updated 4/25/2008 11:15:13 AM ET 2008-04-25T15:15:13

Guests: Chuck Todd, Howard Fineman, David Shuster, Tucker Carlson, Bob Herbert, Clarence Page, Tom Ridge, Michelle Bernard, Margaret Carlson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Do the Republicans fear Obama?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  It‘s the question that‘s been hovering over the Democratic campaign from the start, and it‘s getting much more attention since Pennsylvania.  How big a factor is race in the Democratic campaign?  Obama continues to have trouble winning over white voters.  Is it because many whites won‘t vote for a black candidate?  Is it because he doesn‘t connect with working class white voters?  Is it because he can‘t win over white women, who are very loyal to Hillary Clinton?  We‘ll take a look at the role that race is playing in this race in just a moment.

Also, who‘s right?  Senator Clinton says she wins the big states Democrats need to win in November, so that makes her the best candidate to run against John McCain.  Barack Obama says he expands the field of potential Democratic voters to independent voters and to states where Democrats have not been competitive in the past, so that makes him the best choice.  So which of the two is right?

And is it just me, or do the Clinton and McCain camps seem to be double-teaming Barack Obama in North Carolina these days?  Does this mean that John McCain, for whatever reason, wants to run against Hillary?  We‘ll look for some straight talk tonight from the co-chairman of the McCain campaign, Tom Ridge.  And for the first time since he first became an issue in this campaign, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is speaking out, as if anyone, especially anyone in the Obama campaign, really wants to hear from him.  We‘re going to hear about that in the “Politics Fix.”

And later, George W. Bush‘s daughter, Jenna—you know, the one who‘s about to get married—is actually taking a good look at all the presidential candidates, showing a lot more curiosity, political curiosity, than her old man.

But first, the race issue.  Bob Herbert is a columnist for “The New York Times”  and Chuck Todd is our political director for NBC News.  This is a tricky subject.  We‘re going to talk about it in a tricky way.  We‘re going to try to be honest, more honest, Bob, than apparently, a lot of people are when they talk to pollsters.  What‘s your sense of it, when you look at the results coming in from Pennsylvania, as a columnist, when you see numbers like we‘ve been looking at, where people are saying it‘s a factor, like 16 percent of the white voters are saying it is a factor in how they‘re voting?

BOB HERBERT, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  I‘m not surprised at all, Chris.  We‘ve known from the beginning that race was going to be a factor in this campaign.  There‘s a certain percentage—no one knows exactly what that number is.  You hope it‘s lower and not higher.  But there‘s a certain percentage of white voters who won‘t vote for an African-American candidate under any circumstances.  So for Barack to win the nomination and to have a shot at winning the White House, he‘s got to overcome that some way.  You know, bring new people into the system is one way of doing it.  Having a compelling message is another way.  Unifying the party is a way to do it.

But he lately has not been helping himself a lot.  He seems to have been thrown off of his game by the Clinton attacks, I think maybe because by the fact that the Reverend Wright story has had such legs.  So he‘s having a hard time at the home.  I think don‘t think it‘s just race, but I think that he‘s not doing the things he needs to do to overcome that obstacle.

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, let‘s talk about race.  Let‘s mix it with class.  I‘ve said before, people have criticized me for this, he doesn‘t seem to have the knack for walking into a dinette with regular people in it and just having fun, just connecting.

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Right.  I mean, I think this is as much of that as it is the overall race issue.  I mean, look, there are some people who say race is a factor because it‘s prejudice, and there are some who say race is a factor because they think their next-door neighbor won‘t support a black candidate, but they are hoping a Democrat wins and that‘s one reason they voted.

So I think somewhere in those numbers, there‘s a little bit of accountability for that.  But he‘s (INAUDIBLE) to overcome this.  You know, I always thought the biggest problem for Obama in that two-week period of Wright and then the race speech is that there is a chunk of voters who were open to the idea of Obama—when you looked at him, you thought, Well, that‘s surprising—who maybe thought Obama is a way to get rid of race as an issue.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  There‘s a chunk of white voters who don‘t like to be reminded of the problems of 40 years ago, don‘t want to talk about it, who want to sweep it under the rug.  And if they believe electing Obama might actually help it sweep it under the rug, they would be more open to the idea.  He‘s got to figure out how to—how to make sure that those voters realize, Hey, you know what?  My administration isn‘t going to be always seen through the prism of race.

MATTHEWS:  Well, wait a minute.  You‘re saying that the appeal of the guy is that he will help us get past our racial differences of 300 years, right?

TODD:  That‘s right, and not have to—so that the—there isn‘t these discussions on race.

MATTHEWS:  Well, there are, and they‘re happening, and I‘m just...

TODD:  Of course.

MATTHEWS:  But Bob, it just strikes me, a couple things.  You and I have watched this thing.  And you‘re African-American.  You know it better than I do.  But I can watch it from a distance and get it.  An African-American candidate can‘t be too radical.  He can‘t be too divisive.  He can‘t be too aggressive, especially against a white woman running against him.  He‘s got to walk a number of lines here.

But it seems to me—maybe you‘re getting at it—he‘s blowing some chances here.

HERBERT:  Yes, he...

MATTHEWS:  Why isn‘t he taking on Hillary?  But my question is, why isn‘t he taking on McCain?  Why isn‘t he going after him and saying, Look, I‘m going to fix Social Security.  I‘m going to redistribute the wealth a little bit and help the older perper (ph) to have a check for the rest of their life.  And number two, I‘m take on the Halliburtons and the oil campaigns, the bad guys, as we see it, Democrats see it, and be tough about it.  He doesn‘t seem to have that firebrand instinct that the Democrats want in the November election.

