updated 3/26/2008 11:18:25 AM ET 2008-03-26T15:18:25

Guests: Rep. Joe Sestak, Rep. Adam Smith, Todd Harris, Jennifer Palmieri, Bruce Raynor, Michael Goodwin, Perry Bacon, Roger Simon, Margaret Carlson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  How could Senator Clinton, who didn‘t see the war coming in Iraq, have such a clear memory of a war experience in Bosnia that never happened?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  As one columnist put it this morning, the door is closing on Clinton‘s campaign.  But the end is not near, not near because Senator Clinton seems determined to stay in the race, even if that hurts the Democrats‘ chances of retaking the White House in November.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton continues to be pounded for embellishing a story about her landing in Bosnia back in 1996.  As you can see, she was hardly, as she claimed, running head down to avoid sniper fire.  Was Hillary caught in the act or simply misspeaking, as her campaign now claims, or worse, much worse?  How serious a problem is this for the campaign?  More on this in a moment.

Also, is John McCain getting a free ride because of the intense spotlight on the Obama-Clinton campaign?  Could his misstatement about al Qaeda and Iran or his continued support for an unpopular war be getting more play if the Democrats weren‘t tearing each other apart?  More on the McCain campaign later.

And on tonight‘s “Politics Fix,” with Senator Clinton apparently in the race. no matter what happens, we‘re going to handicap all the remaining primaries and caucuses and show you what the strategies of Obama and Clinton are at this point.

And then there‘s this.  Yes, “Obama Girl” is back, and this time she‘s got a new star in her video.  Who is it?  Catch you later with that one.

But we begin with: Do desperate times call for desperate measures in the Clinton campaign?  Congressman Joe Sestak‘s a Pennsylvania Democrat who supports Hillary Clinton for president.  Congressman Adam Smith is a Washington state Democrat who‘s for Barack Obama for president.

Admiral, Congressman Sestak, let me ask you this.  What do you make of Hillary Clinton‘s claim, now abated, that she was involved in enemy fire back in ‘96?  Let‘s take a look at the claim she made about having been in hostile action back in the days of Bosnia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I

remember landing under sniper fire.  There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that was her memory before.  Here‘s Senator Clinton talking on KDKA radio out in Pittsburgh today.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CLINTON:  You know, I have written about this and described it in many different settings.  And I did misspeak the other day.  You know, this has been a very long campaign, so occasionally—you know, I am a human being like everybody else.  The military took great care of us.  You know, they were worried about, you know, taking a first lady to a war zone and took some extra precautions and worried about all kinds of things.  But I‘ve written about it in my book and I‘ve talked about it on many other occasions.  And last week, you know, for the first time in 12 or so years, I misspoke.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, perhaps it wasn‘t the only time she misspoke in this regard in terms of embellishing, or in fact, fabricating an event that didn‘t happen.  Here‘s Senator Clinton on February 29 of this year in Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  One of the great honors of being first lady and of being a senator is the time that I was privileged to spend with our troops.  Here at home, in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Bosnia and Kosovo and places around the world.  I remember particularly a trip to Bosnia, where the welcoming ceremony had to be moved inside because of sniper fire.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And here‘s Senator Clinton on the Bosnia issue late today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I made a mistake.  And you know, I had a different memory, and you know, my staff and others have, you know, all kind of come together, trying to sort out—so I made a mistake.  That happens.  It proves I‘m human, which you know, for some people is a revelation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ll see about that.  Let‘s go to Congressman Sestak.  Congressman, it seems to me all of us have memories that fail occasionally.  We forget things that happen, but we rarely, I think, remember something that didn‘t happen.  In fact, coming in under enemy fire, ducking and covering because you‘re under sniper attack is an event one either recalls correctly or imagines.  How do you explain that Hillary Clinton imagined that incident?

REP. JOE SESTAK (D-PA), CLINTON SUPPORTER:  Well, Chris, you‘re a student of history.  You remember when Teddy Roosevelt was running for president.  He claimed he led the charge up San Juan Hill with the Rough Riders.  Actually, he didn‘t.  He went up Keaton (ph) Hill.  And it turned out to be that was not true.  You remember...

MATTHEWS:  But he, in fact, faced enemy fire, and in fact, I read all about it, Admiral, and you did, too.  He actually was in a firefight.  Was Hillary Clinton ever under enemy fire?  Did she ever duck and cover because of sniper fire ever in her life?  That‘s the question.

SESTAK:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Not where it happened.

SESTAK:  No, and that‘s what‘s great about her.  She said, Hey, I misspoke.  I was mistaken.  But let‘s take all the incidences because the important issue here, Chris, is the whole cloth (ph) of the woman.  You had Franklin Roosevelt, who when he ran for vice president, actually claimed he was a Latin American expert, and here he was, saying he wrote the constitution for Haiti.  Or John F. Kennedy—he claimed that there was a missile gap, and he had Addison‘s disease.  The point is this, Chris.  Would we have wanted them as president?  You bet we would have.  And so you look at...

MATTHEWS:  Why are you defending...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Admiral, you amaze me!  You are a loyalist!  What are you actually defending here?

SESTAK:  Well, let me tell you...

MATTHEWS:  Are you defending lying?  Is that what you‘re defending, or what are defending?  Tell me what you consider fair ball in the game, if you will, of getting elected president.  How big a fish can you claim to have caught, if you caught none?  That‘s all I‘m asking.

