updated 4/11/2008 12:31:45 PM ET 2008-04-11T16:31:45

Guests: Bob Casey, Pat Buchanan, Maria Teresa Petersen, Chris Cillizza

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Russert plays HARDBALL.  Let‘s get to it.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Once again, the war in Iraqi has grabbed hold of our politics.  First came two days after hearings with General Petraeus.  Then today, President Bush ordered an indefinite halt in U.S. troops withdrawals after July.  That means the issue of if, how and when the United States leaves Iraq will be left to his successor, and before that, to you the voter.

Joining us tonight to discuss not just the war but the upcoming primaries, possible vice presidential running mates and the big race for the White House itself, Tim Russert, NBC Washington bureau chief and moderator of “Meet the Press,” two big action-filled segments with Tim Russert coming right up.

Also here comes Pennsylvania.  And who knows more about that crucial primary state and how it may play out than the senator of that state, Bob Casey, who just two years ago knocked off the very well known conservative senator Rick Santorum, and who recently endorsed Barack Obama?  Senator Casey‘s coming here in about 20 minutes.

Plus, through the dying weeks of his campaign, a lot of people were asking, What does Mike Huckabee want?  Well, now we‘re going to have a clue coming up here in our third section of the show.  And in our “Politics Fix,” what did Colin Powell say this morning about whom he might support that got a lot of people thinking?

And a reminder.  Next Tuesday from Villanova University, the “HARDBALL College Tour” with John McCain.  We had McCain last week—we had Obama last week.  We‘ve got McCain next week.  And we‘re still hoping to get Senator Clinton to complete the HARDBALL triple play in Pennsylvania.  But next Tuesday, it‘s John McCain from Villanova, home of the Wildcats, Big 5 basketball, this time politics.

But first, as he himself says every Sunday morning on “Meet the Press”

but first we‘re joined by our own Tim Russert.  Tim, today...

TIM RUSSERT, HOST, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, we‘re doing it.  Let me ask you about the president today because I think there was a political lacing to his statement today.  Did you notice that our real enemy now is Iran, if you listen to the president, it‘s not the remnants of the war in Iraq, it‘s looking forward to the next big threat?

RUSSERT:  The president, I think, has again concluded, Chris, that when you talk only about Iraq, it‘s a real problem with the American people because they‘ve made up their mind.  Sixty percent believe it was not worth the price in human life or treasure, so it has to be described as a front on the war on terrorism.  And who is that war primarily focused on?  Iran.  That is central to the president‘s ability to continue to promote the war in Iraq.  It‘s of a bigger piece, and Iran is a major component of it.

MATTHEWS:  You think the president is already looking ahead and seeking to help John McCain because he knows that Barack Obama has offered to speak without conditions to Ahmadinejad of Iran, he thinks that could be a 180 opportunity, a real conflict?

RUSSERT:  Sure.  I think the more they can continue to talk about the war on terror, the more they can talk about this fight as a transformational fight, as John McCain would say it, and that it is a time for a candidate with national security experience to show strength in a dangerous world, they think they can one-up Obama.  The more Obama can keep the focus on Iraq, on year six of that war and the discontent of the American people—today Obama linking the economy to the war in Iraq, saying we‘re spending all this money, billions of dollars every month.  We should be spending that here on roads and hospitals and trying to re-jump-start our economy.  It‘s interesting how Obama is going to keep the economy and Iraq combined, McCain the war on terror.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I think with $10 billion a month, you could actually replace the Philadelphia subway and the Market Street el.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You could bring infrastructure big-time to some big cities.  Let‘s take a look at what the president said today in his argument for facing down Iran in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The regime in Teheran also has a choice to make.  It can live in peace with its neighbor, enjoy strong economic and cultural and religious ties, or it can continue to arm and train and fund illegal militant groups which are terrorizing the Iraqi people and turning them against Iran.  If Iran makes the right choice, America will encourage a peaceful relationship between Iran and Iraq.  Iran makes the wrong choice, America will act to protect our interests and our troops and our Iraqi partners.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Tim, let‘s take a look at the mood on Iraq.  Here‘s the NBC

poll just a few weeks ago.  It found that 52 percent, a majority, think the

U.S. should withdraw most troops by next year.  That‘s faster than either

of the Democrats, Barack or Hillary.  Fort-three percent said the United

States should stay until conditions are stable, the Bush position.  But 53

percent said a U.S. victory is not still possible over there -- 40 percent

so we‘re consistently as a country turned off to the war, as you said, turned off to the prospects of a victory over there, basically for pulling our troops out even faster than the two Democrats.

But look at this number here.  This is about the old question on the quiz show, “Who do you Trust?”  Remember that one?  Here it is.  Who do you trust?  John McCain, trust on Iraq, 54.  Senator Clinton and Senator Obama equally placed behind him by 14 points.  Here‘s the hawk running against the two relative doves, and yet in a country that‘s relatively dovish, compared to the Republicans, they‘re picking McCain to put their bet on.

