updated 3/17/2008 12:34:27 PM ET 2008-03-17T16:34:27

Guests: E. Steven Collins, Margaret Carlson, Maria Teresa Peterson, Orlando Patterson, Rev. Eugene Rivers, Ron Brownstein

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  How do you separate yourself from a minister‘s politics from the church you attend, especially if you‘re running for president?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.

Another day, another racially charged political story, and once again it comes under the heading “With friends like these.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, JR., TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST:  We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That is the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Senator Barack Obama‘s minister, friend and adviser delivering a post-9/11 sermon.  Obama has taken pains to not throw Reverend Wright overboard, but late today, he posted a blog on Huffingtonpost in which he categorically denounced the Reverend‘s controversial comments.  It‘s all become a big political problem for Obama.  Should a presidential candidate be judged by the company he or she keeps?  More on this in just a minute.

Plus, the now famous red phone ad.  Did it help Clinton win Texas? 

Many say yes.  But does it have racial overtones.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s 3:00 AM and your children are safe and asleep.  But there‘s a phone in the White House and it‘s ringing.  Something‘s happening in the world.  Your vote will divide who answers that call.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  In just a few moments, we‘re going to talk to a guest who says the ad reminds him of the racist movie “Birth of a Nation” which helped revive the Ku Klux Klan.

Plus, Hillary Clinton‘s big state argument—the big state argument.  You‘ve heard it many times.  She‘s won the big states Democrats will need against John McCain in November, so she should be the nominee.  But does success in the primaries mean victory in November?  And should the big states out-count all the other states?  Should they out-count the number of delegates?  We‘ll take a look a little later at whether in politics, bigger really is better.

And as always, we‘ll have the best political panel on television with our “Politics Fix” tonight.

But we begin with the firestorm surrounding Barack Obama and comments made by his pastor.  The Reverend Eugene Rivers is pastor of the Azusa Christian Community Church up in Boston.  He‘s founder of the National Ten Point Leadership Foundation.

Reverend, let me ask you about this.  This is a—we‘ve been watching the tapes all day today on this network, what‘s been said—what was said right after 9/11 by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the pastor to Barack Obama.  What‘s your reaction to what you heard in that sermon?

REV. EUGENE RIVERS, AZUSA CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY CHURCH:  Jeremiah Wright is a good man who means well, who has made a series of politically irresponsible, over-the-top statements that have to be simply on its face rejected.  These are unfortunate statements, and if the—if Senator Obama is as smart as he thinks he is, he‘s going to do everything he can to put a distance—reject the statements and distance himself from the sorts of the statements if he plans to be president of the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s credible that Barack Obama, the United States senator from Illinois, did not know what his—his minister said in those days right after 9/11, I assume the Sunday after 9/11, when he basically blasted the United States for being the victim of 9/11, rather than the other way around?

RIVERS:  You know, I can only speculate, of course, but the statements that were made on the heels of 9/11 were simply irresponsible, indefensible statements that were just inappropriate in every conceivable context.

MATTHEWS:  But they‘re seven years ago, Reverend.  Seven years ago, seven years of time for Barack Obama to say, That‘s not my thinking.  I don‘t take that view.

Let‘s look at it now.  Here‘s a part.  This is tape recorded, by the way.  This isn‘t some secret session of the church.

RIVERS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s just part of the Reverend Wright‘s sermon back the Sunday after 9/11 in 2001.  Let‘s take a listen.

RIVERS:  Yes.  Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT:  We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye!  We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because of stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yard!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, last year, I must say, Reverend Rivers, Barack Obama said, quote, “The violence of 9/11 was inexcusable and without justification.”  It sounds like the minister here, Reverend Wright, was trying to be provocative.  Does that cover him, to make a statement like that that‘s somewhat limited all the years after that statement was made and videotaped by his churchman?

RIVERS:  Well, that‘s more than provocative.  You know, provocative—

Senator Obama‘s got too good a command of the English language to reduce it or euphemize it and say it‘s provocative.  That‘s an over-the-top, inappropriate statement, which he is free to make because of the greatness of the United States and he‘s got free speech.  But either you completely reject, denounce, repudiate all of that rhetoric and distance yourself from the source of the rhetoric or you legitimately suffer the political consequences.  And there‘s no way of wiggling around it.  There‘s not a lot of wiggle room with this.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at some more of this.  This is more of Reverend Wright and what he said about our country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT:  No, no, no!  Not God bless America, gosh damn America! 

That‘s in the Bible for killing innocent people!  Gosh damn America!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  God damn America—that‘s a tough thing.  You can say that‘s out of context, but what context could it be, Reverend?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It sounds like in context to me.

RIVERS:  No, no, no.  Let me say this in fairness.  Listen, number one

and I want to preface my remarks with this.  One cannot reduce the entire ministry of 40 years to a series of statements and an article in “The Wall Street Journal.”  With that said—with that said—what is equally true is that the rhetoric that has been employed by Jeremiah Wright is rhetoric which no longer has any moral, ideology or political traction and has to be rejected.