SESTAK:  Well, Chris, you know, I went to the Naval Academy.  There was an honor code there, but very few people read that honor code.  That honor code says, Hey, you won‘t lie, steal or cheat.  But it also says if you see someone who does, you don‘t, then report them.  You have a choice.  You report them or you counsel them because we recognize that we‘re humans.  Whether it‘s Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy or Hillary Clinton or Senator Obama, we all have our faults.  The question is this.  Who‘s ready on day one because of what she learned in Bosnia...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

SESTAK:  ... in order to lead this nation??

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go to...

SESTAK:  That‘s the key question.

MATTHEWS:  ... Congressman Smith.  Your thoughts, Congressman Smith, about this?  And I don‘t know what the word misspeaking—we use words in politics like mistakes were made, I mean, the strangest lingo, we—as if, you know, I meant to do this, but I did something totally different.  And in fact, they just said something that didn‘t happen, and we have to deal with it.

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA), OBAMA SUPPORTER:  Well, whatever Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt‘s strengths and weaknesses are, I think we can all agree that dishonesty is not something we‘re looking for in a presidential candidate.  And I think there is a troubling pattern here.

And this gets back to the whole message that Senator Obama has been running on from the start, that we need to fundamentally change the way we do business in Washington, D.C.  We need someone who has a different approach, who doesn‘t go, you know, and spin everything to absurd levels, as Senator Clinton seems to do and as her campaign seems to do, who‘s going to focus honestly on issues when they come up.

And I think this is a great opportunity for Senator Obama to once again point out he‘s going to bring about that change.  He‘s going to approach politics and issues honestly, not constantly try to spin them in a way that makes them unrecognizable from the truth.  And I think this is also important on the experience issue.  And Congressman Sestak made the point.  She‘s ready on day one.  Based on what, exactly?  The experience has been greatly exaggerated.

And throughout this campaign and throughout Senator Obama‘s career...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SMITH:  ... what we‘ve seen from him is judgment, good judgment in difficult times as he stepped up and addressed the issue of race relations honestly and openly.  That‘s the type of leadership you need to be ready to face a crisis on day one.  Dishonesty isn‘t going to get you there.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look here at what senator—former president Clinton said on Friday about Hillary Clinton and about McCain facing off in November.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think it would be a great thing if we had an election where you had two people who love this country and were devoted to the interests of the country, and people could actually ask themselves, Who‘s right on these issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Admiral and Congressman Sestak, you know, President Clinton doing the job he has to of selling the possible future success of his wife as a presidential candidate in November, glosses over the fact that the Republicans are not going to treat this well.  Imagine, given what they did to John Kerry last time, when he was fighting for our country over in Vietnam, going after whether he deserved a particular medal or not—what they would do with Hillary Clinton claiming to have been in a battle zone or not.  What will they do, the Swift Boater types, the 527 companies, organizations—what will they do, Congressman...

SESTAK:  Yes.  You know...

MATTHEWS:  ... with Hillary?

SESTAK:  You know...

MATTHEWS:  They‘ll destroy her with this, won‘t they?

SESTAK:  But no—but that‘s—you point out the strength of Senator Clinton.  This is—she has been in the game with her skin (ph) 15 long years.  She‘s been out there.  There‘s—everything has been exposed about her.  She...

MATTHEWS:  Well, not this.  We just learned this baby.

SMITH:  Right~!

(LAUGHTER)

SESTAK:  She is truly different...

MATTHEWS:  This is new stuff.

SESTAK:  Yes, but—no, let‘s step back.  You know, if you noticed, what I talk about is not Senator Obama, who I think is a fine candidate.  It‘s the strength of Senator Clinton.  Whenever (ph) people get on, it‘s not the critic that matters.  It‘s not that person who points out that the strong man stumbles, as...

MATTHEWS:  Right.  I know.

(CROSSTALK)

SESTAK:  What it is important here is you‘ve got someone who has persevered and does have experience.  Look what she learned from Bosnia.  She learned from Bosnia that we went into that country with over 50 percent of our troops non-U.S. and that we went into Iraq with less than 7 percent non-U.S.  She watched Ireland.  She saw that only when peace was done by Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams at the top politically did military security ensue.  That‘s why she has pointed out, because if she‘s seen it from the Senate Armed Services Committee, where she‘s the only senator ever to be asked by the U.S. military to be on a task force for transforming the military.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask the Congressman Adams (SIC) to respond to that (INAUDIBLE) Congressman Smith.  What do you make of this story about Senator Clinton?  It just seems to me, in all fairness, that if Barack Obama had been caught with a fish story like this...

SMITH:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... at this point in the campaign, people like Howard Wolfson, rightly, Hillary Clinton‘s people, her press people, would have been destroying the guy this week.  It would have been a hullabaloo like you‘ve never seen.  It would be like when Gerry Ford saying that Poland was free during the cold war!

SMITH:  Correct.

MATTHEWS:  They would have lacerated the guy over this issue!  And now Congressman Sestak is playing defense as best you could, but it just seems to me, in all fairness, that the Obama campaign would be dead in the water right now if he were caught with such a fish story.

SMITH:  And if I could drag Senator McCain into this—what if Senator Obama had had, you know, said that al Qaeda and Iran were allies?  I mean, that story has been blown over, too.  The same thing would have happened.  I think the point here—first of all, to, you know, make President Clinton feel better, whether Senator Obama or Senator Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, we‘re going to have a candidate who loves this country.  We‘re going to have a candidate who believes in America and believes in making it better.

The choice that we see in Senator Obama‘s camp is having a candidate who isn‘t simply going to be business as usual.  Those 15 long years that Congressman Sestak referenced to have seemed to have taught Senator Clinton some bad lessons about how to communicate with people and how to address issues.  We need to move past that partisan divide, that constant spin, that constant attack politics, to focus on the issues, which is what Senator Obama‘s been doing.  He gives us a chance at the change we so desperately need in this country.

