updated 3/19/2008 11:29:44 AM ET 2008-03-19T15:29:44

Guests: Bishop Charles Blake, Michael Smerconish, Michael Crowley, Michelle Bernard, Mark Green, Ed Schultz, Ken Blackwell, Roger Simon, Ed Gordon

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  A divide as American as the grand canyon, a speech worthy of Abraham Lincoln.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  It was the most important speech of Barack Obama‘s career and the biggest moment of the campaign.  It took place in Philadelphia, and the subject was race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.  We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America, to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Did Barack Obama distance himself enough from Reverend Wright?  Did he calm the fears of the white voter?  How did the speech play?  We‘ll have much more on this momentous day and what I personally view as the best speech ever given on race in this country, one that went beyond the “I have a dream” to “I have lived the dream but have also lived in this country.”

And stacking the deck.  Are Republicans coming out and voting for Hillary Clinton to try to make sure she‘s the Democratic candidate against John McCain and not Obama?  Two radio talk show hosts weigh in on that one.  And of course, we‘ll give you the “Politics Fix.”

We begin tonight with the big political story of the day, Senator Barack Obama‘s speech on race.  Bishop Charles Blake is the pastor of the West Angeles Church of God.  Bishop Blake, thank you for joining us.  As an African-American, what was your feeling watching that speech today?

BISHOP CHARLES BLAKE, WEST ANGELES CHURCH OF GOD IN CHRIST:  Thank you, Chris.  And that‘s West Angeles Church of God in Christ.  The speech was absolutely exhilarating philosophically, its literary manner, in a poetic manner, it was just a fantastic masterpiece to listen to, but also in terms of the comprehensive nature of his view and his vision for America.  I was greatly touched by it and influenced by it.  He avoided the extremes of angry, reactionary words and verbiage.  He went straight to the core, and he articulated a vision for race in America that all of us can buy into.  I felt it was an absolutely fantastic talk.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look, Bishop.  Here‘s Barack Obama today in Philadelphia, explaining why he can‘t disown his minister, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother, a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me and they are a part of America, this country that I love.  Now, some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable.  I can assure you it is not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Bishop, it‘s the first time I‘ve heard a politician of either background, black or white, talk honestly about race in this country.  It grabbed me.  It was ripping the scab off in a good way.  It said, you know, Damn it, when we get together in our own communities, we talk different.  People we love talk different than you‘d like to hear anybody talk, but they do and it‘s honest.

BLAKE:  Surely.

MATTHEWS:  What did you think?

BLAKE:  And the—the outstanding aspect of the man that I saw today was that this is a man who can speak to the diversity of the United States.  The people of the United States have all kinds of attitudes, all kinds of views, all kinds of beliefs about the nature of others and other ethnic groups and about their own responsibility and the opportunities available to them.

And Obama merely said, Listen, I have been associated with a variety of kinds of people.  All of these people are—I‘ve been exposed to all of them.  But I maintained my own integrity.  I have developed an attitude about myself and about others that is very, very positive.  I‘ve got a vision for this nation and for all ethnicities that are within it.  I can speak to all of them.  I can deal with all of them.  I can associate with all of them without being changed from my own character, from my own ideals and from my own vision.

I think that that is the kind of leader that we really need in the United States today.  And the man articulated vision.  He said, Enough with looking backwards and blaming and not playing the blame game.  There‘s no time for that.  I‘ve got to speak to my own ethnic group.  I got to speak to other ethnic groups with a positive vision in mind and a positive outlook.  And I think that he did that in a very, very essential and very meaningful way today.

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you completely, Bishop.  Thank you very much, Bishop Charles Blake with the West Angeles Church of God in Christ.

Michelle Bernard is an MSNBC political analyst.  You‘ve gotten to know her over these weeks.  She‘s also president of the Independent Women‘s Voice.  And Michael Smerconish is another (INAUDIBLE) you‘ve gotten to know for a longer period.  He‘s a radio talk show host in my own city of Philadelphia.

Lady and gentleman, both of you, your personal reactions on watching this speech.  Michelle first.

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

I think that this is probably the most important speech that I have heard in my lifetime.  I would say this is probably the best speech and most important speech on race that we have—that we have heard as a nation since Martin Luther King‘s “I have a dream” speech.  Every single word was riveting.

I thought that the way Barack Obama started off the speech talking about how perfect and how—you know, the ideals set forth in our Constitution, but slavery being the original sin of our nation and how our forefathers left it to further—further generations to perfect this union and giving the impression that that time for change is now.

I was riveted by his ability in the speech to actually talk about and explain in a manner that is not scary to the nation the type of anger that consumes men like Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and explain it in an important way by talking about what black men in this nation faced in the ‘50s and in the ‘60s and not as a way to—to get away from the fact that some of the problems that still plague black America need to be fixed within the community.