HERBERT:  I...

MATTHEWS:  Why isn‘t he showing it?

HERBERT:  I think I agree with that.  I think part of it may be that he‘s playing a waiting game, thinking that he has this nomination wrapped up.  He doesn‘t want to make any more gaffes or foul-ups, try and get the nomination in hand and maybe show a little bit of fire against McCain.  That‘s a possibility.  I think that‘s not a good strategy.

There‘s a couple of things where I think that he‘s made fundamental errors.  One is what you‘re talking about on the economy.  If you‘re talking about these white working class voters, you can‘t make the case that all the white working class voters who are voting against Obama are doing it because he‘s black.  Some of them are doing it because they think Hillary would be a better president, or they like Hillary.  But the problem for Obama is, I don‘t think that he‘s given voters of all classes a compelling enough economic message...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HERBERT:  ... in these economic hard times.  That‘s one thing. 

Another thing is I think that he stumbled badly on the patriotism issue.  It doesn‘t matter to me whether he wears a flag lapel pin or not.  I think that‘s a dopey issue.  But a couple of things.  One, obviously, Reverend Wright‘s comments hurt, but then also the Michelle Obama comment, which is sort of, like, lurking in the background.  That‘s going to come out during the general campaign for sure.  I don‘t know why they didn‘t clean that up.  I don‘t know why, when she said, This is the first time I‘m proud to be an American, they didn‘t say, You know what?  She just misspoke.  She got caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment.  Of course it‘s not the first time she‘s proud of her country.  What she meant was A, B, C and D.

And then another thing is, he‘s on the Veterans Affairs Committee in the Senate.  He‘s opposed to the war.  The war is a good issue for him.  But being on that committee gives him a great bully pulpit to be out there front and center with the fighting men and women in this country.  It‘s another way of showing patriotism.  I just think that‘s an issue that‘s very important if you‘re running for president.

MATTHEWS:  You know, we‘re in a battle of margins here.  He lost by almost 10 points, 9 points plus.  If he had won—if he had gotten 4-and-a-half more points, we wouldn‘t be talking about this.

HERBERT:  All he had to do was make it closer...

MATTHEWS:  And all he had to do was—was—all he had to do is (INAUDIBLE) closer, he would have won.  He would have tied this thing.  He did have the Jeremiah Wright, which he still can‘t seem to get disentangled from.  And it seems to me you got Jeremiah Wright popping up like a jack-in-the-box again tonight.  I don‘t want his explanations.  I don‘t know if anybody wants them.  There aren‘t any explanations.

It seems like it was winnable for him if he had—if he had had, A, not Jeremiah Wright bopping around, and this “bitter” thing, making fun of Pennsylvania voters right before an election—if he hadn‘t done that, then Rendell and Hillary Clinton and the rest of them wouldn‘t have been able to exploit this situation.

TODD:  Well, true, but the calendar—I was going to say the calendar is not helping Obama, oddly enough, right now because the states that we have focused on—and you looked at this issue so closely about, Why isn‘t he connecting with white working class voters?  Look, this isn‘t a new phenomenon.  It started in Iowa, OK?  He has had this issue all the way through in many states.  But it‘s more striking in these states, Texas, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, the last four exit polls we all have that we‘ve pored through and we‘ve seen it.  He‘s not being helped.  We‘re going to see more racial polarization in North Carolina because we‘ve seen that in the South.  We‘ll see it again in Indiana.

His hope of showing he can win over a majority of white voters is going to be in a place like Oregon.  Had he more of these Western states now—I mean, I think he‘s being penalized a little bit because all of the states we‘re talking about have more of a history of some racial polarization and they haven‘t had the same issues.

MATTHEWS:  Just to nail it down, Bob, before you talk, take a look at this poll.  This is from our exit poll coming out of Pennsylvania.  Everybody shares the same exit polls in this business.  White voters who say that race was important—look how they split.  They went 75 for Clinton, 24 for the black candidate, if you will, Bob.  I think it‘s fairly manifest what‘s going on here.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... going on.

HERBERT:  But you have to accept the fact that there‘s a percentage that won‘t vote for an African-American candidate, so you need a strategy to overcome that.  And I just think that, you know, we haven‘t addressed the issue of why so many voters won‘t vote for a black.  There‘s also guys who won‘t vote for women.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

HERBERT:  I think those are areas that need to be explored.  But that‘s not Obama‘s problem right now.  His problem right now is to recognize that as a fact and figure out ways to get past it.  And that‘s what he‘s not doing a great job at the moment.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I‘ll give him one minute of advice.  Give people what they want.  They want security in their Social Security.  They want it guaranteed for life.  That means you got to pay for it by moving that cap up on the payroll tax.  You got to stand for that and take the heat from the Republicans on that.  Number two, you got to share their bad guys, not just their needs.  You got to go out there and say, It‘s Halliburton, it‘s the oil companies, it‘s the rich Republicans.  And you got to talk like a firebrand because if you‘re carrying their fight for them, they‘re going to like you.  You know, a lot of white people root for black athletes because they‘re winning for the home team.  People are quite willing to pick up black heroes, if they‘ll win for their side.

(CROSSTALK)

HERBERT:  ... the fight thing is really an important issue.  Put aside voters who may have a problem with Obama‘s race.  Look at voters who really are supporters of Obama, want him to win this election and become president.  They want to see this guy fight for the nomination.  This country now looks at Hillary, and it looks like she‘ll fight to the death to win the nomination or to win White House.  And they have questions about whether Obama has that same fighting spirit.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

HERBERT:  That‘s crucially important.

