updated 3/21/2008 1:46:56 PM ET 2008-03-21T17:46:56

Guest: Clarence Page, Margaret Carlson, Jennifer Palmieri, Todd Harris,

Susan Eisenhower, Lincoln Chafee, Susan Page, E. Steven Collins

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Is the worst over for Obama, or is the fire still burning?

Let’s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I’m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Is it all over, or has it just begun?  Days after the frontrunner, Senator Barack Obama, gave his historic speech on race, we’re still trying to figure out what the voters think.  We’ve got some new polls that he may be in trouble still.  We’ll talk to two campaign watchers who have very different views on whether and how Obama can survive this mess.

Also, what happens when a candidate’s strength becomes a weakness?  Case in point, who says Hillary Clinton has lots of experience?  And just how good is Barack Obama’s judgment?  And how much does John McCain actually know about foreign policy?  This week, all three candidates have taken hits in areas they were supposed to be strong in.  More on this in a moment.

Plus, Republicans for Obama.  We’ll talk to two long-time Republicans who’ve come out in support of senator.  Let’s hear why.

And in case you missed my appearance on “Ellen” yesterday, it was so much unexpected fun that she had some more fun with it on her show today.  Let’s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST:  ... continues, and now I’m concerned, and then...

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

DEGENERES:  Oh!  My face—and then he is having the time of his life!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We’ll have more on dancing with DeGeneres later in the show.

We begin with the Democratic race and the fight for the nomination.  Margaret Carlson’s a columnist for Bloomberg and Clarence Page is a columnist for “The Chicago Tribune.”  I want you both to look at these numbers, the Gallup’s daily tracking polls.  Now, tracking polls are polls that are taken every day.  They’re not the greatest polls in the world, you know, because it’s usually a smaller sample, but every single day, so watch these numbers.

The daily tracking poll shows a 9-point swing for Senator Clinton in the last week.  That’s a swing up.  Obama was up 47 to 45 on Tuesday.  That’s March 11.  “Good Morning America’s” piece about Reverend Wright and what he had to say aired on Thursday, the 13th, a week ago today.  And that’s when Obama’s numbers went south.  By the time of Obama’s big speech two days ago, 49 to 40...

(SOUND DROP-OUT)

he attacked his problem when he was under attack.

CLARENCE PAGE, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Right.  He tried to shift the conversation, and I think he did.  Everyone agrees, remarkably, on the right and the left now that it was a great speech.  But still, the right is talking about Wright.  In other words, folks on the right wing are still raising the question about why was he with Wright for so long?  Why was he going to that church for so long?  And why didn’t he totally jettison Reverend Wright?

MATTHEWS:  OK, did anybody—did anybody focus on this with an open heart?  Look, people that want—Margaret, people that want this guy to make it, just in terms—not as a president yet, we’ll decide that in November, but make it in terms of a statement of possibilities in this country, a statement of perhaps getting along with each other, if you will.  They looked at that speech and said, yes, he’s talking to me.

The people that didn’t want to see this getting together, who are pretty darn conservative about this issue, maybe they’re just hopeless, they just don’t believe in it, didn’t like it.  I wonder if anybody went in this with an open heart, didn’t like the speech, and anybody went in with a closed heart was changed by it?  I wonder how much prejudice, mental prejudice, went into watching the speech.

MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG:  Well, it always does.  But if you went into it open-hearted, as you say, I think you would come out enlightened. 

I haven’t heard anything like it.  But looking at those polls, if what you

if what you know is those 30-second videos of Reverend Jeremiah Wright and then what you know is the sound bites after the speech that Senator Obama did not disown Jeremiah Wright, then it’s likely not to have moved you.

But if we stop long enough not to just talk about it as the sound bite

is he up, is he down, did he close it off, because that’s what we do in campaigns—I remember Clinton in New Hampshire shut down Gennifer Flowers.  It didn’t matter what came later, just shut it down.  He did not

Barack Obama didn’t shut it down.  It was almost too thoughtful a speech to shut it down.

PAGE:  And you can’t shut it down because we’re talking about race here, and you have to look upon that speech not as the end but as the beginning of a new conversation.  That’s what I meant about him shifting the conversation because he was going to—he wanted to talk about race at some point in the campaign, chose to do it at this point, and tried to get out in front of it.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

PAGE:  And I think that’s what was people thought inspirational about it because he showed, you know, how we are divided right now.  We’ve got anger on both sides and misunderstanding on both sides.  We’ve got to move beyond that now to common cause...

MATTHEWS:  We got...

PAGE:  ... common interests.

MATTHEWS:  I’m sorry, Clarence.  We got a new poll out that shows—

these polls were all taken, ladies and gentlemen, before this speech that

Barack gave, this big speech on Tuesday, but they do tell us how much

trouble he was in.  Here’s a new CBS poll that shows that independents,

which has been his happy hunting ground in terms of opportunity for voters

look, McCain’s now ahead of Obama, big shift.  McCain’s up 46-38.  He had been behind Obama among independents.

Now, here’s what I’m getting at.  Forget race for a second, if we can, in this country, to love of country and looking for other people who share that basic value.  It seems to me we’ve got to get to that question here.  If you listen, as you said, to Reverend Wright with his battle cry, “God damn America,” (INAUDIBLE) it’s hard to forget that line.  Maybe we shouldn’t forget a line like that, no matter what else he says.  Take it out of context?  OK, what the hell kind of context was that?  I hate America.