SESTAK:  But if that‘s true, Adam, then why attack her?  If you‘re against the policies of attack—see, this is my issue.

SMITH:  Oh, no, no, no.  But Joe, that‘s not what I said.

SESTAK:  We need to come together...

SMITH:  That‘s not what I said.

SESTAK:  ... and make sure that we push the strong points of our candidates, and that is truly what I think this electorate wants, a change in the tone.

SMITH:  And it certainly...

(CROSSTALK)

SESTAK:  ... when either side has made a mistake here, we have to move on beyond that and not let the staffs and the supporters bibble (ph) back and forth across...

SMITH:  Well, I mean, that...

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH:  That‘s going to happen.  And Joe, new politics isn‘t about never saying negative about your opponent.  We‘re going to have to say some things negative about John McCain in this election.  And that‘s OK.  But the question is, does it focus on policy, on substantive issues, or does it focus on minutia?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask Congressman...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Sestak, do you take Senator Clinton at her word?

SESTAK:  Yes, I do.  I‘ve known her in the White House...

MATTHEWS:  Even in this case?  Even in this case?

SESTAK:  Yes.  Without—yes.  She said she misspoke.  She said, I erred.  I take her completely at her word.  How few individuals do that immediately?  And so, yes, I do take her for that.  And let‘s move on.

Is she best for this country because of what I saw her do in the White House?  Was she there met (ph) with individuals who were concerned about Agent Orange for our vets in Vietnam...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

SESTAK:  ... and helped establish a women‘s veterans‘ memorial in Arlington Cemetery with nothing told to the public about that?  That‘s why I‘m for this senator.  I know that she cares deeply and can bring about the change.  She‘s tried it from health care to other things.  She is about change.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘re out of time.  Thank you, gentlemen, both.  Thank you very much.

SESTAK:  Thank you.

SMITH:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I have great respect for both of you.  Thank you, Congressmen Joe Sestak and U.S. Congressman Adam Smith.

Coming up: As Clinton and Obama duke it out for the nomination, is John McCain getting off pretty—well, he‘s getting off scot-free in terms of press coverage and public attention in terms of the issues he‘s taken and the statements he‘s made about al Qaeda and Iran working together.  That‘s a surprising development.  Is he getting a free ride?  We‘ll talk about that when we come back.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  As Senator Clinton and Senator Obama continue to fight to the finish, it looks like, is Senator McCain getting a free ride out there?  Democratic strategist Jennifer Palmieri is with the Center for American Progress.  I love the names of these groups.  How can you be against the Center for American Progress?

JENNIFER PALMIERI, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  Exactly!

MATTHEWS:  And Republican strategist Todd Harris is a former McCain spokesman.  (INAUDIBLE) former McCain spokesman.

TODD HARRIS, FORMER MCCAIN SPOKESMAN:  I‘m against progress, by the way.

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me that your guy...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... used to be your guy—is he still your guy, McCain?

HARRIS:  Oh, I love him.  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  How‘s he get—he seems to be just—I‘ve looked at the numbers.  He‘s gone up 11 points since while everybody‘s watching this firefight between Hillary and Obama.  He‘s 67 percent positive now in the country, with the incumbent president—the economy is in the tank, or close to it, the war is vastly unpopular, people don‘t get things done like health care, and yet here he is, riding high as if everything‘s fine because of what?  Why is he doing so well?

HARRIS:  Well, I‘d say two reasons.  Number one, he‘s able to focus on a general election campaign message right now.

MATTHEWS:  Which is?

HARRIS:  Which is...

PALMIERI:  Yes, what is that?

MATTHEWS:  Keep the war going?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  ... keep the country safe, keep taxes low and rein in spending.  And he‘s willing to point the fingers at Republicans who have not been willing to rein in spending.

Take a look at what happened today.  Nancy Reagan endorses John McCain, the Republican Party coming around John McCain.  Look at the Democratic side.  They‘re calling each other Judas, McCarthyites.  You‘ve got a big Obama supporter in Iowa...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HARRIS:  ... who‘s bringing up Monica Lewinsky.  This is why—this is why John McCain is doing as well as he‘s doing right now.  Look at today.  He gave a big speech on the housing crisis, the mortgage crisis.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HARRIS:  What‘s more important, though, Chris?  Where he gave the speech.  He was in California.  He‘s expanding his base right now.  He‘s reaching out to voters who are not...

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI:  ... where he said that—he said that he would look at proposals to fix the housing crisis and said that he didn‘t think that we should help homeowners.  I mean, I think he‘s definitely getting a pass.  And I mean, partly reporters are giving it to him.  I mean, there is—if you actually look at his policies, he‘s in some ways more conservative than...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about the good news today.  Mrs. Reagan—I had dinner with her last week when I went out there to do “Ellen.”  I love Nancy Reagan.  We have a great time together.  And I did keep the secret, Nancy, the whole week that you were going to announce for McCain.  I kept it to myself.

It seems to me that that does sort of put the final mantle on the guy.  He is now the Reaganite.  He‘s now the Ronald Reagan perhaps successor.  I think Nancy Reagan wouldn‘t have done this if she didn‘t have it in her full heart to do it.

HARRIS:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  She doesn‘t have to endorse anybody.

HARRIS:  That‘s right, and as you...

MATTHEWS:  She likes him.  She believes in him.  And she believes he‘s a proper legatee of the Reagan legacy.  This is good stuff for him.  This is not to be taken lightly.

