updated 3/13/2008 11:40:44 AM ET 2008-03-13T15:40:44

Guests: Clarence Page, Rep. Kendrick Meek, Sen. Claire McCaskill

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Is Obama the frontrunner because he‘s black, or despite the fact?  What‘s new in American politics?  And what‘s old?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Barack Obama may have won the Mississippi primary yesterday, and in fact, last night we reported it here.  But the story everyone‘s talking about in politics today is Geraldine Ferraro‘s comments about Obama and race.  Today, Ms. Ferraro, stubbornly or bravely—your choice—refused to back down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALDINE FERRARO (D), FORMER VICE PRES. NOMINEE:  Tell me then why every time somebody opens their mouth—Bill Clinton racist, Governor Rendell racist, Gerry Ferraro—all of us have records that are anything but racists.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sorry you said this?

FERRARO:  Absolutely not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Senator Clinton has rejected Ferraro‘s comments, but her campaign has also refused to cut ties with her.  But let‘s look at what Ferraro said.  Is it arguable or not, offensive or merely controversial?  Let‘s talk about it.

Plus, Senator Obama‘s Mississippi win yesterday will certainly help him, but the next stop, Pennsylvania, seems to be Clinton territory.  Later, we‘ll talk about how each candidate hopes to grab the nomination, the battle lines, Obama‘s numbers versus the Clintons‘ sales pitch.  Plus, we‘ll have the latest results from the new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll just out tonight.

And just two days after the prostitution scandal story broke, New York Democratic governor Eliot Spitzer resigns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ELIOT SPITZER (D), NEW YORK:  Over the course of my public life, I have insisted, I believe correctly, that people, regardless of their position or power, take responsibility for their conduct.  I can and will ask no less of myself.  For this reason, I am resigning from the office of governor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Boy, his wife is very impressive in that picture.  I don‘t know how they get through these moments.  Anyway, what effect, if any, will this scandal have on the race for the White House?

More on this later, but we begin with race, politics and Geraldine Ferraro.  We‘re joined right now by MSNBC political analysts Michelle Bernard and Pat Buchanan and Clarence Page of “The Chicago Tribune.”

Lady and gentlemen, let me ask you about this.  let me give you the quote and start it off.  This is an interesting series of events here.  Several days ago, before the—actually, before the Iowa—or the Ohio primary, Geraldine Ferraro told a local newspaper in Torrance, 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.”

Well, let‘s go through how she said it.  This morning, Ferraro sought to put the remarks in context.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FERRARO:  So I was asked after the speech, Could you—what is the reason that you see that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are at this level together?  Could I have said because his experience is what puts him there?  No.  Could I say because of his stands on issues have distinction?  No.  What is the real thing that has turned out—and I was talking about historic candidacies, and what I started off by saying, If you go back to 1984 and look at my historic candidacy—which I just talked about all these things.  In 1984, if my name were Gerard Ferraro instead of Geraldine Ferraro, I never would have been chosen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So there you have it.  Let‘s look at now as it continues.  Here‘s how she argues—the former congresswoman—that her words have been spun.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FERRARO:  The spin on the words has been that, somehow, I was addressing his qualifications.  I was not.  I was celebrating the fact that the black community in this country has come out with a pride in the historic candidacy and shown itself at the polls.  You‘d think he‘d say, Yes, thank you for doing that.  That‘s the kind of thing that we want to say thank you to the community.  Instead, I‘m charged with being a racist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s talk about this.  This has become a political football.  Michelle Bernard, why do people in the Clinton camp, why do people generally—do they—take offense at what she said the first time, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position, and if he was a woman of any color”—those are her words—“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.”

MICHELLE BERNARD, INDEPENDENT WOMEN‘S VOICE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: 

Well, I got an e-mail from a viewer who sent me an e-mail and said, Look, here‘s the thing about Geraldine Ferraro.  If her premise was correct, why wasn‘t Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton ever elected president?  If all it takes to be a black—to become president of the United States is to be a black man, we would have seen one a long time ago.  And that‘s why it‘s offensive.

He is not an affirmative action candidate.  He is highly qualified.  He is well spoken.  He has captured the imagination of whites, blacks, Hispanics.  He‘s captured the imagination of everyone in this nation, and she seems to really be denigrating him and kind of saying, You know what?  Realize your place.  It‘s almost as if we are beginning to see the evolution of the angry white female, or the angry Democratic white female in this election.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to—let me go to Clarence on that first, then to Pat.  Clarence, your thoughts on that?  Your feelings, in fact.

CLARENCE PAGE, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  If you don‘t mind.

PAGE:  Well, she made a racist statement, with all due respect, and now she‘s playing the victim card, saying she‘s being accused of racism.  Look, it‘s is a common flaw, a mistake of well-intentioned people, myself included, to think that because we‘ve done well (INAUDIBLE) things that we can make racist statements.

