updated 5/7/2008 4:27:26 PM ET 2008-05-07T20:27:26

Guests: Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Michelle Bernard, David Shuster, Dan Balz, Jim VandeHei, Eugene Robinson, Rachel Maddow, Pat Buchanan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, a twi-night doubleheader.  We could know the number of both contests early in the night.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  As our political director, Chuck Todd, put it, this is the last shopping day of the primary season.  After today‘s primaries, there won‘t be many delegates left for voters to choose.  Today, voters have been going to the polls in Indiana and North Carolina, where 187 delegates are at stake.

This much we can agree on.  A split of today‘s doubleheader probably won‘t decide the fight.  What happens if either candidate sweeps both events, however?  We‘ll talk to our panel of experts tonight about that and also follow tradition and give you a “Smart Viewer‘s Guide” to watching tonight‘s primaries.  And we‘ll put all of our guests on the spot and ask for their predictions of what will happen tonight and where we go from here.

Also: Did we hear this right?  Did Rush Limbaugh actually say that Bill Clinton, quote, “hit on,” close quote, his date, one night?  Well, it‘s hard to know what to say about that extraordinary claim, but we will say something in tonight‘s HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

And remember, Keith Olbermann and I will be together tonight, covering

giving you complete primary night coverage beginning at one hour from now, at 6:00 Eastern.  This is not a night you dare to miss.  And MSNBC will stay live tonight right through 2:00 AM or longer, if necessary, to give you all the results in Indiana and North Carolina.

But first, Chuck Todd is the political director for NBC News, and Dan Balz writes for “The Washington Post.”  I want to ask you—well, let‘s go with this possibility.  Dan Balz, if Hillary wins two tonight, what does it mean?

DAN BALZ, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Chaos theory in the Democratic Party, Chris.

(LAUGHTER)

BALZ:  We will—she will be back in full force.  There will be lots more questions raised about Senator Obama.  She will have every incentive to keep this thing going as long as she possibly can.  Michigan and Florida will come back with a vengeance, and the Democrats will be in for a long month or two months or three months.

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s a game starter again.  It starts all over again, basically.

BALZ:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, she wins two tonight, should that happen?

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  I completely agree.  I completely agree because, suddenly, there will be real doubts about his ability to win suburban white voters because for her to win North Carolina, it means he didn‘t just crater among rural whites and that there was a huge turnout there, it means he cratered among suburban white voters, like we saw in the Philadelphia suburbs, when—that was a difference, for instance, in that primary being 3 to 4 points to what it ended up being, almost 10 points.

So then these folks who don‘t want to hand the party to the Clintons -

I mean, they‘re uncommitted for a reason—or undeclared—excuse me—for a reason.  But they would have to—then there‘s a real battle between head and heart, and in that case, she‘s going to have a better—a jury that might actually listen to her.  I think that‘s the only scenario where the jury of undeclared superdelegates...

MATTHEWS:  Is he still the favorite to win the nomination if he loses two tonight?

TODD:  Sort of.

MATTHEWS:  Is he, Dan?  Is he still the favorite if he loses two tonight?

BALZ:  Well, he‘s still going to have a lead in pledged delegates and he‘s probably going to have a lead in pledged delegates when we get through this.  So then the question, as Chuck suggests, is squarely back on the superdelegates.  She‘ll have a stronger argument if she—you know, if she were to win two tonight and if she finishes strong in the remaining six contests, but she will still have to overcome the reality that she‘s probably going to be behind in pledged delegates.

MATTHEWS:  Chuck?

TODD:  Nothing is in a vacuum.  We have to remember this.  How does Obama handle losing two tonight?  Or how would Hillary Clinton handle losing two tonight?  I mean, you know, the concession speech will mane everything, how this all plays out.  How will the national polls react to something like this?  I mean, it would be one of those stomach punches, but the question is, is it a stomach punch that he bounces back from, like he‘s done before?  Or does this create a whole—you know, so how he responds probably dictates more about the chances of just what his chances are to sort of hold onto his...

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about a middle case here, Dan Balz.  Suppose he holds on in North Carolina by any amount and he loses Indiana by any amount.  What‘s the statement there tonight?

BALZ:  Chris, I think at that point, we just continue to grind on towards June 3, and then it will be up to the superdelegates again and there will be pressure on them, I would guess, after June 3 to quickly coalesce, and presumably, it will be to move in the direction of Senator Obama.  I think that will be where the pressure is within the party.  If you get a split decision out of tonight, it really doesn‘t change what has been a reasonably clear trajectory for some time.