There are a number of black religious leaders that are trying to introduce new language that Senator Obama knows about, for example, Bishop Charles E. Blake (ph) in Los Angeles.  That rhetoric has to be rejected unequivocally.  And not only that, Senator Obama has to demonstrate to the American people that he is willing to—to realign himself with forces that are loyal, unequivocally, to the interests of the United States.  There‘s no way...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at—well, Reverend Rivers, sorry to interrupt you...

RIVERS:  Go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  ... but here‘s what...

RIVERS:  Go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  ... Senator Obama said late today.  “Let me say at the outset that I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have been the subject of this controversy.  I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies.  I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it‘s on the campaign stump or in the pulpit.  In sum, I reject outright the statements by Reverend Wright that are at issue.”

Now, the question a skeptic might offer is why did it take so long?  Why is he only doing this under duress?  Why is he posting it on the Huffingtonpost?  Why didn‘t he come out with more passion and say this in person?  Why—it just seems to me hard for a person, Reverend, to separate yourself from your pastor, the man who christened your kids, who married you, who presided over your marriage, who is your friend.  Are we putting too much pressure on a black candidate to separate himself from his community?

RIVERS:  Well, no, I don‘t think it‘s a question of separating oneself from the community.  What you‘re separating yourself from is rhetoric of a high-profile black minister of a church that you attend.  Now, your point is well taken.  Jeremiah Wright has been a pastor.  He has loved and supported and nurtured and married Senator Obama and his wife.  All of that is legit.

Now, that‘s OK, provided you‘re not running for the president of the United States.  Once you decide that you want to go to Division I and go into the—you know, into the big leagues, new demands are put upon you.  It wouldn‘t make any difference if he were just hanging around Chicago, being a senator from Chicago.  But once you say you‘re running for the president of the United States, it‘s a new level of ball game.

And here again, Senator Obama has to know, because he‘s a bright guy, that this would eventually come out.  And my point is that Senator Obama now must communicate to the American public because this will not go away until...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

RIVERS:  ... Senator Obama sends the right kinds of signals, answers the questions...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

RIVERS:  ... because there‘s a legitimate question.  What did you know and when did you know it?  That‘s it.

MATTHEWS:  Exactly.  Reverend, I worked 25 years ago, a quarter century ago, from one of the great politicians of all time, Tip O‘Neill of Massachusetts.  He won 15 straight elections up there from Boston.  You know him well and you probably like him.  Let me ask you, how do you react to his advice?  When this came in a Pennsylvania race a number of years ago, a church that got a little too far out on the Middle East issue, he said, There‘s only one thing you can do if you‘re a politician, when you hear the minister say something like that  that‘s politically just unsellable...

RIVERS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... for so many reasons, you walk to the center aisle, you do a 90-degree turn and you walk straight out of the church in front of everybody.

RIVERS:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Why didn‘t Barack Obama do that when he heard—and I‘m sure he‘s heard these sermons quoted to him from before.

RIVERS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Why didn‘t he do that then, rather than doing it now when it may be too late?

RIVERS:  That‘s...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not a religious question, it‘s a political question.

RIVERS:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Why do you want to associate yourself with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who speaks out publicly in such a radical way?

RIVERS:  It‘s a legitimate question if you‘re going to run for the president of the United States and you‘ve got that kind of language associated with the spiritual—your spiritual leader.  It is an entirely legitimate question.  It‘s not the race card.  No one‘s being unfair.  And ultimately, he has got to make moves that communicate and answer satisfactorily why—if this has been going on for 20 years, statements like this, what happened?

And let me say this, and this is important to note.  No one blames Ted Kennedy for Joseph Kennedy and his anti-Semitism.  No one holds Ted Kennedy responsible for that.

MATTHEWS:  But you don‘t pick your father.  You pick your minister.

RIVERS:  Agreed.  Touche.  I take your point.  And the legitimate question that has to be raised is, given the kind of rhetoric that—that Pastor Wright, who I know, traded in, how did one justify every Sunday in and out?  Now, the argument may be made, and this is a legitimate argument, a church is more than its preacher, so that, I was there for the community, the faith, the worship, the fellowship, the Sunday school for my two daughters, the women‘s group for my wife.  And those are legitimate issues, and so he cannot be reduced—it can‘t be reduced to just the preacher.  That church is more than the preacher.

And he should be held accountable, but you can‘t unfairly say, Well, you need to cut all of your associations with the church because the preacher said something ridiculous today.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, let me show you what the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the man we‘re looking at right now, Reverend, said to “The New York Times” last year.  He, like, gave political advice to his friend, Barack Obama.  Quote, “If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me.  I said it to Barack personally, and he said, yes, that might have to happen.”

So they apparently had a conversation, according to Reverend Jeremiah Wright, where they both agreed they had to separate ways, disconnect their connections.  So they saw the political hazard ahead, and yet they did not make the move.  In other words, Barack Obama was warned that the radical statements which he was warned about firsthand by the minister would cause him trouble politically, which they are doing this weekend right as we speak, and he failed to separate himself.  What does that tell you about his political judgment?

