updated 5/6/2008 10:53:29 AM ET 2008-05-06T14:53:29

Guests: Howard Fineman, Chuck Todd, Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman, David Shuster, Harold Ford, Jr, Linda Douglass, Julia Boseman, Chrystia Freeland, Cynthia Tucker, Mike Barnicle

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The Hoosiers and Tar Heels control the game.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL, tonight from Boston. 

When voters go to the polls tomorrow, it will be the last big event of the primary season, the last chance to give the nomination outright to Barack Obama, or effectively extend the battle all the way to the convention in Denver in late August -- 187 delegates are at stake tomorrow in Indiana and North Carolina, with polls showing good battles in both states. 

On the—on the campaign trail today, Senator Clinton defended her gas tax holiday, while Obama attacked it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I want the oil companies, out their excess profits, to pay the gas tax this summer, instead of having you pay it. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  There is not a single person who—out there who has studied the oil markets who believes that this actually going to solve the problem. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We will have the latest on the politics of the gaseous politics of the gas tax, the expectations for tomorrow, and, of course, all the polls the day before tomorrow‘s doubleheader. 

Also, Bill Clinton and the Bubba tour—the former president is working the sticks.  Today, alone, he made nine stops in North Carolina.  Has Bill finally found his niche in this campaign?  Is he the new star of dinner theater?  Can he win over small-town voters for Hillary? 

Plus, for weeks now, Rush Limbaugh has urged his Republican listeners to vote for Clinton in the Democratic primaries in order to extend the battle all the way to the convention.  He calls it Operation Chaos.  Is it working?  We may found out tomorrow in Indiana‘s open primary.  How many dittoheads does it take to change a primary? -- that and more in tonight‘s “Politics Fix.” 

Plus, what exactly is Bill Clinton doing to make so many people faint at his rallies?  We will let you in on that secret in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

And a reminder:  If you love politics, hang with us tomorrow.  Keith Olbermann will join with me at 6:00.  And MSNBC will stay live until 2:00 in the morning Eastern time.  These primaries could be game-changers tomorrow night.  And, if you miss a minute, especially this twi-night doubleheader tomorrow night, you miss a lot.  So, make sure you turn on and stay on MSNBC, the place to be for politics. 

But we begin tonight, “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst, Chuck Todd, obviously, political director for NBC News.  And Linda Douglass writes for “The National Journal.”

I want to start with you, Chuck. 

This doubleheader tomorrow night, are you looking at a split?  have a different theory.  What do you think?

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, look, every time we have been waiting for somebody to make a game-changing rout of some sort, a result, it‘s never happened. 

So, what‘s the most likely result?  Some sort of mushy split decision, where Clinton may win by five or six in Indiana; he may win by six or seven in North Carolina.  And then it‘s up to the superdelegates to interpret the results.

MATTHEWS:  Linda, do you look at mushy tomorrow? 

TODD:  I think it is...

LINDA DOUGLASS, “THE NATIONAL JOURNAL”:  Well...

TODD:  Oh, I‘m sorry. 

DOUGLASS:  No.  But, I mean, in terms of game-changing, a lot of things could happen that could change the game. 

Obviously, she could win big in Indiana.  And some people on her staff are saying that she might win big in Indiana.  She could win in North Carolina or come very close to him.  People are saying those are game-changing things.

But the question, as you say, and have been saying all along, it‘s going to be, what are the superdelegates going to do about Barack Obama?  Because, even if it looks like the air is somehow going out of his candidacy tomorrow, African-American voters are not going to want to see the nomination taken away from him. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go to Howard Fineman. 

Howard, the tiebreaker here from you.  It seems to me, if a doubleheader is split, it‘s boring.  Nobody won.  Nobody‘s happy.  Is that your view of this thing tomorrow night, a doubleheader broken in half?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I just got off the phone with Evan Bayh, the senator from Indiana, who is Hillary‘s workhorse there in Indiana.  He‘s consciously optimistic, he says, with the emphasis on the word “caution.”

I think, if it‘s a split, if it‘s boring, advantage to Obama, because Obama is ahead.  If he plays out in this situation winning North Carolina, which has a lot more delegates than Indiana, if you play that out to the end of June 3, his objective is to get within double digits, counting pledged delegates and superdelegates.  If he gets it below 100, to the 2,025 goal, that‘s all he needs.  I think if Hillary—I think Hillary needs to win both tomorrow to really change anything. 

MATTHEWS:  So, it‘s the old rule of boxing; you have to beat the champ?

FINEMAN:  Exactly.  Exactly.  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s Senator Obama talking yesterday about—or, actually, talking yesterday with Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” about the expectations of tomorrow night‘s events. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

TIM RUSSERT, HOST:  let me talk about some politics.  You said—quote—“Indiana may end up being the tiebreaker.”  Right?  That‘s where we are.  So, if Hillary Clinton wins here, she wins?

OBAMA:  No.  I...

RUSSERT:  She wins the nomination?

OBAMA:  No.  I—what I said was is that—this was in the context of Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Indiana, the three largest states that are remaining.  I said clearly Senator Clinton was favored in Pennsylvania.  I was slightly favored in North Carolina.  Indiana was one that was a toss-up.  So, between those three states, that would be the one that was hardest to gauge in terms of where the voters might go. 