RUSSERT:  National Security has always been the Achilles heel for Democrats.  They hope this year that‘s not going to be the case because they‘re going to be able to say that Iraq was a misjudgment and that was mismanaged.  But it is important, Chris, to understand the American mindset.  They believe the war was a mistake.  They do want to get out.  But Americans hate to lose, and you can‘t have it perfectly laid out for you.  I think that‘s what Colin Powell is trying to say—and I know you‘re going to refer to him later in the program—that the next president of the United States, whether it‘s McCain, Obama or Clinton, is going to begin a withdrawal because we cannot sustain the current level of troops we have in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at this, Senator McCain making that point in today‘s hearing with Senator—actually with General Petraeus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Much, much more needs to be done, and Iraq‘s leaders need to know that we expect them to show the necessary leadership to rebuild their country.  Only they can, but today it is possible to talk with real hope and optimism about the future of Iraq and the outcome of our efforts there.  While the job of bringing security to Iraq is not finished, as the recent fighting in Basra and elsewhere vividly demonstrated, we are no longer staring into the abyss of defeat, and we can now look ahead to the genuine prospect of success.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Now let‘s take a look at some of the match-up polls potentially going down to November, Tim.  Let‘s take a look at the Associated Press poll.  It shows that McCain is tied 45-45 with Senator Obama, who had a 10-point lead as recently as February over McCain, and McCain basically within the margin of error with Senator Clinton at 48-45.

And now look at this fascinating one.  These are showing how close these people are, between Democrat and Republican, no matter which Democrat it is.  Take a look at this one.  This is a new Marist poll that just came out this afternoon.  You tipped me off to this yesterday, that it was coming.  Let‘s take a—this is absolutely fascinating.  If you put Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, on the ticket with John McCain on the Republican side, it defeats either Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton by 49 to 46 or 49 to 44 in New York state, the home of Hillary Clinton, the home of American liberalism.

RUSSERT:  That‘s incredible.  I mean, if that were to be the case it‘s a landslide for the Republicans.

MATTHEWS:  They would carry 45 states, if they carry New York.

RUSSERT:  Minimum.  Here‘s the great irony in all of this.  If you ask Americans 10 issues, from Iraq, the economy, global warming, health care, they prefer the Democratic position.  If you ask, This fall, do you want the Democrat or Republican, generic question, Democrat by 12 points.  But when you compare McCain-Obama, McCain-Clinton, it equals out.

Why?  Because the perception right now of McCain is someone who is experienced, someone who they see not of the Republican brand or the Bush brand, but of the maverick brand.  Now, I think a lot of that may change, Chris, come the general election, in a fall election, hotly competitive.  Because why?

You‘re right to identify Iraq as an issue that has reemerged dramatically this week in this campaign, and we‘re going to have big differences on a big issue with big candidates.  If it‘s McCain-Obama, McCain-Clinton, it‘s going be, We‘re going to stay in Iraq, we‘re going to finish the job, we‘re not getting out, we‘re going to see this thing through, versus, We‘re starting to take the troops home immediately.  We‘re going to do it in a way that will, hopefully, not create chaos in Iraq.  But we can no longer afford to do this.  We have to spend the money at home.  The American people are going to decide whether or not to stop this war.

MATTHEWS:  You know, you look back to 2000, and you saw a personality race with a somewhat more familiar, more—maybe more comfortable visage of President Bush when he was governor.  He seemed like a regular guy, if you will, the guy to have a beer with, although he doesn‘t drink beer anymore.  Al Gore was seen as stiff, a bit dorky, if you will, back then.  Obviously, his reputation has grown tremendously since then.

But when you have a war on and when you have a recession deepening, perhaps at 80,000 jobs what month, losing those jobs, can we—do you think it will come down to questions of the person, or will it come down to the classic question of, Do you want this recession to keep going?  No?  Vote against the party in power.  Do you want this war to keep going?  Vote no.  Vote against the party in power.  That‘s the way Americans have always done it.

RUSSERT:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  They voted party.

RUSSERT:  Presidential elections are driven by these kinds of issues, if it‘s a recession and if it‘s a war, but you can never underestimate the component of the gut.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

RUSSERT:  How do I feel about this person?  How do I size them up? 

How do I take their measure?  Do I believe—can I imagine Barack Obama in

that Oval Office, Hillary Clinton in that Oval Office, John McCain in that

Oval Office, making decisions that are level-headed and common-sense

regarding Iraq and the economy?  People have been—we have seen this.  If

you step back—and sometimes we get so involved in the day-to-day combat

you have Barack Obama and John McCain, the leading competitors of each party.  No one predicted that a year ago.  They both indicate it‘s a change election.  And I think that should be a pretty good insight as to what‘s going to happen as we go into the fall.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with Tim Russert.  Let‘s talk Pennsylvania when we come back because that‘s getting really close.  And on Sunday, “Meet the Press,” we‘re going to have Tim‘s guests, James Carville‘s coming on “Meet the Press, Mary Matalin, her husband, I believe, will be on now—I‘m sorry, but her husband is on there—Mary Matalin, James Carville—Mike Murphy—I love that guy.  And Shrummy‘s going to be on there.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with NBC‘s Tim Russert.  Let‘s take a look at Pennsylvania, which is coming up in a week-and-a-half now, the big fight up there between Clinton and Obama.  You know, we got a “Time” magazine poll that‘s just come out, a new Pennsylvania poll that shows Senator Clinton leading Obama.  Now, this is an interesting poll because it counts what we call leaners, people that haven‘t quite made up their mind but are heading in one direction.

Tim, I always thought it‘s about 8.  If I had to put a mark—if I was one of those guys that do the spreads out in Vegas, wherever they do them, I‘d say about 8 points.  What would define victory for Senator Clinton?