OK.  I once (INAUDIBLE) when I was a capitol cop in the old days many years ago, I worked with a lot of regular guys, cops, from West Virginia.  They came in from the country.  They were double-dippers.  They had been in the military, a lot of MPs, became capitol policeman.  And one guy I worked with was Leroy Taylor (ph), a real country boy.  And he once grabbed me because he was sort of teaching me the ways of the law enforcement business.  And he said to me, You know why the little man likes this country?  Because it’s (ph) always God (ph).  He doesn’t have a big house.  He doesn’t have some movie star wife.  He doesn’t have kids all in college. 

He’s just got his country.

It seems to me when I hear about these interviews with people in northeast Philly, where I grew up, these white guys, what they don’t like about this—it’s not they can’t get over the race thing, although it’s hard for some people to get over it, they don’t want to vote for a guy who hangs around with a guy who hates America.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK?  Is that it?  Am I cutting to the quick here?

CARLSON:  Yes.  I mean, a guy who knows a guy.  It’s, like, in the ‘70s...

MATTHEWS:  Well, is that a bigger issue than race, Margaret, dear?

CARLSON:  It—it—it...

MATTHEWS:  Is it?

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  You know, where I grew up, I lived next door to a cop, so they were never “pigs” to me, even though I was anti-war.  It was very hard...

MATTHEWS:  Was I pig to you, Margaret, when I was a cop?

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON:  So those things stay with you, where you come from.  But you can’t look at Barack Obama unless you have to wear everything on your sleeve in this country and say he doesn’t love it.  He came from nothing to something, and I think it’s like any immigrant and makes you love it more.

MATTHEWS:  I think that guy loves this country as well as anybody watching or me or anybody here because I think he’s trying to sell America.  I think he wants America to be America.

PAGE:  Well, give him a chance.  You know, that poll was taken between the 14th and the 17th—or 18th.  The 18th was when he gave the speech.  Let’s see what the numbers are afterwards.

I think he gave a very patriotic speech.  Not only that, I think he moved the conversation forward and treated Americans like grown-ups, which is always risky in a campaign.  You’re supposed to treat Americans like children.  You’re supposed to give them bumper stickers and little slogans and sound bites.  And he said, No, let’s really talk here.

And you know, it reminds me of the old—remember the old Adlai Stevenson story?  A woman said, Governor, all thinking Americans are voting for you, and he said, That’s not enough, madam, I need a majority.

(LAUGHTER)

PAGE:  That’s what I’m concerned about for Barack Obama’s sake, that, you know, he’s appealing to America’s better angels.  Will those angels respond?  That’s why I’m waiting for the next polls to come out.

MATTHEWS:  I am, too.  I am really waiting for (INAUDIBLE)

CARLSON:  And the downloads of the speech are almost as great as the downloads of Jeremiah Wright.  Now, that’s—that’s—that’s...

MATTHEWS:  Now, look, I think...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  ... potential for people to understand...

MATTHEWS:  ... it’s the best speech I ever heard in my life, and my job’s to keep asking questions.

PAGE:  Oh, we’re all asking questions, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the two crowds—let me ask you about the two crows, the regular person in northeast Philly who’s going to vote in the Democratic primary next year.  And a lot of them are Democrats, too, although a lot of them became Republicans, by the way, over city issues, but we know how that happens, race issues in a lot of cases, tax issues.  But let me ask you about the superdelegates.  We’ve got regular folk out there in Pennsylvania, where you and I come from, who have to decide on whether this guy is going to look out for their Social Security, this guy’s going to look out for their health care, maybe get their kid a job so he won’t leave the state, right, basics, survival issues.

Let’s talk about the intellectuals, the superdelegates, the guardian class, the ones above us all.

PAGE:  The elite.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, like Spitzer, those kind of guys.  They’re better than us.  OK...

CARLSON:  But they’re not all elites.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they’re governors, senators, U.S. congressmen...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And they’re top party officials.

CARLSON:  You have some normal people in here.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Are they going to say, Oh, I read “The New York Times’s” account of this.  I thought it was rather well done, blah, blah, blah?  Or will they go and say (INAUDIBLE)

CARLSON:  If they hear you imitate “The New York Times,” they might.  Listen, at the end of the process, it looks like Obama will be ahead in pledged delegates.  If the superdelegates or if the elites don’t think Senator Obama is going to beat McCain, they are going to find a way to nominate Clinton by—you know, by any means possible.  That’s what they do.

MATTHEWS:  Crash course in reality.  They will decide, and it won’t be prejudiced, it won’t be anything except cold calculation.

PAGE:  They’ve got to do two things...

CARLSON:  I think it will be cold calculation, yes.

PAGE:  They’ve got to do two things, though.  First of all, they’re going to choose one or the other, Clinton or Obama, and then they’ve got to make the other candidate and that candidate’s constituents happy.  Otherwise, you get that kind of scene like with Teddy Kennedy walking away from Jimmy Carter there in 1980...

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  ... or Gary Hart, Mondale in a...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  1968, 1980, same difference.

PAGE:  That’s right.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Margaret Carlson and Clarence Page. 

This is an important time in this country right now.  It is big time.

Coming up: Obama touts his judgment, McCain his foreign policy, and Clinton her experience in the White House.  Is any of it true?  This week, we’ve seen cracks in all three claims, all three sales pitches.  Let’s see if they’re for real.  We’re going to take a closer inspection of the presidential candidates and whether their self-described strong points are all that strong.