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with that?

TODD:  She‘s become the populist.

MATTHEWS:  She‘s the fighter.

TODD:  She‘s become the populist, a firebrand, moreso than Obama.

MATTHEWS:  And the more she gets hit, the tougher she looks.

TODD:  And Obama has the positions that are more closely aligned with...

MATTHEWS:  You know what he ought to do?  Watch her.  And don‘t fight with her, learn from her.  She‘s a fighter.  She‘s goes in there and she takes on the bad guys.  And he ought to learn how she does it because she‘s learned how to be probably the best Democratic fighter right now, and he‘s not.  And that‘s a problem for him.  If he can‘t fight better than her, he‘s going to lose to her.  Ultimately, in August, somehow, he will lose to her unless he learns how to fight the Republicans.  Anyway, thank you, Bob Herbert.  Thank you, Chuck Todd.

Coming up: Does winning a state‘s primary mean you‘ll win there in November?  Interesting question because Hillary‘s argued if you can‘t win Pennsylvania primaries, you can‘t win in the general.  Is that a good argument?  Let‘s think it through.

And also, who has the better chance of taking a red state, a Republican state, if you will, in November, Clinton or Obama?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Senator Clinton is pushing for a popular vote victory over Senator Obama, the way she counts Michigan and, of course, Clinton administration.  She‘s also charging that he can‘t win states the Democrats need to win in November, like Pennsylvania and Ohio.  Is he right or is she right?  Does winning a primary mean you‘re going to win there in November?

Clarence Page is a columnist for “The Chicago Tribune,” and “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst and the author of a new book, one of the great books of our time, “The 13 American arguments.”  Actually, that‘s the same number of early colonies...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But this looks like—I have to tell you, Howard, just the binding alone would sell the book to me.  This looks like a founding document.

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I wrote it with you in mind, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  The Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist papers...

FINEMAN:  All it is, is HARDBALL in a slower time signature, is all it is.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I can‘t think slowly.  Anyway, let me go to this question, Clarence, this question that—Hillary Clinton‘s made a very strong argument that if she can win in Pennsylvania and he can‘t, meaning Barack can‘t, then she has to win the nomination or the Democrats will blow it in November.

CLARENCE PAGE, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Well, the one advantage that barb will have, if he‘s nominated, is that he won‘t have Hillary Clinton there...

(LAUGHTER)

PAGE:  ... in these states...

MATTHEWS:  Running against him!

PAGE:  ... but he will have that infrastructure on his side...

MATTHEWS:  So he can‘t beat her with her people.

PAGE:  Like, Pennsylvania, for example...

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

PAGE:  Pennsylvania, for example, Governor Rendell, Mayor Nutter, all those county chairmen, all that street money that Barack was too proud to use because he was too moral.  The machinery and apparatus at the grass roots would be on his side, so a whole different calculus comes into play.

MATTHEWS:  Well, she‘s like “The First Wives Club” in Pennsylvania, right?  She goes through it the first time...

PAGE:  Something like that.

MATTHEWS:  ... and then he gets all the advantage later, right?

PAGE:  That‘s right.  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  But suppose she leaves behind...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... some tracer elements of not liking the guy?

PAGE:  Well, that‘s the down side, of course.  You know, I was describing what would happen if all the gods are in place and all that.  But if you‘ve got...

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  Yes.  Yes.  If you‘ve got a lot of hurt feelings behind whether Barack or Hillary loses in this nomination fight, what‘s really important is how they follow it up by patching up those hurt feelings.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think she gave permission to people who wanted to vote against him for ethnic reasons?

PAGE:  Well, I think the important thing in that debate is when she said, Yes, he can be elected.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, yes, yes.

PAGE:  Yes, yes, yes.  Right.  But that undercut her own argument that he would not be...

MATTHEWS:  You felt that was whole-hearted.

PAGE:  ... a good candidate.  Yes, well, you know, she was backed into it, of course.

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  But you know, it cane out of her mouth.

MATTHEWS:  Howard, she ran a better campaign in Pennsylvania than he did.

FINEMAN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s in there backtracking and explaining the reverend whatever.  He shouldn‘t have had to be talking about it, explaining that comment he made in that primary about “bitter,” when, in fact, I think she demonstrated she can win that state in the general.  And I think she demonstrates in the polling lately that she can win in Ohio.  I think she looks like a stronger candidate in those old industrial states than he does right now.

FINEMAN:  I don‘t think there‘s any question about that.  And I think one of the things that happens in a presidential campaign is people learn and they adapt.  You can say all you want about Hillary Clinton, but she learned to adapt who she was in her message to Pennsylvania.  And she showed a resilience that now the Clinton campaign is using as their main calling card.  Their whole argument for Hillary now is, Look what a licking she‘s taken, and she‘s still there.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  She‘s still there.  And that‘s—I was talking to one of her top fund-raisers just a few minutes ago, and she said, That‘s what we‘re saying to people.  Look how resilient.  That‘s the kind of person you need in the White House.  That‘s the kind of president you need.  And that‘s their whole sales pitch.

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  ... her, too, though, you know, if she doesn‘t keep the base happy.  You know, a lot of folks are saying that...

MATTHEWS:  Let me—let me...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... offer the other argument.  Not sure I believe it, but the Barack argument is, yes, she‘s better in the base and she can always out-promise me with the base on issues of economics (INAUDIBLE) and she‘s much more of sort of a visceral Democrat than I am.  But when you get into a general election situation, when everybody gets to vote, people vote for patriotic reasons, by the way, not just partisan reasons, because they think you‘re supposed to, as Jimmy Breslin once said.  They vote in November because you‘re supposed to.  Those regular people who are not partisans show up and vote, will they be more likely to vote for the girl next door, the home town girl, they call her in Pennsylvania, or this kind of interesting new candidate, Barack Obama?

