happens at once, too.

MATTHEWS:  This is what the Germans call schadenfreude, joy through others‘ tragedy. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about a far more quisling situation.  It‘s the complications of this race. 

Again today, we faced another case of a staffer, supporter, superdelegate, whatever, speaking out in a way that the candidate has had to distance themselves from. 

Here on Saturday, Geraldine Ferraro, who, of course, was the Democratic nominee for vice president back in ‘84, told a local paper in California—quote—“If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position, and, if he was a woman, he would not be in this position.  He happens to be very lucky to be who he is, and the country is caught up in the concept.”

So, what‘s this?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And then Senator Clinton separating herself a bit, but not enough to avoid the tackle...

BERNARD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... as they say in football. 

(LAUGHTER)

BERNARD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Not enough separation to avoid the tackle, said: “I do not agree with it.  That is regrettable that any of our supporters on both sides, because” blah, blah, blah, blah.  You know, she didn‘t really deny it. 

Then, of course, we have got the—we have got the other side now jumping, saying—here‘s what Senator Obama told a Pennsylvania newspaper about Ferraro‘s comments—quote—“I don‘t think Geraldine Ferraro‘s comments have any place in our politics or in the Democratic Party.  They‘re divisive.  I think anybody who understands the history of this country knows they are patently absurd.  And I would expect that, the same way those comments don‘t have a place in my campaign, they shouldn‘t have a place in Senator Clinton‘s campaign.”

In other words, stop complaining about my people if you can‘t clean up your guys. 

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD:  Well, I mean, I just—she‘s so over the top, I don‘t even know where to begin with this.  It‘s not her...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Geraldine Ferraro being... 

BERNARD:  Yes, Geraldine Ferraro‘s comments are so over the top.  And it‘s at a time, you know, when we‘re looking and we‘re seeing that the Clinton campaign, I think, personally, is trying to woo back African-American voters in Mississippi tonight.  And she goes out and she makes this statement.

And I can tell you, every African-American in the state of Mississippi that reads about this or hears about it is going to be overwhelmingly turned off.  And if one of them had been inclined to maybe change their vote—vote from Obama to Senator Clinton, that—the black vote is gone for good. 

MATTHEWS:  Clarence? 

PAGE:  Well, my reaction initially was that, if Barack Obama was white, he might be John Edwards. 

(LAUGHTER)

PAGE:  I mean, he has—you know, doesn‘t he have actually more experience in office than Edwards did when he first ran for president?  I mean, really, this is the absurdity of the statement. 

And my wife, who, of course, is my chief adviser on all things, said it sounded like sour grapes to her.  But that‘s—that‘s her comment.  But...

BERNARD:  Well, it is sour grapes.  I mean, Geraldine Ferraro was on the—there is an argument to be made that she was on the ticket because she was a woman, and only because she was a woman.  And if you dared to deign to say that, you know, the national organization would be holding riots right now.  And for her to imply that someone who is as well educated as Barack Obama and has really captured the nation is only there because he‘s a black man is wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat, we‘re in—we‘re in this territory now of gender and ethnicity, wherein you better be careful what you say, because, if you say something that strikes most people, or many people, or some people as divisive, as being categorical, as dismissive, as in any way belittling a person for who they are, and playing that as if that‘s the only reason they are where they are, that‘s dangerous territory. 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I—well, I don‘t think it‘s that dangerous territory.  It certainly isn‘t for me. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Look, the truth is, Geraldine Ferraro got on that ticket because she was a woman.  She was a six-term congresswoman.  She was not a national figure.  She was unknown. 

And we took it all when I was with Reagan, took it all as a real roll of the dice to try to get the women‘s vote against Reagan, nothing wrong with it. 

I do agree with this.  If Barack Obama were not an African-American, I don‘t think he would be where he is.  He‘s clearly a tremendously articulate individual, an able individual, a great orator who has won his way.  Really, he‘s run a magnificent campaign.  But he got his start off and he‘s winning 90 percent or 85 percent of the African-American vote because he‘s an African-American.  I don‘t have a problem with that at all, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you, Pat, why don‘t we start talking in that regard about everybody?  Bill Clinton wouldn‘t have been where he was if he weren‘t white, a male white. 

BUCHANAN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  George Washington wouldn‘t have been who he was if he were not a white male. 

I mean, how many—why do we have this new delineation that we never had before about white men?

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  We never said, the only reason the guy is governor of New York is, he‘s a white male.  We have learned that certainly in the last couple days. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  I think, look, the Democrats themselves, Hillary said, it‘s wonderful, the first black male, the first woman for candidate for president.