You’re watching HARDBALL—it really is hardball tonight, a tough time in the country’s history right now, we’re making decisions—only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  For months now, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain have been trying to get all of us—I mean all of us—to focus on their unique selling points, their unique strengths.  But each of the candidates’ selling points are not working out so well right now.  HARDBALL’s David Shuster has the expose.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I am thrilled to be here today.

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Hillary Clinton claims experience.  Barack Obama claims judgment.  And John McCain claims knowledge on foreign affairs.  But each of these claims are now getting ripped apart.  First, Senator Clinton.

CLINTON:  I believe that I am ready and prepared to lead on day one.

SHUSTER:  From day one, Clinton has argued her experience is based on meetings in 80 countries, but her visits overseas were mostly related to social duties as first lady.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FORMER CARTER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  She says she’s been to 80 countries on trips.  My travel agent has been to 150 countries on trips.

(LAUGHTER)

BRZEZINSKI:  That doesn’t make you qualified to be president.

SHUSTER:  Clinton has also spoken about White House experience, from crafting legislation like this.

CLINTON:  The family and medical leave act has helped so many millions of Americans.

SHUSTER:  But newly released Clinton White House documents offer no evidence Mrs. Clinton worked on the bill.  The schedules also reveal she was not involved in cabinet or national security meetings when her husband made major foreign policy decisions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It’s 3:00 AM and your children are safe and asleep.  Who do you want answering the phone?

SHUSTER:  And contrary to the image in this campaign ad, the documents offer no proof, as the Obama campaign notes, that Mrs. Clinton ever received a crucial foreign policy call at 3:00 in the morning or 3:00 in the afternoon.

With Obama, the fundamental issue has been judgment.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And I believe that I have shown better judgment than Senator Clinton!

SHUSTER:  Yet over the past week, Obama allowed the controversy over Pastor Jeremiah Wright to get ahead of him and threaten his campaign.  First, Obama denied ever hearing the controversial sermons.

OBAMA:  I did not hear such incendiary language myself personally, either in conversations with him or when I was in the pew.

SHUSTER:  Then Obama acknowledged he did hear controversial remarks, but said they need to be understood.

OBAMA:  Anger is real.  It is powerful.  And to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

SHUSTER:  By most accounts, it was an admirable speech.  The problem, say critics, is that complexity and intellectual reasoning run contrary to the gut emotions that propel voters.  And Obama’s judgment in this crisis may have hurt him.

As for John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee has touted his knowledge on foreign affairs.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have the vision and the knowledge and the background to take on the transcendent issue of 21st century, which is radical Islamic extremists.

SHUSTER:  But this week in the Middle East, McCain repeatedly blundered when talking about who Iran is helping in Iraq.

MCCAIN:  And al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran.

SHUSTER:  As Joe Lieberman knows, al Qaeda is Sunni, Iran is supporting insurgents who are Shiites.

MCCAIN:  I’m sorry.  The Iranians are training extremists, not al Qaeda.

SHUSTER:  The next day, however, McCain’s campaign issued a written statement conflating the Shiites and Sunnis yet again.

(on camera):  Nobody is saying John McCain doesn’t have foreign policy knowledge or that Barack Obama doesn’t have judgment or that Hillary Clinton doesn’t have experience.  But at the moment, each candidate does have a self-described strongest attribute that is proving to be weak.

I’m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Well, Jennifer Palmieri is at the Center for American Progress, and also, we’ve got a former campaign spokesman here for John McCain, Todd Harris.  Well, you two people have some insight into this.  Let’s talk about the hard facts here.  Senator Clinton has used as her—sort of her talking point, Ready to serve, ready to lead from day one.  If you look at these papers, they’re all being gone through by the paper readers, I’m not one of them...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You go through her schedule...

TODD HARRIS, FORMER MCCAIN SPOKESMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  We learned she read, “If you give a moose a muffin” to a bunch of kids.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I know she has to do a lot of ceremonial stuff as first lady.  Does it prove that she didn’t do anything of substance, Jennifer?

JENNIFER PALMIERI, CENTER FOR NATIONAL PROGRESS:  Those schedules—I mean, having—those are the schedules I used to receive when I worked in the White House.  If it’s Hillary Clinton doing anything interesting, it’s unlikely to appear on her public schedule.  So I don’t think that it’s giving you a real sense of what she did.

MATTHEWS:  Who is she, Mata Hari?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I mean (INAUDIBLE) she’s doing is intrigue behind the scenes?

PALMIERI:  The schedule’s only going to give you an outline of what public events she had for that day.  But they’re not going to tell you, obviously, what was said in these meetings or what meetings she happened to drop by or what she said.  I mean, I think it’s probably more what she was acquiring in the ether and what she went through personally.

MATTHEWS:  Osmosis as an experience.

PALMIERI:  Osmosis, but also I think people—I think people—why people think she’s ready to be commander-in-chief, which people seem to think, is because they think she’s battle-tested.  I don’t think that they think it’s because she...

MATTHEWS:  But not by this ceremonial workout for eight years, where, apparently, she did nothing but the usual work of a first lady, right?  I’m just going by the way it’s being reported.

HARRIS:  The only reason...

MATTHEWS:  It’s coming off as vacuous and ceremonial, rather than the substantive role of a co-president, which to a lot of people she appeared to be.

PALMIERI:  And she thought that...

HARRIS:  The only reason she’s gotten...

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  The only reason she’s gotten this far with the experience argument in the first place is because in a contest against Barack Obama, who has a sheer and utter lack of experience, she looks downright hefty in comparison to him.  Either one of them in the context of a general election against someone like John McCain, I don’t care what her first lady schedule says, not going to hold a lot of water.