PAGE:  I want to tell you right now, all these cutesy questions mean nothing compared to the economy.  That‘s going to be the big issues, if gasoline keeps going up, which it is right now, all these other job issues, and...

MATTHEWS:  But all I got on the sheet here...

PAGE:  ... general dissatisfaction...

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  ... and I know what I‘ve got on the street.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you know what the unemployment rate‘s going to be in October and you know what the price of gas is in October?

PAGE:  Well, yes, I can predict it‘s going to be high.  And I‘m—and there‘s going to be a lot of ill feeling. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what I think?  I think the bankers of the world have united...

PAGE:  Do you remember...

MATTHEWS:  ... to keep the economy pumped up through November. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Have you noticed?  Have you ever seen such an effort by a lot of people to keep the economy pumped up until November? 

PAGE:  Do you remember what oil and gas were back—back when Bush came into office eight years ago?

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  Oil was, like, $10 a barrel.  It‘s over $100 now. 

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  And you have got—it takes—you remember Bob Teeter?  He always said it takes at least four months for economic shifts to settle in with the voters.  If this economy hasn‘t turned around by August...

MATTHEWS:  OK, better yet.  I‘m going to (INAUDIBLE) You‘re the first one.  Does the argument that you can win a primary in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and those big states mean that you‘re a better candidate to win in the general?

PAGE:  A better candidate in the general.  I think there‘s too many different calculuses involved here.  Besides, you know, the South and the West are too important just to give it to the Rust Belt. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, you think that he has what shot at winning in Colorado, Nevada, places like that? 

PAGE:  That‘s part of this argument, that he‘s brought in a lot of new voters, who may not—they may not be there in November.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of the question?

FINEMAN:  I think part of the problem is that John McCain, coming out of Arizona, being a moderate on immigration, makes the Southwest likely to be the decisive spot on the Electoral College map that I—for one.

MATTHEWS:  And he can win Colorado?

FINEMAN:  Yes.  It complicates it for the Democrats.  It pushes them right back into the Ohio River Valley, which is, for the last 50, 75 years, been the sort of seam along which these elections are decided.

MATTHEWS:  And he has elitism problems.

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And the one thing you can‘t be in Ohio or in Pittsburgh is an elitist. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  You just can‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  The poor guy is getting—I‘m not defending him, because I think he‘s gotten his own troubles.  He‘s created them.  But he‘s either too street, because he hangs around with Jeremiah Wright, or he‘s too elite and looks like Dukakis and John Kerry. 

FINEMAN:  Well, that‘s a false choice, Chris. 

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE:  Or he‘s not black enough.  You know, we have gone through all this.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  My argument is that he‘s got to make the South Side of Chicago, where he‘s from, where he chose to be from...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  ... more than just Jeremiah Wright.  It‘s America, too. 

And the Republicans, for the last generation, since Reagan...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  ... have managed to convince a lot of Americans that big cities are not mainstream America anymore. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, they have gotten away with the argument, though.

FINEMAN:  They have...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a little late to change them, isn‘t it?  That‘s why they‘re in the burbs.

FINEMAN:  No, no.  But, yes, but you have got to go...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why they moved.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  I know, but, I mean, metropolitan areas, you have got to move back that.  You have got to move back that. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  And he‘s got to tell more about where he‘s from, because, for older voters, that still matters.  That still matters. 

PAGE:  The vote doesn‘t come from the cities, though.  The vote comes from the suburbs.  And that is where the economy is going to make a big difference, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  The question for all these guys, is it going to be a better, safer country under this person‘s leadership than under somebody else?  That‘s the question we have got to keep in mind through all this Sturm und Drang. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway—well, that would help.

(LAUGHTER)

PAGE:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Clarence Page, who always wants too much, Howard Fineman.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  President Bush‘s approval rating is down.  Now his TV ratings are also taking a hit, when he was on that “Deal or No Deal” show.  We‘re going to tell you about that.  We—we cover everything here.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

So, what else is new in politics? 

Well, as you know, President Bush has a notorious amount of belief in his own views, a notorious lack of curiosity about other world views.  Well, the good news for those who don‘t like this kind of thinking is that his about-to-get-married daughter is not a chip off the old block. 

Let‘s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LARRY KING LIVE”) 

LARRY KING, HOST, “LARRY KING LIVE”:  Do you have a favorite between the two, the two Democrats? 

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY:  My favorite is the Republican. 

(LAUGHTER)

KING:  Yours, too, I would imagine? 

JENNA BUSH, DAUGHTER OF PRESIDENT AND MRS. BUSH:  I don‘t know.

KING:  Aha. 

J. BUSH:  But, I mean, you know...

KING:  Are you open to...

J. BUSH:  Yes, of course.  I mean, who isn‘t open to learning about the candidates?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that mere lack of her curiosity on her part—on the part of this young woman, has the curiosity to do some political window-shopping.  That takes her into the cultural stratosphere compared to her father.

Speaking of Bush family cameos, don‘t cast the president in any prime-time shows any time soon.  It turns out his Monday appearance, this Monday appearance on the game show “Deal or No Deal” turned out to be something of a ratings loser.  It tied for the lowest Monday ratings of that show so far among viewers 18-49.  That‘s what he call the demo in this business, 18-49. 

Anyway, I guess it was no deal. 