For heaven‘s sakes...

MATTHEWS:  But, Pat...

BUCHANAN:  ... the whole country is talking about it. 

Chris, get out of the political correctness, for heaven‘s sake. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, I want to tell you something.  But has anybody ever said, the only reason George Washington was our father of our country because he‘s a white male?

BUCHANAN:  It wasn‘t true.  It wasn‘t true. 

MATTHEWS:  I have never heard anybody say that. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  He was a general in the revolution.

MATTHEWS:  You mean, if he was a black female, he would have been...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  He was a general in the revolution, for heaven‘s sakes. 

And he was the lead man at the Constitutional Convention. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  He was the greatest...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And he wouldn‘t have been any of those things if he wasn‘t a white male.  Would you stop? 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD:  For the record, can I please ask, why is it that, whenever we talk about an African-American, like Barack Obama, that we have to use the word articulate, as if he‘s going to go on TV speaking Ebonics?

BUCHANAN:  Well, that‘s silly.  Look...

BERNARD:  I would love to erase that from of our vernacular. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, John—John Lewis...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  ... is a tremendous leader.  You know, John Lewis is a great civil...

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  Let me just say something about Pat was saying about—about black folks supporting—supporting Obama.  And Pat and I have talked about this before.

When Obama was first running, weren‘t we on this show and others talking about, is he black enough to get black votes? 

BERNARD:  Yes. 

PAGE:  He had to earn...

MATTHEWS:  And, obviously, the polls, by the way, showing him losing the black votes. 

PAGE:  Yes.  Thank you. 

BERNARD:  He was.

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  He had to earn the black vote.  And he did earn it, number one. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He got a lot of help from the Clintons, didn‘t he? 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  Number two, the Abe Lincoln campaign, which I remember well, because I was there. 

MATTHEWS:  Which one? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  First or reelection?

PAGE:  Abraham Lincoln.  The first one, he was endorsed by “The Chicago Tribune.”  He was our candidate.  And he only had one term in Congress, quite lackluster. 

I mean, these arguments are ridiculous. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  All right. 

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  And the implication is that any black candidate is winning because he‘s black.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  All right.  If it‘s a ridiculous argument, explain to me why Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is the wife of our first black president, Bill Clinton...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why do you guys keep calling her by her middle name? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What is this Rodham thing? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Chris, is she only getting 10 percent of the black vote, Hillary Rodham Clinton? 

PAGE:  That wasn‘t true initially, was it, Pat?

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  Didn‘t she have to earn it?  Wasn‘t she beating Obama initially when he first announced? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  But why is she only getting 10 percent?  You know it as well as I do. 

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD:  Pat, there was a time—there was a point in time when she was overwhelmingly getting the African-American vote. 

BUCHANAN:  But...

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD:  Bill Clinton resorted to race-baiting in Georgia and...

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD:  ... in South Carolina, and that was the end of it. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  You call it race-baiting.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to throw some more wood on the fire here, because I agree with this guy.

Orlando Patterson is a sociology professor at Harvard.  He wrote a “New York Times” op-ed piece, which they put in the lead box today.

He said—quote—“I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, and I saw—when I saw the Clinton ads, the central image”—this is the 30 -- the middle-of-the-night, 3:00-in-the-morning ad—“the central image, innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger, it brought to my mind scenes from the past.  I couldn‘t help but think of D.W. Griffith‘s ‘Birth of a Nation,‘ the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society.  The danger implicit in the phone ad, as I see it, is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat.”

Clarence, your view of what the professor says in that ad? 

PAGE:  Well, I normally am a big fan of Orlando Patterson.  I don‘t agree with him in this instance, maybe because I have been in politics too long.  And you and I have both seen the—the—the Mondale ad that he had back in ‘84. 

MATTHEWS:  But it didn‘t have sleeping children.  It just...

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  So what?  I mean, it was the same essence of the ad.  I mean, you know, I think that it‘s a bit of a stretch, OK? 

I have seen “Birth of a Nation,” too.

MATTHEWS:  Was this...

PAGE:  And Pat has seen “Birth of a Nation.” 

Pat, you were there, weren‘t you? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Well, listen...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Michelle, let me ask you a tough question, because I have...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  One hundred years ago, for heaven—who is this guy from Harvard?  This is ridiculous.  The phone call is about foreign policy, for heaven‘s sake. 

MATTHEWS:  It is? 

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  I think the phone call had more to do with 911 than 9/11. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think it was a mother protecting her kids from a prowler outside. 