But we have got more contests remaining, and I‘m confident that Senator Clinton‘s going to stay in until the very end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at the polling coming out of Indiana and North Carolina. 

In Indiana, we have got the real clear choice right there.  That‘s the average of all the polls you can get on their Web site, RealClearPolitics.  That shows Senator Clinton up by six. 

In North Carolina, we‘re looking at almost a flip side of that, Obama up by seven. 

Chuck, again, these polls—well, I have real doubts about them.  But you tell me what you think of them.  These polls are so damn fickle nationwide, it‘s hard for me to believe a state poll anymore. 

TODD:  Well, for good reason.

I mean, when you have the Gallup Organization with two different polling results out today nationally, one in “USA Today,” with Clinton up by seven points, and one out today with Obama, in the daily tracking, up by five points, it‘s no wonder folks get confused by the polling. 

I mean, the fact is, you know, I have done this.  I have—I have gone to various folks and I say, OK, if this were a football spread, and I had Obama and gave you seven, would you—would you take the points?  And most people I have talked to said they would not take the points.  They think Obama‘s more likely to win by more than seven than less than seven. 

When I reverse it and do the same thing in Indiana, I will say, Clinton, and I will give you a field goal, I will give you three, nobody will take Obama and those points.  Everybody seems to want to take Clinton winning by more than three. 

So, you go with that, and you talk to people that seem to know what is going on, on the ground, and that‘s everybody‘s gut instinct, that Obama still has a better chance of winning by more than seven in North Carolina...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  ... and she‘s got a better chance of probably winning around right around five or a little bit more. 

MATTHEWS:  That sounds right.

Let me go to Howard, same question.

Do you think those numbers mean anything?  We‘re looking at real numbers—RealClearPolitics‘ averages of—a Hillary Clinton advantage of six in Indiana, RealClearPolitics advantage of seven for Barack in North Carolina. 

Do you like those numbers? 

FINEMAN:  I think that‘s about right. 

I think, if I can listen between the words to what Evan Bayh was just telling me, he was saying, look, Hillary was always ahead in these other states.  In Pennsylvania, she started out ahead by 20, and ended up winning by 10.  He carries the story of Indiana back a while to when she was behind in some polls. 

And he‘s trying to say, look, if we win this thing, she came from behind.  It‘s the first state where she will have done so.  It‘s the first state bordering Illinois that she will have won. 

In other words, they‘re already trying to look for creative ways to amplify the significance of Indiana in advance.  They are kind of pre-spinning it. 

But my point is, is, if Obama can hang on to North Carolina, the mathematics are just crushing.  And it‘s not a game-changing night...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  ... for her simply to win Indiana.  It‘s just—it‘s just not.  They may want it to be, the Clinton people may, but it‘s not, because, in the numbers, North Carolina is a bigger state with more delegates.

And his goal—again, let me tell you—is to get, by the end of this—the beginning of June, with the superdelegates and pledged delegates, to get it down to double digits, inside 100.  That‘s close to the mountaintop, and that‘s where he wants to be at the end of this. 

He looks exhausted, by the way.  He—he looks like the fighter—to go back to boxing analogies...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  ... he‘s hanging on here.  He‘s waiting for the bell.  Hillary is punching like crazy, but he‘s ahead on points.  That‘s what‘s going on here. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, for 20 some minutes yesterday with Tim Russert, I just couldn‘t figure out his strategy.  I don‘t know why he didn‘t at some point...

FINEMAN:  Yes.  He had none.

MATTHEWS:  ... how about we talk about something else?  I mean, he just seemed to just take it on the chops there. 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  He didn‘t have one.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Linda on this question.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He was clinching it, like the old days with Bobo Olson and Gene Fullmer.

FINEMAN:  Right. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Long time ago.

Remember the guy from West Jordan, Utah? 

OK, look, Linda Douglass, if you make the case...

FINEMAN:  Linda, get in on this.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, Linda, I want you to do something more important. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, the serious question.

Hillary Clinton‘s case up against Howard‘s case, if you—listen, if you sat with her and her people and said to her and Geoff Garin, her chief strategist, if you don‘t win North Carolina tomorrow, you can‘t break this game open, what does she say back?  What does Geoff Garin say back?

DOUGLASS:  I—I think they say that they keep going.  You never know what‘s going to happen to Barack Obama.  Maybe Jeremiah Wright is going to come out and say something again.  Maybe we will find some videotape evidence that he was sitting in the pew. 

I think they‘re waiting him out as long as they can to see if something will finally happen to topple him with those voters.

And, you know, again, I want to cite this Clinton adviser to whom I spoke last night, who was telling me that their internal tracking is showing that she‘s up in northwestern Pennsylvania by double digits now. 

As you know, northwestern Pennsylvania is—that‘s Obama‘s stronghold.  As Chuck had pointed out earlier, that‘s the Chicago media market, where the...

FINEMAN:  Northwestern Indiana.

MATTHEWS:  You mean Indiana.

DOUGLASS:  I mean—I‘m sorry—Indiana.  I mean, that is where Chuck was putting out that the media market is the Obama-Chicago media market.  And, yet, that was supposed to be his area. 

They‘re getting bombarded with stories about Reverend Wright in that northwestern corner of Indiana.  And this Clinton adviser was saying that she‘s up there, according to their internal tracking. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean they‘re getting bombarded by what, by local advertisement, or what? 