HARRIS:  No.  John McCain‘s got the Ronald Reagan seal of approval on him right now.  He‘s going to use that...

MATTHEWS:  Imprimatur, as we say (INAUDIBLE)

HARRIS:  Exactly.  He‘s going to use that...

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI:  ... withhold that from?

HARRIS:  She typically waits until the convention or after to have any public appearances with our candidates.  This is March.  She‘s behind John McCain. 

PALMIERI:  I don‘t think we‘re going to look back on this day and say, this is the day that John McCain...

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  No, but we will look back at this...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you something, Jennifer.  Let me tell you something.  She likes John McCain. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This is not just dutiful.  This is real.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this question.  We will now turn the tables here.  McCain supports a war which is increasingly unpopular. 

He supports an economic which we don‘t know what holds for us.  And we‘re all a little nervous every time we watch the stock reports. 

PALMIERI:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  We don‘t know. 

PALMIERI:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  How can he still be even-steven with the Democratic candidates, both Barack and Hillary Clinton, right now...

PALMIERI:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... in the numbers?  Why is he even? 

PALMIERI:  I do think that he hasn‘t gotten enough—I think that he

hasn‘t gotten enough scrutiny on—particularly on his policies.  He has -

in addition to Bush‘s tax cuts, he‘s for $200 billion more in corporate tax cuts.  I don‘t imagine that‘s going to be wildly popular.

MATTHEWS:  But people know this.

PALMIERI:  So, people don‘t—people don‘t know this yet.

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI:  And I think that...

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI:  And that is—I mean, the press...

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  John McCain is the most vetted...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, they know he‘s in bed with President Bush on tax cuts. 

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t they know that he‘s for the continuation of the tax cuts? 

PALMIERI:  But do they know that he‘s for $200 billion in more corporate tax cuts? 

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI:  It‘s things like that they don‘t know.  They don‘t know that his health care plan would dismantle the employer-based system.

(CROSSTALK)

PALMIERI:  I think that, when they find that out, they‘re going to see, well, that‘s really radical.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s switch over to the Democrats for a second here.

It seems to me the Democrats are really tearing at each other. 

HARRIS:  Yes.  It‘s bloodletting.

MATTHEWS:  And I for one, based upon friends and family, by the way, especially family in Pennsylvania, I hear what‘s developing is what I will now call a phrase you will hear again.  Ready?  Revenge voting.

Because Obama and Hillary are so at each other‘s throats right now, their supporters are getting so enraged at the other Democrat, that they‘re getting ready to vote for McCain. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m hearing this anecdotally.  I think it‘s a problem. 

HARRIS:  It‘s not just anecdotal, Chris.  There‘s a new...

MATTHEWS:  They‘re so mad.

HARRIS:  There‘s a new WGAL poll just out yesterday, statewide poll...

MATTHEWS:  Which state is that from?

HARRIS:  Pennsylvania.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HARRIS:  Statewide poll in Pennsylvania that shows 20 percent of Democrats polled say, if their candidate doesn‘t win the Democratic nomination, they‘re voting for John McCain. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s bad news... 

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  This fighting hurts Democrats.  It‘s good for Republicans. 

And it‘s about time we caught a break, by the way. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You are chuckling like a jack-o‘-lantern.

HARRIS:  We have had a rough six months.

PALMIERI:  I would rather be laughing in October than in March.  So, I will give Todd his...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, what is Senator Clinton going to do?  Is she continue to cut the baby in half?  I mean, it‘s not like it‘s her job to quit or our job to tell her to. 

PALMIERI:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  But, as long as these two fight like this and tear at each other‘s reputation—and hers isn‘t doing too well tonight, having apparently remembered something that didn‘t happen in wartime, which gets you in big trouble in this history of our country.  Don‘t ever claim battle experience you didn‘t have. 

PALMIERI:  Are you evoking Swift Boat?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m saying that your crowd will spend a lot of money this fall, if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, killing her over having fabricated a moment of courage that didn‘t happen. 

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  We don‘t need to.  CBS News did it for us.  They‘re the ones who released the video.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Look at this laughing.  This is what you have got here, this jack-o‘-lantern of happiness.  You are so happy.

HARRIS:  Look, I‘m a Republican.  We haven‘t had many good days in a long time. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You are unbelievable. 

HARRIS:  This is one of them.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, in fairness to Senator Clinton, if I—I was supposed to go on a USO tour about a year ago.  And I got sick.

I will tell you, just thinking about going over there, in that war zone, just thinking about corkscrew landings, just thinking about the chance of being shot out of the sky causes you to get a little guts to go in there. 

HARRIS:  There‘s no question about it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And Senator Clinton deserves guts for going into a war zone period...

HARRIS:  She absolutely...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... because the way these IEDs are going off, and the way the shelling goes, and all kinds of things—maybe not shelling or mortar fire, but unexpected events occur as you just take a ride down the road, it takes guts to go in there. 

HARRIS:  Look, going into Bosnia in the middle of the a takes cojones. 

So, you know, why do you need to inflate what you did? 

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t make sexist comments on this show.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Jennifer Palmieri and Todd Harris.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Just kidding.

Up next: one proof that Pennsylvanians—that the key to the whole Democratic race is Pennsylvania?  We have got the “Big Number” for you.  It will explain a lot. 

Plus, Obama Girl is back.  And, this time, she‘s got me in the picture. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is new out there in politics? 