Anyway, dot-communism?  The Xinhua News Agency reports that, in China now, there are 221 million Internet users, tying the United States for the most web users in any country.  The trouble is, it means that China is growing and advancing, but, let‘s not forget, our Internet users have access to the entire Internet. 

In China, sites that show protest videos in Tibet, like YouTube, are blocked by the government.  Glasnost has yet to hit China, and the First Amendment is nowhere in sight. 

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

It‘s been a rough year for Senator Larry Craig, how is still trying to decide why he has a—quote—“wider stance” than your average Larry.  But it‘s not just the humiliation he‘s facing.  It‘s also the financial toll he‘s had to incur over the past 10 months. 

According to reports his campaign committee filed with the Federal Election Commission, how much money has Senator Craig spent on legal bills since he was busted?  Four hundred and seven thousand dollars.

Well, given the fact that lawyer Stan Brand advised him how to stay in the Senate, advised him that the Senate had no objective basis for ejecting him from the Senate, I would say that 407 K was well worth the expense—tonight‘s “Big Number,” $407,000. 

Up next:  Is it possible that both Hillary Clinton and John McCain are actually joining hands to defeat Barack Obama in North Carolina and elsewhere? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARY THOMPSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Mary Thompson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.” 

Stocks rallying, as oil dropped, the dollar strengthened, and first-time unemployment fell unexpectedly.  The Dow Jones industrial average gained 85 points, the S&P 500 up almost nine, and the Nasdaq up 23. 

After the closing bell, Microsoft reporting quarterly earnings that beat analyst estimates.  But revenue was slightly short of expectations.  And the software maker lowered its outlook for the next quarter.  In after-hours trading, Microsoft shares are down about 4 percent. 

Oil fell $2.24 in New York, closing at $116.06 a barrel, that as the dollar rose to a four-month high against the euro, amid speculation the Federal Reserve is about to stop cutting interest rates.

And sales of new homes plunged in March to the lowest level in 16-and-a-half years.  Prices also fell 13 percent from last year.  That‘s the steepest year-over-year drop since 1970. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

It‘s been seven weeks since John McCain wrapped up the delegates needed for the Republican nomination.  And, since then, McCain has been able to hide behind the Democratic battles, while Hillary Clinton hides behind Barack Obama‘s problems and missteps. 

And it‘s just become—it‘s just become clear that McCain and Clinton both seem a benefit—they both see a benefit wherever Obama gets squeezed. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster discusses the possible double-teaming we‘re watching here. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In the last few weeks, it‘s happened repeatedly, Hillary Clinton and John McCain echoing each other to hammer Barack Obama.  Remember Obama‘s comments that small-town voters are bitter? 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think those comments are elitist. 

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You know, they—they seem kind of elitist and out of touch. 

SHUSTER:  Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both support gun control, and John McCain wants to close gun show loopholes. 

But, listening to McCain and Clinton talk about Obama‘s views, and one could conclude that Obama‘s approach to gun owners is extreme. 

MCCAIN:  Their appreciation of traditions, like hunting, was based in nothing—nothing—other than their contribution to the enjoyment of their lives. 

CLINTON:  People enjoy hunting and shooting because it‘s an important part of who they are, not because they are bitter. 

SHUSTER:  On foreign policy, John McCain and Hillary Clinton both voted to authorize the Iraq war.  And both supported an effort to put new pressure on Iran. 

Barack Obama opposed the Iraq war and the Iran measure, and Obama often hits McCain and Clinton in the same breath. 

OBAMA:  I‘m tired of Democrats thinking that the only way to look tough on national security is to act and talk and vote like George Bush Republicans. 

SHUSTER:  But the foreign policy attacks against Obama have been relentless. 

CLINTON:  I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House.  I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience that he will bring to the White House.  And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002.   

SHUSTER:  Another issue that is now getting a lot of attention involves North Carolina.  The Tarheel State is the place where former Republican Senator Jesse Helms once attacked an African-American opponent with a controversial ad featuring a pair of white hands. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR:  You needed that job.  And you were the best qualified.  But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota.  Is that really fair? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  This week, the North Carolina Republican Party produced an ad targeting Barack Obama featuring the most inflammatory clip of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. 

Yesterday, McCain urged the state Republican Party to kill the ad. 

MCCAIN:  We called and asked them not to run that—that message. 

It‘s not the message of the Republican Party. 

SHUSTER:  But the party still intends to run the commercial.  And McCain is not threatening any sanctions to bolster his public commendation. 

Hillary Clinton didn‘t even go that far.  When Clinton‘s campaign was also asked to condemn the ad, Clinton and the campaign stayed silent. 

(on camera):  John McCain views Barack Obama as the likely Democratic nominee.  And, as long as the Democratic race goes on, Hillary Clinton and John McCain want the same thing: to see Barack Obama stopped.  The question is, will it work? 

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Tom Ridge is the very popular former governor of Pennsylvania.  He‘s co-chair of the McCain campaign. 

Do you believe John McCain when he says, don‘t run that ad in North Carolina? 

TOM RIDGE, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN CO-CHAIR:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why doesn‘t he do something about it? 

RIDGE:  Well, there‘s not much he can do.

Obviously, he‘s looking to the leaders of North Carolina to support his candidacy, but he‘s made it very clear, unequivocal in his language.  He called divisive.  He said it was imperative that they take it off.  They claim that it‘s not directed at Obama.  They claim it‘s directed toward two statewide candidates.  We all know there are some implications in it.  John did what had to do, and that‘s condemn it in very strong words. 