DOUGLASS:  Local news—local news is covering the Jeremiah Wright story...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DOUGLASS:  ... heavily, heavily in Chicago. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

DOUGLASS:  And that is making its way through to the—to the residents of Indiana, who are in that media market. 

MATTHEWS:  This is a strange story, lady and gentleman. 

I will tell you, I always like to say to myself, a while from now, when the history books are written, will anyone be able to explain the importance of someone‘s former pastor to a presidential election?  And we‘re seeing it.  The public has a huge appetite for this story, as our ratings prove.  The public wants to know more about Jeremiah Wright.

And, I‘m telling you, Barack Obama wants us to think less about him. 

Anyway, Howard, Chuck, and Linda are all staying with us to talk about whether this vicious primary campaign between Clinton and Obama will poison the general election for the Democrats, sending Democratic voters to go after—well, go vote for McCain.  By the way, we‘re seeing that in some of these numbers, Peter Hart‘s numbers.  I‘m seeing it in the Suffolk University polling.  A lot of angry Democrats are going to vote for the Republican if they don‘t get their way this season. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Still ahead on HARDBALL: the Bubba factor.  Is Bill Clinton the not-so-secret weapon that will keep—or help Hillary Clinton sweep tomorrow night?

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We‘re back with “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman, NBC News political director Chuck Todd, and “The National Journal‘s” Linda Douglass. 

Look at this number here, everybody.  Thirty-eight percent of likely Democratic voters in Indiana tomorrow said they would vote for John McCain in November if their favorite in the Democratic race loses the nomination fight.  This is according to the Suffolk University poll. 

Linda, this is brutal stuff.  That means all the people who might vote in—in December—or, rather, November—for the Democrat, if they don‘t get their way now, they‘re going to vote for McCain. 

DOUGLASS:  Well, a couple things. 

First of all, I mean, if you look at “The New York Times”/CBS poll, it does show that both Obama and Clinton are beating McCain right now nationally in polls.  So, that‘s good news for the Democrats.

There is the question that I raised earlier about, what does happen with African-American voters if Hillary Clinton does wind up with the nomination?  And every scholar who studies voting patterns says, those voters might sit on their hands.  And that would mean many, many states, Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina, you know, Pennsylvania, Ohio, many, many, states, could suddenly be in play.

And, then, of course, you do have those white blue-collar voters who have been turning out in larger numbers for Hillary Clinton who simply are suspicious of Barack Obama.  So, yes, it‘s a problem. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you meet David Broder, Linda, today?  He said that the only person who can—if that happens, if Hillary Clinton passes Barack Obama in total delegates, including superdelegates, the only way that that could work politically is for Barack Obama to basically tip his hat to Hillary and say, you won fair and square.

Otherwise, there would be that kind of incredible chaos. 

DOUGLASS:  Oh, I think that‘s true.  He would have to do that, and he would have to go out and campaign vigorously full time on her behalf with great enthusiasm, because, you know, every—everyone who is looking at this now, all of the academics who have been studying black attitudes during the course of this campaign think that, otherwise, there could be—there could be the lowest African-American turnout potentially that we have seen in many, many elections. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the people, especially older women, who believe in Hillary Clinton and her gutsiness more than—almost more their Democratic Party loyalty, that they believe that she ran a gutsy, courageous campaign?  I think she certainly did in Pennsylvania.  That was a heroic effort up there. 

They will say, you know, how can we deny her, since she‘s comeback kid; she won the second half of this fight; she would win this thing?

DOUGLASS:  Well, there‘s no question that women are going to be furious if Hillary Clinton appears to be been denied by some boys club the nomination. 

But—but with respect to the women Democratic voters, anyway, the issues are very, very important in this campaign.  And, looking inside of all these numbers, you see that women are very concerned about health care, want to get out of Iraq.  There are many ideological differences with John McCain that might possibly pull those women who would be very disappointed back into the Democratic column. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard, is there a secret strategy by Hillary Clinton to go in any one of three directions, ideally get a break, as Linda said, between now and Denver, get a break, something bad happens to the other guy, obviously—that would be the big break—come in second and demand a place on the ticket, because the other guy can‘t get the requisite majority of total delegates, or, third, say, “I told you so,” and run again next time?

What is the—does that sound like the priority of purpose here? 

FINEMAN:  Yes, I don‘t think she wants to force her way onto the ticket.  She‘s, in a sense, always been a helpmate in the White House for eight years.  I don‘t think she wants to do that.

But I think she will play it all the way out.  She will take it right up to the edge of—of permanent antagonism, and draw back, if that‘s the way the voting goes.  And then I think she will become an institutional voice in Washington, sitting there tapping her pencil, watching Barack Obama, if he‘s lucky enough to get elected, and see how he does—and see how he does.

I think Hillary thinks long range.  I don‘t think she thinks she‘s too old, by any means.  I have been so impressed by the Clintons.  You know, Barack Obama‘s complaining about a 15-month campaign, and he looks tired.  The Clintons have been campaigning all their lives.  They have been campaigning for 30 years. 

This is what they do and what they will continue to do.  And I think, if she doesn‘t get the nomination, she has her eye toward the future.  That‘s my sense of her.  That‘s what makes her tick.