Well, Obama Girl is back, and, this time, she‘s managed to get me in the picture.  Take a look at this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  I read “The Washington Post,” but every page, I see your face.  The headlines in the daily (INAUDIBLE) say that you have crept into the race.  And though Obama is going to win it, you‘re sort of kind of staying in it.  And, sometimes, in this campaign, you have got a crush on John McCain. 

Can‘t you see it‘s hopeless?

Everyone has got a crush.  Chris Matthews has got a crush.  Bill Richardson has got a crush, even George Clooney.  And he‘s so sexy as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I want my royalties. 

Anyway, first, Zell Miller threatens me with a duel.  Then Ellen DeGeneres falls in my arms on the dance floor.  Now Obama Girl includes me in her video. 

What a life. 

Now to some New York politics.  Former Governor—actually current Governor Paterson, how about let‘s go to don‘t ask, don‘t tell, Governor?  What do you think?  Too much information already.  Just stop talking. 

Reporters, just stop asking this guy questions.  First, he‘s admitting to affairs back when his marriage was rocky.  Now catch this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  Have you ever of used any illegal drugs, Governor Paterson? 

GOV. DAVID PATERSON (D), NEW YORK:  Actually, Dominick (ph), I was in the audience and was asked the same question on camera after the interview, and I answered in the affirmative. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You have? 

PATERSON:  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Marijuana? 

PATERSON:  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Cocaine? 

PATERSON:  Yes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Nobody will ever accuse this guy of being a hypocrite. 

Most people put pictures of their wife and kids, sometimes even their dog on the campaign selling pieces. This guy is working the other side of the street, selling the fact that he‘s been out there as much as anybody.

Speaking of the (SPEAKING FRENCH) French President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s

new wife, Carla Bruni, is making some news today.  A nude portrait of the

former model will be sold at Christie‘s auction house next month.  A

representative of Christie‘s calls the photograph—quote—I love this -

“a work of art, a tasteful nude portrait executed by a well-known, respectable artist.”  (SPEAKING FRENCH)

And now it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number.”  It seems that, every day, more and more voters are tuning in to this election.  And nowhere is that more obvious right now than in Pennsylvania.  In anticipation of the Keystone State‘s April 26 -- or April 22 primary, voters rushed to register themselves for the big Democratic contest, adding over 160,000 new Democrats to the list, while the number of registered Republicans has actually declined by more than 30,000, about 1 percent. 

Now that the deadline for voter registration is passed, how many registered Democrats are there in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?  Over four million.  That breaks the enrollment record for any political party in the history of Pennsylvania.  It shows that this fighting between Hillary and Obama may be helping in some way.  It‘s creating the total number—higher number of Democrats, big excitement, big voter turnout to come, over four million Pennsylvania Democrats right now—tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next:  With Pennsylvania‘s primary just four weeks away from today, can Hillary Clinton honestly call herself an opponent of NAFTA from the beginning, when her records show a somewhat different story? 

Plus, we will look at the Obama and Hillary strategy for the rest of this race—ahead in the “Politics Fix.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

On Tuesday, stocks ended mixed, recovering some ground after early losses on disappointing economic news.  The Dow still ended down by 16 points, but the S&P and the Nasdaq in the green, S&P up by three, the Nasdaq up by 14.

Consumer confidence in March was worse than predicted, hitting a five-year low.  Americans‘ outlook right now on the economy is at its lowest since 2003, the lowest reading on that index, though, since the 1970s. 

With foreclosures up, January home prices in 20 major cities plunged nearly 11 percent.  That‘s the biggest decline in the 20-year history of the S&P index. 

A blow for efforts to help keep the flying public happy here.  The appeals court has struck down New York‘s passenger bill of rights, saying that carriers are already regulated at the federal level. 

And the IRS is gearing up to help taxpayers get their refunds, offices open this Saturday to help with filing returns, which is mandatory in order to get your stimulus check. 

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

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In my home state of Pennsylvania, a state with many union members, the debate over NAFTA is very important, and where credibility on NAFTA is important to everyone.  The people in Pennsylvania don‘t like double-talk, of course. 

And HARDBALL David Shuster has the straight report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It was one of the highlights of President Clinton‘s first term, passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, also known as NAFTA. 

The deal eliminated tariffs and broke down trade barriers between Mexico, Canada, and the United States.  Fourteen years later, critics blame NAFTA for the loss of manufacturing jobs in industrial states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania. 

And, on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has repeatedly made this claim.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning. 

SHUSTER:  Clinton has also said that she made her position clear. 

CLINTON:  I was one of the voices in the administration warning about

NAFTA. 

SHUSTER:  And when Barack Obama sent out this mailer last month in Ohio arguing that Clinton actually supported NAFTA as first lady, Clinton exploded, accusing Obama of dirty tricks. 

CLINTON:  So, shame on you, Barack Obama.  It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public. 

SHUSTER:  So, was Obama being unfair?  Has Hillary Clinton really been a NAFTA critic from the very beginning? 

Newly released White House documents indicate Hillary Clinton as first lady was actually a NAFTA supporter.  The documents reveal she held at least five meetings to strategize about how to bin congressional approval.  She helped the White House block opposition from labor and environmental groups, and she was the featured speaker at a crucial meeting on November 10, 1993, where 120 women opinion leaders were asked to help lobby the Senate for passage of the deal. 

According to ABC News, participants in that event said—quote—

“Her remarks were totally pro-NAFTA,” and—quote—“There was no equivocation for her support for NAFTA at the time.”

Today, the Clinton campaign pointed to assertions made by Clinton White House adviser David Gergen contradicting the White House documents and witnesses at the NAFTA rally—quote—“Hillary Clinton was extremely unenthusiastic about NAFTA, and I think that‘s putting it mildly.  I‘m not sure she objected to all the provisions of it, but she just didn‘t see why her husband and that White House had to go and do that fight.”