But you know, back in 1988, my newspaper, “The Chicago Tribune,” “The Washington Post,” I‘m sure others, quoted her as making similar comments about Jesse Jackson.  And she said, I know that he is where he is because he‘s black and he‘s too radical to be elected.  She hasn‘t mentioned the radical part about Obama, but she‘s completely discounting the fact that Obama has run an exceptional campaign, one that has broken past records in many ways and defied conventional wisdom.  Hillary Clinton has also run an exceptionally good campaign.  That‘s why they‘re neck and neck right now.  So let‘s not go playing the race or the gender card as if that explains everything because it doesn‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Pat?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think when you say something is racist, that‘s a subjective judgment by individuals.  I think what—if she had said, The only reason Barack Obama is where he is is because he‘s African-American, that would be false and foolish.

But there‘s no question about it, because Barack Obama is an African-American—why else would a state senator be given the keynote position at the Democratic convention?  Why else is Barack Obama winning 91 percent of the African-American vote?  Why else has the liberal media nationally fallen all over him to the point where they‘re satirized on “Saturday Night Live”?  Why is Barack Obama going to roll right through Philly and that area and some of those suburbs?

And the fact that he‘s African-American is an enormous attribute to him, a political attribute in this campaign.  And if he were not an African-American and he were a—spent two years in the United States Senate, I do not think he would be the front-running candidate for the nomination.  And I think an awful lot of Americans would agree with that statement.  I don‘t think it is...

PAGE:  I don‘t.

BUCHANAN:  ... racist in the least.

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.  Your thoughts, Clarence?

PAGE:  Well, I don‘t.  I mean, you know, if Barack Obama was white, he‘d be John Edwards, and he might right now be in a neck-and-neck contest with Hillary Clinton if he ran a similarly good grass-roots campaign, the way Barack Obama has run his campaign.  You know, he was—Barack Obama was chosen to be keynote speaker for the same reason Carole Moseley Braun in the past was chosen and various other folks.  It‘s what he did with that moment after he got it, after he had that opportunity.  It‘s not just because he‘s black, it‘s because the guy‘s a darn good candidate.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk about the way that we—these things are being policed now.  When you say something that some people don‘t like, there‘s almost a star chamber situation, that you have to recant.  It‘s almost like you‘ve got to turn the candle upside down and snuff it out.  It‘s almost becoming like an inquisition.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to ask you, is that the way we should conduct our discourse in America today?  You say certain things, people find them offensive, you recant them.  Is it better not to talk?  Is it better to say what you don‘t believe or what you do believe?  What is the standard, truth as you know it, acceptability?

BUCHANAN:  Well, listen, it is exactly that.  It is truth.  And the real danger is not Geraldine Ferraro.  She threatens no one.  The real danger is this establishment, this corrupt establishment, Chris, which in my judgment, pushes people‘s face in the dirt when they defy some kind of speech code that has been put down, when they say something that they believe in their heart to be true...

PAGE:  It‘s called good manners, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  ... there is nothing—well, listen, it happens to be true, even though it offends Clarence Page of “The Chicago Tribune.”

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  There is—that it‘s frank and truthful statement, and you will hear it all over America, and it offends people on television mainly.

BERNARD:  But this thing about it is that because of the two people that are the frontrunners for the Democratic nomination, we are beginning to have a very open and honest discussion about race and gender all over the country, and that‘s an important thing to do.  I completely disagree with Geraldine Ferraro.  And you know, and one of the things that we...

MATTHEWS:  Should she be silenced?

BERNARD:  No, she...

MATTHEWS:  Should she be forced to grovel, or whatever—what was your phrase, Pat?

BUCHANAN:  Grovel, rub her nose in the dirt.

MATTHEWS:  Should she be forced by the Clinton campaign, out of good order and good manners, as Clarence pointed out, to recant, in the medieval sense, recant what she believes?

BERNARD:  She shouldn‘t be forced to recant because it‘s her opinion, but the Clinton campaign, I think, would be wise to sever their ties with her in their campaign because by allowing her to play such a high-profile role in the campaign, they‘re basically saying, We agree with what she said.  You were right in South Carolina.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... Clarence, do you believe that by allowing her to remain on the finance committee in good standing as a friend of the Clintons, if you will, that they have allowed this to be seen as their view?

PAGE:  Yes, it is a double standard, just like John McCain didn‘t denounce the evangelical down in Texas, who‘s got an anti-Catholic record who endorsed him.  You know, this is part of political correctness, yes.  That‘s why it‘s called political correctness.  It is political etiquette we‘re talking about here, and there are codes that candidates follow if they want to attract and keep constituencies.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

PAGE:  We didn‘t invent the game, and maybe these little unwritten rules ought to be changed.

BUCHANAN:  But Clarence...

PAGE:  Let‘s have an intelligent discussion about it.

BUCHANAN:  Clarence—yes.  But Clarence, I think you‘re inventing the code, quite frankly.  It may be your code, but there‘s a lot of folks for whom it is not a code.  If Hillary Rodham Clinton—Hillary Clinton—excuse me—if she...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why!

BUCHANAN:  No, Ruth Bader Ginsburg...

MATTHEWS:  I know, and...

BUCHANAN:  ... John Paul Stevens...

MATTHEWS:  I know...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Let me get back to the point.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  I would say this.  If Hillary Clinton rejects her and severs her from the campaign and throws her under the bus, it would tell me she‘s not a strong leader that does not stand by her people.  This woman has...

MATTHEWS:  Barack dumped Samantha Power under the bus.