MATTHEWS:  Doesn‘t common sense tell you that the fact that they‘re running this ad against Obama means they want to hurt Obama in the Democratic primary in two weeks? 

RIDGE:  Well, I think they probably look at if as a twofer.  You can hurt—potentially, it hurts Obama, and, clearly, if construed the way they want it to be construed, would knock out some of those Democrat candidates that they want to deal with in the general election. 

MATTHEWS:  In North Carolina, do you think they think Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama is a more ferocious candidate?  Probably neither one would win North Carolina.  Why are they attacking him?

I get the sneaky suspicion that your party believes that, although Hillary can be beaten, safely about 52-48, she will be a strong opponent, but she won‘t pull any surprises, where Barack Obama could either lose badly or win big.  He‘s more dangerous to go against.

(CROSSTALK)

RIDGE:  Well, Chris, I think they‘re both strong, but for entirely different reasons.  He‘s got the strength of his oratory, his charisma, his fund-raising base.  But he‘s certainly...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And power among independents. 

RIDGE:  Very—potentially powerful against independents.  Against John McCain, during the course of a tough campaign, I‘m not so sure.  John has great appeal with the independents as well.

MATTHEWS:  You think—if I put you under sodium pentathol, Governor, who would you say would be easier to beat, Hillary or Barack? 

RIDGE:  I would probably resist the shot. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

On that count, I have to go now to have some fun with you, since you‘re a great—let‘s take a look at what John McCain had at Villanova when we had the HARDBALL College Tour.

Now, I offered you up.  I‘m sorry to do that, but I offered you up because I know, up in Pennsylvania...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s from Arizona.  You‘re from Pennsylvania—perfect team balance in terms of geography.  You‘re more moderate on some of the social issues than he is.  But he is sort of seen as a maverick on everything. 

Let‘s take a look at this.  Here it is.  This is from Villanova  a couple weeks ago. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Would you put a person on the ticket with you, like the former governor of this state, who is very popular, Tom Ridge, even though he may disagree...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  ... even though he may disagree with you on the issue of Roe v. Wade and abortion rights?  Would you put somebody on the ticket like that?  On that one issue, would that stop him?

MCCAIN:  I don‘t know if it would stop him, but it would be difficult....

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... that one issue?  Why is it that one litmus test issue?

MCCAIN:  I‘m not saying that would be, necessarily, but I am saying it‘s—basically, the respect and cherishing of the right of the unborn is one of the fundamental principles of my party.

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN:  And it‘s a...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MCCAIN:  And it‘s a deeply held, deeply held belief of mine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we got applause there for you and for the pro-life position.  And I didn‘t...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And I wasn‘t surprised by that at Villanova.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But he doesn‘t want you on the ticket with him. 

RIDGE:  No, that‘s classic John, though. 

He has certain strong beliefs, and he‘s not afraid to say it even in the context of discussing a longtime friend.  And I consider myself a very close friend of John. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RIDGE:  And it‘s his choice.  And he has to be comfortable with that choice.  And if there‘s a single issue—and I doubt if there‘s a single issue that would attract him or dissuade him from a particular individual.

But that‘s one of the reasons I admire John.  He believes...             

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That he won‘t take you on the ticket? 

RIDGE:  No, he believes what he believes. 

(CROSSTALK)

RIDGE:  He‘s not afraid to say it, under any set of circumstances, even when he‘s put in a very difficult context in Pennsylvania, when he‘s talking about a lifelong friend. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know Pennsylvania really well.  You won governorship there.  You were a congressman for many years from Erie, a part of the state I have no idea where it is.  It‘s the other end from where I grew up.

What—what is the stronger threat to you in that state?  Because a lot of Democrats believe—I certainly, looking at it, believe, and I think everybody does, that the Democrats can‘t win the presidential election in November, all of a sudden this year, unless they win Pennsylvania. 

RIDGE:  I agree.  I don‘t think the D‘s can. 

MATTHEWS:  If you can take that away, if you poach that, can you poach it away from Hillary more easily than you can away from Barack?  Which way?

RIDGE:  Earlier on, I was prepared to tell you, nationwide, I think they‘re about even.  In Pennsylvania, given her strength with the traditional constituencies in Pennsylvania, the unions and the seniors—an, look, let‘s face it -- 

MATTHEWS:  Women. 

RIDGE:  Women, and Ed Rendell‘s got a pretty strong organization as the incumbent Democrat governor, Mayor Nutter and some of the elected officials.  So you take the organization, you take three or four constituencies that obviously sported her in a very, very significant way.  She becomes, I think, in Pennsylvania a more formidable candidate. 

MATTHEWS:  You think she‘s tougher than Barack? 

RIDGE:  In Pennsylvania, clearly. 

MATTHEWS:  Your party is not double teaming Barack? 

RIDGE:  I don‘t know what they‘re doing. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re going after him in North Carolina like a banshee.

RIDGE:  The North Carolina party is going after him.  I think most of the people I talked to in the party say they‘re both strong for two entirely different reasons.  Her strength—neither one of them are experienced enough to be commander in chief.  Neither one of them has reached across the aisle as successfully as John has, in terms of bipartisan. 

Both bring different strengths.  Her strength, I think, particularly, is her resoluteness, her resolve, the fact that she‘s been able to hang during a very tough primary season and keeps crawling back, and gets closer and closer.  And if you take a look across the states that she‘s won, how do you as a party say, we favor the candidate in our party who has come in second in New York, Pennsylvania—

MATTHEWS:  You say you give it to the candidate who has the most elected delegates.  That‘s what you say.

RIDGE:  I think she‘s got the greatest strength within party. 