This all suggests Hillary Clinton may have been acting as a dutiful first lady, helping her husband pass a trade deal that she privately did not support. 

(on camera):  But, whatever her view was, it had no impact on the consequences.  The fact is, Hillary Clinton helped get NAFTA approved.  And like her vote authorizing the Iraq war, Clinton may once again face troubles with voters who believe that leadership is about action, not what a candidate says now about their state of mind. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

Bruce Raynor is an Obama supporter and president of Unite Here, the union that represents workers in the hospitality, gaming, apparel, retail, and food service industries.  And Michael Goodwin is a Clinton supporter and is president of the Office and Professional Employees International Labor Union.

Gentlemen, thank you very much. 

Mr. Raynor, first of all, was Hillary Clinton a NAFTA supporter or not? 

BRUCE RAYNOR, GENERAL PRESIDENT, UNITE HERE:  Absolutely. 

Not only was she a NAFTA supporter.  NAFTA was the worst trade deal in the history of America.  It cost a million jobs in the apparel and textile industry.  It was shoved down the throat of Congress by President Clinton.  And the first lady was, hand in hand, helping him do it.  And, in fact, in the early years after the Clinton presidency, they claimed it as one of their great accomplishments. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask the same question to Mr. Goodwin. 

Was Hillary Clinton a NAFTA supporter or not, in effect? 

MICHAEL GOODWIN, PRESIDENT, OFFICE AND PROFESSIONAL EMPLOYEES

INTERNATIONAL LABOR UNION:  Well, no, she was—she was first lady. 

And we all know she spent most of her time in the White House working on the universal health care plan.  And...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, she wasn‘t? 

What about these five meetings she apparently held—held to promote NAFTA?  What do we make of that?  What do we make about the eyewitness testimony of people who say she was in there pushing NAFTA at the time? 

GOODWIN:  Well, you know, the campaign—the other campaign can‘t have it both ways. 

They can‘t say that her role as first lady was all ceremonial on one hand, and then say that she was a big NAFTA supporter because they found one snippet in 11,000 pages of writings that there was a drop-by. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go to Mr. Raynor.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Mr. Raynor about Hillary Clinton‘s own statements, without going into anything anybody else says, just go by what she said.  Is it to be relied upon? 

“I have been a critic of NAFTA from the beginning.”

Is that a true statement? 

RAYNOR:  It is not a true statement. 

Hillary Clinton never spoke out against NAFTA.  In fact, she was a supporter of the president‘s plan.  NAFTA wasn‘t just a piece of legislation.  They had to shove it down the throat of the U.S. Congress and criticize labor leaders. 

And, Mike, you remember when they criticized people like you and I for standing up for American workers for NAFTA.  That was done by the Clinton White House, and the first lady was a part of it.  She can‘t claim she was the first lady, and she has all this experience, and the seminal achievement of that administration was the passage of NAFTA, which cost a million jobs in my industry, thousands in the state of Pennsylvania.  I think she has to level and say, maybe she made a mistake.  That‘s what she ought to be saying, Mike. 

GOODWIN:  Well, look, our members are not interested in litigating the past.  1992 was a long time ago.  It was 15 years.  Millions of people have retired.  Millions of babies have been born.  We‘re interested in looking forward and what she will do as president.  Hillary Clinton has a plan to fix NAFTA.  The other side has, you know, nothing but vagueries as far as I can see. 

She has a plan to put the environmental and labor standards in the core text of the agreement to make the commercial rules apply for enforcement.  She‘s got a five-year review of the program.  And she‘s going to make sure that NAFTA is fixed and it works.  She‘s got a very specific plan.  That‘s why our members support her. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Goodwin, do you believe there‘s anything to this report that came out of Canada early this month from Prime Minister Harper‘s office that Hillary Clinton had sent a wink up there that she really wasn‘t going to get rid of NAFTA, no matter what she said on the trail? 

GOODWIN:  There you go with—here you have—first, they denied that the meeting ever took place.  Then it was a drop-by to say hello.  Then ten days later, still denying.  Then finally they admit that the meeting did take place. 

MATTHEWS:  What about Senator Clinton‘s own role, apparently, according to the press I just saw, came out early in the month—I looked at an old clip—it was Harper‘s office, or somebody up there, put out the word that Hillary had done the same thing.  She said, don‘t listen to what I say on the stump.  I can deal with you guys later.  Don‘t worry about it.  I‘m not going 180 against NAFTA. 

GOODWIN:  As I said, Chris, we‘re not interested in re-litigating the past.  We want to go forward.  She‘s got the best plan.  She‘s the most experienced to be president.  Our members support her because she‘ll stop the bleeding of jobs going overseas and out of the country. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, there‘s an old saying in New York politics, gentlemen—I‘m sure you‘ve heard it—back in ‘74; he said, before someone tells you what they‘re going to do, fist ask them what they‘ve done.  If she has this track record of compliance with NAFTA, I guess I‘m wondering why you assume she‘ll go in a 180-degree from her husband.  I‘ve never seen them disagree fundamentally on anything.  Now, you‘re suggesting -- well, Mr. Raynor, what do you think Hillary Clinton‘s 180 from her husband on the issue of NAFTA?  