RIVERS:  Listen, those are all legitimate, fair questions, and no one can hide and say it‘s racist.  Those are legitimate moral political questions, and I think that there have to be some answers which are transparent.  We can‘t euphemize, dodge weave or bob.  We‘ve got to confront those.

Let me add an additional point.  Senator Obama—it is absolutely essential that we address this so we deal with the real issues.  Right now, as opposed to talking about poverty in the inner cities, urban policy, Africa, U.S. foreign policy, we are now trapped, reviewing sermons of a preacher who is presently in retirement.

So Senator Obama must, you know, to the best of his ability, answer entirely legitimate questions that can‘t be dodged and—and he cannot be given a pass on this.  And that‘s just being fair.

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘ve set it up very well.  Thank you.  Have a nice weekend, Reverend Eugene Rivers up in Boston.

Coming up: The Clinton campaign makes the case that she should be the nominee because Senator Clinton beat Barack in those big states—you know the ones, New York, New Jersey, California, perhaps if counted Michigan and Florida, and certainly Pennsylvania coming up.  But does that argument rally hold water when you‘re short on delegates, short on popular votes, short on number of states?  We‘re going to take a closer examination of the Clinton sales pitch, which is, If you win the gold medals, you won the Olympics.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  With big wins in New York, California, Texas, Ohio, New Jersey, Senator Clinton‘s campaign says that Senator Obama can‘t win the big ones.  Does the primary results mean anything for November?  Ron Brownstein‘s political director for Atlantic Media, and Chuck Todd is, of course, political director for NBC News, which gives us a lot of power in this room with you two guys.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I wonder about the ability of any candidate to create a brand-new standard in the midst of a campaign.  OK, you lose most states.  You lose most delegates—I sound like Larry King or something, what‘s his name, Howard Cosell talking to Muhammad Ali.  You‘re in this situation.  You‘ve lost on every count.  But you win the big states.  You‘ve got a claim here, right, kid?

RON BROWNSTEIN, “NATIONAL JOURNAL”:  Well, the problem is—I mean, from analogizing from the primary to the general, is that somebody has to win the primary in each party, and that doesn‘t necessarily mean that those states are going to be competitive in a general election.  I mean, George Bush won New York and California in the 2000 Republican primaries.  He got 35 percent of the vote in New York and he lost California by 1.3 million votes.

Now, having said that, I think the issue is not so much the size of the states but the kind of nature of the coalitions and what it says about the candidates to attract—the ability of the candidates to attract the kind of voters you...

MATTHEWS:  OK, what‘s she really saying?

BROWNSTEIN:  ... might need.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s Senator Clinton‘s people (INAUDIBLE) people really saying when they say, We‘re going to win Pennsylvania, that‘s the road to Damascus, or whatever they‘re calling it now, the road to Denver.  What right have they got to say that?  What‘s the claim?

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, the claim is that—I think what they‘re saying is that if Obama cannot beat her in Pennsylvania in the spring, he will not be able to carry it in the fall.  As I said, that part is shaky.  But it is true that, you know, the coalitions, as we‘ve talked about, that each of them have attracted are so consistent and it is playing out in state after state.  And the issue for Obama that will be raised after Pennsylvania, if he loses it as badly as he did Ohio, is, Can he get enough white working-class voters to defend those states if he‘s the nominee, not only Pennsylvania, but as Chuck has pointed out, Michigan and Ohio, as well?

There is an actual issue here.  Now, whether it—whether—looking at it through the prism of large states may not be the right way to do it, but looking at the coalition, there are issues for each of them, the converse issue for her, can she get independents...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll give you an argument.  In big states like Pennsylvania, the Democratic Party has won governorships, senatorships, whatever, presidential elections based upon the ability to deliver a huge plurality in Philadelphia, where you have half the population is African-American, huge population.  A county chairman from the suburbs told me the other day if Barack Obama—and he‘s for Hillary.  If the Barack Obama campaign wins the nomination, he will be able to deliver a 600,000-vote majority coming out of Philly.  He‘ll also be able to deliver the young kids, who are registering 3 to 1 Democrat or something.  And he will have an advantage, even if the—maybe—working-class women or men lose out in their support for Hillary.

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, no, I think there‘s an argument.  But the other thing that I‘m surprised the Obama people haven‘t argued on this, is that one of the reasons why she holds—she seems to do well in the bigger states versus the smaller states is that when you have an establishment candidate versus an insurgent candidate, the establishment candidate starts with what?  The establishment.  And the establishment in the big states—you have a harder time as an insurgent candidate getting to the establishment, talking them into leave the establishment and coming over to the insurgent.

In a smaller state, you have an easier time to do this, and you can do

it faster.  And I think what has happened is, is that Hillary Clinton

always starts in all these big states 20-point advantages.  And it‘s just -

it‘s just too massive of a thing to overcome.  So, that‘s why it‘s hard to use this...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Eddie Rendell is the governor of Pennsylvania.  He‘s got a sledgehammer of power.  He‘s the governor of the state.  He can go to the mayors across the state and say, you know, you want to be my friend, help Hillary out. 