MATTHEWS:  I think the Democrats ought to be worried.  You are talking a lot faster than you used to.  I think the Republican party is getting a lot more animated here.  Thank you very much, Tom Ridge, former, and always popular, governor of Pennsylvania. 

Up next, Indiana and North Carolina are just 12 days a way.  We‘re going to go into that with the politics fix.  Indiana is going to be big in this election, because Barack Obama basically said he has to win it there.  That‘s the first time he‘s laid down that marker.  He has to win and the numbers show he‘s behind.  This is getting very interesting.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Tonight‘s round table, the Carlsons, the MSNBC senior campaign correspondent, Tucker Carlson, and “Bloomberg‘s” Margaret Carlson, no apparent relationship.  Anyway, and MSNBC political analyst, Michelle Bernard.  Thank you, all three of you. 

Let‘s take a look at the damage.  It‘s going to be clear.  This is the Reverend Jeremiah Wright speaking out when no one asked him to about his sermons and his relationship with Senator Barack for the first time since the hell broke loose.  The entire interview was conducted by one of the leaders of this business, Bill Moyers.  It airs Friday night on public television, PBS at 9:00 tomorrow night Eastern time.  That‘s Bill Moyers tomorrow night at 9:00. 

Here‘s the Reverend Wright on how he differs from Senator Obama. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH:  If he‘s a politician, I‘m a pastor.  We speak to two different audiences.  And he says what he has to say as a politician.  I say what I have to say as a pastor.  Those are two different worlds.  I do what I do.  He does what politicians do.  So what happened in Philadelphia, where he had to respond to the sound bites, he responded as a politician. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Tucker, your thoughts about that defense of his position. 

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC SENIOR CAMPAIGN CORRESPONDENT:  You accuse the U.S. government of creating AIDS and that what you‘re saying in your capacity as a pastor?  No, you‘re saying it in your capacity as a nut case.  There‘s no explaining that.  There‘s no apologizing for it.  It‘s wrong, and he ought to have the decency to admit it.  I think Barack Obama has left unanswered—I like Obama, by the way.  But he‘s left unanswered the key question, which was how could you sit there for 20 years and not say anything? 

No one answered that question.  People have shouted down those who attempted to ask it.  It remains unanswered.  That is a problem. 

MATTHEWS:  This is his Iraq.  This is his Iraq. 

MICHELLE BERNARD, INDEPENDENT WOMEN‘S FORUM:  This is not helpful at all.  If Barack Obama did not have the stomach to denounce, like fully denounce Jeremiah Wright before this airs, I suspect it will happen very quickly. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you have a sense that—now, this is, again, just a tradition way things happen.  It‘s been my experience—my wife and I have the same religion.  Religions tend to differ.  The woman tends have more swag in terms of deciding what church you go to, in my experience.  Do you think it was really Michelle‘s choice, that minister, and he‘s afraid to take that on?  She will say, you cannot break with that man.  He‘s our family. 

BERNARD:  You know, it‘s possible. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a reason why he won‘t break with him. 

BERNARD:  It‘s possibly, but I also think there‘s a psychological element to this that none of us can understand.  Barack Obama was abandoned by his father at age two.  He had no man in his life to raise him that looked like him, that was in any way culturally like him.  It‘s not a good explanation, but I think there‘s something there that none of us are ever going to be able to answer, as to why he can‘t fully denounce this man. 

MATTHEWS:  So this is like Jack Kennedy and Joe McCarthy, one of those things, family friend you can‘t break with.  Yes, Margaret. 

MARGARET CARLSON, “BLOOMBERG NEWS”:  I tried to get my brother to not go to the church we have always gone to, Good Sheppard Church, because I thought that there was a priest in the background who had a problem and wasn‘t moved.  When he was moved, he was moved to another parish without anybody saying.  But it‘s very hard to leave a church. 

However, if my brother were running for president, I would say, get out of that church.  The other thing that mystifies me is why Barack Obama at the ABC debate didn‘t have an answer.  He‘s got—I mean, each time you can make your answer better.  He made his answer worse.  And it‘s not—

Here‘s the thing.  Obama never says it‘s what I believe, not what he believes.  Now that I know, I‘m leaving. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at some more of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright on Bill Moyers tomorrow night, I think digging the hole deeper.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL MOYERS, PBS:  In the 20 years since you‘ve been his pastor, have you heard him repeat any of your controversial statements as his opinion? 

WRIGHT:  No, no, absolutely not.  I don‘t talk to him about politics.  He‘s at a political event.  He goes out as a politician and says what he has to say as a politician.  I continue to be a pastor that speaks to people of god about the things of god. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What he has to say.  He‘s portraying the work of Senator Obama as—what is it?  A dodge.  What you have to say—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  In other words, what I‘m saying out there just gets the pews filled.  What he has to do is get the voting booths filled.  Tucker, it sounds like they are into dodges, like games.  We have to play our numbers here. 

T. CARLSON:  It‘s worse than that.  A lot of us who watched Barack Obama a lot assume he doesn‘t agree with the Reverend Wright.  He seems too decent a guy to agree with the Reverend Wright.  What the Reverend Wright is saying is, in effect, confirming our worst fears, everybody‘s worst fears.  What he‘s really saying, you know, Obama agrees with me, of course he does, but he can‘t say that for his mainstream audience, so he has to pretend, as politicians do, to distance himself from my remarks.

MATTHEWS:  This is weirdly reminding me of

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  A lot of times you will hear Irish guys, old conservative Irish guys saying they like these young Irish politicians; they‘ve got to be liberals.  They always say that.  You know what I really think.  They‘ve got a secret agenda. 