RUSSERT:  And you‘re right to include leaners because the people that are leaning at this point, that‘s the way they‘re going to fall.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m suspicious of the ones who aren‘t leaning, the ones that say “undecided” after all this saturation TV advertising up there.

RUSSERT:  I heard John Murtha on your program says it‘s going to be double digits.  A lot of people feel comfortable with that.  Ed Rendell, the governor, is trying now to lowball it, saying, Well, it‘s five, six, seven points.  But Clinton, I think, has a solid lead.

MATTHEWS:  Well, both those men tend to be candid fellows.  I know them both.  That‘s why I like them both.  They‘re very candid.  I would say Eddie‘s a bit shrewder than Jack when he said it‘s going to shrink at the end, whereas—whereas Murtha comes out and says, Oh, it‘ll be double digits.  You know, you don‘t ever want to do that because something could happen.

But I‘m wondering, do you think TV advertising, Tim, as you watched it over the years—do you think it really changes a person who‘s got a strong cultural fix that conservative, if you will, white working-class person up in Pennsylvania?  Are they going to shift dramatically in the last couple weeks of the campaign, that‘s already made up their mind on classic cultural reasons?

RUSSERT:  I think at this stage of the race, of a presidential race, television advertising is vastly overrated.  I think it has kept Obama competitive.  It has reduced the lead from 20 perhaps to 8 or 10.  But it doesn‘t win it for you.  People, again, vote on these major issues, but also it‘s their gut.

MATTHEWS:  Well, is it quicksilver?  is it one of those things that looks good for a day or two—you poll right after you‘ve done a bunch of TV ads, Yes, yes, sure, then all of a sudden, it‘s Sunday morning, then it‘s Monday morning, and does it waft away?

MATTHEWS:  But it‘s—here‘s where it‘s worked for Obama.  If he can keep this to 8, 10, 12 points, with the proportional allocation they have for delegates, if Senator Clinton wins Pennsylvania, she only gains an advantage of a few elected delegate and doesn‘t cut into his lead of 160.

MATTHEWS:  There are elements in our life, Tim, all around us who want this campaign to go on forever.  Everybody in television wants it to go on forever.  Every journalist wants it to go on forever.  Everybody in the Clinton campaign want it to go on forever.  And every Republican wants it to go on forever.  The only people who want this thing over with is the Obama people, I think.

So if Senator Clinton wins any substantial victory Pennsylvania, she wins by 5 points, 7 points, the confetti drops.  She‘s there with Eddie Rendell, the governor.  Bill Clinton may show up on the stage.  Hoopla, hoopla, hoopla.  Does that give her a better chance to win Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, go on and win big in Puerto Rico?  Why should she quit?

RUSSERT:  She won‘t.  She‘ll go on to May 6, Indiana, North Carolina.  If she wins Indiana but Obama wins North Carolina and wins it significantly, then I think you‘ll see some movement of superdelegates.

MATTHEWS:  How many points?

RUSSERT:  Yes, probably not enough to give him the nomination.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) point of no return for her?  Why she would decide that was the threshold?

RUSSERT:  Because there would only be about 250 delegates left to be chosen in the primaries, and people would say she‘s 150 behind, there‘s no possible way she‘s going to catch him amongst elected delegates.

MATTHEWS:  What about among popular votes?  Is there any catchable number there?

RUSSERT:  It depends.  That‘s the interesting question because if Pennsylvania is relatively close and she doesn‘t get a big bulge out of the popular vote, North Carolina I think could surprise a lot of people with the turnout.  And Obama could neutralize the popular vote...

MATTHEWS:  Even though it‘s a smaller state?

RUSSERT:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  But it‘s not that small a state anymore.  North Carolina is growing.

RUSSERT:  But the incentive of Hillary Clinton is to go on to West Virginia.  Why?  And go on to Kentucky.  Why?  Because she‘s ahead by 20, 25 points in those states.  Even if you‘re going to get out, why not win those states and say, You know what?  I‘m not going to go on.  I just won two in a row.  I could...

MATTHEWS:  That means her—she has chance to leave when doing well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... and it‘s better to leave with more delegates.

RUSSERT:  I‘m magnanimous.  I‘m gracious.  I‘m...

MATTHEWS:  What does she do with all those delegates in Denver?  If she comes in short, she doesn‘t really make a run for the superdelegates, she comes in short, he gets the nomination, she goes to Denver the last week in August, what does she do with all those delegates?  Does she have any clout on platform, anything that matters, on VP or anything?

RUSSERT:  Does she want to be VP?

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know.

RUSSERT:  That‘s the question.  Does she want to be...

MATTHEWS:  Well, does she want Barack to win the general?  If she wants him to win the general, she‘d get on the ticket with him.  If she doesn‘t want him to win, she won‘t get on the ticket with him.  That‘s one way of looking at it.

RUSSERT:  Does he want her on the ticket?

MATTHEWS:  Well, we know one thing, he wants to win.  It‘s never clear what the other people want.  It‘s very hard to read them.

RUSSERT:  Interesting meeting today in New York, John McCain, Mike Bloomberg.  A few weeks ago...

RUSSERT:  You New Yorker!  You...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... can‘t get Bloomberg.  It‘s like the Yankees and the Mets.  You guys can‘t get it out of your heads!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How does Bloomberg help Barack Obama?

RUSSERT:  You‘re in the room with Barack Obama.  And you say, Hey, here‘s our polling.  We have a problem with Jewish voters from Jeremiah Wright.  And the economy is the issue.  We need an entrepreneur, a businessman...