BERNARD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And I wonder why we‘re seeing an ad like that.  That‘s how it struck me, a mother tucking the kids in because she heard a noise outside, not that she got a call.  It was a 911 message, not a 9/11 message. 

BUCHANAN:  Suppose that‘s true, Chris.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  What would be wrong with it? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  What would be wrong with it, if that were true? 

MATTHEWS:  It would be racist. 

Go ahead. 

BERNARD:  I just—I...

BUCHANAN:  Well, why—why would it be racist?  It‘s for ADT. 

MATTHEWS:  Can we have somebody from another perspective answer the question, besides you and me, tribalist Irish guys answer the question.  Go ahead.

BERNARD:  I do not see racism in the ad.  I really don‘t.  I‘ve read the professor‘s quote.  I disagree with him.  When I saw the ad, I really thought that this was Hillary Clinton—I didn‘t say Rodham—but this was Hillary Clinton‘s chance to go out and really appeal to women voters.  Any woman voter, black or white, who took a look at that ad is thinking about her children, and she‘s wondering is Hillary Clinton saying, I will push the button; I will take care of somebody who is trying to take out your children, white or black. 

MATTHEWS:  Really, so saw it as a foreign policy? 

BERNARD:  I do. 

MATTHEWS:  You do Clarence? 

PAGE:  I do. 

MATTHEWS:  Pat, you said it was a foreign policy issue; it‘s not a 911 call. 

BUCHANAN:  I agree halfway with you, Chris.  I did see it as somebody is breaking into the house first, because it looked like that kind of ad.  But clearly it was also aimed at the idea of who can pick up that phone in a time of crisis.  And so I saw it as both.  What‘s wrong with it? 

MATTHEWS:  It looked to me like one of those ads for the alarm system you get that goes police station. 

BUCHANAN:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not about phoning and taking a call.  It‘s about phoning for help.  I‘m telling you, the geniuses behind this ad—and they are bad, mad geniuses, I‘ll bet, know everything we‘re talking about.  Because it is dog-whistle time. 

Anyway, Michelle Bernard, thank you.—for people to listen to.  Anyway, Clarence, it is an honor to have you on, after all these years of working together and looking up to you, and having you join me as a colleague, even if you‘re just a panelist here. 

PAGE:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, the “Politics Fix,” we‘ll count down to the results of the Mississippi Primary and have the latest from our exit polling about what Mississippi voters think of that so-called dream ticket, Clinton-Obama, or Obama-Clinton.  And at 10:00 Eastern, live coverage of the Mississippi Primary, we‘ll be joined by Senator Barack Obama himself here on HARDBALL. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Polls in Mississippi will be closed in about 15 minutes now at 8:00 Eastern.  Right now, let‘s take a look at our exit polling from Mississippi.  And for that we turn to MSNBC‘s Mika Brzezinski. 

Mika, what are we learning? 

MIKE BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  We‘re learning a lot, Chris.  Even with primary battles still being fought, Democrats are looking ahead to November in some of their exit poll answers tonight.  Key to winning in the fall is keeping the Democratic base.  So let‘s see how these Mississippi Democratic voters would feel when one of these candidates becomes the nominee. 

Two-thirds, 67 percent say they would be satisfied with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket.  And if Hillary Clinton takes the nomination, you can see that she does slightly worse than Obama, 61 percent say they would be satisfied with Clinton as their party‘s presidential candidate. 

Now, of course, one of the major stories in the last week that has been the issue is the vice-presidential slot.  Who will it be?  Well, with the repeated mention by the Clinton campaign of a dream ticket pairing Clinton and Obama, we found that this pairing is satisfactory to a little more than half of the Democratic primary voters today. 

And whether it was Clinton or Obama in the V.P. slot, we found that voters were kind of split on that, 55 percent say they think Obama should pick Clinton as his vice president, 42 percent think he should put someone else on the ticket, and 57 percent say they think Clinton should pick Obama as her V.P. 

And what about the ability to beat the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, who has also shown an ability to appeal to independent voters?  Well, today in Mississippi, Barack Obama is the top choice in terms of perceived electability, 62 percent think he is most likely to defeat the Republican nominee compared with 34 percent who see Hillary Clinton as the most likely to win if nominated. 

And, Chris, as you know, the roll of Bill Clinton continues to play out on the road to the general election.  Well, in Mississippi, voters were split in third.  A third think he helped, a third think he hurt, and a third feel he simply had no affect on Hillary Clinton‘s campaign.  Hmm.  Chris, back to you. 