MATTHEWS:  Every rich kid can list a number of countries he’s visited or she’s visited when they apply to college.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That’s what rich kids get to do.

PALMIERI:  That’s right.

MATTHEWS:  But regular kids don’t get to do it.  I don’t think I’d ever been past New Jersey, OK?  But the fact is, does—is it fair for Zbig Brzezinski, the foreign policy expert and father of Mika Brzezinski, on the “Morning Joe” show, to say, yes, she’s been to 80 countries, my travel agent’s been to 150.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That is a sarcastic whack at her.

PALMIERI:  Yes.  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Is it fair?

PALMIERI:  Yes, I think it—I think it is a fair line of argument to push, in terms of—to see—to say, OK, really, what was her...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, he’s dismissing her as a flight attendant, somebody who has just been around the world because that’s—that comes with the territory. 

PALMIERI:  Right.  I mean, I thought that was...

MATTHEWS:  It doesn’t suggest that you’re having negotiations with big-shot foreign leaders. 

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  That’s her schedule.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But everybody knows that, if you even go on a co-del, a congressional delegation, a lot of times, you’re exposed to a lot of experience.  I mean, you’re exposed to a lot of foreign leaders, the atmospherics of the meetings.  And you certainly talked to her husband, in her case, about what it was about.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You share with him his worries that night, I mean, just as a spouse. 

HARRIS:  But if you look very, very specifically at what she’s talking about in her campaign, her role, the Family and Medical Leave Act, passage of the legislation...

MATTHEWS:  That doesn’t show up in the paperwork.

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  Her role—the Northern Ireland peace process...

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  ... none of—there’s absolutely nothing in the schedule...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

HARRIS:  ... to suggest that she had anything to do with it. 

MATTHEWS:  Here’s one thing she didn’t want to have anything to do with it, NAFTA. 

HARRIS:  NAFTA.

PALMIERI:  NAFTA.

MATTHEWS:  And, apparently, she did have a role in selling it, after now saying she’s gainsaid it, she questioned the whole thing.

PALMIERI:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what—Jennifer, was she involved with selling NAFTA or not? 

PALMIERI:  Well, apparently, she had an event where she did.  And, so, I—and there were—and that was a big—you know, that was a big effort of the Clinton administration, to pass that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let’s go to—let’s go to Barack Obama, judgment.  He sat in the pews, same church, different pew, but he was in that church for 20 years, listening to this guy alternately give Christian sermons and alternately give liberation theology of a very radical sound to it, anti-American sound, to the many ears, certainly to the ear of those who would listen to these clips. 

Why didn’t he go to the minister some time after church some day and say, you know, Reverend Wright, I think you’re going too far with this; it’s just stirring up anger; it’s not serving a good? 

HARRIS:  Well, that’s a great...

MATTHEWS:  Why didn’t he ever do that?

HARRIS:  It’s a great question.  And there are a lot of Middle America voters who are probably going to be wondering that question for the next several months. 

Look, Chris, at the center of the Obama candidacy is this idea that words matter, that words are important, that a speech can change the world.  And, if that is the center of his campaign, the sort of unifying theme of that campaign, then, for him to sit and listen to words and speeches like that, and to not do something about it, I think it—it sends up a lot of red flags for people who were not already with him. 

I think people who were inclined to be him probably aren’t moved one way or the other.

MATTHEWS:  Jennifer? 

PALMIERI:  I think—I mean, I don’t think that, when you look back at this, people are going to say...

MATTHEWS:  Should he have spoken up after church one Sunday, so he can say, you know, one Sunday, I came out of there saying, that was too much fire and brimstone...

PALMIERI:  I—right.

MATTHEWS:  ... that was too anti-white; that was too anti-American?

PALMIERI:  Right.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  He never did it. 

PALMIERI:  ... I think it’s a legitimate question to ask him, why didn’t you do that? 

I mean, it may be because he doesn’t find it to be his spot—his place to—you know, to tell the pastor what to—what to do.  But I don’t think you can question, when you look back on the...

MATTHEWS:  Have you ever walked out of church and said—I don’t know what church you go to.  Have you ever walked out of church and said to the priest, I like what you said there?

I have done that. 

PALMIERI:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  I have never actually said, I didn’t like what you said. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You’re right.  That is harder to say than, that was a nice sermon, but... 

PALMIERI:  But I do think that he—I mean, he did—he did exhibit great judgment, I don’t think that anybody has argued with, in his—in the speech that he gave. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you get a sense Michelle is more in charge of picking the church in that family?  It’s an old—an old...

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI:  Well, as a wife myself...

MATTHEWS:  I wonder.  I’m just curious myself who makes these decisions.  In every family, one person makes the real decision.  The other goes sort of along with it.  You never know who was more enamored of that particularly more radical sound. 

PALMIERI:  That may or may not be...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about John McCain.  He’s an expert, but he can’t tell us who our enemy is over there.  He says we’re fighting the Iranians.  We’re fighting al Qaeda.  He thinks they’re both on the same team.  They’re not.  Why did he say that? 

HARRIS:  I don’t know why he said it.  He obviously slipped up.  But this whole—the whole tempest surrounding this is so stupid. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But isn’t it important to know who we’re fighting if guys are getting killed fighting them? 

HARRIS:  Of course John McCain... 

MATTHEWS:  Does he know who we’re fighting? 

HARRIS:  Of course he knows who we’re fighting.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Who does he say we’re fighting?

PALMIERI:  That is not the first time he did this.