He did a great job of, for example, talking about the importance of personal responsibility in the black community, but also balancing that out with saying we need to fix our public education system so that you don‘t see such a great disparity between black children and white children.  I think, overall, you know, it ranks right up there as one of the best speeches I‘ve ever heard.

MATTHEWS:  I am so glad because, as a white American, I‘m so glad to hear African-Americans have this same emotional reaction to that speech.  Michael, what did you feel or think about this speech today?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, I was happy to be in the room.  And as I was sitting there and I was taking notes—and it was a packed auditorium in Philadelphia at the National Constitution Center—what was running through my mind is, I hope this translates as well on television to the nation at large as it is translating here to this live audience because, like your other guests, I thought it was a stunning speech.

And you know what I was looking for?  Substance.  I didn‘t want to hear just the grandiose language.  I wanted him to distinguish in specific terms his views from those of a man that I think, Chris, is probably a mentor of sorts to him.  And for me, the critical language was this.  He said, “The profound mistake of Reverend Wright‘s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society, it‘s that he spoke as if our society was static, as if no progress has been made.”

And then Barack Obama said, you know, essentially, Look at me.  I‘m one of his congregants...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

SMERCONISH:  ... and the fact that I am now running for president of the United States and I‘m the presumptive Democratic nominee tells you that he‘s wrong on the merits and that this is a new day for America.  And I thought that was a terrific message.

BERNARD:  Also Chris, I think...

MATTHEWS:  You‘re great, Michael.  I completely agree with what you said.

Let‘s all listen now to a bit of this speech.  We all should, by the way, at some point after the program—please wait until the end of HARDBALL at least—but check this out on our Web site, MSNBC.com.  You can watch the whole speech.  And I think this is the kind of speech I think 1st graders should see, people in the last year of college should see before they go out in the world.  This should be, to me, be an American track (ph), something that you just check in with now and then, like reading “Great Gatsby” and “Huckleberry Finn.”

Read this speech once in a while, ladies and gentlemen.  This is us.  It‘s us with the scab ripped off.  It‘s white people talking the way they do when they‘re alone with other white people—some people.  It‘s black people talking the way they are when there‘s no white people are around.  It‘s an honest statement from a guy who comes from both backgrounds.  We have never heard anything like this.

Let‘s take a look.  Here is Barack Obama today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church?  Yes.  Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views?  Absolutely, just as I‘m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren‘t simply controversial.  They weren‘t simply a religious leader‘s efforts to speak out against perceived injustice.  Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Michael on this.  Michael, I thought it was interesting, the way he drew the parallel between the offensive words of—of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, a man who christened his kids and married him to his wife, Michelle, presided at the marriage—and he drew the comparison to the remarks made by his own white grandmother, that in the society in which you and I live, a big city particularly, there is racial strife.  There is anger on both sides.  The people that get mad at each other in traffic for cutting each other off, and I‘m sure ethnic words are thrown in both directions.

There‘s all kinds of reasons why some people are angry about our own history.  White people feel they‘ve been by the system because of Affirmative Action, black people screwed for 300 years by slavery and Jim Crow and all the prejudice since, lots of reasons to be mad at each other.  I thought he got to it today.

SMERCONISH:  I thought that the way in which he did it—and you‘re making reference to that—and that‘s a critical sound bite that you just played.  It‘s almost as if he was fishing and he was casting a line in different sections of the pond and slowly bringing us all in by common experiences, by drawing upon his white grandmother and then by drawing upon...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SMERCONISH:  ... Reverend Wright.  And you know, Chris, somehow, he did it without throwing Jeremiah Wright under the bus.  I mean, he tried to provide some context to a white guy like me as to how could you hear this sort of language?  What was his experience that caused him to offer these thoughts that are shown incessantly on programs and on YouTube, and so on and so forth?

Look, I walked in—one other observation.  I walked in—I wrote an opinion piece in “The Daily News” this morning.  I said, This is kind of a Howard Baker moment.  What he did he hear and when did he hear it?  And I walked out saying to myself, You know, we‘ve seen those clips incessantly, probably too much, and I think that he‘s directly answered them now.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ll see.  We‘ll be right back.  Michelle, you‘ll start when we come back.  Michelle and Michael both coming back.  We‘re going to talk more about whether this reached that working guy, that working woman out there he‘s been trying to reach in states like Pennsylvania, or is it only addressed to sort of the intellectuals or the editorial writers or us?  Who‘s it really aimed at, that speech?  I think it aimed at a lot of people, including superdelegates.

And still ahead:  After today‘s speech, can Obama make his pastor problem go away, or is he simply dealing with it in a way that‘s as honest as he can be?  Will it cost him the nomination?  We‘ll talk about the politics of all this and whether voters will be convinced by what many of us think is one of the great speeches in American history—and we watch a lot of them—when we return.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people, that the legacy of discrimination and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past—that these things are real and must be addressed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we‘ve never really worked through, a part of our union that we have not yet made perfect.  And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care or education or the need to find good jobs for every American.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard of the Independent Women‘s Forum and Philadelphia radio talk show host Michael Smerconish.  And we‘re joined now by “The New Republic‘s” Michael Crowley.