RAYNOR:  I think Hillary Clinton is in alignment on NAFTA.  She‘s in alignment on trade.  Don‘t forget, it was President Clinton that led us into the WTO, and that gave most favored nation status to China, which has been the—cost Americans millions of manufacturing jobs, in fact, over three million.  And Pennsylvania, of all the states, has paid the dearest price.  That state has been devastated by NAFTA, PNTR.  I think the voters in Pennsylvania will evaluate these candidates and will make a decision that Barack Obama, who opposed NAFTA, opposed PNTR, is the candidate that speaks up for working Americans.  That‘s what the Pennsylvania voters will decide, and that‘s what they ought to decide. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, We‘re out of time.  Bruce Raynor, thank you very much. 

Michael Goodwin, gentlemen, thank you for coming up in today. 

Up next, the politics fix; Barack Obama leads Hillary Clinton in delegates and the popular vote and in the number of states.  But ten races remain.  How will this battle shake out in the end?  What‘s the end game for both of them?  You‘re looking at them right now.  What are their strategies?  Hillary has a strategy.  Obama has a strategy.  Let‘s figure out what they are to win this thing.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Time now for the politics fix.  Our round table tonight, “Bloomberg‘s” Margaret Carlson, Roger Simon of “Politico,” and the “Washington Post‘s” Perry Bacon.  I want you all to look at this—we‘re going to run through what‘s left here in a very efficient manner.  Let‘s look at the Pennsylvania primary on April 22nd.  What is the strategy for the Obama folks right there, Roger? 

ROGER SIMON, “POLITICO”:  The strategy for the Obama folks is to keep it as close as they possibly can. 

MATTHEWS:  Under ten points? 

SIMON:  Oh, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Can they do that? 

SIMON:  Yes, ten points is a classic landslide.  He would like to. 

But more than the delegates at stake—he won‘t lose the delegate count.  He wants to keep a lead in the popular vote, and that‘s what‘s at stake with him in big states like Pennsylvania. 

MATTHEWS:  So he‘s got 600,000 votes right now.  Margaret, they‘re losing Pennsylvania.  He wants to lose by less than 600,000.  We can assume that. 

MARGARET CARLSON, “BLOOMBERG”:  The bar‘s pretty low. 

MATTHEWS:  What about—is it ten points?  What does he need to have a decent night that night?  Senator Clinton will be standing there—I can predict the picture if it happens—with Governor Rendell and a few other people, Chris Dougherty (ph) from Scranton, a few other people.  They‘ll be doing this.  They‘ll be sweating and happy, and everything, big crowd of people.  What is Barack trying to have that night, something like that or different? 

CARLSON:  Well, something ten points or less.  I mean, it looks—this could be a referendum on Ed Rendell.  Hillary Clinton has never looked so good campaigning as she has in Pennsylvania, because she‘s with a natural politician and he lifts her up.  Obama has to keep her down in Pennsylvania or the popular vote.  It won‘t kill him, but this whole popular vote and electoral vote thing they‘re now coming up with, I think, begins to work against him. 

MATTHEWS:  Parry, he‘s starting a five-day bus ride starting this Friday, we understand.  We‘ve got the tip-off on that.  So five days, then we hope to see him perhaps next week in Pennsylvania.  Is this going to turn things around?  Can he get within ten?  Can he get this close? 

PERRY BACON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Sure.  He‘s going to spend a lot of time here.  What we found pretty early on in the campaign, at least, was that the more time he spent in a state, the better he did.  This sort of bus tour, lots of small town approach, definitely worked in Iowa.  This is a much more truncated campaign.  It will be interesting to see how well he does.  He‘ll have more time to spend there though. 

MATTHEWS:  If I were him, I‘d go to every single college, every community college.  I‘d keep going.  Let‘s take a look at two weeks after that.  That‘s Indiana, North Carolina.  It does seems to me, Perry, that Barack Obama is spending an inordinate amount of time in Indiana and North Carolina.  Is he doing a prevent defense here, assuming he‘ll lose in Pennsylvania, but he can‘t afford to lose a string? 

BACON:  He wants to avoid losing a string.  The second thing is, he wants to—Hillary‘s campaign is trying to make Pennsylvania the next Iowa.  Obama‘s campaign wants to say, we‘re having ten more votes.  You should consider all of these votes important, not just Pennsylvania.  By him going there, he‘s sort of making those votes more important. 

He‘s saying to the national media, look at these states, look at Indiana, look at North Carolina.  These are important votes as well, as important because there are more delegates in Indiana and North Carolina combined that day than in Pennsylvania. 

MATTHEWS:  He has to build a case that there‘s a whole regular season ahead, what‘s left of it.  This isn‘t a play off in Pennsylvania.   

CARLSON:  Instead of a do-over, the Clinton campaign is having a start-over, as if Pennsylvania is the beginning of the real race.  So she wins Pennsylvania, she wins—

MATTHEWS:  They have ways of defining things, don‘t they?  Very effectively. 

SIMON:  May 5th could be a huge day in this campaign.

MATTHEWS:  Two weeks after Pennsylvania could be a bigger day. 

SIMON:  We‘re already ceding—

MATTHEWS:  What has to happen? 

SIMON:  If—

MATTHEWS:  They have to win both, if they‘re Hillary‘s campaign.  They have to win both on that day. 

SIMON:  I think if she loses both, which is a possibility, we could finally see an admission that her campaign cannot win. 

MATTHEWS:  How about her need to win both?  She can survive with a split?  She loses North Carolina? 

SIMON:  I don‘t really think she can because her whole campaign is based on this premise of popular vote actually counting. 

MATTHEWS:  Perry, it seems to me what they have to do, if you‘re a Clintonite right now, is to make the case that the bad news coming out of the Reverend Wright a week or so ago has been so deafening, so deadening that it has killed the chance of this very popular candidate, because of the news we have about his associations.  Does that mean she‘s got to go into a streak of winning and he in a streak of losing? 