HARRIS:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Does he say we’re fighting the Iranians or al Qaeda, the ones that attacked us on 9/11, or the ones that threaten that region? 

HARRIS:  Look, John McCain knows firsthand, especially because of his own sacrifice and the—own service to this nation, that, when you put people’s in harm’s way, he—look...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Jennifer, did it look good have Joe Lieberman be his lifeline...

PALMIERI:  That is bad, right?

MATTHEWS:  ... to have to whisper in his ear...

PALMIERI:  That is bad.  And...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... and tell him what the heck he’s supposed to be talking about?

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  It wasn’t a good moment, but I don’t think that anybody is going to look at that and say, you know what?  He’s not ready to be commander in chief.   

MATTHEWS:  Well, I know why he’s got Joe Lieberman with him.

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI:  I think they might.  I think they might.  I mean, he looked confused on the world stage, not as a leader on the world stage. 

MATTHEWS:  By the way, he put it out in a statement the next day, once again doing this thing that a lot of the hawks have done, is conflate al Qaeda with the situation in Iraq. 

PALMIERI:  Right. 

I think he screwed up and then decided, my way out of it is to conflate the two. 

MATTHEWS:  A bad week for all, big guy.  You know, you got to be good on your main selling point.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Be good at what you’re bragging... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Be good with what you’re bragging about.

Hillary, Obama, and McCain had a little weakness.  I think David Shuster’s piece was excellent. 

Anyway, Jennifer Palmieri and Todd Harris, please come back.  I like this—this situation here.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Up next: dancing with Ellen, another situation.  Boy, about

never go into a situation where you don’t know what’s going to happen. 

I had no idea what was going to happen here.  Ellen and I are still reverberating from this experience, as we can see in this comment she made today.  She showed the pictures.  Then she put it in slow-mo. 

It was a little bit different than I expected going on that show. 

Anyway, you’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Well, some of you know who have desktops nearby I was lucky enough to dance with Ellen on her show yesterday.  It caused such a stir that she talked about it again today, in fact, celebrated this odd moment in our relationship. 

Let’s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW”)

ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST, “THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW”:  All right, our next guest is never at a loss for words as host of the popular daily cable news show HARDBALL.

Please welcome Chris Matthews. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(MUSIC)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

DEGENERES:  All right.  We’re dancing.  I see him getting too close.  I put my hand out to—because I see he’s getting very close to that edge, and—and didn’t realize that he could—now, when I put my hand out, I’m really warning him.

He’s not a regular dancer, so he looks at that as, oh, I will grab your hand and dance with you. 

(LAUGHTER)

DEGENERES:  This is where things started to go wrong. 

(LAUGHTER)

DEGENERES:  This is the beginning of it right here. 

(LAUGHTER)

DEGENERES:  OK.  Continues.  And now I’m concerned.  And then...

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

DEGENERES:  Oh.  There’s my—my face.  And then...

(LAUGHTER)

DEGENERES:  ... he is having the time of his life. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

DEGENERES:  I don’t know why I don’t dance more often. 

(LAUGHTER)

DEGENERES:  And now I want you to see, from this point on, you think he would realize that he’s made a mistake. 

Let’s go slow-mo from here on out, and just tosses me aside. 

(LAUGHTER)

DEGENERES:  That’s—that’s all.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGENERES:  And, now, I’m a host.  I want him to feel comfortable.  And, so, I’m—I’m laughing, but I’m actually thinking, do I have my attorney’s number on speed dial?

Because the problem is, I dance every single day.  I’m not a really good dancer, but I like to dance.  And I don’t usually—you have to really know what you’re doing to have that kind of thing.  You have to coordinate.  You’re going this way.  I’m going this way.

And—and, also, when I do dance, I like to lead, and he...

(LAUGHTER)

DEGENERES:  ... doesn’t dance at all.  So, there was no—I had no idea what was going on. 

Now, so, this is—this is the problem with what happened yesterday.  But I looked back and I realize, I am to blame, because I assumed he was going to dance with me, because that’s what Andrea Mitchell said on the show. 

But let’s look at what he really said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS)

MATTHEWS:  I’m going to do “Ellen DeGeneres” tomorrow. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

DEGENERES:  That’s what he said, yes. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

DEGENERES:  Yes.

And he said, people will get a hoot. 

(LAUGHTER)

DEGENERES:  He was right. 

Andrea Mitchell and I just—we—we misinterpreted that.  We thought he wanted to dance.  He wanted to do Ellen DeGeneres. 

(LAUGHTER)

DEGENERES:  And—and I believe I have been done.  And...

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  My colleague Tucker Carlson, who will be on this show later, might have danced with the stars, but I got to dance with the biggest star. 

Up next:  Barack Obama likes to talk about Republicans who support him.  How many are there out there that really are out there to support Barack Obama?  When we return, we will talk to two top Republicans with very famous names, Eisenhower and Chafee.  Both support Obama for president.  They’re coming here to do it publicly. 

You’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks ended a volatile week with some big gains.  With the markets closed tomorrow for Good Friday, we closed out the week with a 261-point gain on the Dow, the S&P 500 up about 31 points.  And the Nasdaq saw a 48-point game from tech stocks. 

Overall, the market did get a boost from a better-than-expected reading on the manufacturing sector from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve.  There was also some optimism in the marketplace following an analyst upgrade of troubled mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Shares of both soared on the day. 

Meanwhile, though, commodity prices continued to fall.  Oil slid another 70 cents in New York’s trading session, closing at $101.84 a barrel.  Crude prices are down about 9 percent this week. 