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, do either of these people have any other ambitions in life, besides being president?  In other words, is there any reason to believe either one of them will ever stop running if they don‘t get the job, until they get it?

TODD:  Well, it‘s interesting.

You know, Michelle Obama has said that this would be the only run that her husband would make, that this is—that they would be too out of touch, that they would be too wealthy, too—too separated from the masses in order to understand the problems of people.

So, you—you do get the sense, at least, that the Obamas are trying to send the message that, hey, this their one shot, that they‘re going to for this...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  ... this is their moment in time type of thing. 

But I will tell you, I think I disagree with Howard a little bit.  I think the reason she has stuck to this a little bit, I think she does want a place on this ticket, or at least she wants to be forced—she wants to force him to offer a place.  Maybe she says no. 

But I think she wants to put him a position where he feels like he has to offer her the job...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  ... in the same way that everybody, every one of us has been telling her that, if she somehow got this, she would have to offer him the number-two slot. 

MATTHEWS:  Fair enough.

Same question.  Tie—break the tie here, Linda.  Do you think Hillary Clinton would accept—in fact, with excitement, go after the vice presidency, if she couldn‘t get the nomination for president? 

DOUGLASS:  I find that a little hard to imagine, actually.  I mean, I think that the idea of—you get Bill Clinton with Hillary Clinton—I mean, I think the idea that suddenly, the Clintons would be the number two on the ticket—you know, I think Chuck‘s absolutely right that she might want him to—Barack Obama to have to offer it to her.  That‘s probably true.  But I have a little trouble imagining that she would take it.

She could still go back, as many have said, and be the majority leader in the United States Senate, and many people think that she would be good at that.  There‘s been a lot of talk among senators about that.  But again, I find it hard to see both Bill and Hillary running as the number two.

TODD:  Don‘t forget, a majority of the U.S. Senate.

FINEMAN:  It‘s a moot point.  It‘s a moot point.  It‘s a moot point because Obama‘s never going to offer it to her.

TODD:  The majority of the U.S. Senate—I think she‘s going to have a hard time wanting to go back to the Senate.  The majority of her colleagues are with him, not her.

MATTHEWS:  Moot point?  I think we got Jesse Jackson on the show here, all of a sudden!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, Howard, thank you.  The question is moot!  Anyway, thank you, sir.

TODD:  That‘s a great “S&L” skit.

MATTHEWS:  I know.  (INAUDIBLE)  Linda, thank you very much.

Up next: Which celebrity‘s comparing Barack Obama to Ronald Reagan, FDR, JFK and Harry Truman?  And a big number that John McCain wishes was a lot bigger.  It‘s ahead in the “Sideshow.”  The “Sideshow‘s” really good tonight.  Stay with us.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”  Well, someone fainted at a Bill Clinton event yesterday.  The former president immediately and instinctively connected it to his own charisma.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If you‘re a fireman or a social worker, you should pay it off.

We need some water over here, and an EMT.  Got an EMT coming?  We need some water here.

So if you do these things, we can turn this economy around.

Now, you folks don‘t make so much noise.  There‘s nothing you can do to help that, people.  Just make some space for them.  All you can do is—yes, make some space and give them some water.

Somebody faints at nearly every one of these things now.  At my age, I didn‘t think I could make anybody faint anymore.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what‘s doing it, it‘s the old chemistry.  Anyway, Elvis is still out there causing excitement.

Oscar winner Tom Hanks weighed in on the presidential race this weekend, posting a video on his MySpace page.  Here‘s a clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM HANKS, ACTOR:  Hello.  I‘m Tom Hanks, and I want Barack Obama to be the next president of our country.  As official celebrity, I know my endorsement has just made your mind up for you.  He has the integrity and the inspiration to unify us, as did FDR and Harry Truman and John F.  Kennedy and even Ronald Reagan, when they ran for the job.  I wrote and approved this message and am now going to turn off the camera.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So the man who made “Saving Private Ryan” is now out there saving Barack Obama.

Spring has sprung, and that means it‘s graduation time.  Liberty University—you remember that one, the joy of Jerry Falwell?  Well, it has a notable conservative Christian speaking at its commencement this coming Saturday, Chuck Norris.  The Reverend Jerry Falwell, Jr., says it was Mike Huckabee who recommended the actor and karate champion to his institution, calling him thoughtful and intelligent.  What‘s this, give me liberty and give me death?

On Sunday, the New Jersey Hall of Fame honored its first class of 15 inductees, including Albert Einstein, Francis Albert Sinatra, and of course, Yogi Berra.  New Jersey‘s own Bruce Springsteen was also honored, saying, quote, “We‘re all members of a confused but noble race.”  The state‘s Hall of Fame is an effort to boost the Garden State‘s image.  But no need to rush to visit yet because the museum doesn‘t actually exist yet.  When it does, I say, please hold at least five places for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

And finally tonight, time for the HARDBALL “Big Number.”  John McCain locked up his party‘s nomination after his win back on March 4.  His chief rival, Mitt Romney, had dropped out of the race a month before that, and Mike Huckabee was running without much chance of winning.  So by the end of March, Republicans knew McCain was their guy, which makes tonight‘s “Big Number” hard to swallow for his campaign.  The Capitol Hill newspaper “Roll Call” reports that as of the end of March, a month ago, only 16 Republican senators and 21 Republican House members had made donations to McCain‘s campaign.  That‘s a total of 37 out of 247 Republican senators and members of Congress -- 37, tonight‘s HARDBALL “Big”—hardly big—“Number,” 37 Republican members of Congress who wrote a check to their party‘s nominee by the end of March.