BACON:  They‘d like to go into a streak of winning.  I think a state like North Carolina, they‘re not really—Obama sort of challenged her to go to a debate in North Carolina, and Senator Clinton did not agree to that.  The assumption is Obama will win North Carolina.  Having a big streak like Obama in February is unlikely.  I think the Hillary people will tell you themselves it‘s probably unlikely to happen. 

What they do want to keep building is if you watch—if you look at the numbers in Ohio, if she‘s able to keep winning white, working class, Democratic voters in Kentucky, in Indiana, like they did in Ohio, they can sort of build a case that Hillary Clinton is the more safe choice to win Democrats and she‘s a more electable person than Obama.  That‘s part of what they want to build these next few weeks. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s run the scroll on the rest.  There‘s West Virginia on May 13th.  After that, we have May 20th, Oregon and Kentucky.  Then we‘ve got Puerto Rico on the 1st and South Dakota on the 3rd of June.  As you run through those, which are the likely prize for Senator Clinton? 

CARLSON:  Well, he‘ll probably win North Carolina, Oregon.  She‘ll win Puerto Rico because of the Hispanic vote.  West Virginia, depressed, lots of working class whites out of jobs; she‘s likely to win there. 

MATTHEWS:  So his best bet is Oregon and North Carolina and hers are the rest. 

CARLSON:  Right.  Isn‘t Montana in there somewhere?  And South Dakota? 

He‘s done well—

MATTHEWS:  Montana is on the 3rd of June.  South Dakota is the 3rd

SIMON:  We‘re going to spend a lot of time and effort and money covering these, and they‘re important, but we‘ve entered a fantasy world here.  We‘ve entered a fantasy world that the popular vote counts, and that new fantasy world, proposed by Evan Bayh, a smart guy, Hillary Clinton supporter, that the electoral vote somehow counts in the primaries.  Pretty soon it‘s going to be how many syllable of the name of the state you win, California, Massachusetts.  It doesn‘t count. 

MATTHEWS:  When is the last time Indiana figured in the Democrat‘s electoral victory?  Never. 

SIMON:  It‘s not going to happen.  Just like Barack Obama wins South Carolina by 29 points. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with round table.  More with Perry, Roger and Margaret.  We get back and we‘ll talk policies.  Let‘s talk about this event that happened in Bosnia.  Oh, wait a minute.  It didn‘t happen.  We‘ll talk about Hillary Clinton and that Hemingway adventure of hers. 

We‘ll be right back on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  Parry, I want to ask about how this is getting played in the newspaper.  Hillary Clinton admitting that she was not in action in Bosnia in ‘96.  She wasn‘t under sniper fire.  She didn‘t have to duck and cover.  This does remind us of Snoopy playing the Red Dragon a bit.  Is this going to hurt? 

BACON:  I think it will hurt.  I think that we‘ve read about this already and I think this will only add to the stories about this.  A lot of the polling shows voters concerned that she will, to some extent, say what she feel like saying to win.  She‘ll say what she needs to say.  I think that will reinforce that concern voters have with her. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this Dukakis in a tank, Joe Biden thinking he‘s a British Labor leader or Gerry Ford declaring Poland‘s freedom?  Where do you put this on those rankings? 

SIMON:  I have to say it‘s so bad I have to say that she genuinely must have mis-remembered, because it couldn‘t be—

MATTHEWS:  As they say in Philly, twice?  She apparently was reading from notes.  I would fire the speech writer and claim innocence. 

SIMON:  She says that.  She says I was there because it was too dangerous for the president.  It was too dangerous so he sent his wife and only child.  It makes no sense.

MATTHEWS:  She said, whenever the target or the place was too small or too danger, they sent me, and, by the way, Chelsea.  I think you make a good point.  If it was that dangerous and harrowing—why would she describe it in Hemingway fashion, ducking under sniper fire, the whole imagery.  She conveyed it very well except it didn‘t happen. 

CARLSON:  So vividly.  Hillary doesn‘t have that many authentic moments.  When she‘s describing herself in Bosnia, it sounded right, because ducking, sniper --  

(CROSS TALK)

CARLSON:  I rarely hear that word, because it‘s not that authentic that word. 

MATTHEWS:  It think it was down right—what do you make, Perry?  You can even throw out a literary term.  How would you have such a splendid memory of something that didn‘t happen.  We all forget names.  We often forget other details, like where‘s the damn keys in the morning when you‘re going to work.  But remembering a battle scene in your own life? 

BACON:  I honestly have no—I actually attended that speech and I talked to one of her supporters afterwards, who clearly was sort of flailing in trying to describe where—he was there, too.  He seemed to not recall the sniper fire either.  When I asked if he agreed it was unusual, he couldn‘t recall the sniper, you know, being shot at. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I don‘t want to be mean, because it takes a lot of guts to go into an enemy combat zone, even a USO show, which I wanted to do a while ago and I want to do again.  But I just think about how Howard Wolfson, a real tough guy, would be in orbit right now.  He would be like a whirling dervish, going through every television show and radio interview in America, talking about how Barack Obama had made up a moment of heroism. 

CARLSON:  This is one of those that doesn‘t require anybody to do anything. 

SIMON:  To some extent, they all live in a fantasy world and sometimes the fantasies just take over. 

MATTHEWS:  Maybe this whole thing is fantasy.  Thank you, Margaret.  Thank you, Roger.  Thank you, Perry.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now, it‘s time for 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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