And gold fell another $25, to $919.60 an ounce.  Gold hit a record $1,033 an ounce back on Monday. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  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?” 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Barack Obama frequently touts his support among crossover Republicans. 

Let’s turn to two longtime Republicans who are now openly supporting Obama.

Susan Eisenhower—there’s a famous name—she’s the granddaughter of Ike, Dwight Eisenhower, the man who received the Nazi surrender and led this country for eight years.  And she’s with the Eisenhower Institute.  And former Republican U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, from Rhody.  He’s an independent now.

I want to start with Susan.

What a famous name you have, Eisenhower.  I remember Democrats for Ike in ‘52 on my Maternity BVM bus going to school.  The Catholics started to move Democrat—Republican in those days for Ike.  Why are you a Republican backing a Democrat, Barack Obama? 

SUSAN EISENHOWER, CHAIRMAN, EISENHOWER INSTITUTE:  Well, I think he’s the best candidate of the ones that are still remaining in the race.  I think he’s a terrific guy.  And, most of all, I think he represents the future. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go to Senator Chafee. 

Why are you openly now endorsing a Democrat for president? 

LINCOLN CHAFEE ®, FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  Well, the war’s a big issue for me.  And I was there, of course, for the vote on the war against Iraq.  And it was built on such false premises.  And we needed leadership at that time, and both Senator Clinton and Senator McCain just didn’t step up and use the good judgment to shift through what was presented, which turned out to be false evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. 

So, for me, that’s the major issue in this decision. 

MATTHEWS:  What are you going to do, Senator, if Obama doesn’t quite make it, and Hillary Clinton wins?  Would you vote for McCain over Clinton?  Or how would you decide that one?  They were both for the war. 

CHAFEE:  That’s a good question.

MATTHEWS:  They both supported the vote.

CHAFEE:  That’s a good question.

I would probably write somebody in, to be honest.  It’s such a big issue for me, the—the costs—now we’re arguing about whether it’s $2 trillion or $4 trillion—and almost 4,000 dead, and the countless numbers of veterans that are going to come back needing care, both mental and physical.  And, so, it’s a big issue for me. 

MATTHEWS:  I’m with Susan.

You have obviously supported your grandpop, Ike.  And you have—we had Kennedy.  We had Reagan.  We have had some great presidents.  We had Roosevelt in both parties, great presidents. 

EISENHOWER:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Would Obama be a great president?  How would he fit into that continuum? 

EISENHOWER:  I think he certainly has the potential.  He has the potential to bring people together. 

I think he has inspired a whole generation of young people who were completely outside of the political scene.  And he’s already mobilized historic numbers of that age group.  And the—the issues that we’re facing are all future issues.  These are going to have direct impact on that generation. 

MATTHEWS:  Would your grandfather have been as up to date as you are on the ethnic issue of a black president?  Or is that a generational thing that you are new to, as most of us are?  Not new to it, but we grew up in an era where black rights were a reality, and black aspirations were not only legitimate, but appropriate, including the highest office.

EISENHOWER:  Well, this is a great country. 

I think the time has come.  We’re—we’re prepared to look at—at Barack Obama as a human being, as an American first, before he’s a Democrat or an African-American.  He’s also half-white.  He is, in a sense, all of us. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

EISENHOWER:  And I think it offers a real opportunity.

MATTHEWS:  There’s a lot of mixed-race people in this country. 

EISENHOWER:  Yes, indeed. 

MATTHEWS:  I mean, it’s a common experience, I think. 

But you’re right.  He exemplifies it. 

Let me go to Senator Chafee.

Are you taking heat from your Republican supporters for crossing the aisle, so to speak, all the way to Democrat, not just to independent, now? 

CHAFEE:  I argue back at them that I’m still a conservative and I think some of the issues that I care about, whether it’s personal liberties, as outlined in the Constitution, particularly in the Bill of Rights, that’s a conservative issue.  Balanced budgets, for me that’s a conservative issue.  And the environment, I think it makes sense from a conservative point of view to take care of our water and our air.  And of course foreign entanglements; how did we get in this expensive foreign entanglement?  That’s a conservative issue. 

So I argue back with my Republicans, I’m still a true conservative. 

Now it’s crossing, intersecting with a liberal candidate, Barack Obama. 

MATTHEWS:  If you’re a true conservative, I’m a true conservative, because I agree with you about the war.  I wonder how we did get involved in this mess.  What do you make of Dick Cheney, the vice president, the other day asked by Martha Raddatz about the fact the American people overwhelmingly think the war was a mistake and his answer was, so? 

CHAFEE:  That’s Vice President Dick Cheney.  He’s one of the most arrogant people I’ve ever come across.  From the very first time I met him, a breakfast right after the Supreme Court endorsed him, the Supreme Court back in December of 2000.  We had a lunch with him.  The moderate Republicans had a lunch with him.  It was a lunch.  And right then, he was a very, very arrogant man, and that was again manifested in that interview. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he didn’t have to run for office like other people do.  That’s one way.  He doesn’t have to deal with anybody politically, except the president.  Let me ask you about the troubling question of Reverend Jeremiah Wright.  When you heard those extracts beginning with ABC and Fox all began to play them last week, and then we played them, what did you make of them when you saw Reverend Wright railing against America, railing against whites, if you will? 

EISENHOWER:  I think you have to be very careful about guilt by association.  I can tell you this; Barack Obama is the only Democrat who’s going to be able to appeal to moderate Republicans and have any hope of bringing moderate Republicans to the Democratic side in November.  I think that Hillary Clinton will actually energize the Republican party and solidify the unity of the party in November. 