Up next, the Bubba factor.  How Bill Clinton is changing this whole primary fright, especially in North Carolina.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CNBC MARKET WRAP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Half of us probably ought to volunteer to come back here tomorrow and help Chuck (ph) and Ted (ph) fix their front yard.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON:  And the second thing I want to say is that I checked after the Pennsylvania vote came in, and Hillary got over 60 percent of the vote in every single county where I did a front porch rally.  So don‘t you all let me down.  We need you here.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was, of course, Bill Clinton, holding a small town rally yesterday in someone‘s yard in North Carolina.  For the last month, Bill Clinton, the former president, has focusing hard on rural voters and proclaiming himself one of them, of course.  The strategy is by design.  Hillary Clinton needs lower-income white voters tomorrow in North Carolina and in Indiana, and in places most big shots never visit.  And also, away from the national media, President Clinton seems to have found his stride.

Here‘s the piece, the story (INAUDIBLE)  HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today in small towns across North Carolina, Bill Clinton pleaded with residents to vote for his wife.

CLINTON:  So don‘t let me down tomorrow.  Don‘t embarrass me.  Carry us on here.

SHUSTER:  Some people said they would support Hillary Clinton just because the former president dropped by.  It‘s been that way for weeks.  Bill Clinton has become the self-proclaimed ambassador for his wife to small-town America.

CLINTON:  You just remember this.  She got this far because of people like you.  And if you show up and you vote for her in big enough percentages and big enough numbers, she‘ll go right on.

SHUSTER:  Today alone, Clinton was scheduled to speak in nine North Carolina towns, most of them you‘ve probably never heard of.  First, it was Elizabeth City, then New Bern, Jacksonville and Smithfield.  The next stop, Louisburg, population 3,700, Zebulon 4,300.  Then it was on to Henderson and Roxboro, with a final stop in Raleigh.

Clinton has also taken his message to tiny hamlets in Indiana.

CLINTON:  Folks, it‘s always a mistake to bet against America.  It was tough in 1968, and we came back.  It was tough in 1992, and we wound up with the eight best years we‘ve had in modern history.

SHUSTER:  Many Hoosiers in small towns got left behind during the Clinton years.  Nonetheless, the front porch venues have underscored Clinton‘s charm.

CLINTON:  You don‘t have to take my word on this one.

SHUSTER:  And his effort has been relentless.  On Saturday in Indiana, he stopped by Angola, Kendallville, Columbia City, Warsaw, Plymouth and La Porte before a final rally near the airport in Indianapolis.

Altogether, President Clinton has made nearly 100 campaign stops in and Indiana and North Carolina.  And for about a third of the counties, it was the first ever presidential visit, and the local media coverage has been glowing.  There have been some missteps.  A few weeks ago, Clinton drew attention to Hillary Clinton‘s false statement about facing sniper fire in Bosnia.

CLINTON:  Did y‘all see all that?  Oh, they blew it up!

SHUSTER:  And Clinton, who got impeached for lying under oath, has been ridiculed by columnists for this remark in West Virginia.

CLINTON:  The great divide in this country is not by race or even by income.  It‘s by those who think they‘re better than everybody else and they should be judged by a different set of rules.

SHUSTER:  Still, the Clinton campaign credits the former president with energizing small town voters.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m very proud of the role my husband is playing in the campaign, and I think it‘s very helpful to have the only successful two-term Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt campaign for me.

SHUSTER (on camera):  President Clinton has campaigned hard in this primary season before, most notably in South Carolina, where his wife got trounced.  But now the former president is focusing mostly on white voters in rural areas, an electorate that could play a crucial role in the primaries tomorrow.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Of course, it wasn‘t John Kennedy‘s fault he didn‘t get reelected.  Anyway, thank you, David Shuster.

Former Tennessee congressman Hard Ford is an NBC News political analyst.  He‘s also chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council.  And Julia Boseman is a North Carolina state senator who‘s a Clinton supporter, who‘s been traveling with the former president.

Well, Congressman, I guess you can‘t be that kind of a traveling guy, can you.  I can‘t imagine a better guy to be campaigning for anybody.

HAROLD FORD, JR. (D-TN), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN, NBC POLITICAL

ANALYST:  He is—Bill Clinton in these kinds of settings is probably more comfortable, more natural, more appealing and as effective a politician to date (ph).  Certainly in the last 30, 40 years on the Democratic stump, we‘ve not seen anything like it.

I think there‘s one big thing here that‘s probably helping him that is an intangible.  Now that this race has moved in terms of the dominant issue being the economy—gas prices, food prices, and the things you talk about in this show often—it seems as if Hillary Clinton has found a little more traction.  She‘s found a stronger voice than Barack has.  And Bill Clinton, her husband, coming in as a reinforcer, validating a lot of those points, and as a two-term—former two-term president who had a pretty sound economic record, by most measures.  So he‘s been helped or aided by that a great deal.  Plus, he‘s just a natural at making this case.  So she‘s fortunate to have him right here at this—in these last 24 hours of this important race in North Carolina and Indiana.