Take a look now at what Senator Joe Biden said this afternoon by Obama‘s speech, which he obviously watched with great interest.  Quote, “Today Barack Obama gave one of the most important speeches we‘ve heard in a long time.  It was powerful and truthful.  He captured the hopes but also the frustrations of all Americans.  He told the story of America, both the good and the bad, and I believe his speech will come to represent an important step forward in race relations in our country.”

Michael, Joe Biden from Delaware represents a very small state, but it has an interesting racial microcosm to it, a lot of African-Americans in the big city of Wilmington, which you pass on the train if you go from New York from Washington all the time, and also some rural folk and some suburban people.  Is this speech going to crack open sort of the silent treatment that both sides give to each other, black and white?

SMERCONISH:  Well, you know, I was thinking of that Jack Nicholson line in the movie, where he says, You can‘t handle the truth.  And today, I think we can handle the truth.  I mean, what was so great about the speech is that he addressed all communities, not just a particular community.

For example, he addressed the folks who are white and feel disenfranchised, having come through an immigrant experience and feel, as he said in the speech, they haven‘t been handed anything and that resentment builds in them because they believe Affirmative Action and Welfare programs now benefit everyone except them.

So I think he started.  I mean, I think he started an honest dialogue among all Americans.  And by the way, look at Biden.  He‘s been keeping his powder dry, and the fact that he‘s so effusive in his praise of Obama, maybe that says something about the superdelegate mentality.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go—let me go to Michael Crowley, sir.  Michael, it seems to me that Michael Smerconish hit on something there in this speech, which is this direct recognition—for the first time, you hear, basically, on the national stage, a recognition—recognition that white people, regular working white people, who fear violence in the inner city, are not bigots because they fear violence.  They‘re not bigots necessarily because they think Affirmative Action might be screwing them sometimes.  That‘s just human self-interest.

He says those guys have a case, although they‘re wrong if they don‘t recognize this country‘s history of racial prejudice and discrimination which has hurt black folks.  He basically said there is such a thing as a truth, but there‘s also a recognition in his words of fair—fair reaction, to what‘s going on in America by white people, clearly.  Is it going to work?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  Yes, well, Chris, think, you know, that was the magic of this speech, as you and your guests have already said, which was that it was so nuanced.  It was sort of an effort to stand in the shoes on both sides.  There‘s far too little of that in political discourse.  Think about what it‘s like for the other person.  Try to understand their real grievances.

But if I can just be a little bit cynical about politics and the electorate, my question is whether working-class white voters, who Obama needs not only in the primary, although he‘s looking pretty good, but in the general election, as well, want to talk about race right now, feel like the union needs to be perfected, feel like racial reconciliation, at a time when we‘re going into a recession and there‘s a war going on, is an issue that they think the political leadership should be spending a lot of time on.

And I think it‘s wonderful if they do.  I just am skeptical that they really will feel that way, particularly when you imagine that they‘re going to get kind of a boiled-down and simplified version of this speech.  I fear that not that many people are going to have time to read and listen to it in its entirety and may come away with a sense that this guy‘s campaign is focused on race more than they would like it to be, which, incidentally, is why Obama...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well...

CROWLEY:  ... is quickly moving back to Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  ... it wasn‘t his idea.

CROWLEY:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  It wasn‘t his idea.

CROWLEY:  He was somewhat trapped.

MATTHEWS:  He got jammed into this. 

CROWLEY:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Let me go—let me go back to Michelle on this thing. 

Michelle, it seems to me that, after years—and I‘m a white guy, obviously—you‘re an African-American woman, obviously—we can—one thing about television, it‘s pretty clear what we are.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  We live with that as the visual...

(CROSSTALK)

MICHELLE BERNARD, PRESIDENT & CEO, INDEPENDENT WOMEN‘S FORUM:  I‘m glad you noticed.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  We are visual representatives of our communities, obviously, whether we want to be or not, when we get stuck with this situation where we‘re talking about this. 

But it seems to me, so much of prime-time television all the time growing up makes fun of working-class whites who are living in changing neighborhoods, like my grandparents used to do.  My grandfather was a Democratic committeeman.  He was the—he and the other guy next door were the last white guys in the neighborhood. 

And that‘s a reality when  you—and you have shows like “Archie Bunker,” where the guy is considered a clown because he has a little attitude about things, whereas, today, Barack Obama said, look, racism‘s off the board.  It‘s not acceptable. 

But I do understand a guy worried about a day—a neighborhood that‘s gotten more dangerous.  I do worry about—or I understand why a guy might be ticked off.  He figures he didn‘t get a job he should have gotten.  It was an understanding from a guy who comes from both backgrounds. 