MATTHEWS:  I got a solution.

RUSSERT:  How about Bloomberg?

MATTHEWS:  Hillary‘s biggest backer, Eddie Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania, because then he locks down a blue state you need, that reddest of the blue states, you hold it down.  You guarantee Pennsylvania.  You help in Ohio.  Eddie‘s right on the border there.  And you maybe have a shot at Florida with Barack and Eddie.  You have a shot at Florida.  That may—that sort of pins down McCain in Florida, right?  And you own California.

RUSSERT:  Then who‘s the next governor of Pennsylvania?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the problem.  Anyway, thank you, Tim.  A very fine lady, I think.  Anyway, thank you, Tim Russert.  And remember, this Sunday on “Meet the Press,” a lot of experts, like Tim, competing for who‘s the smartest—James Carville, Mary Matalin, Mike Murphy—I love that guy—

Bob Shrum.  He‘s got the powerhouses.

Up next is Mike Huckabee?  Where is he going?  Is this guy going to Hollywood?  Only his agent knows for sure.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is new in politics? 

Well, is the Mike Huckabee show coming to a radio or TV near you?  It turns out that the former Republican presidential candidate, who became something of a staple on the late-night talk shows, just signed a contract with a high-powered Hollywood talent agency.  Is he looking to be the next Rush Limbaugh or does he still harbor hopes of being the next Dick Cheney? 

Could McCain/Huckabee ‘08 stickers be headed for a bumper sticker near you? 

Elton John to the rescue—last night, the superstar singer held a concert for Hillary Clinton at Radio City Music Hall, bringing in $2.5 million for her campaign.

Here‘s Hillary introducing Sir Elton. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Tonight, we‘re just going to be fans.  We‘re going to sit down with everybody else and enjoy this extraordinary concert.  And I think that all of us probably will conclude that the answer to the following question is yes. 

Can you feel the love tonight? 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  But it wasn‘t all love last night.  There was also some tough politics. 

Here‘s Elton John defending Hillary. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

ELTON JOHN, MUSICIAN:  No one more qualified to lead America into the next (INAUDIBLE) than Hillary Clinton.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

JOHN:  Having said that, I never ceased to be amazed at the misogynist attitude of some of the people in this country. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

JOHN:  And I say to hell with it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, misogynists?  Is that what we are?  So far.  Well, Sir Elton John, I guess he‘s a psychiatrist now.  Or he is just another excuse-maker for a struggling campaign? 

Speaking of musicians, another music impresario just penned a song for his pal, John McCain.  The name of the song is “Forever Together.”  And the artist is none other than Utah Senator Orrin Hatch.  He happens to be an experienced songwriter, by the way, with 300 numbers to his credit.

The McCain campaign is not saying, however, whether it will accept Hatch‘s ditty. 

And now it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number.”

Hillary Clinton‘s lead in the polls throughout most of this presidential campaign has had a lot to do with strong support from women.  But a new “Lifetime” poll might explain at least in part why Hillary has fallen well behind Barack Obama in the ongoing fight for the Democratic nomination. 

While Obama and—and McCain showed no real change this year in how much women like them, the same cannot be said for Clinton.  What percentage of women say they now like her less than they did since the start of the primary season?  Twenty-six percent.  That‘s more than one in four women voters, a significant dent in Hillary‘s base, who now think less of her than they did with this fight began. 

Twenty-six percent—tonight‘s “Big Number.”

And, remember, next week, we‘re back with the HARDBALL “College Tour” from Villanova.  Our guest for the whole hour is Senator John McCain.  That‘s April 15, tax day—as if we all forgot—at 5:00 and 7:00.

Up next: Obama in Indiana, Clinton in Pennsylvania, and McCain drops in on the ladies of “The View.”  HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has the highlights.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Rebecca Jarvis with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks rising, helped by upbeat earning forecasts by Dow components Wal-Mart and DuPont and a larger-than-expected drop in first-time jobless claims.  The Dow Jones industrials gained 55 points today.  The S&P 500 picked up six.  And the Nasdaq was up 29 points. 

Wal-Mart was among the few gainers, as the nation‘s retailers reported the weakest March sales in 13 years.  Wal-Mart also raised its first-quarter earnings outlook, saying better inventory controls resulted in fewer markdowns. 

After the closing bell, biotech bellwether Genentech reported quarterly earnings that beat analyst estimates.  However, sales of its four major drugs fell short of expectations.  And, in after-hours trading, Genentech shares are down about 1 percent. 

And oil prices slid today.  Crude fell 76 cents in New York trading, closing at $110.11 a barrel.

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

It‘s just 12 days now before the Pennsylvania primary, and this has been another very busy day in the world of presidential campaign politics. 

HARDBALL‘s correspondent in chief, David Shuster, joins us live.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I have just given you a promotion in the battlefield, sir. 

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you.  I appreciate it.

MATTHEWS:  Correspondent in chief. 

SHUSTER:  Reporting for duty. 

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  And let‘s...

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  Let‘s start, Chris, with the presumptive Republican presidential nomination, John McCain.

John McCain was in New York today, and appeared with the ladies on the program “The View.”  McCain had some fun at Barack Obama‘s expense.  Obama -- well, there you see McCain imitating Obama‘s fidgeting.  Obama was fidgeting on the same program a week ago, a clip that was used by late-night comedians repeatedly.