MATTHEWS:  Who would win in North Carolina, Harold?  Who would win in North Carolina, Bill or Hillary, if they ran against each other?

FORD:  Well, I don‘t want to create any more tension in the family.

MATTHEWS:  Come on!  Come on!  Have some fun!

FORD:  I got to think Bill Clinton.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.  What a guy you are.  What a—I love guts.  Anyway, we‘ll pass that on to the wire services.  Let me go to Julia...

FORD:  Keep it quiet.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Julia, thank you for joining us, Senator.  It‘s very good to have you.  You‘re out there campaigning with him.  What is the story on his appeal out there, as the non-candidate best surrogate in town?  OK, she‘s (INAUDIBLE)

Let me go back to Harold Ford.  Congressman, let me ask you about this interesting race.  Bill Clinton has not done well in the major league towns.  He‘s made some mistakes.  He‘s gone to triple A.  Now he‘s going out to single A, dinner theater, if you will.  Why do you think he‘s better at that than he is the main event these days?  Is he out of shape in terms of the rhetoric but in shape in terms of the charm?

FORD:  Well, I think his wife is the candidate.  And one of the things that I think they not struggle with but have to deal with within that campaign is Bill Clinton is such an overpowering person, personality, and has such overwhelming charisma, that at times, I think he has, you know, the challenge of having to dial back just a bit as he‘s out campaigning.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

FORD:  You put him in—I wouldn‘t call it a single A or double A, I think, because these votes count as much as anybody else‘s votes.  But I think he has found his voice and found his stride.  And frankly, I mean, having grown up in Arkansas, where he grew up and honed his political skills, I mean, he understands that crowd, their needs, their aspirations, and frankly, how to speak to them.  So it‘s proven to be a good venue for him and very helpful to his wife.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Senator Boseman.  Senator, are you on there now?  Can I hear you.

STATE SEN. JULIA BOSEMAN (D), NORTH CAROLINA, CLINTON SUPPORTER:  I‘m here.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  How much—how much of this is ethnic?  How much of this is a division where he‘s going out and working the white vote in rural North Carolina?  How much of it is white voters he‘s talking to?

BOSEMAN:  Oh, the crowds have been very diverse, and I think...

MATTHEWS:  They have been?  Are you sure of that?  You mean they really have been diverse?  I hear they‘re almost all white.

BOSEMAN:  No, we‘ve had some diversity there.  We have young, old, some African-Americans, some Latinos...

MATTHEWS:  Some African-Americans, OK.

BOSEMAN:  We‘ve been excited—we‘ve been very excited about the crowds.  I think one of the most exciting things, you know, a lot of these folks never thought that they‘d see a former or sitting president getting up front and close time with him.

And Hillary‘s message is resonating.  You know, the middle class in North Carolina and across America is suffering.  They‘re concerned with choosing between putting gas in their car to go to work and paying for their health insurance.  And the health insurance they do have sometimes just isn‘t enough.

You know, we have big problems here in this country, and I believe that Senator Clinton is the one to lead this country in the right direction.

MATTHEWS:  What did you make, senator, of former President Clinton saying that wherever he travels, his wife gets 60 percent of the vote, in Pennsylvania for example?  Do you think he‘s keeping his own score of this thing? 

BOSEMAN:  I Certainly hope he‘s right, because I travel around a lot of small towns in North Carolina with him, and we‘re hoping to get 60 percent, at least, in those towns. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back to Congressman Ford.  Congressman, this whole question of when this race is over—I mean, people have been saying on this program tonight, and elsewhere, I guess, that if Barack Obama wins is North Carolina tomorrow, if he gets a split tomorrow in that double header, Indiana and North Carolina, that he carries on and there‘s really no stopping him.  What‘s your sense? 

FORD:  I think they‘re right.  If Barack wins one, loses one, I think it probably—if I were advising that campaign, it would probably be smart to find a good group of super delegates, maybe 25 to 50 big important ones in the party, who begin to urge Mrs. Clinton to retire this campaign, and to find ways to help strengthen and rehabilitate our nominee and make ensure he‘s ready for the fall. 

However, I think tomorrow we could see one candidate win both.  I don‘t know which one.  But I think we could easily see one of these candidates emerge as a clear winner.  One of the questions I have for the senator, and I know there‘s been a lot of talk about this gas tax—I‘m just curious; how is the gas tax holiday issue playing in North Carolina?  I know Governor Easley is supporting Senator Clinton and at one point was not supportive of this holiday.  My understanding is that the gas tax holiday issue is resonating with voters and it might be resonating in her favor.  I‘m just curious. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s find out.  Senator Boseman, how big a deal is that?  Does Bill Clinton talk about this elimination of the federal gasoline tax during this summer?  Does he talk about it? 

BOSEMAN:  Absolutely.  I think it‘s resonating very well with North Carolinians and across America.  It‘s not just that.  We‘re looking at alternative, long-range solutions.  I think when folks hear about renewable energy and decreasing our dependency on oil—the entire message is resonating very well in North Carolina. 

MATTHEWS:  Why talk about a gas tax holiday when it‘s based upon getting a windfall profits taxed signed by President Bush, something that wouldn‘t happen in a zillion years?  How can you advertise something that has no chance of being reality? 