BERNARD:  It—look, this was the brilliance of his speech. 

Very early on in the speech today, he used a very important line, for a lot of reasons.  He said, out of many, we are one.  And then he goes on to talk about the fact that he‘s the son of a black African father from Kenya and the son of a white mother from Kansas, out of—what do we take away from that?  Out of many, we are one. 

He represents the American dream.  He represents all of America.  I thought he was brilliant in not only talking about the anger and the frustrations of elderly black men, but also talking about the frustrations of many white, you know, working-class workers in this country, but many of whom he said in his speech might not even ever hear his speech, you know?

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BERNARD:  But it was important because he touched on it, and he‘s not just saying, you know, let‘s only focus on the plight of all of America, but let‘s talk—just black America—but let‘s talk about the problems of the entire nation, because, out of many, we are one. 

And, then, he says—you know, he went on to say, let‘s—once we get past this very important discussion, let‘s sit down and talk about the things that really matter.  How do we improve our education system? 

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD:  How do we improve health care?  How do we—you know, how do we bring home our soldiers in Iraq? 

It was brilliant. 

(CROSSTALK)

BERNARD:  Even when he talked about conservative principles, you knew who he was reaching out to on the other side of the aisle. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Michael, Michael Crowley, just a thought here.  I know you‘re being a tough political analyst here.  And you should be. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me that, having captured the African-American vote, about 90 percent recently in Mississippi, he now has to do something he never wanted to do growing up, which is admit—or profess the fact that he comes from both backgrounds. 

Is it politically useful for him to let people know who are white, white voters, that his mother, his grandmother, half his family, his—half his background is white?

CROWLEY:  Sure. 

You know, there are some silver linings in the fact that, as you say, he got backed into a debate about race he didn‘t want, although I think he probably knew something like this was going to happen sooner or later. 

One is, as you say, he has an opportunity to tell his story a little more, to tell people he does have this—his mother was white, and he has this experience in his family.  And the other, frankly, is to talk about his faith and the fact that he‘s—he‘s Christian, and that this nonsense that he‘s a Muslim is...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CROWLEY:  ... is—is—there‘s nothing to it. 

So, there are silver linings to it.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CROWLEY:  And it‘s possible that, in—in the long run, those things will play to his advantage.  It‘s a little early to—to tell right now. 

SMERCONISH:  Hey, Chris?

MATTHEWS:  I like the way you think. 

Thank you. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Michael—Michael Smerconish, 10 seconds. 

SMERCONISH: “I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas.”  That was very early in the speech.  I think that sets the stage.  He wants it clearly understood what his heritage is. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s from both of—he‘s one of all of us. 

SMERCONISH:  Correct.

BERNARD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Not just one of us, one of all of us.

SMERCONISH:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s an amazing background, maybe an amazing, historic opportunity.  We will see how it plays.  Thank you, Michelle Bernard. 

Thank you, Michael Smerconish.

Thank you, Michael Crowley. 

CROWLEY:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  For much more of Obama‘s speech, log on to our Web site, as I said, MSNBC.com.  You can watch the complete speech.  Don‘t do it right away, by the way.  Watch the rest of the show or read the transcript.  And participate in our live vote.  That‘s on MSNBC.com. 

Still ahead:  Republicans are doing something that many of them know is unthinkable.  By the way, they‘re doing it for mischief.  Let‘s be honest.  They are voting for Hillary Clinton, somebody they don‘t like and want to beat in November. 

And coming up next: the HARDBALL “Big Number.”  Tonight, it‘s a big barrier for Senator Clinton chances of winning the White House. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Reverend Wright‘s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems: two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis, and potentially devastating climate change, problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is new in politics? 

Well, poor John McCain.  Take a look at this hilarious skewering last night from “The Late Show With David Letterman.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Many pundits say John McCain‘s visit to Iraq is an attempt to boost his foreign policy credentials before the election.  Others say he‘s trying to get a head-start on his presidency. 

But, once again, the cynics are wrong.  The aging senator simply got confused at the airport and accidentally boarded...

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  ... the wrong plane while embarking on a vacation to Branson, Missouri. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  John McCain, he is old. 

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I always thought you didn‘t make fun of somebody for something they can‘t help. 

Speaking of McCain, who is he going to pick for his number two on the ticket?  Could it be Mike Huckabee?  He certainly hung in there, didn‘t he?  Not according to McCain‘s 22-year-old daughter, Meghan.  She told “GQ”—quote—“That‘s not going to happen.  I don‘t think they would be a good match, for a lot of reasons.  And I‘m not even sure that that‘s what Huckabee is going for anyway.  I think he wants to be the head of the evangelical movement.”

Meghan is right.  The last thing McCain needs is an evangelical out there blowing the tuba. 