During the appearance today, McCain spoke about the growing controversy over the Olympics in Beijing and the torch protests.  McCain said President Bush should examine China‘s action over the next four months and be open to the idea of not attending the opening ceremonies. 

The big event for McCain today was a speech on the housing crisis.  And he did make a policy change.  McCain had previously been reluctant to see the government intervene to help—help homeowners.  Not anymore.  Today, McCain proposed having the federal government ensure refinanced mortgages that reflect the market value of an owner‘s home. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This plan is focused on people.  People decide if they need help.  People decide.  They apply for assistance.  And, if approved, the government, under the HOME Program, supports them in setting—in getting a new mortgage that they can afford. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  As for Barack Obama, he campaigned today in northern Indiana, shaking hands and chatting with people at a diner near South Bend.

Then Obama headed to Gary, Indiana, where he spoke in front of a raucous crowd at Roosevelt High School.  Obama‘s theme was the economy.  He sharply criticized John McCain‘s support for extending the Bush tax cuts.  And Obama said, McCain‘s housing plan, announced today, does not go far enough. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m glad he finally offered a plan.  Better late than never. 

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  But don‘t expect any real answers.  Don‘t expect it to actually help struggling families, because Senator McCain‘s solution to the housing crisis seems like a lot like George Bush‘s solution to the housing crisis, which is to sit by and hope it passes by, while families are facing foreclosure and watching their home values decline all across America and right here in Gary, Indiana. 

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Finally, Hillary Clinton spent this campaign day in Pennsylvania.  She campaigned in Pittsburgh and blasted President Bush‘s speech on the Iraq war—quote—“Iraq has barely moved toward political reconciliation, meeting only a few of the benchmarks set out by the Bush administration at the start of the surge.  As president, I will do what this president has failed to do: recognize reality, and end the war responsibly.”

Looking ahead, Chris, tomorrow, John McCain will be in Texas.  Hillary Clinton will be campaigning in your home town of Philadelphia.  Barack Obama will be in southern Indiana, making stops, including in—one in my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana.  And, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Can you sing that song “Indiana”? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS & SHUSTER (singing):  Indiana...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  Well, look, Chris, seriously, though, keep on eye on these college towns in Indiana, because I was just talking a few minutes ago, there are—in a close primary, especially in a conservative state...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHUSTER:  ... you have a lot of people in—who may be Democrats in a place like Indiana.  Watch turnout in places like Bloomington, Terre Haute. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you think the college crowd can beat the regular people there, if it comes down to that, in terms of Hillary‘s support?

SHUSTER:  In a state like Indiana, if Obama can turn out the large crowds in the college towns...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Did you see him there?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not that good at that, handshaking in a diner. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Barack doesn‘t seem to know how to do that right.

SHUSTER:  He doesn‘t do that well.  But then you see him in front of 15,000 people in some of these college towns, and that‘s why, Chris, we have seen Chelsea Clinton and Bill Clinton in Bloomington and South Bend and Terre Haute.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s so hard about doing a diner?  I don‘t get it.  Why doesn‘t he go in and say, did you see the papers today?  What do you think about that team?  How did we do last night?  Just some regular connection? 

SHUSTER:  Well, here‘s the other thing that we saw on the tape, Chris, is that, when Obama went in, he was offered coffee, and he said, I will have orange juice. 

MATTHEWS:  No?

SHUSTER:  He did.

And it‘s just one of those sort of weird things.  You know, when the owner says, here, have some coffee, you say, yes, thank you, and, oh, can I also please have some orange juice, in addition to this?  You don‘t just say, no, I will take orange juice, and then turn away and start shaking hands. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t ask for a substitute on the menu.

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  David, what a regular guy.  You could do this. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, David Shuster.

I mean, go to the diners.

Here we have a guy that can do it.  Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania is out on the campaign.  He campaigned all throughout the state lately for Barack Obama.

Isn‘t that interesting, Senator Casey, that Barack Obama, your candidate, can walk before 15,000 people with complete calm and assurance, but he seems a little out of place in, A, a bowling alley, and, B, a diner?  What is the problem with your guy? 

SEN. BOB CASEY (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Chris, he was fine in the bowling alley.  His score was a little low. 

(LAUGHTER)

CASEY:  But I was able—it was the only thing I was able to beat him at during our—our bus tour.  But he had a great response. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you about the regular person up there in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, your part of the state. 

CASEY:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m looking at the numbers for Senator Clinton.  They‘re not moving much.  There‘s still a lot of undecideds.  There‘s some movement toward Barack out of the undecideds.

Is anybody changing their minds in this state of Pennsylvania? 

CASEY:  Well, Chris, I still think we have a long way to go, even though we‘re inside two weeks now, because everywhere we went, in western Pennsylvania, central Pennsylvania—I haven‘t been able to go with him yet to northeastern Pennsylvania—he‘s had a great response. 

People are responding, I think, to his message of change and his focus on the economy, because, as you know, in northeastern Pennsylvania and across our state, the economy has been in rough shape.  Home heating costs are up.  The cost of health care, housing, everything is going through the roof.

And I think he‘s—he‘s delivered a message of hope for those people.  But I do think that time is his friend.  And even if he‘s able to make some progress now, I think laying a foundation in Pennsylvania in the spring, a message of change, a message of taking on and beating the special interests, will help him in November in Pennsylvania. 