BOSEMAN:  I think they‘re hoping that maybe the will of the American people will finally resonate with President Bush too.  I think it‘s the right thing to do.  We have got to find short-term solutions for our gas problem and look at long-term solutions too. 

MATTHEWS:  You believe that cutting the gas tax is somehow dealing with our energy dependence.  How does that work?  Explain.

BOSEMAN:  I think it‘s giving folks short-term relief.  We have folks that can‘t afford to fill up their tax tanks to go to work. 

MATTHEWS:  How much would the gas tax save you for the whole summer if this law was enacted tomorrow afternoon?  How much would it save for the summer, so people know what you‘re talking about? 

BOSEMAN:  I don‘t have the figure.  It would save me a lot, as much as I‘m on the road, heading back and forth to Raleigh.  It‘s about 30 cents a gallon, I believe, is what we said today.  I think that resonates with folks.  I was talking to someone and they had 36 dollars in their account, and had to spend 80 dollars a week for gas.  They are struggling and they need relief. 

FORD:  I think, in fairness to the senator, and I‘ve heard some of the

critics, I supported the gas tax holiday when I ran for Senate two years

ago in Tennessee and I still support it today for one reason.  I have heard

some of the math.  But if you take, I think, it‘s about 18.5 cents a gallon

let‘s round up to 20, and be nice.  If you‘re driving, as a lot of people in North Carolina and Tennessee drive with big cars, and you‘ve got a 25 to 30 gallon tank, and you fill up twice a week, you‘re saving about 12 dollars a week,  about 48 dollars a month. 

Maybe to two or three of us on this show, that‘s not a lot of money.  But I tell you, when you‘re living paycheck to paycheck, making 35 or 40 thousand dollars a year, 50 dollars buys a lot of lunch meat, buys a lot of food for a picnic with your kids on the weekend, buys a lot of—a few uniforms for your kids that are competing over the summer.  These are real dollars.  I think we have to be very careful as we talk about it, because it‘s short-term relief.  It‘s not long term relief.

MATTHEWS:  The question is, where‘s the money coming from?  Are we really going to tax the oil company?  If we‘re not, it‘s just more borrowing from China.  I mean, that‘s the reality of the thing.  Who doesn‘t want to shift the taxes to the wealthier people, especially oil companies?  But if you‘re not going to shift the taxes, congressman, you‘re simply going to leave us with a bigger deficit, no highway repairs, 300,000 people thrown out of work because they can‘t work on the highways because there‘s no more tax paying them their salary.  What do we do with that?  Is that a better world?

Senator Boseman, is that a better world to throw 300,000 people out of work to not have the gas tax paid? 

BOSEMAN:  I think that what we need to do is really take on these big oil companies.  We need to repeal the gas tax—excuse me, the tax incentive credits that were given to these oil companies.  We don‘t want to put people at work.  What we want to do is find renewable energy to put more people at work.  I think Senator Clinton is committed to bringing eight million jobs back, looking at ways for renewable energy, more efficient cars.  The time is now.  We cannot keep putting this off. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, -- 

FORD:  I drive a hybrid, by the way, Mr. Matthews.  I hope more Americans do.  That‘s one way we can ask people to conserve.  I agree with you, long term, the gas tax alone won‘t solve this problem.

MATTHEWS:  Well said, Congressman Ford.  Thank you, Senator Boseman.  Up next, Rush Limbaugh is calling on Republicans to make mischief and vote for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries.  Will they change the race tomorrow night?  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Tonight‘s round table, NBC political analyst Mike Barnicle, up here in Boston, by the way, Cynthia Tucker of the “Atlanta Journal Constitution,” Chrystia Freeland of the “Financial Times.”  What a group.

Let‘s all listen to Rush Limbaugh, himself, and his self-styled Operation Chaos and his plan for the primaries tomorrow night in Indiana and North Carolina.   

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Democrat heads are exploding all over the place with Operation Chaos.  What I find funny about this is no matter what state we‘ve done this in, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, now Indiana and North Carolina, while the Democrats in these states are, without doubt, without question, reacting to Operation Chaos, at the same time, they have people, pollsters, drive by accomplices, trying to say, it‘s no affect.  We can‘t even—we can‘t even measure it.  There‘s no quantitative way.  Yet, they‘re all up in arms and in tizzies. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go.  Mike Barnicle, let me have your thought on Rush Limbaugh.  How many ditto heads does it take to change a primary? 

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  He‘s a fabulous entertainer, and he‘s entertaining himself.  Chris, I was in your home state for more than a week, talked to a lot of people, never encountered a single person who is switching registration in order to participate in Operation Chaos.  So I imagine there‘s a residual effect to Rush, because he‘s a powerful guy, but I think it‘s minimal. 

MATTHEWS:  I wonder, Cynthia, not to put too fine a point on it, or to be too angelic about it, but isn‘t urging somebody to vote against their beliefs kind of a sacrilege of the American democracy, to them abuse—seriously, have them vote against what they believe, just to screw around with the system.  Isn‘t there something faintly blasphemous about this? 

CYNTHIA TUCKER, “ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION”:  Rush‘s blasphemous on many occasions.  You may remember, he‘s the one who said he would rather see a Democrat win than ever vote for John McCain.  He started, toward the end of the Republican primary, when it became clear that McCain would be the nominee—He was regularly blasphemous toward the Republican nominee.  Rush is a conservative. 