Cashing in?  Some see great hope in Barack Obama.  Others see the potential for cash.  Major League Baseball just shut down a business from an Obama supporter that sold Obama T-shirts that looked like baseball team logos.  The Web site, Obamaofdreams.com, sold the shirts for $19.95 -- actually, $19.99.  You can see them there.  The shirts used logos from the Red Sox, the Dodgers, the Cardinals, even Hillary Clinton‘s two favorites, the Chicago Cubs and the Yankees. 

With steroids, and congressional probes, you would think big-time baseball would have bigger fish to fry than those T-shirts. 

And now it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number.”  Given that Barack Obama‘s likely to end up ahead of Hillary Clinton in elected delegates, how can Hillary hope to win this thing?  Her best and only bet would be convince superdelegates, those big-shot party people, to vote for the candidate, her, who got fewer votes. 

Not only is that a tough sell, but, as tonight‘s “Big Number” proves, it can cost her the Democratic nomination, but, also, it could cost the party the presidency. 

According to a new “USA Today”/Gallup poll, if Clinton wins as a result of the superdelegate vote, what percentage of Democratic voters would not vote for her in the general election?  Twenty percent.  That‘s one in five Democrats who would vote for the Republican, John McCain, a third-party candidate, or just stay home on Election Day. 

Tonight‘s “Big Number”: 20 -- 20 percent. 

Up next:  With the Republican race settled, Republican voters are casting more and more ballots for Hillary Clinton.  Do they think she would be easier to beat in November?  Or do they just like watching the Democrats squirm by beating each other up?  We will get to the bottom of that phenomena—why Rush Limbaugh has got Republicans voting for Hillary in these primaries. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHELLE CARUSO-CABRERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Michelle Caruso-Cabrera with your CNBC “Market Wrap.” 

Stocks soaring the most in five years, as the Federal Reserve aggressively cut a key interest rate three-quarters-of-a point to boost the economy.  The Dow Jones industrial average jumping 420 points—the S&P 500 gained 54.  The Nasdaq shot up 91. 

The Fed‘s three-quarter-point cut wasn‘t the full 1 percent that many expected, as the Fed said it was balancing concerns about the economy with worries about inflation.  But, in its statement, the Fed signaled, it stands ready to cut rates even more, saying, downside risks to growth remain. 

Stocks also got a boost today from better-than-expected earnings from Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs.  The news helped ease fears about further trouble involving investment banks, following the collapse of smaller rivals Bear Stearns. 

Oil prices jumped, as the Fed cut interest rates.  Crude gained $3.74 in New York, closing at $109.42 a barrel. 

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

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

In the Democratic race for the presidential nomination this year, a new voting bloc is starting to have an impact: Republicans.  And now there are allegations that GOP voters are trying to create mischief.  It‘s quite a turn from a month ago, when most Republicans said they were voting in the Democratic primaries because they were inspired by Barack Obama. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has the news story. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Hello, Columbus. 

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In his campaign speeches, it‘s something Barack Obama talks about every day, Republicans voting in the Democratic primaries. 

OBAMA:  Whenever I shake hands with folks afterwards, they whisper to me.  They say, “Barack, I‘m a Republican.”

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: “But I support you.”

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  And I say, “Thank you.”

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: “Why are we whispering?” 

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  According to “The Boston Globe,” in the January and February Democratic primaries, Obama attracted, on average, 57 percent of self-identified Republicans, compared to about 25 percent for Hillary Clinton. 

But, this month, things changed.  And a lot of people are pointing to one man, Rush Limbaugh. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”) 

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I want Hillary to stay in this, Laura.  I—this is too good a soap opera.  We need Barack Obama bloodied up politically. 

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

SHUSTER:  At the time of Limbaugh‘s remarks, John McCain had practically wrapped up the Republican nomination, and Barack Obama had reeled off 11 straight Democratic victories. 

That‘s when the Clinton campaign launched its kitchen-sink strategy, and Limbaugh launched his vote-for-Hillary strategy. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”)

LIMBAUGH:  I want our party to win.  I want the Democrats to lose.  They‘re in the midst of tearing themselves apart right now.  It‘s fascinating to watch.

And it‘s all going to stop if Hillary loses.  So, yes, I‘m—I‘m

asking people to cross over, and if they can stomach it.  I know it‘s

a difficult thing to do, to vote for a Clinton.  But it will sustain this soap opera.  And it‘s something I think we need.  It would be fun, too. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Did it work?  In Texas and Ohio, Republican turnout in the Democratic primaries was more than twice the share of earlier primaries.  And, unlike earlier contests among Republicans, Clinton drew even with Obama. 

Approximately 119,000 Texas Republicans voted for her, in a state where Clinton‘s overall margin of victory over Obama was about 101,000.  In other words, Republicans helped turn a virtual draw into a slight Clinton victory. 