And, as you know, we have got to win that state to be successful in November. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the—the Clinton campaign. 

Hillary Clinton has said she‘s against NAFTA.  I‘m not sure she is.  I think she‘s of mixed mind about it.  Certainly, her husband was for it.  Her husband collected $800,000 from supporters of a Colombian trade deal.

Her chief strategist, Mark Penn, was heading up the P.R. firm that was representing the Colombians in this whole fight.  I don‘t see any indication that you guys are exploiting that.  Why don‘t you take her head off on that issue?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That she had a sweetheart deal behind the scenes with the trade people, while she was pretending to be tough on NAFTA?

CASEY:  Well, Chris, I‘m not a strategist for the Obama campaign.  I‘m a supporter of his.

And I do think it‘s important, though, to point out that he‘s had a very consistent record on trade.  He has spoken about it on the campaign trail.  I think he‘s spoken about it passionately.  A lot of people in Pennsylvania have responded to that.  And, as you know from—from your coverage of my campaigns and my public record, way back 10 years ago, more than 10 years ago, as a public official, I opposed NAFTA. 

I think that Senator Obama has been very clear on it.  I still think it‘s one of several important economic issues that people will vote on, on April 22.  But I still think there‘s a ways to go.  He still has a lot of time in our state to campaign and to move the numbers up. 

But it‘s an uphill fight.  The other side has been campaigning there 15 years. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the latest “TIME” magazine poll, Senator?  We just had it on today.  And here it is again, 49-41 Clinton against Obama, which includes the leaners.  But it seems to me that eight-point—well, if I were doing the Vegas odds, I have been saying for weeks, I would put it around eight points.  If it‘s under that, you guys win.  If it‘s over that, they win.

Where would you put the mark? 

CASEY:  It‘s probably in that range.

But, Chris, as you know, sometimes, these polls can fluctuate.  One candidate will make progress, and then they will fall back.  I don‘t think we will really know until a couple days before this primary, in terms of a range. 

But I do think that the people of Pennsylvania are beginning to get to snow Barack Obama in a very positive way.  I think his—his advertising has told some of the story.  But I think his campaigning has been remarkable there.  Places that he hasn‘t been before—we were in Altoona the night—that night we were bowling, in fact.  We were in Altoona.

And I went out ahead of him, out of the bowling alley.  There were hundreds of people there who heard just heard he came to town.  They were standing behind barricades for a long, long time, at least an hour, in the freezing cold.  It was a cold Saturday night. 

And I went out ahead of them and was shaking their hands.  Every hand I shook was freezing cold.  They were waiting for him, because of what he inspires in people.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CASEY:  And I know some people dismiss it, and they say, oh, it‘s a bunch of young people.  These are people of all ages, all races, all points of view.

And we are going to need that in the next president to confront a war, a health care crisis, a recession, a $10 trillion debt that the next president‘s going to be leaving us—or this president‘s going to be leaving us.

And I think that Senator McCain is going to have a difficult time making the case that he‘s not going to represent a third term for President Bush.  Senator Obama is making progress in Pennsylvania.  I think we‘re on the right track.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. 

CASEY:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Up—next Tuesday, by the way, Senator John McCain joins the HARDBALL “College Tour” from Villanova University, right outside Philadelphia.  That‘s April 15 at Villanova at 5:00 and 7:00 that night.  We may even have a later show of that.

And up next: Senator John McCain on “The View” today.  That‘s an interesting coming together of minds.  We‘ll tell you how he did on that show.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Chris Cillizza is with the “Washington Post.”  MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan is an icon of our time.  Lets take a look at—before we get serious here, let‘s take a look at “The View.”  Here‘s John McCain.  They all seem to be making an appearance on “The View.”  That‘s the ABC daytime show with those celebrated women.  Here it is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOY BEHAR, “THE VIEW”:  How are you different from George Bush? 

MCCAIN:  First of all, I have not hired Karl Rove. 

BEHAR:  He‘s hanging. 

MCCAIN:  In a period of—in the last year or so, first of all.  Second of all, I respect President Bush and we have a friendly relationship.  There are issues we‘ve disagreed on, the conduct of the war for four years, spending, climate change.  There‘s a list of issues that we have open and honest disagreements, keeping in with the overall philosophy of less government is better government, lower taxes, strong national defense, et cetera, et cetera.  I think we share common philosophy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s Daniel in the Lions Den.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  You know what‘s fascinating about that is he‘s trying to make a distinction between himself and President Bush on the war.  He says, I disagreed for four years of the conduct of the war.  The insinuation being he supported the idea of going to war, but not the way it was conducted until the surge, which, as McCain says, was essentially his idea. 

I‘m not sure if voters are that nuanced.  They think McCain supports the war.  Bush supports the war.  McCain/Bush, they seem similar to me.  It‘s a very nuanced argument to try to make to a voter who is paying only intermittent attention. 

MATTHEWS:  Voting is a binary thing in this country when it comes to November.  It‘s not even a choice.  It‘s yes or not yes.  It‘s like, yes—you got to say, yes, keep it going what we‘re doing.  Will be that button that says yes, keep it going in Iraq the way we‘re doing it, go to war with Iran if it comes to that? 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think what they will say is Obama wants to lose the war.  We‘re going to have a defeat and disaster on our hands.  You look at what McCain is doing now—“The View” is not my favorite program.  There‘s no doubt about it, McCain is standing up there and winning in the polls for a reason.  He‘s not perceived as a cookie cutter Republican conservative.  If he were, he‘d be finished.