I‘m like Mike.  I doubt if Rush is having much of an effect here.  He needs to inflate his own importance so he wants to claim credit.  But the rooster crows every morning and the sun comes up.  That doesn‘t mean the rooster made the sun come up though. 

MATTHEWS:  Chrystia Freeland, is Rush Limbaugh abusing the political process by getting his self-described ditto heads to vote against their beliefs?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, “FINANCIAL TIMES”:  As you know, Chris, I‘m a foreign observer of this process. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not that foreign.  You‘re from Canada.  You‘ve got Rush Limbaugh up there too.  You‘ve got Rush Limbaugh up there. 

FREELAND:  That‘s true.  It‘s been a little bit of a mystery to me how the Democrats, for whom this should be a dream political year—the economy is in trouble.  The war is Iraq not doing so well.  They started the race with some fabulous candidates.  And yet it‘s coming to this torturous conclusion.  So it‘s nice for me to know that there‘s one person whose fault it is and for you to tell me it‘s Rush Limbaugh. 

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  I didn‘t say that. 

FREELAND:  I‘m teasing you, Chris.  I‘m teasing you. 

MATTHEWS:  People take—irony is lost on most critics.  I have learned that.  Go ahead. 

FREELAND:  No, I think the serious and interesting point behind Rush Limbaugh‘s bluster is he is pointing out that this prolonged and increasingly venomous campaign is really hurting the Democrats.  Even without Rush Limbaugh being behind it, it is really, really damaging the top two candidates. 

MATTHEWS:  Mike, if we get more votes for Hillary Clinton than are honestly cast for her, in other words, more than reflects her popularity, doesn‘t Rush succeed, even if he only adds a little bit to this mess? 

BARNICLE:  You know what Rush is missing here?  As I said earlier, he‘s a great entertainer.  And he‘s a great American entertainer.  And he preaches largely three hours a day to the American heartland.  And they listen to him and they respond.  He‘s missing a truly great American story, I would submit, and it is this: a black guy from Chicago running for president of the United States, who two years ago would have difficulty getting a cab on a rainy Friday afternoon in midtown Manhattan, is this close to securing the nomination of one of our two political parties.  That‘s a huge story that Rush, because he‘s bound to ideology, has missed. 

He‘s not the only one who has missed it. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, that‘s the half full glass that we keep overlooking in our rush to get to the excitement of this campaign.  The fact is, the excitement in already there.  We have woman running for president, with a real chance to be president.  We have an African American with a real chance to be president.  We have a P.O.W. with a real good chance to be president.  It‘s all to our benefit, this diversity.  We‘ll be right back with the round table and more of this good feeling.  We‘re pushing back on Rush Limbaugh.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back with the politics fix.  It‘s an exciting night.  I want to start with Mike, and I want to go to Cynthia and Chrystia.  This is a big question.  You can all answer it in your own way.  It seems to me that we who cover this campaign have been caught in a kind of three ring circus environment, where we cover the ring of fire, in this case Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama.  The others hide behind that ring of fire.  Their own circus rings are ignored. 

Hillary Clinton has had no inspection as to her candor problem, her honesty problem, which shows up in all the polls.  We haven‘t talked about it.  John McCain is out there making statements about how we don‘t want to fight any more wars for oil, implying that we fought the one in Iraq for oil.  How do we get, Mike and then everybody else in here—how do we get so we cover all three rings, so John McCain has to pay for his sins just like Barack Obama does? 

BARNICLE:  Chris, I have long believed that it‘s an endemic problem with the institution that we‘re all a part of, the media.  We consistently always try to look for the next witch to burn, rather than look for where the fire is coming from.  Four young Marines were killed in Iraq over the weekend.  There‘s no talk of that.  Senator McCain, when he says stuff that‘s a little out of the loop, we don‘t concentrate on that because we‘re so interested in torturing the two principles personalities in this play, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  And we really should focus more on what the average person tonight is focusing on around the kitchen table or dinner table, what are they doing tomorrow. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s focus on burning John McCain for a second here.  Chrystia, what do you think about McCain saying we shouldn‘t fight any more wars for oil? 

FREELAND:  I think that was, as you say, a really interesting and revealing comment, particularly given the gasoline tax issue is emerging as such a big deal.  The reason it‘s emerging as such a big deal is people do get that the economy is a problem, and they understand the war in Iraq is a problem.  So any kind of policy that taps into that is something that will resonate with voters.  What I think—can I say what‘s really cynical is this gasoline tax proposal.  Both Senator McCain and Senator Clinton know better than that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Cynthia, your thoughts about McCain?  How does he get away with saying we‘re fighting for oil?  If a liberal had said that, they would have been scourged. 

TUCKER:  Absolutely.  He gets away with it, in part, Chris, because the big battle that is exciting to cover is still going on between the two Democrats.  If the Democratic primary were settled, there would be a lot more focus on John McCain‘s remarks.  As somebody who opposed the invasion of Iraq from the beginning, I wrote years ago, five years that this was about oil and I got all kind of vicious emails from people who, no, it‘s about freeing the Iraqi people.  I think John McCain absolutely should get on the hot seat for this.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Mike Barnicle.  Thank you, Cynthia Tucker.  Thank you, Chrystia Freeland.  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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