BUCHANAN:  I know he dumped her.  Well, she said some other things, but if it was just the “monster,” he should have chastised her and kept her, in my judgment.  A leader stands by his people or her people in trouble.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  She has said nothing wrong that I know of and nothing wrong a lot of people think, and they‘re watching to see how Hillary handles this.  And I think she will do well with a lot of folks if she stands by her girl.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you all this question because I am trying to reconcile truth with freedom, you know, not just subjective truth, but when somebody says something they believe to be true, let‘s try to find the truth in it.

Clarence, could it be that what she‘s saying is true, that this country‘s in a mood of such—such frustration with the conflicts in this country, especially the most historic conflict going back, as you and I and everybody knows, 300 years, race, what I call the San Andreas fault of America, to find a guy who can actually move back and forth across that line with some ease is so refreshing, that by that very fact, he has an advantage in American life.  If she said that, would that be offensive?

PAGE:  Well, I think that that would be a true statement.  I think that Barack Obama, in some ways, part of his popularity is attributable to the fact that people are trying to get out of this crazy quicksand pit of racial etiquette.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m one of them.

PAGE:  People are very much afraid to talk across racial lines for the reasons Pat‘s talking about.  You know, if everybody could get along as well as we do on this show, wouldn‘t it be a wonderful world?  We could speak candidly.  But most people are scared to do it.

BUCHANAN:  Jefferson (ph) said, It‘s not only truth, let error be tolerated...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  ... where truth is free to combat it.

MATTHEWS:  But I‘m trying to find the truth in what she said, which is this country is dying for some sort of end to this racial fight, Michelle.  If that‘s what she‘s saying, they want a Barack Obama.  If we didn‘t have one, we‘d try to create one, I thin is what I‘d like to think she was trying to say.

BERNARD:  And he would not be...

BUCHANAN:  You know, a perfect example, Chris...

BERNARD:  He would not be where he is...

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD:  Pat, excuse me.  But he would not be where he is today if the nation was not hungry for him.  People do not write checks out of their...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I think Ferraro was saying.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Why are people hungry for Barack Obama?

MATTHEWS:  Because they hate racial conflict.

BUCHANAN:  Because he is...

MATTHEWS:  They hate racial conflict.

BUCHANAN:  ... an African-American.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re making the point I‘ve been struggling to make, which is Ferraro may have had some truth here, amidst all the argument and controversy, that the country wants to find a guy who will end this fight.

BUCHANAN:  But you know what, Chris...

BERNARD:  Hey...

BUCHANAN:  ... you‘re making the very point.  You‘re saying he can do it.  Why?  Because he‘s an African-American.  I‘m saying that‘s his advantage!  We‘re saying the same thing!

MATTHEWS:  I know, but why are you raising your voice?

(LAUGHTER)

BERNARD:  Hey...

MATTHEWS:  By the way, just stop saying Rodham, that‘s all.  Because I mean, it‘s, like...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... J. Danforth Quayle...

BUCHANAN:  It‘s a habit.  I don‘t do it deliberately, it comes out.

MATTHEWS:  ... used to say it‘s a way of putting somebody down.  I‘m sorry.  Last word.

BERNARD:  It‘s in spite of him being a black man.  That‘s what I believe.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s interesting, too.  And by the way, you know what?  It could be that all of this is true.  Anyway, thank you, Pat Buchanan.  Thank you, Michelle Bernard.  Thank you, Clarence Page.

PAGE:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  In America, they‘re arguing about this, right after we‘re done, by the way—this commercial at home.  All over America, this conversation continues in every household.  That‘s why we‘re relevant here.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, Barack Obama wins Mississippi.  That‘s coming up.  And now it‘s a six-week campaign to Pennsylvania and beyond, with Obama leading in delegates, popular vote and states.  Can Senator Clinton make a case for her nomination?  Is this the battle between the numbers and the sales pitch?

Plus: Are we better off than we were four years ago?  A new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll says we‘re not.  John McCain—everybody‘s going to come back and talk about that.  We‘re going to talk about the McCain numbers, the Republicans and everything when we come back.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘ve got a news flash.  Geraldine Ferraro has resigned as a member of the Clinton campaign‘s finance committee.  She‘s no longer a part of the campaign, obviously, after this flap over what she said about Barack Obama.  Senator Obama, by the way, won again last night in Mississippi.  As the senator himself reminded us this week, he leads Senator Clinton in total votes, in delegates and in states won.  But now with a six-week slog to Pennsylvania, this fight—is it about math or momentum or what?

Missouri senator Claire McCaskill‘s the national co-chair for the Obama campaign, and Florida Democratic U.S. congressman Kendrick Meek is a Hillary Clinton senior campaign adviser.

Congressman Meek, are you happy to hear that Geraldine Ferraro has left your campaign, she‘s no longer on the finance committee as of just tonight?

REP. KENDRICK MEEK (D-FL), CLINTON CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER:  Well, she tried to explain herself earlier today.  And I didn‘t necessarily agree with the comment.  I think she did what‘s best on behalf of the campaign.  Even though she wasn‘t speaking on behalf of the campaign, with her being the first major—one of the first major female candidates to run for president of the United States that were female and was—made those comments kind of really connected her to Senator Clinton, even though Senator Clinton did not necessarily say those comments.  But I think she did the right thing on behalf of this primary process.  And I believe that we‘ll move back to the issues at this time.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there‘s a bitterness growing within the Clinton campaign against Barack Obama, to the point where someone as senior as Geraldine Ferraro would feel comfortable taking that kind of shot at him?