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with that?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... goes to the champ.

TODD:  We were 90-10 going into this, frankly...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

TODD:  ... him being the nominee versus her.  It‘ll be...

MATTHEWS:  OK, I want to bring in...

TODD:  ... 90-10 coming out...

MATTHEWS:  ... Andrea Mitchell from Indiana.  What do you know, anything tonight, at this point in the evening, Andrea Mitchell, who‘s out there with the Clinton campaign?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, heavy voting, heavy voting by Republicans here, but nobody knows whether the Republicans are voting because they want to participate in the Democratic race, whether they‘re voting for Barack Obama because they are independent-minded Republicans who would be more inclined to vote for Barack Obama, whether they are trying to create mischief.  But I saw myself at a couple of polling places, they were lined up.  They were hitting those Republican cards (ph) as they lined up to vote in the Democratic race.

The Clinton people have had so many, you know, “Perils of Pauline” kind of finishes, and they‘ve been pretty calm and almost wistful.  Hillary Clinton earlier today, when we caught up with her at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one last photo opportunity, Chris, to try to show that she is a blue-collar person and appeal to those white blue-collar voters whom she needs to turn out.  They need to turn out enough white voters to overcome his anticipated big lead coming out of Gary, Indiana, the area near—adjacent to Illinois, his home base, and also right here in Indianapolis.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I guess that goes back to you guys.  I want to ask you now, what happens if Barack Obama wins Indiana by a hair and wins North Carolina significantly?  Chuck first.

TODD:  Money dries up for Clinton.  She struggles tonight.  I don‘t know if she can finish the week.  Just staying in the race—I mean, they might make their Florida/Michigan argument, but losing both—their confidence level has been so high about winning Indiana.  Losing both would be that type of body blow that...

MATTHEWS:  So the most significant vote tonight is in Indiana.  Hillary Clinton must win?  If you had to figure out what was the most drastic possibility tonight, it would be Hillary losing Indiana?

TODD:  The race ending, yes.  Second most would be Obama losing North Carolina.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  But the most exciting—but do you agree with that, Dan, that the most exciting possibility is that Hillary would lose Indiana and that would cause this race to end tonight?

BALZ:  Well, if she were to lose both of these, Chris, I think it‘s very difficult for her to make any rationale for how she can get the nomination.  I don‘t know how quickly she might quit the race.  She‘s been somewhat equivocal, as you know, about what would happen if she didn‘t win either state tonight, and we‘ll have to see what happens.  But I think she is well aware of the consequences of not coming out of tonight with at least one victory.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at what she said today, Senator Clinton, and then Andrea can respond to what we‘re watching.  Let‘s watch Hillary Clinton today talking about the future of this race for president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It‘s going to be the rest of these contests, which are very significant.  And then in June, if we haven‘t done it already, we‘re going to have to resolve Florida and Michigan.  And they were legitimate elections.  People came out and voted.  If you count them, I‘m ahead in the number of people who have voted.  It‘s a close delegate race.  It‘s a close vote total.  And we‘re going to have to figure out how we fulfill the wishes of the voters of those two important states.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at Obama today, also speaking about the kind of days he‘s been putting in as a politician the last couple weeks.  It‘s been pretty tough on him.  Here he is talking about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  ... press month as we‘ve had, and as many attempts to knock us off stride as there have been, the fact that we‘re still standing here and still moving forward towards the nomination I think indicates the degree to which the core message of this campaign is the right one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Andrea, your thoughts on those two views of the future of this campaign.

MITCHELL:  Well, I think that Hillary Clinton has to win Indiana.  And from talking to her people, from talking on camera with Evan Bayh, her chief supporters here—I asked him what would happen if she were to lose both, and he said she would do the responsible thing.  He says, now, it‘s too early to talk about that.  You know, tonight‘s voting hasn‘t happened yet.  But if that were to happen—and they don‘t expect that.  They do have pretty high hopes for winning Indiana, even though they don‘t have any way of calibrating exactly who is turning out and whether all these early voters were actually Barack Obama early voters, and the absentee ballots, as well.  With that said, they‘re signaling that if she were not to win both, as Dan and Chuck have indicated, she would probably be dropping out.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what I want to talk about for just a couple

minutes now, the possibility the campaign ends tonight.  Dan Balz, you, sir

what would be the headline for your newspaper if Hillary Clinton were to lose a squeaker in Indiana?

BALZ:  You know, I don‘t know exactly what the headline would be, but it would be Obama wins two, dealing Clinton a, you know, potentially mortal blow, or something like that.  I mean, you know, it‘s a pretty straightforward story if she loses both of those, and I think everybody knows it.