“The Boston Globe” quoted the Republican chairman of Madison County, Texas, John Taylor—quote—“Some people there that I recognized voting said they were going to do some damage if they could.”

The Republican chair in Montgomery County, Texas, Walter Wilkerson, also recognized Republicans voting in the Democratic race—quote—

“These people felt that Clinton would be maybe the easier opponent in the fall.”

A week ago, Republicans also turned out in big numbers in Mississippi.  Twelve percent of all the Democratic ballots were cast by Republicans, the highest percentage of any Democratic primary so far. 

OBAMA:  Thank you very much, everybody.  God bless you. 

SHUSTER:  While Obama won Mississippi in a landslide, Republicans favored Clinton 3-1, swelling her vote totals and costing Obama, according to analysts, a few delegates. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”)

LIMBAUGH:  I want the funeral music to play at some point for the Clintons, but not this early. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The next big Democratic primary in Pennsylvania is a closed contest, meaning registered Democrats only. 

But Republican tactical voting is still a potential factor in Indiana, Montana, and Puerto Rico.  And conservatives who identify themselves as independents can vote in North Carolina and West Virginia. 

(on camera):  That means, out of the nine remaining Democratic contests, conservatives could cause mischief in five of them.  The question is, will it make any difference or not? 

I‘m David Shuster, for HARDBALL, in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Mark Green is president of Air America Radio.  And Ed Schultz is a radio talk show host. 

Let me start with Ed Schultz. 

It seems to me that, as Al Franken used to say, Rush Limbaugh—well, he used to call him a big, fat idiot.  I don‘t think that‘s appropriate. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He seems like a slim customer right now.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s pulling a fast one on the Democrats. 

ED SCHULTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  He really is. 

You know, as a radio guy, it‘s a great promo.  If you get people talking about your show, mission accomplished.  And I‘m sure that the conservative talkers are having fun with it. 

But the reality of it is, these people are not going to be voting for Hillary Clinton if she makes it to the general.  And the fact is, is, it‘s somewhat disingenuous of the Clintons to run around saying that they are winning all the big states, as if they are the candidate to—to put forward up in the general, when the numbers aren‘t true.

This is jury-rigging on the part of the conservatives.  And I don‘t know if the Democrats are going to be able to slow this down.  They‘re—they‘re in a predicament with this. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Mark, what do you think?  Is this going to be the—the greatest example of political sabotage in history, that the Republicans can sneak into those Democratic voting booths and—and elect the candidate that they think is the easiest to beat?  They‘re not always right, by the way.  I know a lot of Democrats that rooted for Reagan to win the nomination, only to learn that he can beat any Democrat. 

MARK GREEN, AIR AMERICA RADIO PRESIDENT:  Rush is thin in weight, but he also thin in logic.  I think Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham are laughing to themselves how, when they say jump, some progressive pundits, gullible, say how high. 

First of all, voting is ingrained, sacrosanct habit.  It‘s very unlikely that many Republicans or Democrats will vote strategically in primaries they otherwise wouldn‘t vote in.  Second, this reminds me of why I like Pennsylvania and New York closed primaries.  Democrats should decide who the Democratic nominee, so no Republicans can game it. 

And, Chris, one last point; we rarely examine the motives of voters.  I mean, there may be some voters who are for Obama because they hate women, or for Hillary because they hate blacks.  And you can get people quoted as saying, oh, yes, that‘s what‘s really going on.  Allow me to quote—I looked at the articles which made these claims that some people may be voting for Hillary Clinton for this strategic woman. 

One woman in the “Cleveland Plain Dealer” said, oh, a 69-year-old Catholic nun, Sister Annmarie, said she converted to Clinton because of the former first lady‘s experience.  Second, a Brent Hensley (ph), a Republican, I think, in Texas said, oh, I‘m not buying into the Obama mania.  I think he‘s more fluff than substance.  Both are Republicans. 

So, if Republicans vote—excuse me—vote for Obama, when Hillary haters say, oh, they‘re for Obama because he‘s great, but when they‘re for Hillary, it‘s because they want her to lose, they are trying to have it both ways. 

MATTHEWS:  Mark, the problem you have is in the numbers, which is that, as David Shuster reported, the enormous number of Republicans who switched over and only after Rush Limbaugh began his effort here to try to get them to vote strategically.  Did they shift from voting—the ones who voted were inspired by Barack and were voting for him—all of a sudden after he said go vote for Hillary to screw the Democrats, they started to do that.

How do you explain that?  That‘s fact. 

GREEN:  First of all, it‘s a fact that those numbers voted for Hillary.  It‘s total conjecture, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Only after Limbaugh made his call. 

GREEN:  How about this, today “USA Today”/Gallup did a poll, Hillary Clinton is more ahead of McCain than Obama is.  Hillary Clinton has pulled ten points ahead of Obama, by the way. 