TODD:  He‘s already done that in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know what‘s going on, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I hear a lot of things are going on.  And he‘s making it

clear whose side he is on.  But, once he loses the fight—if he loses it

or the nomination goes elsewhere to Hillary, even though he loses Philadelphia with her, he‘s going to be helpful to those mayors in the fall anyway...

BROWNSTEIN:  Right.  Absolutely.  I think there are two issues.

MATTHEWS:  ... to help with Obama. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Intellectually...

MATTHEWS:  He will want to win with Obama if he can‘t win with Hillary. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Absolutely. 

There‘s two issues here.  One is—one is sort of a pass/fail.  Can Obama win, in the general election, states that he loses to Hillary Clinton in the primary or vice versa?  And the answer is, depending on the states, probably.  I mean, Hillary Clinton could win Wisconsin, for example, which she lost to Obama. 

The second question, though, is which one of them would be a stronger

candidate to carry that state?  And, there, I find myself a little more

torn.  I mean, if you do win the primary, I think it does suggest a certain

a certain relative advantage to the other candidate. 

Look, as Chuck was—as you‘re suggesting, the coalitions would be very different...

MATTHEWS:  But not if it‘s limited to your party voting. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  If it‘s Pennsylvania, and the independents can‘t vote, and Republicans can‘t vote...

BROWNSTEIN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... all that proves is, you‘re more popular among Democrats. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  In your party.

And, look, they would have very different coalitions in Pennsylvania and pretty much everywhere else, right?  I mean, his ability to bring out young people, to inspire more African-American turnout, to cut into traditionally Republican more upper-income voters, all of it‘s there. 

He might continue to have—there‘s some evidence he would continue to have the same problem he‘s had in the primary with less affluent white voters.  And, so, you‘re placing a bet, as the Democrats.  Which one of these coalitions do you think is ultimately more stable?

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Try saying this to a young African-American or a young zealot who is for Barack.  You won on delegates.  You won on the population, the popular vote, and you won on numbers of states, but you‘re not going to get this, because we have this new rule.  You have not won the big states. 

TODD:  Well, that‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What do they do?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  There‘s an explosion in Denver. 

TODD:  There would be an explosion. 

But that‘s not going to—I mean, the only way she pulls this off if she somehow gets the popular vote lead.  I mean, I think that that‘s why...

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with that?

TODD:  That‘s why they are making this argument.  She needs something. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  I think that would—that would—that would be psychologically important. 

Now, I don‘t think that‘s the only—Look, it‘s very uphill, no matter what.  But I think the ultimate argument, though, is that she‘s a stronger general election candidate.  If she can make that case, and, look, if he does lose Pennsylvania, if we do have revotes, which is not clear, in Michigan or Florida...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s look...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  ... and he loses those, it does become a psychological issue. 

MATTHEWS:  The latest numbers, the latest NBC poll.  I know all we have are these crude tools called polls.

TODD:  Right.  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  But look at the latest polling here right now.

It‘s Obama 47, McCain 44, a three-point spread in the general, Clinton 47, McCain 45, a two-point spread.  They‘re both within the margin, they‘re both competitive, according to the polling. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  And before March 4, he pretty consistently had a slight advantage relative to Clinton when running against McCain.  It has converged.  They‘re sort of now—it is basically even when you look...

MATTHEWS:  It has converged among all three. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  Among all three. 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  They have all three converged.  You‘re absolutely right. 

TODD:  What‘s interesting, in the argument to the superdelegates, if this does come down to superdelegates, is, you will have Obama saying, hey, look at how I beat McCain in these national polls.  I am doing it by taking independents.  I‘m doing it—I potentially can create a bigger coalition for the Democratic Party.

And Hillary Clinton will say, look, I have got a tried-and-trued method.  I‘m doing it by way that Kerry and Gore came up short.  And I have got the easier path.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Every times she says big-state strategy, she has less a chance to get a revote in Florida and Michigan, because why should Barack‘s people deliver her the chance to make her case? 

BROWNSTEIN:  Right.  Look, you‘re absolutely right. 

They don‘t want this.  But I would just amplify what Chuck said.  He has a wider—he casts a wider net, but he may have a leakier boat.  He has more risk of defection in the core Democratic coalition, but he clearly has more ability to expand that coalition to new voters. 

MATTHEWS:  Unless the economy keeps going south, which it is. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  It‘s a spread offense, in folks terms, and she‘s just three yards and a cloud of dust. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  How does a working person, white or black, come November, vote for a continuation of these economic policies?  How do they do that? 

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  That they feel that the Republican nominee is more likely to keep them safe.  That would be the argument. 

TODD:  Yes.  Security...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  That‘s what he did in—that‘s what he did in 2004.  Those non-college white women in Ohio were critical to George Bush getting elected. 