M. CARLSON:  He‘s lying about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but they act like politics is just BS. 

M. CARLSON:  It‘s much harder to dispense with a religious person than it is with some other kind. 

MATTHEWS:  How about when he says, I say what I have to say.  Is he including this rabble rousing thing about—I know, there was the history with Tuskegee.  It‘s not like it was never played before that the white government hasn‘t used black people for guinea pigs.  We know the horrible history of that 70 years ago, whatever, 60 years.  This idea that the AIDS was foisted on the ghetto to destroy people by somebody in Washington, some J. Edgar Hoover type, is paranoia. 

BERNARD:  It is—in my opinion, it is paranoia.  I have seen polls that show that 10 percent of African-Americans actually believe this and I think because of things like—

MATTHEWS:  Maybe it‘s because their preachers keep telling them it‘s true. 

BERNARD:  I don‘t disagree.  This is very harmful to the Obama campaign.  He‘s got to find a way—

MATTHEWS:  I begin to wonder.  Let‘s take a look.  The question here -

we‘re doing the politics fix.  Tucker, let‘s look at the lay of the land, given everything that‘s happened the last week.  It seems to me that Hillary Clinton has proven herself one heck of a good politician working the neighborhoods of northeast Philly, where I grew up, becoming a Scranton girl again.  It‘s not just using the fact that she‘s white and he‘s black.  There‘s more to it than that.  She‘s made herself the hometown favorite. 

Let‘s be honest about it.  She‘s Norma Ray coming out of Pennsylvania. 

T. CARLSON:  Well, if you had asked anybody ten years ago, three years ago, could Hillary Clinton in a race against someone like Barack Obama, get Democrats in the middle, win self-described moderate Democrats by 20 points, win gun owners by more than that, win regular church goers by 16 points.  In other words, be the candidate with the cross over appeal, the most polarizing politician in the United States.  Could she do that?  It would be a joke. 

Yet, she‘s done it.  It‘s actually unbelievable.  I‘m not celebrating it, but I‘m standing back in some awe. 

MATTHEWS:  I think people in a poll would say she‘s got a GED from somewhere in Scranton.  She never went to college.  She‘s never left home.  She‘s some Norma Ray character.  I think she‘s done the complete sales spin.  I commend her for it.  This is what politics is. 

M. CARLSON:  I‘m more a daughter of Pennsylvania than Hillary Clinton and I couldn‘t have done it.  So hats off, Hillary. 

MATTHEWS:  I mean, she‘s got the equivalent of a college degree.  She didn‘t graduate from college, high school, rather. 

M. CARLSON:  Wellesley never comes up. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do a Google search on the word Wellesley in this campaign.  It will not come up.  Anyway, with the round table, back more with the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL.  We are saluting Hillary Clinton‘s bona fides as one first rate politician, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table.  I want to go to Michelle and Margaret and Tucker with a proposition.  I‘m Barack Obama.  I propose to Senator Clinton that I will help you organize and finance a new vote in Michigan, a primary, not a caucus, a new primary in Florida; under one condition that when we‘re at the end of this primary season, including those two state, the winner of the elected delegate, the one with the most elected delegates is the nominee of the Democratic party.  No more games, no more super delegates.  I will cut that deal with you at this moment if you swear to uphold it. 

Tucker, how does she say no to that deal if it‘s about democracy and the Democratic party? 

T. CARLSON:  That‘s very clever, and he ought to do that.  She says, look, by the rules that have been established, the super delegates if neither candidate has enough to seal it, make that choice.  That‘s the way it‘s been set up.  We‘re abiding by the rules. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but the fact is the rules—

T. CARLSON:  It‘s an aristocratic system. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.  Margaret, how does she say no to that? 

M. CARLSON:  He‘s wise to put it out there, but she‘s relying on the supers. 

MATTHEWS:  She‘s been asking for revotes in states that broke the rules.  If you go by the rules, which includes super delegates, those states shouldn‘t count.  So you have to go to a new system.  If she wants to break the rules for those two states and have a revote, then he says OK, let‘s go to a new system, elected delegates.  You‘re doing what they‘re going to do. 

M. CARLSON:  If you say what the rules are enough, people start fighting their version of the rules.  They don‘t want to. 

MATTHEWS:  A fair Jeffersonian solution is total elected delegates.  What do you think?  Why should he ever allow a revote in those states if they won‘t agree to go by the total vote?  Because the primaries don‘t count, which they‘re saying they don‘t count, then why have any more of them? 

M. CARLSON:  He should not. 

BERNARD:  I think it‘s a good idea for him to propose it, because it makes him appear as if he‘s not scared of Michigan and Florida.  Right now, she‘s got him on the defensive. 

MATTHEWS:  He should never agree to revotes in those states unless they‘re willing to go by the total vote.  If he does agree to those things, and they get within 50 or 100 or 75, they‘ll still say they have a right to win.  He cannot win by their proposal. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  But you know what I‘d do if I were him?  I‘d do that—they‘ll have a meeting and come back with some other proposal that will be like we‘ll agree to look at the results from Florida.  But in the end, we‘re going to declare, because they‘ve already had the election in their hearts.  They won. 

BERNARD:  Clintons don‘t follow rules. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what?  Hillary is running a great campaign.  She ought to say, yes, sir.  That‘s my baby.  I‘m going to do that right now.  Let‘s cut the deal, most elected delegates win.  This is the party of Tom Jefferson.  We‘re going to live with that and surprise everybody.  Tucker Carlson, Margaret Carlson, Michelle Bernard, what a great trio.  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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