MATTHEWS:  So you think, as a support of Barack Obama, he’s a better bet to win than Hillary Clinton? 

EISENHOWER:  Oh, by far. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator Chafee, is that your assessment?  Just on pure political grounds, do you—Rhode Island is a hard reach for any Republican, but do you think Democrats would do as well with Barack as they would with Hillary. 

CHAFEE:  I think the key, and Susan alluded to it earlier, is the young people and what Senator has done with the young people, just energized them.  Right now I’m working at Brown University and the whole campus is to energized about the Obama candidacy.  And we see that across the country. 

It would be such a shame to kick the young vote in the shin, so to speak.  They’re very energized.  They care about politics, which is something very unique, as we know the past decade or so, the young people being so involved.  I think that’s a very important dynamic.  I don’t know where they’ll go if Senator Clinton gets the nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Professor Chafee of Brown University.  Anyway, thank you, congratulations on doing that for a great university.  My son went there.  Susan, thank you.  I’ve always loved Susan Eisenhower, a great tradition, a great public official right before us.  Maybe you’ll be working as secretary of whatever for this guy. 

Up next, McCain fumbles on foreign policy, Clinton’s papers reveal her service was mainly ceremonial as first lady, and Senator Obama’s judgment falters a tad after sitting in the pew and saying nothing over all those years.  Which story line is most damaging?  The politics fix is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and on our politics fix.  Tonight’s round table, MSNBC senior campaign correspondent Tucker Carlson, Susan Page of “USA Today,” and WRNB radio host E Steven Collins.  Gentleman and lady, we started the show tonight by going through the bad week for three candidates; Barack Obama’s problem with the Reverend Wright, Hillary Clinton’s apparent problem with the White House papers, which shows she was mainly ceremonial after losing that fight over health care, and of course John McCain apparently confusing or conflating or whatever who we’re fighting with over there in Iraq. 

I want to go to E. Steven first, the West Catholic guy here.  Thank you for joining us, sir.  I found out where you went to high school.  Now I know everything there is to know about you. 

E. STEVEN COLLINS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  And I know all about your affections for Lasalle High School, right around the corner from me. 

MATTHEWS:  Christian brothers, all.  Let me ask you this question; did John McCain boot it by not really being clear about who our guys and women are fighting and dying for to fight over there? 

COLLINS:  You know, Chris, it’s so interesting to me to see there stand there and have to have a United States senator in Lieberman remind him that it’s the Shiites and to just see him not know that at this critical stage in the campaign.  Because the whole Middle East trip was really about him showing to be presidential.  You look at that and you say, this looked great, and he doesn’t know what is essentially an important fact about that part of the Middle East. 

MATTHEWS:  You’re wincing? 

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC SENIOR CAMPAIGN CORRESPONDENT:  I’ve spent a lot of time with McCain talking about foreign policy.  I don’t agree with McCain’s foreign policy, by and large.  I don’t.  I think it’s utopian, but the guy knows a lot.  This is ridiculous.  He misspoke. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he do it on purpose?  Did he conflate on purpose like the terrorists with 9/11 and Iraq?  Did he purposely—

CARLSON:  No, no.  I actually don’t give McCain credit for that level of guile.  I don’t think that’s him. 

MATTHEWS:  So it’s a verbal error, that’s all? 

SUSAN PAGE, “THE USA TODAY”:  I think it’s a verbal error.  Most Americans can’t tell you the difference between Sunnis and Shiites either. 

MATTHEWS:  They’re not leading a campaign for war either. 

PAGE:  True.  But there’s no question he actually knows a lot about this area.  I think he—

MATTHEWS:  I don’t know how you can say that al Qaeda is being trained in Iran. 

COLLINS:  He made this mistake more than once.  I don’t know.  It’s like, first of all, fundamentally, I’m curious as to how he can be so sure that most of America wants us to remain for 10 or 20 or 100 years in Iraq, and run on that, and be so close to the Bush administration.  It’s amazing to me. 

MATTHEWS:  Let’s go to another territory, which a little bit earlier in the reporting on that, Hillary Clinton’s papers.  They were just released 24 hours ago.  People like Lisa Myers of NBC have been honing through those papers.  They apparently tell you what you’d expect.  There’s a schedule there, and she has a lot of first lady ceremonial responsibilities, things that had to do with just being there in a lot of cases.  Does it reveal a lack of substantiative experience? 

PAGE:  I don’t think it tells us much of anything.  As we were saying before the show, wait until the tax papers come out around April 15th

MATTHEWS:  Clinton’s going to release their family taxes. 

PAGE:  There might be something interesting there.  But I think our expectations for what a bunch of White House schedules were going to tell us should have been pretty low and those expectations were pretty much met. 

MATTHEWS:  Tucker?

CARLSON:  They are not her real schedule.  This is the public schedule.  You could this stuff by reading the clips.  You could go back through Nexus and get this.  For instance, as Mark Hozenbald (ph) discovered form “Newsweek,” if you go through—and the day in 1996 that she went to the Grand Jury.  It’s famous.  Everybody remembers it, all the cameras.  It says no public events. 

Plus, almost every page has redactions on it.  This isn’t the real stuff.  Let’s find out what her real experience was?  That’s a fair question. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you find it out. 

CARLSON:  When the Clinton Library and the National Archives releases her actual schedule, the real that tells you what she actually did.  I’d like to see that. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that coming out by the time that it will matter? 