MATTHEWS:  God, he sounds like Humpty Dumpty who had a great fall.  A third, a third, a third for the best politician of our times, Chuck Todd? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Look, it‘s not good.  And Bill Clinton is—we‘re seeing nationally in some polls where his numbers have gone down a bit.  I mean, the short-term legacy of Bill Clinton is not good right now.  Part of it is because he has alienated African-Americans, that‘s... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s bring in Andrea Mitchell, who is up in New York.  She is, of course, The Washington Post—and The Washington Post.  Andrea is, of course, the national—the foreign affairs expert in all things. 

You cover the globe, you cover the nation.  Andrea knows all things.  Let me ask you about those numbers.  Were you surprised at the electability issue, about 62 to 34, favoring Barack among voters polled today in Mississippi? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  No, because he was expected to lead among voters.  And that reflects, I think, the preference of voters in Mississippi, which I think once the polls finally close, if it is as predicted going in, I think you‘re going to find that that‘s the kind of split you get from Mississippi voters. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Gene here.  The polling question is all about

we had an earlier polling thing about who has been the most unfair, Senator Clinton came in the short end of that one.  Let me ask you about this kitchen sink strategy of two weeks ago. 

According to The Wall Street Journal today, that has driven down support for either Democrat, it has hurt both of them.  It is at the same time John McCain is coming up.  If this goes on, this—whatever you want to call it, stickball game in South Philly, I mean, this serious game that‘s going on all the way to April 22nd, is this going to drive down the Democrats in toto, or it is zero-sum? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, I think it has the potential to do real harm.  Now, you know, this is a primary fight, this is a fight for the nomination.  Presumably at some point the Democrats all—the candidates at least all make nice to each other after somebody finally wins the nomination.  And they try to bring the party back together again. 

But it can‘t help for the fall to have John McCain able to kind of rest and snipe from the sidelines, and raise money, and do all of the things that—you know, and attack both Democrats and have the Democrats pulling each other down that way, specifically the Clinton kitchen sink strategy, which has been really rough.

MATTHEWS:  Today Senator Obama talked to a crowd about the fact that not only (INAUDIBLE) hit by this kitchen sink in general, but by the Kenyan clothes.  He now accuses the administration—or rather the—I call it the administration, talk about how my whole thinking works, the Clinton campaign of doing. 

He‘s getting very direct in countering these charges.  And of course we have Geraldine Ferraro being very bizarre in her claim that she is only being questioned.  Her she is where she got in trouble for saying that the only reason Obama is where he is politically is because he‘s African-American and male, basically. 

If he were a woman of any ethnic background, he wouldn‘t be anywhere.  And if he were white he wouldn‘t be anywhere.  Then today, look what he said.  Let me read you—I gave you this early.  Look what he said today. 

This is Geraldine Ferraro saying: “Any time anyone does anything in any way that pulls down the campaign,” the Barack Obama campaign, “and says, let‘s address reality and the problems we‘re facing in the world, you‘re accused of being a racist, so you have to shut up.  Racism works in two different directions.  I really think they‘re attacking me because I‘m white.”

Now this, of course, is the first woman ever to be put on the national ticket back in ‘84.  What do you make of it, Andrea?  This is getting pretty feisty here.

MITCHELL:  Yes.  And I think that this is a real problem.  The Clinton campaign said—Hillary Clinton said today that she disagreed with what Ferraro said.  Ferraro, who was a trailblazer for women, an icon in the Democratic Party as the first vice presidential nominee running in 1984 with Walter Mondale. 

So this is very embarrassing.  She is on the finance committee raising money for Hillary Clinton.  Then the Obama campaign came back and said that Hillary Clinton had not gone far enough, had not completely repudiated Geraldine Ferraro. 

So now they are arguing over the language, over the nomenclature, whether they went far enough to dis Gerry Ferraro, who, let me just point out, has been very ill, has been on chemotherapy, has been on a lot of medication, and was reacting very angrily at a period—not that it excuses anything, but the period before the Ohio and Texas wins, she was reacting very emotionally, but she now has repeated it again. 

So this is a nasty moment and it is a sad moment for everyone who—you know, who would prefer that this not dissolve into issues of race and gender, but here we are. 

MATTHEWS:  Andrea, thank you for that, because you pointed out the important time factor.  When Geraldine Ferraro, who I respect and like, made that comment, she made it looked like Hillary had been beaten.  This was right before—Ohio and Texas would have looked very dismal for her in the national polling.  She expressed I think the bitterness a lot of older women feel—political women, at what looked like the dissing, if you use the street term, of their candidate, or somebody they believed in as a pathmaker. 