MEEK:  Well, I mean, Geraldine Ferraro was speaking on—just as an individual.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  She was?

MEEK:  She‘s on the finance committee, but there are hundreds of people that are on the finance committee, just like there are hundreds of people that are on the national committee or on any state committee that‘s in any of these campaigns.

I mean, just last week, one of the Barack Obama senior advisers were calling Hillary Clinton a monster.  So I mean, we—people say things that they really don‘t mean.  I think genuinely that she did not understand the context of her words, but I think by her resigning, it‘s saying that, I‘m not speaking on behalf of the campaign, and if people are connecting me with the campaign, saying that I am, I‘ll resign.  And I think she made the right move.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Senator McCaskill.  Your view of this whole thing?  Geraldine Ferraro is an icon in the Democratic Party.  She was the nominee of the Democratic Party for vice president back in 1984, way ahead of this period in our history, as a woman of a stellar opportunity she had back then.  What  do you make of her comment and her sort of—not a recantation—it‘s not that medieval—but her decision to separate herself from the campaign?

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI:  Well, to make it simple, Chris, I think it is kind of a silly notion to say that it is easier for either Barack Obama because he is black or Hillary Clinton because she is a woman to reach this level of competition for presidency of the United States. 

In case anyone has not noticed, no one who looks like them has ever gotten this far before.  I mean, this is a country that has been all about white males in terms of dominating the halls of power.  So, of course, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have had to overcome obstacles because of who they are.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCASKILL:  It‘s not been an advantage to either one of them.

MATTHEWS:  I know that.

MCCASKILL:  And I think it is unfortunate that it was characterized that way. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator, we all know—Senator, we know that.  I know that.  We grew up in America.  It has racist history throughout our history.  We know that.

But Geraldine Ferraro was saying the following.  The country is caught up in the concept, she argued, of Barack Obama, this guy from the interesting background from both black and white, African-American background, that the concept of where he came from was so fascinating, she is arguing, that other people can‘t keep up with him. 

That is what she said. 

MCCASKILL:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Is that true? 

MCCASKILL:  No, I...

MATTHEWS:  Is the concept of Barack Obama, a guy whose mom is from Kansas, a white woman, whose father is from Kenya, is that—is that concept arresting or not? 

MCCASKILL:  No, here—here is what is arresting about Barack Obama, the fact that he has a uniquely American story, that he has overcome these obstacles, that he has accomplished greatness, that he has used his intellect and his hard work to achieve like you can in America like in no other country.

That is what America is attracted to.  And it is who he is as a person, as a leader that we are attracted to, not his race.  And, frankly, I think we need to move on and talk about the issues.  I agree with Congressman Meek.  It hurts that this happened, because I admire Geraldine Ferraro in so many ways.

But let‘s get back to talking about how we can help Americans figure out how to make their bills work at the kitchen table. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I am not going to go that far into the substance territory, but let‘s go back to the horse race at least. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I will go that far.

Congressmen, let‘s talk the horse race.  How can Senator Clinton, even with the help of her gifted husband, make the case to the Democratic Party superdelegates that, if they lose the fight over total votes in these primaries going right through Michigan and—a redo in Michigan and Florida perhaps, that they should be the nominee, that he should be the nominee, and come back—rather, that Hillary Clinton should be the nominee? 

How can they make that case if they don‘t come out in the—in the fight for total volts or total delegates or total states? 

MEEK:  Well, we have total votes that are not being counted at this particular time now.  And the race is not over.  We know we have six weeks before we get to Philadelphia, but I think a lot of ground can be covered during that time. 

There will be a lot of issues that will be looked at even harder.  And I think this is the first real break we have had in the campaign for the American people to digest a message of both candidates. 

I know that Hillary Rodham Clinton is—is being reported as a front-runner in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.  But I think that it is very, very important that we realize that this race is not over, and both candidates have said they are going to go all of the way.  As you know, the Florida delegation...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you‘re not—Congressman, you are not answering my question, which is, how can she claim the nomination if she doesn‘t get the most votes? 

MEEK:  Well, here is the story.

The nomination and the superdelegate process is all in one.  It is a part of the nominating process.  There are rules that have been set out, since everyone seems to remind us of the rules.  We are now discussing how Michigan and how Florida can play a part of that. 

The ultimate goal is to win the presidency of the United States, and we have to make sure that every vote is counted and every state is counted and every state is seated.  So, when we start talking about putting the cart before the horse, that is kind of hard to do, because you know that won‘t work. 

But I think it is important that we look at this process.  Superdelegates are paying attention in this process very closely.  And I know that they are going to wait until the people get an opportunity to speak.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MEEK:  And then, when we get to that juncture, I think those decisions will be made. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator, can you imagine...

MCCASKILL:  Hillary has a great vision for this country. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator, can you imagine the Democratic Party of Thomas Jefferson nominating someone who got fewer votes than someone else...