CARLSON:  I don’t think so. 

MATTHEWS:  E. Steven, last question, and that revolves around the big story of the week, which is the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.  We’re looking at what are called tracking polls, which are the polls that you take every day.  They have a smaller sample, not quite as reliable, but they show that Barack Obama was really going into a fall, down pretty low.  He was well below Hillary Clinton in the match up going into that speech Tuesday.  Do you have any evidence to suggest he’s turned the situation around, he’s put out the fire? 

COLLINS:  Sure.  Look at the Youtube people who saw one million people tune in and watch the entire speech.  Look at what happened in “New York Times” today.  They said it was the most text information ever sent ever since they’ve been keeping score.  People are involved.  They’re engaged.  They care.  They’re interested.  And that speech was historic and monumental and everyone who saw it felt that he was best qualified to deal with a very, very, very difficult issue. 

I talked to Johnnie Dockerty (ph) today, a union leader here in Philadelphia who is very well known and is from the ward area of the city.  He talked about how people in that area who weren’t necessarily for Barack Obama had to, in their discussions at the barber shop, at Ninth Street market and so forth, the Redding Terminal, talking about this image, this vision, and how he took true lemons and made an incredible dinner for everyone to see on the issue of race in America. 

A very difficult topic, visionary, compassionate; he shared his true self with us, Chris, in terms of his grandmother, his African father.  And all of that very difficult, but very to the point.  And then the next day went out and made this important speech on Iraq.  I think—

MATTHEWS:  How about the judgment question, the judgment question.  I agree with everything, your sentiment—or my sentiments, but I just wonder, Susan, the judgment question.  Twenty years of sitting in the pew not once registering an objection to this anti-American, anti-white commentary coming from that guy.  At this point saying, I thought it was controversial. 

He talks about Hillary not voting against the war.  Why didn’t he raise his hand after that church experience and say, reverend, you’re going too far.  You’re stirring up trouble.

PAGE:  I think that’s a fair question he’s going to have to address.  He addressed in ways that didn’t seem entirely transparent when he first stalked about this at the end of last week.  Let’s see what happens.  In the Gallup tracking poll, he’s down five points to Hillary Clinton nationally.  The latest Pennsylvania poll comes out, shows her lead widening. 

What will working class whites, blue-collar workers—

MATTHEWS:  It’s 51-35 among likely voters. 

PAGE:  I think the jury is out.  I don’t think we know yet. 

MATTHEWS:  Look, it’s not working class whites who are e-mailing, texting back and forth Obama’s speech.  It was a speech written for intellectuals and they loved it. 

(CROSS TALK)

CARLSON:  I agree with that completely, and a lot of people were. 

They’re already voting for Barack Obama. 

COLLINS:  A lot of those people were undecided too. 

CARLSON:  We’ll see.  I bet you anything this hurts him.  Not answering the basic question, which was not where are we in American racial relations.  The basic question was what were you doing in that church all the time.  Why didn’t you say something.  He didn’t answer. 

MATTHEWS:  We’ll be right back with that though.  We’ll be back with Tucker and E. Steven and Susan.  You’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We’re back with our round table and the politics fix.  Talk about politics.  We’ve got some brand new numbers.  Take a look at this graph here.  It shows—a line graph and it’s going to show you that in the last day, that’s as of Wednesday, yesterday, when they took the poll, that it’s closing—see that number, that green and white line are closing. 

That means that after the speech, there was some pickup for Barack.  He’s begun to close what was opening up there.  He’s catching back up to Hillary again where he was losing to her.  Your thoughts? 

CARLSON:  That trend may continue.  I just—I really—and I say this as someone who’s very sympathetic to Barack Obama, from the outside looking in.  I think this guy’s not a hater.  He’s a decent man.  He’s got some interesting ideas.  I was rattled by the Wright stuff.  I was rattled by his failure to answer the basic question in that speech.  We’ll know in the next week.  I would be shocked if there wasn’t negative fallout from that speech. 

MATTHEWS:  E. Steven, let’s talk about guys not far from you up in northeast Philly.  I hear there were some interviews with those guys who took great offense at Reverend Wright’s comments about America. 

COLLINS:  I think there are people who in northeast Philly and throughout America who are going to take offense.  But you’ve got to recognize, this was for him that red phone 3:00 a.m. call.  He stood up.  He stood up for America.  He said, both sides of him, his white mother and so forth, his black father, put it in perspective.  As it plays out, you all know that in a few weeks and months, as this plays out in America intellectually, digests everything he said, his stock will continue to rise, because this has got to be one of the hardest issues for any presidential candidate to take on, and look how well he did.  It was amazing. 

All of us were affected and touched by this, as we’ve been with so much of what he’s done.  I just want to get one other quick question out here.  Where is Hillary Clinton and John McCain on the issue of race, the serious issue of race?  How is it that they are not called to question to tackle a very difficult issue? 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go to Susan.  Is she going to have to answer this?  She said she didn’t see the speech the other day.  Is she going to have to respond to this whole dialogue? 

PAGE:  She can’t give the kind of speech that Barack Obama gave.  He’s uniquely qualified to give a speech like that, from both a black and white perspective, and it was a powerful speech.  And Roy Roemer, the former Democratic chairman and governor of Colorado, who is an uncommitted super delegate said this morning that that was a really powerful speech and he laid out then Obama’s case. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Tucker Carlson, Susan Page and E.  Steven Collins, a great group tonight.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it’s time for the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE with David Gregory.

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