MATTHEWS:  It looks to me, Chuck, like we‘re going to get results by the shank of the evening.  Sometime around 8:00 o‘clock, we should have both in, right, you think?

TODD:  We‘re going to know early.  I mean, we may know Indiana right at poll close because most of the state starts actually counting at 6:00 o‘clock.  Between 6:00 and 7:00, we‘ll have actual vote totals.  Indiana gets called quickly, unless it‘s a razor-thin margin.  And North Carolina, if the margins are to believed, you got to think we won‘t last an hour after poll close.

MATTHEWS:  The question that strikes me, Andrea, is that Hillary Clinton seems so resilient as a candidate the last couple weeks.  We can put aside what we think or anyone thinks of her proposals, the tax cut proposal and the gasoline and all the other stuff she said.  But her physical resilience seems to be superior to that of her opponent.

MITCHELL:  Absolutely.  She has been in her zone.  She has been campaigning like a real fighter.  That is the sort of comeback from behind, “comeback kid,” if you will, image that they are trying to project.  And he has seemed tired.  His message up until the last couple of days has been off.  Until the last two or three days, he‘s tried to recast himself as the family guy.  He‘s brought back Michelle and his children.  You can hear the mike checks behind me here at Clinton headquarters.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  But he‘s been really very effective, I think, in the last couple of days with smaller groups, trying to appeal to people, until last night‘s enormous rally right here in Indianapolis, 21,000 people...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think he‘s learning...

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  ... the kinds of things you saw in New Hampshire.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  I think he‘s learning from Hillary in terms of targeting his appeal to particular needs of voters, talking about particular needs, and also the particular bad guys, their villains, like the oil industry.  He‘s beginning to sound more like a regular Democrat.  Whether that‘s good or not, we‘re going to find out in the next couple weeks.

Anyway, Chuck Todd, Dan Balz, Andrea Mitchell.

Coming up, the six things to look for in tonight‘s results.  And later, our first exit polling, which may give clues to geniuses out there as to who wins today.

You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s coverage of the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, only here on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The polls close at 7:00 PM Eastern time in Indiana, and at 7:30 Eastern time in North Carolina.  And for the “Smart Viewer‘s Guide” on what to look for in both states tonight, let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard and Politico executive editor Jim VandeHei.

Jim, thank you for joining us.  Michelle, as well.  Let‘s take a look at how you size things, up, Jim.  A good night for Obama in Indiana, I‘m told, would have him winning big in Indianapolis, the big city there, Gary, Bloomington, West Lafayette and Valparaiso.  Tell us about what to expect there.

JIM VANDEHEI, POLITICO.COM:  Well, you know, basically, there‘s a pretty firm demographic pattern that we‘ve seen in all of these states, and in Indiana in particular, you‘ve got to have, for Barack Obama, really big turnout and a really strong African-American support, particularly in Indianapolis, in Gary, Indiana.  Remember, Gary is about 85 percent African-American, and it reaches part of that Chicago media market where Obama‘s hoping to benefit from some of the coverage that he‘s gotten in that state over the years.

For Hillary Clinton, she‘s got to do what she‘s done in other states.  She‘s got to do well in those rural regions that really drive up turnout in a way that she was able to do in both Pennsylvania and Ohio, especially by Bill Clinton in some of these rural areas and getting more people out there than she had anticipated.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go look—do you agree with that?  I mean, it seems to me we‘re looking at this ethnically, as well as demographically, Michelle.

MICHELLE BERNARD, INDEPENDENT WOMEN‘S VOICE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: 

Yes, I...

MATTHEWS:  Big African-American areas should be good for Barack, and then we move on from there.

BERNARD:  I think they should be good for Barack.  I mean, the key for him in Indiana tonight is absolutely going to be turnout and keeping his coalition together.  We can expect, you know, young people to vote for him. 

We can expect in areas that are college towns in Indiana that a large part

of that vote will go to him.  I actually suspect that there will be several

a large number of Republicans, or Obamacans, as they are now called, voting for Barack in Indiana.

But key to his coalition is African-American support.  We‘ve seen the numbers of African-Americans in favor of Hillary Clinton sort of creep up in North Carolina.  He‘s got to watch that in Indiana also and hope that there‘s a significant turnout in Gary, in Indianapolis, but also in Evansville, where there‘s, you know single-digit numbers of African-Americans.  But in this election, every single vote is going to count.