MCCASKILL:  No.

MATTHEWS:  ... on the grounds that the party rules allowed it?

MCCASKILL:  No.

And I will tell you, it is not going to happen, Chris.  And what is not being talked about is the momentum among the superdelegates.  A month ago, Hillary Clinton had an almost 100-point -- 100 delegate lead in superdelegates.  That is down to about 34. 

I mean, there is momentum on the side of the superdelegates.  Forget about the elections and the caucuses that have been won.  I think that—that more and more superdelegates are realizing that we need to take the opportunity to nominate someone who is really appealing to independent voters. 

I am not sure Barack Obama can win Pennsylvania.  The Clinton campaign has said she is unbeatable there.  She may be, but there are more contests after Pennsylvania.  And, when the dust settles, I predict that the superdelegates, along with the pledged delegates, will in fact all come to the side of the person who has won the most states, gotten the most votes, and gotten the most pledged delegates. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  The Super Bowl is not Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania

is not the Super Bowl.  We are in regular season now.  The playoffs were

weeks ago.  This is regular season.  This is a weird competition.  Anyway -

there are a lot of states to go. 

Anyway, thank you, Senator Claire McCaskill. 

MCCASKILL:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, U.S. Congressman Kendrick Meek of Florida. 

MEEK:  Thanks so very much, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Mitt Romney, remember him?  Well, he seems to be gunning for the position of John McCain‘s running mate.  We will see what that is all about and whether McCain is at all interested in him. 

Plus, are Republicans trying to keep Hillary Clinton‘s candidacy alive?  We will get tonight‘s surprising “Big Number.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is new in politics?  Well, Jack Kevorkian, you know, the assisted suicide man, is running for Congress now.  He just picked up petition forms from the Oakland County clerk‘s office. 

Quote—here is what he said: “We need some honesty and sincerity, instead of corrupt government in Washington,” said the man known for helping people end their lives.

The only thing I can venture to say to the good doctor is, death, be not proud. 

Is Mitt Romney auditioning for vice president?  That‘s what John McCain thinks.  On his press plane today, McCain said he—quote—“got that impression.”

And, indeed, there‘s good reason to think Mitt Romney wants the job, and wants it bad.  Romney said—quote—“I think any Republican leader in this country would be honored to be asked to serve as the vice presidential nominee, myself included.”

Not only does he clearly want the job.  He‘s trying to show he has the mettle to do McCain‘s dirty work.  When asked about Clinton and Obama on national security, Governor Romney said—quote—“Listening to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama talk about experience in a national security crisis is like listening to two Chihuahuas argue about which is the biggest dog.  When it comes to national security, John McCain is the big dog, and they are the Chihuahuas.”

Well, did Romney become Mr. National Security when he was a business consultant or when he was running the Olympics in Salt Lake?  It‘s not clear.

In any case, something tells me that McCain is no fan of Mitt Romney. 

As we discussed earlier, as of Monday, Governor Eliot Spitzer will be governor no more.  But get this.  Despite knowing that he had been wiretapped and that his entire political life was about to unravel, how did Eliot Spitzer spend this past Friday night, this past Saturday night, as well?  The fact is, he was at a white-tie dinner in Washington hanging out with the press.  There he is.

According to “The New York Daily News,” he was there until midnight, jovial as ever, joking with others and hobnobbing throughout the evening, all the while, the FBI, the IRS and much of the federal government apparently was living rent-free in that man‘s head. 

And now it is time for the HARDBALL “Big Number” tonight. 

Is Rush Limbaugh‘s master plan working?  You bet it is.  He is almost hoping that Republicans will vote for Senator Clinton to keep her around to bloody up Barack Obama.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, “THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW,” MARCH 3, 2008) 

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  The strategy is to continue to chaos in this party.  Look, there is a reason for this.  Our side is not going to do this. 

Obama needs to be bloodied up.  Look, half the country already hates Hillary.  That is good.  But nobody hates Obama yet.  Hillary is going to be the one to have to bloody him up politically, because our side isn‘t going to do it.  Mark my words.  It‘s about winning, folks. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Mark his words.  The strategy could be working.

Even though Clinton lost last night in Mississippi, the Republicans indeed showed her some love down there.  According to our NBC exit polling, what percentage of Clinton‘s overall vote in Mississippi came from Republicans last night?  Twenty-four percent of the Clinton vote was from Republicans.  That is almost one in four. 

Twenty-four percent of Clinton‘s vote in Mississippi came from Republicans crossing over to vote in Democratic primary, apparently according to the wishes of himself, Rush Limbaugh.  I am sure it warms his megawatt heart—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  New York Governor Eliot Spitzer announces his resignation after being caught up in a sex scandal with a prostitute.  Will he face criminal charges?  And will his downfall affect the Democratic race?  Will it affect Hillary Clinton, his ally, in New York? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

A rally following yesterday‘s huge gains fizzles, and the stocks ended in the red on the day.  The Dow Jones industrials lost 46 points, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq down about 12. 

Oil traded above $110 a barrel for the very first time, before settling at another record closing high of $109.92, up $1.17 on the day, that as the dollar sank to another record low against the euro. 