You know, they did vote 74-24 for Hillary Clinton in this—in this primary.  So, you know, there are ways that Republicans can appeal to those voters and they—but, again, it is a balancing act for Democrats, because Obama clearly has strengths that Clinton does not. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  McCain backing a tax cut continuation for the wealthy, it‘s a great argument for the Democrats to use against that. 

TODD:  Well, that‘s—look, if this economy stays going in this trajectory that it‘s going, they could trot out, you know, any of the candidates that they just have already... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Has any party ever been reelected during a recession?  I have never heard of it. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Well, even—you could back through American history.  How often has a party held the White House when the outgoing president is facing the degree of—was as unpopular as Bush is today?  Very rare.

Woodrow Wilson, 1920, Harry Truman, ‘52, Lyndon Johnson, ‘68.  The party in power tends to lose the White House when the outgoing president—but, yet, Chris, when you look at the numbers, look where John McCain is relative all to those generic numbers.  He‘s right there with the Democrats.  And it has to be very frustrating for them. 

TODD:  I think he‘s the only Republican that would be right here, though.  Mitt Romney would be 15 points behind both of them. 

MATTHEWS:  So, the Republican Party is the smart party, the lucky party?

TODD:  Lucky party.

MATTHEWS:  They can pull it—anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd. 

Thank you, Ron Brownstein.

Up next:  The HARDBALL “Big Number” is coming.  Tonight, it‘s not one that Hillary Clinton wants to hear. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is new in politics? 

Well, with the Oscars out of the way, the nominees have now been declared for—quote—“best online political videos.”  And they‘re out on YouTube.  They include some that we know well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (singing):  Because I got a crush on Obama.  I cannot wait until 2008.  Barack Obama, baby, you‘re the best candidate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is your pencil puppet.  I would like you to have it now, because you actually came to my dorm.  And it hardly seems necessary to have a little pencil stick representation of you. 

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That‘s pretty neat. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So, Congressman, thank you so much for coming today. 

PAUL:  Thank you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  My plan is to secure the border, two words: Chuck Norris. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I hope to keep this conversation going all the way to November 2008. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow. 

Ron Paul, by the way, is attracting quite a following of people, young people especially, looking for less government and far less U.S. military engagement worldwide. 

If you‘re ambitious enough to do more than just vote on videos, by the way, then MoveOn.org has something for you this year, in fact, right now.  The anti-Bush, anti-war group MoveOn.org that started in ‘98 with, in their own words—quote—“an online petition to censure President Clinton and then move on to pressing issues facing the nation,” well, they already moved on from the Clintons to endorse Barack Obama in February. 

Now they‘re promoting a TV ad contest.  This is different from the YouTube awards for best online political video.  It‘s called “Obama in 30 Seconds,” a competition for best 30-second ad for Obama, with all-star judges, including HARDBALL friends kill Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Russell Simmons.

Remember this MoveOn winner from 2004 called “Child‘s Pay”? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Not exactly blue skies, is it? 

Anyway, Governor Mike Huckabee‘s campaign is looking to unload some merchandise.  Former top aides want to get rid of some Huckabee-for-president T-shirts.  It‘s a deal, five bucks for the shirt, a dollar to ship it.  But you better move fast.  “The New York Times” reports there are only 70 of those T-shirts left. 

Could have some value, by the way, down the road. 

The Eliot Spitzer‘s scandal is a field day, of course, for the blogs, for talk radio, cable, and especially the New York tabloids.  But get a load of this.  Premiering tonight and lasting all through the weekend, Sirius Satellite Radio has a new channel devoted entirely to the Eliot Spitzer scandal.  It‘s called Client 9 Radio.  We all get that one. 

And, finally, tonight‘s HARDBALL “Big Number”—depending on the day, the hour, or even the minute, the Clinton and Obama campaigns are fighting about whether their fight is about math or momentum.  The number of delegates are something uncountable, like electability. 

Well, with six weeks to go until Pennsylvania and a week after Senator Clinton‘s wins in Ohio and Texas, tonight‘s number is not huge.  It‘s not even a lot.  But it is definitely big.  Negative-seven, that‘s our number tonight.  Since her wins in Ohio and Texas, Senator Clinton‘s superdelegate lead has actually shrunk by seven—tonight‘s “Big Number,” negative-7. 

Up next:  It‘s arguably the most famous commercial of this presidential campaign: Hillary Clinton‘s 3:00 a.m. Phone call ad, but does that ad have a racial subtext?  That‘s our debate coming up—when we return. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Bear Stearns‘ struggles weighing down the overall stock market, with the Dow Jones industrial average ending the week down 194 points, the S&P 500 down 27, the Nasdaq off by 51. 

Those stocks were tanking on news that venerable brokerage Bear Stearns has turned to J.P. Morgan Chase and the Federal Reserve for an emergency bailout in order to stay afloat.  Bear Stearns‘ shares plunged 47 percent today. 

Worry over what other firms might be in trouble wiped out an initial rally this morning that had started after we saw positive reports that consumer prices were unchanged last month.  That news is a sign that inflation has not increased and may pave the way for a large interest-rate cut by the Federal Reserve on Tuesday.  A cut of between a half and a full percentage point is expected. 