MATTHEWS:  Well, an Indiana source of mine just told me on the phone that the mayor of Gary was very optimistic about a huge turnout today.  We‘ll see if it came to play.

A good night for Hillary, Jim, would be—have her winning big in the Ohio River towns of southern Indiana, along the Kentucky border, and in east central cities like Anderson and Richmond.  Tell us about those locales and what they‘re like and why they would be for Hillary.

VANDEHEI:  Right.  Again, they‘re not—especially the rural reaches, they‘re not that radically different from, you know, the Ohio River Valley regions that you see in places like—that touch up in Ohio and in Pennsylvania, where you have working-class whites, which she did tremendously well.  One of the things that we‘ll all be looking for is, it really a Reverend Wright factor.  Are her numbers better than they were even in Pennsylvania and Ohio with working-class whites?  And how much of that is a reflection of the Wright controversy?

There‘s a lot of—there was a lot of panic, especially three or four days ago, inside the Obama camp, that they thought, You know what?  This is penetrating more deeply than we had first anticipated.  But then the last couple of days, you‘re starting to see a slightly more confident Obama camp in both Indiana and in North Carolina, thinking that maybe it wasn‘t as bad as we first thought, and maybe his reaction and the coverage to his reaction has actually put a little bit of a damper on that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you make of these bellwether towns in Indiana, like South Bend—that‘s, of course, the home of Notre Dame—and Kokomo and the suburbs of Louisville?

VANDEHEI:  Right.  I mean, especially in those—when you‘re talking about those college towns, there‘s—you know, there‘s a mix because there‘s definitely some of the people you think would go with Hillary Clinton, but college students have been turning out in huge numbers for Barack Obama in virtually every single state.  And he‘s relied on that coalition, pulling together not just the ethnic groups, talking about African-Americans, but relying on those younger voters.

And when you‘re looking at the turnout patterns, that‘s what you want to see.  You go to all these places that have universities.  If you flipped over to North Carolina, for instance, and you look at some of these African-American universities, where you get the double bang, he gets both the younger voters...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

VANDEHEI:  ... and he gets the minority voters.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at those—Michelle, join us here. 

Here‘s the North Carolina cities to look for, for a big turnout for Barack.  That‘s Raleigh-Durham, of course.  You‘ve got NCCU, North Carolina Central University there, and other schools.  In Charlotte, you‘ve got that boom town going there, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Elizabeth City.  My sense is he‘s going to get a hell of a vote down there in the African-American areas and also in Chapel Hill and Durham and also in Raleigh.  What do you think?

BERNARD:  Chris, I‘ve got to tell you, I‘m agreeing with you.  I also think, you know, if you look at the Research Triangle, where a lot of the votes typically for the entire state of North Carolina come out, I think that‘s going to look very good for Barack.  I think in all of the cities, particularly where you‘ve got a large African-American community—and I think we‘re expecting 34 percent African-American turnout in North Carolina today—that those numbers will go very high for Barack Obama.

There were some polls that were showing, you know, maybe 18 percent support for Hillary Clinton within the African-American community in North Carolina.  But today the polls are saying 10 percent.  So I think that he is working hard on that part of his coalition and will continue to build.  And I suspect that North Carolina will be a very good night for him.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEHEI:  If I could just echo that, if you get—if it turns out, at the end of the day, that Hillary Clinton is only getting 10 percent of the African-American vote in North Carolina, she has no chance of winning it, and I think that‘s why the Clinton campaign early this morning started putting out word that, you know what, we might lose by 12, 13, 14, 15 points in North Carolina. 

I don‘t think they think it will be that bad, but they‘re clearly trying to set expectations, because they‘re worried that they have not been able to penetrate the African-American vote in both the Research Triangle, but also the other areas in North Carolina that do have heavy African-American populations.

MATTHEWS:  What about Bill Clinton‘s role down there, the former president?  We watched him last night.  We did a little piece on the show last night on HARDBALL about how he‘s working sort of what I call the dinner theater circuit, the smaller towns. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is that largely the white vote he‘s working down there, Jim? 

VANDEHEI:  It definitely is. 

And they‘re basically trying to replicate the formula that they used in Pennsylvania.  They fell that, when they can put him into these small rural communities and do this thing, and when he‘s doing his thing and he‘s on, he‘s pretty darn good at it.  They feel like they can—they can increase turnout among working-class whites. 

That‘s been the new strategy.  A month ago, we would have been saying, you know what, Bill Clinton‘s become a huge liability.  When they can take him and target him into these areas where people love to hear him speak and he doesn‘t sort of pop off in a way that becomes embarrassing to the campaign, he can be effective. 