Meantime, the AAA reports that gasoline prices rose nearly two cents overnight.  The national average for regular unleaded climbed to a record high of nearly $3.25 a gallon, not good news for consumers. 

And shares of Southwest Airlines fell more than 7 percent after the airline grounded 41 planes overnight, in the wake of its admission that it had missed required safety inspections. 

As a result, Southwest said it had to cancel 4 percent of its flights today. 

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

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Three days after being snagged in a prostitution scandal, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer announced his resignation today and apologized to the citizens of New York. 

Let‘s take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ELIOT SPITZER (D), NEW YORK:  In the past few days, I have begun to atone for my private failings with my wife, Silda, my children and my entire family.  The remorse I feel will always be with me.  Words cannot describe how grateful I am for the love and compassion they have shown me.

From those to whom much is given, much is expected.  I have been given much: the love of my family, the faith and trust of the people of New York, and the chance to lead this state. 

I am deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me.

To every New Yorker, and to all those who believed in what I tried to stand for, I sincerely apologize. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  NBC‘s Mike Taibbi has been covering this story.

Mike, I have to tell you, just as a human being, which I try to be, even though these stories are pretty bad...

MIKE TAIBBI, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  They‘re awful.

MATTHEWS:  The wife, Mrs. Spitzer, what a—what a proud—I love the way she looked at the press.  It was almost like she was facing down the people coming after her husband. 

What do you make of that look, coming out there like...

TAIBBI:  Well, you always wonder about the woman who—is she just standing by her man or is there some private agreement or understanding they have come to themselves about how they‘re going to get through this awful ordeal.

You know, we saw this with Dina McGreevey, Dina Matos McGreevey, a few years ago.  She is still talking about what a horrible experience and humiliating experience that was. 

But she is accomplished in her own right, Silda is.  And she was a Harvard-educated lawyer.  She‘s been with him a long time.  They have three teenaged daughters.  So, somehow, she made a decision that she would stay with him through all of these discussions over the weekend, leading up to today, as the scandal broke, and decided to be with him one more time. 

We don‘t know, but it had been reported that, as late as this morning, she was still trying to talk him into trying to tough it out, as other victims of sex scandals or participants in sex scandals have sometimes toughed it out.  We have seen that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, could he have done what Larry Craig did, for example, in Idaho, as a U.S. senator from Idaho, toughed out a total embarrassment?  It was not quite the legal jeopardy, obviously, this guy faces.  But was there any real—when you studied this as a reporter covering it, was there a way for him, an escape hatch for him to say, I am going to stay here and fight the case in office?

TAIBBI:  You know, I don‘t think in this case, Chris, because you remember, just as I do, August 8 of 1974, the night Richard Nixon resigned.  The operative line in that resignation speech was, I have lost my political base in Congress. 

And this was the case with Spitzer as well.  He didn‘t even have Democrats who were willing to rally to his side.  So, there would be that plus-one majority to get it to bills of impeachment to be tried in the Senate and the court of appeals.  And the—the Senate Democrats likely would not have supported him either.  He had to have been told that.  He really had no way out but to get out. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do people dislike this man? 

TAIBBI:  You know, it is that holier-than-thou thing. 

If you set yourself up as the moral exemplar, the guy who sets the standard for moral rectitude—and even his campaign commercial said, I think it is simply a question of good and evil.  That is not a bad way to go. 

Well, you do that, and then you participate in exactly the types of activities, allegedly participate in them, that you went out to prosecute, and you walk into the exact same rules and methods of investigation that you used to go after the bad guys, the word hubris comes to mind. 

And a lot of people were clucking about it. 

You remember the statement yesterday from one of the victims of one his prosecutions when he was attorney general saying, you know what, everybody has a private hell.  I hope his private hell is hotter than anybody else‘s.  The pain he is feeling couldn‘t possibly be enough. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll tell you, the educational factor here, Mike, is that you and I grew up in a society where the men, the Johns, the clients, if you will, have generally escaped justice in these cases.  This guy looks like he is facing the big book of law coming at him, the whole thing, Mann Act violations, structuring, everything.   

TAIBBI:  Potentially.  I looked at the indictment and read the complaint against the Internet porn or Internet prostitution ring that was busted last week and the four defendants that were indicted in that case, and every one of the charges, from transporting individuals for interstate or international commerce for sexual purposes, disguising payments to make it look like legal transactions, the same type of things, money laundering type things, and prostitution defenses, he could, under a different application, be tried under it.  But would they do it?  Ordinarily, it wouldn‘t reach the threshold of investigation.

But I was watching today‘s appearance by Governor Spitzer along with a former U.S. attorney, former prosecutor himself, and we noticed that Ted Wells was in his entourage, in Spitzer‘s entourage, last known, as you know, as a lawyer who defended Scooter Libby in the CIA leak case.  So he‘s got some heavy weight people on his legal team right now, anticipating that his legal problems are far from over, and may just be beginning. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he hired a Holy Cross guy again, which is always nice fore me to say.  Thank you very much, Mike Taibbi, great reporting. 

Let‘s turn now to Republican Congressman Pete King.  Peter, I was listening to you on one of the other networks earlier this morning coming to work.  You are so tough.  You don‘t have a whole lot of sympathy for this governor that just stepped down, do you, sir? 