MATTHEWS:  What are you changing the subject for?  Are you jealous of Rush Limbaugh‘s ability to get his people to do what he wants them to do? 

GREEN:  Unfortunately, Chris, you, me and Ed don‘t have ditto heads.  We have thinking people.  I didn‘t change the subject.  You are saying that some Republicans—

MATTHEWS:  Do you deny the ditto heads, as they call themselves, voted strategically?  I‘m just asking you.  Tell me what your position is.  Do you deny what the Shuster package is about?  Do you deny that the numbers shifted dramatically for Hillary Clinton among Republican cross overs after Rush gave the call?  Do you deny that? 

GREEN:  Two points if you let me finish. 

MATTHEWS:  Just answer the questions before you do. 

GREEN:  One, I don‘t think it had any significant impact.  It was marginal.  And second, if you‘re going to argue that Hillary—some Republicans voted for Hillary because she‘s easier to beat, the polls I cited show some Republicans may think she‘s harder to beat. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sure, but they‘re not the ones who voted for her in the Democratic primary.  What do you think, Ed? 

SCHULTZ:  They‘re not going to vote for Hillary Clinton in the general.  There‘s way too much analysis going on here.  The people that listen to the right-wing talkers in this country are almost like sheep.  And also they want to see if it can make a difference!  These folks are not going to vote for Hillary Clinton in the general.  Her negatives are very high across the country. 

In fact, you can say they hate her so much, they‘re going to go vote for her.  That‘s what the funny part of this is.  And Limbaugh knows exactly what he‘s doing, and it‘s causing a problem for the Democrats.  I think someone ought to step out and at least acknowledge what‘s going on here in the Clinton campaign. 

GREEN:  Chris, may I acknowledge one thing?  Shuster‘s package was interesting.  He speculated.  Wayne Barrett in the “Village Voice,” who alone got, in a sense, Giuliani out of the race by his reporting, has a piece this week.  It‘s his thesis, Wayne Barrett, or Shuster, take your pick, that Republicans are salivating over the prospect of facing off over Obama in a national security election, and that‘s why conservative pundits are attacking Hillary Clinton. 

SCHULTZ:  No, Mark. 

GREEN:  That‘s another theory. 

SCHULTZ:  This is now about who the weaker candidate is.  They want this fight to continue on within the party.  They want the fight to continue on.  This is not about who‘s going to be easier to beat in the general.  As this fight continues between Obama and—

MATTHEWS:  Can I just bring up the number?  The number that survives this argument—the number that survives this argument, gentlemen, is what Shuster pointed out, that Hillary Clinton‘s margin of victory in the Texas Democratic primary was composed at least mathematically of Republicans who voted for her.  That‘s significant. 

We can analyze why they did it, but it is significant, as that demonstrated the margin of error.  Thank you, Mark Green. 

GREEN:  It‘s ridiculous, Chris.  You‘re assuming every Republican who voted for Hillary did it because Rush Limbaugh said what he did. 

MATTHEWS:  No.  I‘m simply saying that those who did—I‘m just saying that those who did constituted the margin of victory and that‘s a mathematical identity.  Thank you, Mark Green.  Thank you, Ed Schultz. 

SCHULTZ:  -- they‘re winning big states, they‘re not winning big states with core Democrats. 

GREEN:  Tell it to Ohio. 

SCHULTZ:  That‘s one state.  That‘s one state.  She did not win Texas. 

MATTHEWS:  Nothing makes me happier than this discussion.  Thank you, Ed Schultz. 

SCHULTZ:  You bet. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next, Barack Obama makes an unprecedented speech on race in this country.  But will it help him politically with the working Republicans?  Actually, I got confused.  We‘re talking about Republicans voting for Democrats.  It‘s working Democrats that will decide the Democratic primaries in states like Pennsylvania.  The politics fix, let‘s get to that next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Our round table tonight, Roger Simon of “Politico,” Ed Gordon, host of Black Enterprise‘s “Our World” and Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council.  Let‘s take a look at the bite from that big speech today by Barack Obama. 

He‘s talking about race. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she‘s playing the race card.  Or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.  We can do that.  But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election we‘ll be talking about some other distraction, and then another one, and then another one.  And nothing will change. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Ed Gordon, your thoughts on that very phrase. 

ED GORDON, HOST OF “OUR WORLD”:  Well, I think that he hit it on the head.  If we don‘t deal with race in this country, nothing will change.  And I think back to the O.J. Simpson debacle.  I think back to Trent Lott, Jena, Louisiana, all the opportunities this country has had to talk about race, and I thought we were going to in a substantive way and we have not.  So, it really is dependent not on this speech, because the speech was brilliant, but whether or not people are really willing now to talk about race in mixed company. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s—I like the way you said that.  Ken Blackwell? 