ROBINSON:  That‘s true, but she did kind of repeat it today, I mean, she came back to it.  And it‘s really—you know, it‘s not so much a flat-out racist thing to say as just ridiculous.  It‘s an absurd thing to say.

MATTHEWS:  Because?

ROBINSON:  Because a black guy from Chicago whose last name is just one letter different from the name of the man—the one man in the world most hated by Americans, whose middle name is the same as the name of the dictator deposed.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  As someone who has.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  Come on! 

MATTHEWS:  . in the apology barrel myself, let me try to explain what she was saying.  She wasn‘t saying that a black man has always had a break in this country.  That‘s an absurdity that anybody in America knows is not true.  Or that women—anyway, she was probably trying to say or saying, this is a time we‘re looking for a healer.  And maybe a man of backgrounds in both white and black worlds is what we‘re looking for.  And maybe that was his ticket to success, she was trying to say.  Look, you‘re laughing at that.  But I‘m putting a construction on it that makes sense. 

ROBINSON:  No, no.  That would have been a much more elegant thing to say, a much more elegant way of putting it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I thinks that‘s what she means.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  . if that‘s what she meant.

MATTHEWS:  What else could she possibly mean?  Blacks have been elected three times in the United States Senate in the history of this republic, since 1788.  They have been elected, what, governor twice.  This doesn‘t happen normally. 

TODD:  No.  This is—if the reasoning was timing, then, yes, I mean, clearly presidential politics is about timing.  OK.  You know, Barack Obama wouldn‘t have been the right candidate for the Democrats in ‘04 and 2000 but it looks like because of the nature of polarization in the country that maybe he is in the right place at the right time.  Hillary Clinton may find out that she should have run in ‘04, that maybe that was her time and timing. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I got in trouble for talking about timing.

TODD:  No, but time.

MATTHEWS:  Timing in ‘98 and how Hillary Clinton got an unusual, weird situation develop in ‘98 that she was able to take advantage of.  That got me in trouble.  Everybody is getting in trouble.

MITCHELL:  Don‘t go there, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  . for trying to understand—see, Andrea, there she is.  There she is.  I already went there.  We‘ll be back to that subject, I‘m sure, in the future.  Anyway, we‘ll be back with the “Roundtable”.

ROBINSON:  We‘ve got that under control, Andrea, don‘t worry.

MATTHEWS:  . for more of the “Politics Fix.” We could do a whole show explaining me here, but I‘d rather not. 

And don‘t forget our special edition of HARDBALL at 10:00 Eastern tonight.  And we‘ll interview Senator Barack Obama, one of the top candidates, of course, for president, one of the three people who is probably going to be our next president.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the “Roundtable” for more of the “Politics Fix.”  All right.  Let me ask you, Andrea, I know you love these ticklish questions as a straight news reporter, but I‘m going to ask you this, give me a political impact statement of the whole Spitzer deal. 

MITCHELL:  Wow. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this going to hurt New York politics?  Is it going to hurt the Democrats?  Is it going to hurt—he is a superdelegate, he is a Clinton person.  They‘re not obviously connected in this.  Is he just going to create a smell about politics?  Will it remind us of Monica?  Will it bring us back to character issues?  Will it do anything like that?

MITCHELL:  It has the potential for doing that.  But I think that he is really sui generis.  He really is a unique politician, universally disliked by people on Wall Street and people in Albany, already in trouble on this Trooper-gate mess where he was accused of using... 

MATTHEWS:  Do any good people dislike him? 

MITCHELL:  . the state troopers.

MATTHEWS:  Do any good people dislike him?

MITCHELL:  Yes, I think some good people on Wall Street actually dislike him, people who think that he was abusive.  Some of the people in the financial segment of the country were not.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here‘s the picture. 

MITCHELL:  . really bad guys.

MATTHEWS:  Andrea, there‘s a delightful woman there running along with him politically, having the time of her life, thrilled to be his partner in life—his political partner.  And then we see the later picture.  What a sad story. 

MITCHELL:  Incredibly sad.  This woman is Harvard Law graduate, a former lawyer with Skadden, Arps.  And seeing a woman go through this is just awful. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, what a story.  Thank you, Andrea, for joining us.  Thank you very much Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post.  And Chuck Todd, our chief political kick here.  Join us again at 10:00 Eastern for complete coverage of the Mississippi Primary.  That is tonight.  I have got an interview with Obama coming up at 10:00. 

“COUNTDOWN” with Keith starts now. 

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

END   

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