And United Airlines announced that it‘s boosting fares by as much as $50 per round-trip in order to offset rising fuel costs.  So far, only Continental has matched that increase. 

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

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, we have a hot flash for you.  Welcome back to

HARDBALL.

That‘s Barack Obama, who is going to be on “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” tonight at 8:00.  That‘s going to be quite a big event, because he has to answer that question that everybody wants answered about his relationship to that radical preacher whose church he has been attending all these years.

Anyway, welcome back, as I said.

Hillary Clinton‘s 3:00 a.m. TV ad has gotten a lot of attention.  It‘s credited with helping her win in Texas a couple weeks ago.  There‘s the ad. 

But Harvard professor Orlando Patterson took issue with the ad‘s

message.  In a “New York Times” op-ed earlier this week, he wrote—quote

“When I saw those Clinton ad‘s central image was 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.”

Did Clinton‘s ad have a divisive racial message?

The author of that “New York Times” piece, professor Orlando Patterson of Harvard, says, yes.  And we also have joining us, MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard, who says no. 

Professor, I kind of agreed with you.  And I want you to express your view.  What is it in the ad that suggested to you that the Clinton campaign was playing on racial fears in their campaign against Barack Obama? 

ORLANDO PATTERSON, PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY:  Well, first of all, if you do a simple experiment, just press the mute button on your TV and look at the ad, and what you see is really not images which suggest foreign invasion or terrorists. 

What you see is something that reminds you of an ad by Brink‘s about home security, homes being invaded, and by intruders at night about to attack young children and mothers. 

And, if you show—everything is context—if you show that ad in the Deep South, and then you‘re being, at the very least, provocative, because the images that come to mind for the kind of voters which Clinton is getting at, which is largely sort of working-class white voters, is not foreign terrorists. 

Foreign terrorists don‘t creep up at 3:00 in the night.  Foreign terrorists want to attack in broad daylight, where they can get maximum coverage. 

What comes to mind is the sort of real images from the Deep South that

associated with blacks and black intruders at night.  It is very much an image of—that too—resonates too strongly with—at least in the context of the South—notions of black men as—as intruders. 

And I thought it was extremely irresponsible to air an ad like that.  If you have an opponent who is an Italian-American, you don‘t use images from “The Sopranos.”  If you have an opponent who is a Mormon, you don‘t use white crosses.  If you have an opponent who is a Jewish American, you don‘t use images of money lenders juggling coins. 

And that‘s the point.  It‘s that everything has to do with the context, who your opponent is, who your audience is.  And, in the Deep South, you don‘t use images of white women and blonde children being—being threatened by what is clearly a domestic intrusion. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, professor.  Your view, Michelle? 

BERNARD:  I mean, it‘s interesting because I don‘t—I didn‘t see this ad as a 9/11 ad as you‘ve said. 

MATTHEWS:  I see it more as a 911 ad than 9/11.  I think it‘s about a woman calling out because somebody‘s trying to break into the house.  That‘s what I saw. 

PATTERSON:  Exactly. 

BERNARD:  I mean, I don‘t see it that way.  I hear what the professor‘s saying.  I don‘t see it that way.  I think maybe the way you receive the ad really might have something to do with gender, because really every woman I‘ve spoken with, whether she is black or white, Hispanic or whatever, I haven‘t talked to anyone yet who sees the ad as anything other than a foreign policy ad. 

I really believe—I see the smile our face, but I got to tell you, people are taking it this way, and I understand what the professor is saying, but I also think it‘s an appeal to a women who are very worried about their children. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you try it with men? 

BERNARD:  Yes, I did try it with men. 

MATTHEWS:  What was the reaction? 

BERNARD:  Black men really see it the way the professor does.  They see it as 911 ad versus a 9/11 ad.  But women really take it differently.  If you go back to 2004 and you think about the Bush administration‘s—the Bush administration—the Bush administration‘s decision to go after security moms in 2004, right after the Belson (ph) school massacre, it was called the most horrific act of terrorism after 9/11.  It happened on September 1st, 2004.  You saw droves of women voting for George Bush—voting for George Bush on a national security issue. 

I think lots of women were looking at this and thinking, this could be my child.  I want to protect my children.  I mean—

MATTHEWS:  Why 3:00 in the morning? 

BERNARD:  Well, because your kids are asleep. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is that important to a terrorist attack?  Let me go, professor, your thought here. 

PATTERSON:  Yes, but wait a minute, where‘s daddy?  Where are the men?  The terrorists go after children and women?  They don‘t.  I mean, this—this ad could easily have made its point, as did the—the ad by the person who made this one for Walter Mondale years ago, which used the red telephone and was very powerful, and a voice over.  And this—why no men?  Why no—

BERNARD:  Here‘s the question I have for you: if it‘s 3:00 in the morning and someone is calling the White House, there‘s this horrible black man who is breaking into your house, do they call the White House after that, or do they call the local police department? 