So he‘s doing all this. 

MATTHEWS:  Bush wouldn‘t do “The View?” 

BUCHANAN:  Bush was perceived as a conservative Republican.  No conservative Republican could win this year. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re right.  The Associated Press has brand new poll numbers today.  Senator McCain is tied with Senator Obama in a November match up.  There you have it.  In February, by the way, just a couple months ago, three months ago, it was ten points for Hillary.  McCain also closed the gap with Senator Clinton, who leads him by 48-45 right now.  These things are so close.  I hate to bring them up. 

BUCHANAN:  What is shows is that McCain is in the game.  I think when Obama emerges, my guess will be the Democrats will come out of their convention with a good lead.  But McCain could win.  Now, I don‘t think he‘s nearly as good a candidate in just political horse flesh as Obama is, who is in his prime.  McCain is clearly past his.  So I wouldn‘t bet on the Republicans, but he‘s in the game. 

CILLIZZA:  One point that backs up pat 100 percent.  Almost all the polling you see is close, 48-46, 48-43.  Within the margin of error, it‘s even.  Then you look at polling where it says for president would you prefer a generic Democrat candidate or generic Republican candidate?  Generic Democratic candidate wins by 10 points and has for quite some time. 

That goes to Pat‘s point.  McCain may be the lone candidate who can make this thing competitive, because people don‘t think of him as that generic Republican candidate. 

MATTHEWS:  I wish we could have the debate now.  I think we‘re ready for the general.  I want to see Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton right now with McCain on national television for three one and a half hour stints and see who the people chose.  I don‘t know what more information we need.  I think we could vote now.  We‘ll be right back with the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix, with Chris Cillizza of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.  Joining us now is Maria Teresa Petersen of Voto Latino.  Maria Teresa, I want to give you a shot in here right now.  What did you make of the president‘s involvement today in explaining how this isn‘t a fight in Iraq, it‘s a fight in Iraq against Iran?  It seems like he‘s once again shifting us to a new deployment, a new role in the world, fighting Iran in Iraq. 

MARIA TERESA PETERSEN, VOTO LATINO:  Well, I think, Chris, you hit the nail on the head.  It‘s almost like it‘s September 12th, 2001, right, all over again, where they‘re starting to plant the seeds of where the next American involvement is going to be, but not necessarily for the best will of the American people.  We should proceed cautiously with that, I would say. 

MATTHEWS:  I think we might be of one mind here.  Pat, your thoughts about what the president was up to today, because I sensed a morphing, away from we‘ve got to hold on into Iraq and that war, stay the course, to something and much more dangerous. 

BUCHANAN:  He has redefined the war as—it is a war between the United States and Iran for who‘s going to have Iraq as an ally, as a—you know, in effect, an ally.  The strongest words he used in there is very serious.  He said to Iran, don‘t make the wrong choice.  If you make the wrong choice, then American power, et cetera.  To me that was the warning.  It was the last warning to the al Quds force, to Hezbollah, those guys in Iran that if you don‘t stop when you‘re doing, firing into the green zone and doing what you‘re doing in Basra, we are coming. 

MATTHEWS:  Into Iran? 

BUCHANAN:  I think air strikes in Iran would not surprise me at all. 

You know, I would virtually—I think it‘s virtually 50/50. 

MATTHEWS:  Everybody has a reaction.  You don‘t shoot in a country and not get shot back at.  Then what?

BUCHANAN:  Then you go for the nuclear stuff.

MATTHEWS:  Chris Cillizza, is this an escalation in the making? 

CILLIZZA:  I think if that‘s happen, and I defer to Pat‘s wisdom on it

if that happens, you always talk about what could shake up the political climate.  What could possibly change the course? 

MATTHEWS:  Would an escalation of our war in that part of the world help the president?  Would it help McCain? 

CILLIZZA:  I don‘t know the answer to that.  I think it would almost certainly focus on national security, on what our role in the world is.  Those are issues that McCain wants to talk about. 

BUCHANAN:  Hillary would have to move.  She has declared the Revolutionary Guard terrorists herself.  She heard Petraeus say serial murderers of American soldiers are going on right in front of her. 

MATTHEWS:  If she becomes the Hubert Humphrey of this race, somebody dragged over to the right against there will—What do you think Maria Teresa, if his war emerges with Iran, where we strike them in tactical strikes against their support of these attacks on our troops in the green zone, and they retaliate, then we retaliate against their nuclear forces. 

PETERSEN:  I think going back to Chris—I think they are trying to set the stage for an at war nation, which we are.  I think the danger in doing that is we have to have a candidate who knows the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite.  McCain, though he keeps touting that, has yet to do so clearly, right? 

MATTHEWS:  He caught himself.  Let‘s be a little fair here.  I don‘t want to be too fair.  Maria Teresa, he did make a stumble and he caught himself and fixed it. 

BUCHANAN:  Barack Obama did the same thing.  He said Iraq was aiding and it should have been Iran, et cetera.  Look, this would dump over the table.  It would be a new table dumped over.  Short range, there‘s no doubt the country would rally it the president.  How would Iran respond?  I don‘t know the answer to that question, Chris.  I do know, in the long run, you‘re really biting off an awful lot. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the president of the United States is playing politics?  Do you think he‘s doing things now by emphasizing the threat from Iran, which will help him at home in the general election, help his candidate?  I think it‘s helpful to be anti-Iranian.  Then you go right to the quick in terms of the optimism and the willing parlay of Obama, who says let‘s talk to Ahmadinejad without conditions.  Then you‘re offering a war front against a guy who wants to chat away with the bad guy.  It‘s easy politics for the Republicans. 