REP. PETE KING ®, NEW YORK:  No, Chris, really don‘t.  I‘ve been in politics 30 years.  I don‘t think I‘ve ever gotten involved in anything involving a personal matter, criticized another politician for what‘s called a personal scandal, but this was different.  First of all, it was not personal.  He put at least 80,000 dollars into a criminal enterprise.  That is what this was, a prosecution ring.  They have ties to organized crime.  And he was doing this while he was attorney general and while he was governor. 

Secondly, as Mike Taibbi said, his reputation—I never knew anyone who was more of an avenging angel, who was so unforgiving of others and so self-righteous.  He destroyed innocent people.  Yes, he went after some guilty people, but he also tried to destroy innocent people, going into their private lives.

To me, this was a case of a guy being totally vindictive.  And that‘s why it‘s no—it is reality that no one came to his defense because of the way he has conducted himself.  He was already under criminal investigation in New York for using the state police to go after the Senate Republican majority leader.  He had the state police following him around and that was disclosed by a Democrat attorney general, Andrew Cuomo.  So this is a guy who really was so driven and so vindictive, and now it has come back to bite him. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s try to find something good here, some sort of velvet around this cloud here or whatever.  Could it be that the Republican party statewide in New York needs to come back.  I mean, I grew up, you grew up, Peter, with a moderate Republican party.  It was able to take the Democrats, defeat them year after year for governor of New York, all the way through all of the years with Rockefeller, for example, capable of winning state-wide elections for Keating (ph) and Jabbitz (ph) and even Jim Buckley (ph) winning as a conservative.  Is that party going to come back in the face of this abuse of power? 

KING:  Don‘t forget, Al D‘Amato also won three times in New York.  It can.  This gives the Republican party an opportunity.  But also, at a different level, David Paterson, the new governor—I spoke to him this afternoon.  Chris, he is a neighborhood guy.  He‘s a great guy, African-American, 90 percent blind I think.  He is certainly legally blind, a decent guy.  It is going to give politics in New York the opportunity to be conducted on a more civil level.

But yes, I think it will give Republicans an opportunity to regroup, because we were really under siege.  We lost a state Senate seat last week.  The Democrats were one seat away from taking over the state Senate.  They have lost that opportunity now, because the lieutenant governor will be gone.  He becomes governor and he won‘t be able to cast the deciding vote that would have put us in the minority.  So it gives us an opportunity to come back.

We need more than Eliot Spitzer‘s scandal to come back.  But it gives us a chance to mobilize, get retrenched and win some elections in November.  I think John McCain at the top of the ticket is going to help us get those Reagan Democrats back. 

MATTHEWS:  Will Hillary Clinton, who is the senator and obviously the political colleague if not the ally of Spitzer—I don‘t think they‘re that particularly close—is this going to spray out to hurt her at all?  I can imagine Blagojevich going down on something like this Illinois and that hurting Barack Obama.  In fact, I can imagine in Clinton town, the Clinton crowd going after him heavily on this. 

No one in the Obama campaign is going after Hillary about Spitzer. 

KING:  Yes, I don‘t know if Obama is going to do it or not.  As a practical matter, Hillary Clinton and Eliot Spitzer were never close.  He very reluctantly endorsed her last year, while David Paterson, the new governor, was actually standing next to her on the night of the Iowa primary.  So she is a lot closer to David Paterson than Eliot Spitzer.  No one was close to Eliot Spitzer. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it is a great opportunity for a blind person to show what they can do.  A friend of mine is blind, Dave Tickey (ph), amazing professional.  It is a great opportunity to display some real self-reliance and professionalism for the blind community in this country, and I am glad you said what you did, Pete.  Thank you very much, Congressman Pete King of New York. 

Coming up, how can Hillary Clinton bridge the gap of delegates and the popular vote?  She is still way behind in delegates and states and the popular vote.  It seems like she‘s got to get on top of one of those numbers.  The politics fix is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Tonight‘s round table, April Ryan of the American Urban Radio Network.  She is at the White House.  She is right on the lawn there.  There she is.  It looks cold out there.  Eric Bates is the executive editor of the “Rolling Stone Magazine,” which just endorsed Barack Obama.  What a glowing cover that is.  Bob Herbert is with the “New York Times.”  I find myself agreeing with everything you write, Bob.  That is a problem for both of us.  But I agree with everything. 

Anyway, a brand new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll came out tonight and it finds that just 34 percent of Americans, about one-third, think we‘re better off than we were four years ago.  That‘s the lowest number in the better off category since guess when?  The last time, well, the 1992 election year.  Let me go to April on that.  Does that bode well for whoever wins this tussle between Hillary and Barack? 

APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORK:  Yes, it bodes well, because it is about change again, Chris.  That is what everybody wants.  They want change.  They are saying, look, we are in a bad economy.  We need a fix.  Yes, there is a debate about NAFTA, but they are saying, anything is better than what we have now. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go Eric on that question.  You guys are endorsing a candidate you think obviously is going to bring the biggest change, is that right? 

ERIC BATES, “ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE”:  Yes, absolutely.  I think at this moment in history, with what is going on after eight years of Bush and Cheney, the country is really looking for somebody who represents something different, and who approaches politics in a different way.  And that is clearly Barack Obama. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe Hillary Clinton is more of the same? 