MATTHEWS:  You really think that was supposed to be the White House, don‘t you? 

BERNARD:  I do. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think so. 

PATTERSON:  It didn‘t make clear—it did not make clear to the White House.  Remember who the audience is.  This is being aimed at working-class people in the south.  They know nothing about red phones and White House.  I mean, what they‘re seeing is what they are going to associate it with is an intruder. 

MATTHEWS:  Professor, here‘s what Senator Obama said when I asked him about it Tuesday night.  Here‘s his response—I asked him whether it was a racial subtext to that ad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  You know, I‘m not buying into the notion that race played a factor there.  I do think that, you know, Senator Clinton took a page out of the Republican playbook, and tried to use fear as a campaign tactic. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERNARD:  I agree with him there.  It was a page right out of George Bush‘s 2004 playbook, W is for women.  It had a lot to do with national security and the advent of the security mom.  They got rid of soccer moms, mortgage moms, security moms, and I think she‘s going back into the playbook. 

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, professor, I thought your column was very well presented.  I, of course, as a white guy, I had that exact message I got when I saw that ad, just like I did with the ad that was run against Congressman Ford out in Tennessee.  I get the message because I‘m the one it‘s aimed at.  I am sensitive to the—I am part of this market research.  They figured it would work with a guy like me.  Well, it did work.  I saw the message.  I think I know what they‘re up to, but I may be wrong.  You may be right. 

PATTERSON:  Now I know why I watch your show. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thanks for that. 

Professor Orlando Patterson and Michelle Bernard, who disagrees with both of us. 

Up next, Barack Obama is evening the score with elected officials and cutting into Clinton‘s super delegate lead.  Will his numbers trump her real new sales pitch, which is about big states?  The politics fix is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  Time for the politics fix.  We want to figure out which elements, mean which tapes are we going to show?  Anyway our round table tonight, radio talk show host E. Steven Collins—he‘s been on before—Bloomberg‘s Margaret Carlson—I‘ve known her forever—and Maria Teresa Peterson from the group Voto Latino.  Thank you, Maria Teresa.  Thank you very much, E. Steven.  Thank you Margaret.

We‘ve been showing the tapes tonight.  We don‘t have to show them again, I don‘t think, of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.  He‘s, of course, a major pastor in a downtown church in Chicago, United Church of Christ church out there in Chicago, a major figure in the local community.  What does—Mr. Collins, what is the candidate, Barack Obama, have to do here?  Can he realistically—he‘s coming on Keith‘s show tonight, on “COUNTDOWN” later on tonight—Can he, at this point, all these years later, credibly separate himself from those fiery sermons? 

E. STEVEN COLLINS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I think he‘s done that.  I think he‘s said that he separates himself.  I think the key word here is, Chris, repudiate.  He should really divorce himself from a lot of that stuff.  You know, you go to a Baptist church, people get excited.  They get the spirit.  They say a lot of things.  I think there should be a distinct separation between what Jeremiah Wright said and where he is in his campaign as a personal friend, and what Geraldine Ferraro, on the other hand, said in the Hillary Clinton campaign.  She was an intricate part of the staff there. 

So, there‘s got—you got to look at that.  But I think tonight he‘ll be a little bit more forceful in that.  And I hope he will be.  I think it‘s distracting from some of the key issues that are of concern here in Pennsylvania. 

MATTHEWS:  But a skeptic, Margaret, might say, someone who is not positively inclined to this candidate, might say it‘s like the Vici French officer in “Casablanca,” I can‘t believe gambling is going on here, having been a regular gambler for years.  Is it credible that he now decides it‘s time to separate from this minister whose fiery language is getting him in trouble. 

MARGARET CARLSON, “BLOOMBERG NEWS”:  If Senator Obama hadn‘t heard it while he was actually attending the church, certainly since he‘s been running, there have been numerous stories about the rhetoric of Reverend Wright.  So he had to be aware of it, and certainly you don‘t want to be identified with it.  Maybe there are cafeteria Protestants, the way there are cafeteria Catholics.  Maybe you‘re not one.  I am. 

MATTHEWS:  I accept the charge. 

CARLSON:  You accept everything. 

MATTHEWS:  I accept the charge from people that don‘t buy into everything, yes. 

CARLSON:  Yes, and clearly he doesn‘t.  But in the world of surrogates, where people are now being blamed for what other people say, this is about the worst.  This is even worse than Geraldine Ferraro. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s hard to say I agree with my minister except on matters dealing with my loyalty to my country and what I think of it.  I don‘t believe god should damn America.  I think it‘s a blessed country.  I don‘t agree that the victims are at fault in 9/11.  It‘s not the fault of the country attacked that it was attacked.  These are fundamental.  These are hot issues to be—say, except for those. 

Let me go to Maria Teresa.  Can a person at this point, who attends a church regularly, had the person his whose minister officiated at his wedding, christen the kids, have as his personal friend, as well as a Sunday preacher, say, all of a sudden, I disown the commentary by this man on politically hot issues? 