CILLIZZA:  It‘s a much easier equation than I think they face otherwise.  The only reason I would disagree with you, Chris, is because this president hasn‘t necessarily played his politics all that well to this point.  You‘re talking about three years of job approval numbers quite—

He makes a big say that he doesn‘t‘ play politics.  He doesn‘t look at polling. 

Of course he does.  You don‘t get elected president of the United States if you don‘t play some politics.  I do don‘t know if he‘s playing that kind of three dimensional chess to help a former rival, John McCain. 

MATTHEWS:  One of these days somebody‘s going to tell me whether this president understands the neo-conservative philosophy underlying most of what he says in these prepared speeches.  Does he get the doctrine he‘s selling ahead of time or does he simply have to sign onto it once he says it? 

BUCHANAN:  I think he‘s internalized it. 

MATTHEWS:  You think he‘s a neo-con? 

BUCHANAN:  I think he‘s internalized the whole thing.  Consensus follows action.  Remember, nobody was in favor of invading Grenada.  When Reagan did it, everybody said, what a great idea.   

MATTHEWS:  Because it was bite sized.  It was over the next day.  This is now five years. 

BUCHANAN:  If you‘re talking about hitting the base camps and things like that, that‘s very exciting headline news.  Americans will say the Iranians deserved it.  They‘re killing our guys. 

MATTHEWS:  Name me a war that didn‘t look good the first day. 

BUCHANAN:  Most of them looked good all the way through, frankly, for the politicians who supported them. 

MATTHEWS:  I remember the best scene in “Gone With the Wind” was when the southern boys couldn‘t wait to go to war.  Nobody told them how bad it was going to go for them.

BUCHANAN:  George McClellan and George McGovern, anti-war candidates don‘t win, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  You know who said that?  U.S. Grant.  We can never win the American‘s people approval by opposing a war.  Maria Teresa, it‘s a sad fact, but if you‘re anti-war in America, you‘re unpopular. 

PETERSEN:  You know, I think it‘s a matter of showing strength.  I think showing strength sometimes is being resolute in recognizing that you don‘t want to put your troops in harm‘s way.  I think that‘s what is really resonating right now with the American people, recognizing we have a lot of problems here at home.  We have a lot of economic problems here at home.  How are we doing to take care of business here if we‘re constantly being over reached over there?  So it‘s caution I would say. 

CILLIZZA:  The one thing I would say is I think it is very hard to figure out exactly what a general election dynamic looks like until you have Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton as the official nominee of their party and people say, OK, it‘s Obama‘s foreign policy, and Obama‘s vision for domestic policy versus McCain‘s foreign policy, and McCain‘s vision for domestic policy.  I think that that is a totally different thing than what we are talking now, which is this abstract idea.  You don‘t know what‘s going to happen. 

BUCHANAN:  Suppose the strikes are an October surprise. 

MATTHEWS:  The strikes against Iranian territory? 

BUCHANAN:  Iranian based camps, Quds forces, Hezbollah, use names like that.  They‘re killing American troops.  General Petraeus told us.  If he does that, I think the initial reaction of the American people—when we went in and hammered Iraq, Bush won with a -- 

MATTHEWS:  Did you tell Nixon that about Cambodia. 

BUCHANAN:  I walked in and he told me we‘re going to hit them.  He said, we‘re going to be bombing them.  I said then they‘ll know we‘re coming.  He said, Pat, we‘ve been bombing them for a long time. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he know that the reaction would be so severe at home, which was negative at that point.

BUCHANAN:  It was an explosion on the campuses.  I was just reading about that last night from his memoirs others.  You‘re right, he did not know that reaction.  Kissinger was really shaken by the reaction.  He didn‘t anticipate it at all. 

MATTHEWS:  I think Chris Cillizza has got it right, we don‘t know the

Maria Teresa, that‘s the question, in the middle of October, a lot of Americans are very suspicious about wag the dog.  They‘re very suspicious about presidents who use their military power and our troops, our people to make a political point or to set up an opportunity for a political gain. 

PETERSEN:  I think what Chris said is right.  Right now, we‘re talking about the abstract.  We don‘t know what philosophy each party is proposing, specifically which nominee.  So I think we have to take that into consideration.  The other thing I think we have to have an honest conversation, unlike what Pat was talking about earlier during the Vietnam war.  We haven‘t really asked the American people to sacrifice.  So we haven‘t seen them rally around one way or another, and that‘s another thing the candidates have to talk honestly about.  Because we have so many veterans coming back home injured. 

CILLIZZA:  I think the big question we‘ll find answer, if there is any action in Iran, is how much has this five-year war changed the way in which the American people both view the president, but also view our role in this world.  Has it fundamentally altered the way in which we react when we go into another country. 

MATTHEWS:  One thing I really think Barack Obama hits well is to say he‘s not just opposed to the war in Iraq, but the mindset behind it.  We‘ve got to get away from fights over tactics to what our national doctrine should be in terms of the third world. 

Anyway, thank you, Chris Cillizza.  Thank you, Pat Buchanan.  Thank you, Maria Teresa Petersen.  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.

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