BATES:  Absolutely, particularly in the way she has run her campaign, has really appealed to some of the base instincts in politics, the be afraid, be very afraid kind of ads that she‘s running, the veiled racism of some of her camps insinuations about Obama.  I think they‘re the things that really turn people off about politics. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob Herbert, your view of the polling that shows that people want a change? 

BOB HERBERT, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:   Well, I definitely think people want a change.  Almost everything favors the Democrats in this election, but they may well be heading toward a train wreck before they get this nomination fight settled, and that can only ultimately help the Republicans.  So the Democrats, once again—the cliche is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, and they are trying hard. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at another poll number, which makes it even harder.  The jaws are even wider when you see this thing here.  The NBC News poll just out tonight finds that 76 percent, more than ¾ of voters, want the next president to take a different approach to that of President Bush.  They do not want a third Bush term, Bob. 

HERBERT:  I believe that is absolutely true.  The problem is that if the Democrats come out really united behind the candidate—it is either going to be Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama—they would have a very good chance of defeating John McCain, although they both have built-in problems that we are well aware of.  But the fact is this fight has become so ugly that it may be very difficult for the party or for voters to be united behind one candidate or the other.  And I just think—I just have a gut feeling that the party is really courting disaster this year. 

MATTHEWS:  Wouldn‘t it be better off, April Ryan, to flip a coin right now for top or bottom of the ticket?  I mean, really, six weeks from now of scorched Earth in Pennsylvania is going to make that state McCain country perhaps? 

RYAN:  Well, Chris, I am going to tell you, anything can happen between now and six weeks.  A couple of days ago, we didn‘t expect Geraldine Ferraro to say what she did.  That has hurt Hillary Clinton.  Also, this Spitzer thing has hurt Hillary Clinton a bit, because we are seeing pictures of her husband talking about how he did not have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.  We know now that is not the case. 

But anything can happen between now and six weeks and we don‘t want to predict.  Right now, you can‘t give it to one candidate and you can‘t give it to the another.  But right now it is Barack Obama leading in delegates. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you saying that the real comeback kid of this election is Monica Lewinsky?  

RYAN:  I am not saying that at all.  But I will tell you what, we are hearing a lot about her, because every time you see Governor Spitzer and they are bringing up all of the politicians who have had problems with sexual dalliances, former President Clinton is in that number.  And it reminds everyone.  Hillary Clinton keeps talking about peace and prosperity.  What part of it that people don‘t want—there‘s also another part that people—that they are trying to distance themselves from, the fact that there was an impeachment and the fact that there was a Monica Lewinsky scandal. 

That was major.  The nation was really halted right there.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

RYAN:  The presidency during that time—they did do too much. 

MATTHEWS:  True to the Democratic party principles, President Clinton stayed in the non-profit sector.  We‘ll be right back with the round table and more of the politics fix.  You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  I want you all to respond to this letter.  It was just gotten a hold of by Suzanne Malveaux over at CNN.  It is from Hillary Clinton to the Clinton campaign—it is to Hillary from former Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro; “I am stepping down from your finance committee so I can speak for myself and you can continue to speak for yourself about what is at stake in this campaign.  The Obama campaign is attacking me to hurt you.  I won‘t let that happen.  Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do to make this a better world for my children and grandchildren.  You have my deep admiration and respect.  Gerry.” 

That just got released.  They just got ahold of that at CNN.  April, what do you think of that?  Does that end this or does that allow Geraldine Ferraro to speak more freely in the direction she‘s been speaking. 

RYAN:  It allows her to speak more freely away from—distancing herself from the Clinton camp.  Chris, you have to remember, she said something similar to this in 1988 to Howard Kurtz of the “Washington Post.”  She said basically, speaking of Jesse Jackson, the only reason certain things were happening was because he was black.  She used the word black this time in 1988. 

This time, she didn‘t use that word.  She made the inference.  But it was very harsh what she said. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask the same question of Bob.  You‘re a New York columnist with the Times.  I don‘t think she‘s going to go gently into the good night.  She‘s got more to say on this topic. 

HERBERT:  That was a pretty ungracious statement.  It‘s a smart move to have her step down from the finance committee, as far as the Clinton campaign is concerned.  If she‘s going to keep running off the mouth the way she‘s been doing lately, that will only cause grief for Senator Clinton. 

MATTHEWS:  Eric, do you hold the Clinton campaign responsible for the words of their finance committee member? 

BATES:  Certainly, the question is what took her so long.  Samantha Power stepped down much more quickly than that.  You make this kind of comment, you have to go. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think was wrong with her comment? 

BATES:  I think it‘s the kind of thing that the Clinton camp has been doing all along, bringing up the topic of race in a way that‘s very insinuating, sort of a veiled form of racism. 

MATTHEWS:  I loved your magazine this month, by the way.  I read every one of the article.  Thank you very much, April Ryan.  Thank you Eric Bates of “Rolling Stones.”  It makes me feel young when I read that magazine.  That‘s the idea.  I know.  Bob Herbert, thanks for joining us. 

Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 eastern for more 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.

END   

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