MARIA TERESA PETERSEN, VOTO LATINO:  I think it‘s tough.  I think what (INAUDIBLE) definitely the Baptists are cultural, but how do you translate that?  If it was an evangelical preacher saying something the same, immediately people would be going up arms.  So he definitely has to walk a fine line, but also discuss how does that not necessarily reflect his views, but at the same time how does he embrace America?  It‘s very difficult, very, very difficult. 

CARLSON:  The way he said about Louis Farrakhan during the debate, he has to reject and renounce and maybe then do something else, which is in between the time when Jeremiah Wright is still the pastor and the new pastor comes, he has to not attend that church. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, E. Steven, I sometimes feel, having studied Catholic Church history, that we‘re back somewhere in the inquisition now.  So many people have to apologize.  So many people have to recant statements.  So many people have to, in this case, disown a longtime friend.  It seems like we‘re into oath taking and torture chambers and will you recant?  Do you denounce or do you not?  I mean, it just seems very medieval, doesn‘t it? 

COLLINS:  It does in a way.  I think though, Senator John McCain was confronted with this, if you all remember, just a minute ago.  A pastor who supported him, John Hagee, said something and it was along—

MATTHEWS:  The anti-Catholic guy.  That‘s how we know him. 

COLLINS:  He made these comments and they were very inflammatory. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COLLINS:  And at the same time he said you know what, they‘re not—they‘re not there to endorse—he‘s not, rather, there to endorse people who are supporting him.  He can‘t do anything about it.  I think—I think most of us want to see a separation, because you don‘t need it.  We need to get back to the central issues here in this, and the brilliance of Barack Obama to shine through amongst all of this. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

COLLINS:  I think—the other part is I think the country‘s past it. 

I think we‘re—

MATTHEWS:  Well, I hope we‘re all past race.  But the question about Barack Obama, and I say this as someone who has sympathized with his cause in many ways, is very hard for a stranger to deny interest in where you come from.  And it if looks to people like he comes from a highly militant culture, where it looks like he‘s enjoyed the company of a black separatist, that‘s hard to sell to white voters, isn‘t it, E. Steven? 

COLLINS:  I think it is hard to sell it, but is that, in fact, what it is? 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

COLLINS:  I think he can get excited.  He can say things that are—that are very inflammatory.  But he‘s not his adviser, after all.  Come on, I think you have to look at this in context.  And I think because of Geraldine Ferraro‘s comments this week, and a number of issues that go to race, this now becomes a very important issue.  When to Barack Obama, he‘s talking about getting us out of Iraq.  He‘s talking about addressing the economy in this nation, and the substantive meat and potatoes that are going to get people up and out on election day here on April 22nd

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, we got to be even here.  Suppose Hillary Clinton were going to a church where every week they said women should take over the world; men should get the hell out of politics.  I think we would pay attention?  Wouldn‘t we?

Anyway, we‘ll be back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table for the politics fix.  Maria Teresa and everybody else, John McCain said in a Philadelphia suburb today that we might get hit over in Iraq in a spectacular attack by al Qaeda in order to defeat him for election.  What do you think of that? 

PETERSEN:  The politics of fear all over again.  Do you want more of the same?  Do we?  I don‘t know.  I hope not. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think, Steven?  You think the enemy might hit us to get a conservative Republican elected? 

COLLINS:  Listen, Chris, Franklin and Marshall did a poll about the end of February, and they said, they are likely to use this fear tactic, the Republicans and Democrats candidates; 66 or 67 percent said, clearly Republicans will do that.  There we are all over again. 

I say, let‘s focus on this.  Remember that you really can stop any candidate at any time.  But you can‘t stop a movement.  That‘s what Obama has crystallize crystallized.  I think it‘s a significant movement. 

MATTHEWS:  Which way does it shake us, left or right, if we get hit? 

In Spain it shocked them left.  In America it tends to shake us right. 

CARLSON:  All we know is the Democrats are to blame no matter what happens, because Bush used this, Karl Rove used this. 

MATTHEWS:  If they don‘t hit us, it‘s because the Republicans are right; if they do hit us, it proves they are right. 

CARLSON:  Yes, thank you, Chris.   

MATTHEWS:  That‘s good thinking.

COLLINS:  Further, we should be very lucky to be in this position. 

MATTHEWS:  We should be lucky about what? 

COLLINS:  I mean, according to some of the comments I heard this week, all of us should be lucky that we‘re in a position that we‘re dealing with these kind of comments from McCain. 

MATTHEWS:  Why so? 

COLLINS:  Well, because the reality is I just think based on how

Senator Barack Obama has gotten people to become more excited about the

process and the promise, then old line politics and fear mongering and race

I believe people have kind of pushed that aside. 

MATTHEWS:  I think he could carry Pennsylvania heavily. 

Anyway, thank you E. Steven Collins—I‘m talking about the general.  Margaret Carlson, Maria Teresa Peterson.  Join us again Monday night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  By the way, Barack Obama will be on “COUNTDOWN” with Keith tonight.  Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

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