KEN BLACKWELL, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  I thought he did a good job of putting to rest the issue of whether or not he embraces the fiery, race-baiting rhetoric of Reverend Jeremiah Wright.  I am not sure, though, that he has done anything but slow the bleeding, because I think this is going to be a sore that his Democrat opponent is going to nibble at.  And I think it‘s going to be a legitimate issue, beyond the race question. 

The whole notion of liberation theology and what that means in terms of how he carries out his day-to-day responsibilities.  And I will tell you right now what it means, Chris, is that he‘s going to be a doctrinaire of a big-government liberal, and that is what is going to hurt him, I think, in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio in a general, if he is so lucky as to get the nomination, which I don‘t think he‘s going to get, because I think he has guaranteed now that he won‘t carry Pennsylvania, that Hillary Clinton can be on a path of winning the popular vote, and she can craft a strategy that will give her an opportunity to pick off the super delegates enough to carry the nomination. 

And I think the answer to Roger‘s question, that he did so brilliantly

asked so brilliantly in his article is that, yes, the Clintons will do anything to win, and they‘ll cross that bridge, Roger, when they get to it, as to whether or not it is going to ruin the—what they did will ruin the party forever. 

MATTHEWS:  Roger, let me ask you about how well that speech addressed a number of audiences.  One are working people who will vote in Pennsylvania and other primaries.  One are the sort of (INAUDIBLE), the big-picture people, the taste makers, if you will, who can decide whether he‘s facing a cataclysmic problem which will cost him the super delegates.  How well did he address both groups? 

ROGER SIMON, “THE POLITICO”:  Well, let me be the skunk at the garden party on this one.  So much praise has been lavished on this speech and I think it was a good and courageous and useful speech.  I think the speech had some problems.  One big problem was that Senator Obama now admits he was in church and heard Reverend Wright say some controversial, if not, deplorable things.  But Barack Obama never went to Reverend Wright and said, Reverend Wright, stop saying those things. 

This does not help race in America.  This exacerbates the racial divide in America.  So, we learn that Senator Obama did not make the speech to Reverend Wright that he made to us today, and it would have been useful if he had.  But, I will say that it was a courageous speech in that this speech did really not pander to white people that much.  I don‘t think this really helped him with white, working-class, ethnic voters in Pennsylvania. 

I think he wanted to open up, Senator Obama, I mean—wanted to open up a racial dialogue and he did so, and he should get credit for that.  However, when he compares the statements of reverend Wright to his grand mother, I was left saying—thinking, I‘ll bet his grand mother never said one race invented the HIV virus to destroy the other race.  I mean, you really can‘t compare the two.  Both examples—

MATTHEWS:  He did speak of ignorance in the black community, though, I heard that word, didn‘t you? 

GORDON:  Look, Chris, let me jump in here and ask this, though.  It is the prisms that we all look to.  For African-Americans when you think about Tuskegee and the idea that the government was giving syphilis to black men, to see, in fact, how it would react and would curtail what they thought to be problems within the community.  It isn‘t so far fetched.  There are a lot of African-Americans in the community that don‘t see that as far fetched as whites do. 

So, the idea of what Obama tried to do today is try to show both ends of the prism, and he uniquely sits in the middle, as you have so astutely put it throughout the show.  More specifically, the idea that African-Americans always have the feeling of needing to say, we‘re sorry for other African-Americans—I look at this network, for instance, there were plenty of people who went on Imus prior to the debacle with—with the Rutgers situation, and no one made them say you were sorry and repudiate. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you. 

Well, we‘ll be right back with Ed Rogers.  By the way, I‘ve never heard a speech so free of BS on race as the one I heard today from Barack Obama. 

We‘ll be right back with more about this from different opinions. 

More of HARDBALL coming back on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m going to be on Ellen DeGeneres‘ show tomorrow afternoon.  That‘s why I‘m out here in Los Angeles.  Check your local listings to see Ellen tomorrow. 

And tomorrow on HARDBALL, Bill Maher will be with us, one of our great and most popular guests.  Bill Maher is coming here tomorrow night. 

Right now we‘re back to the round table.  Did, Roger, Barack Obama help himself today, and then Ed and then Ken? 

SIMON:  I think he did help himself today, mainly by playing the redeemer role once again.  He said at the end of the speech, basically, a vote for him shows that there‘s racial healing in America.  This is exactly what drives Hillary Clinton nuts. 

GORDON:  I‘d agree. 

MATTHEWS:  Ed, does he help himself? 

GORDON:  I think so.  Perhaps not as—with the folks in the heartland who he really needed to.  But he didn‘t hurt himself, let‘s put it that way. 

MATTHEWS:  Ken, three seconds? 

BLACKWELL:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he help himself? 

BLACKWELL:  No.  He‘s still for partial-birth abortion and big government. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Roger.  Thank you, Ed.  Thank you, Ken. 

Right now it‘s time for the “RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE” with David Gregory.

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

END   

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