That‘s what they have been trying to do for the last couple of weeks, is really try to stoke up the turnout among working-class whites, thinking maybe they can pull enough African-American votes to pull off an offset in North Carolina. 

The feeling that we‘re hearing from the Clinton camp, they don‘t think that that‘s going to happen in North Carolina today.  And that‘s real bad news, because I really think that Hillary Clinton needs to win North Carolina to really have a super-plausible case for winning this nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, North Carolina is the big state voting tonight.

Michelle, your sense of it, in terms of—it is a state with a large African-American population.  But it also—it seems to me, it‘s going to reflect some of the Southern attitude, the northern tier of the whiter—white Southerner.  I mean, Virginia voted pretty strongly for Barack Obama.  And that included a lot of white people. 

I just wonder whether we‘re making a projection from more of the ethnic northern cities of Pennsylvania and Ohio and projecting that kind of thinking down to the South.  And I‘m not sure it‘s going to be the same feeling down there.  Northern and Southern attitudes on race have always been different. 

BERNARD:  They have always been different.  You‘re absolutely right. 

And if we look at the Southern states where primaries have taken place prior to today, they overwhelmingly went for Barack Obama in the Deep South, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, South Carolina.  It will be interesting to see if North Carolina mirrors South—mirrors what happened in South Carolina. 

But, then again, we really have to look at what I call the Bubba factor.  I think maybe I heard you say that yesterday on HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BERNARD:  You know, Bill Clinton is out there.  When you hear that Southern drawl, when you sort of—you can sort of look at him as the everyman‘s man in North Carolina.  He is going to cities where people have never seen a real live president of the United States, or former president, I should say, in their midst. 

And I think that he‘s going to get—he‘s going to be successful in getting out the vote with rural whites.  And if you take a look at the pictures of where he has been giving his speeches in recent days, there‘s not one black face to be seen in the crowds.  Actually, there‘s not any non-white faces to be seen in any of those crowds.  And those people are going to go out.  They‘re going to vote for Hillary Clinton.

And they‘re going to do so, I would say, not only because of Bill Clinton, but because of Reverend Wright. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I wonder—Jim, you know, it‘s interesting to watch how the president dresses for success.  He‘s been very casual when he campaigned up North. 

VANDEHEI:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  But, when he went down South, to those small areas, small towns, there he is with a coat and tie in hot weather. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I will tell you, I think he‘s showing respect. 

Well, wait a minute.  I will be wrong now, right?  I will be wrong now.  We will see the right one without a tie on here.  I know I‘m going to be wrong.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I have been watching him in that coat and tie all day yesterday.  Maybe he has changed his sartorial splendor for—to keep me guessing about what he is up to.

What do you make of the Bill Clinton impact? 

There he is with a tie.

What do you think of the Bill impact down there, the Bill impact? 

VANDEHEI:  Well, I think that, again, if you can keep him focused, -- and that‘s pretty hard, as you well know, Chris.  You‘re a student of the game. 

If you can keep him focuses, he can be very successful.  Remember, he‘s from Arkansas.  He understands the dynamics of the South.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

VANDEHEI:  And he knows how it‘s different from Pennsylvania and Ohio. 

That is the part of Bill Clinton that is tactically brilliant.  He knows how to adjust the drawl.  He knows how to adjust the tie, if that‘s what it takes to connect with voters. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

VANDEHEI:  It‘s just not certain that that‘s enough, that there‘s enough of those voters. 

And I do think there is a different voter. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

VANDEHEI:  And think if you are right.  If—if Obama can do better than we think with working-class whites in North Carolina and he‘s able to win North Carolina convincingly, that‘s going a pretty powerful argument for him...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

VANDEHEI:  ... because Democrats have had such a hard time doing anything in the South in campaigns. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Thank you very much, Michelle Bernard. 

Thank you, Jim VandeHei of “Politico.”

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I have to tell you, one time I saw Bill Clinton connect, it was down in Waco, Texas.  And he was talking to the crowd.

He says, “You over there in the flat.”  This guy knows how to talk. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Up next: the top 10 reasons Hillary Clinton—“the flat” -

loves America.  It‘s the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”  It‘s coming up. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Time for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.” 

It‘s become the thing to do, apparently, deliver the top 10 list the night before a big primary. 

Here‘s Hillary Clinton on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” a few of the top 10 reasons Hillary Clinton loves America. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)  

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  Number three. 

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Where else can you get a car painted for $29.95? 

LETTERMAN:  Exactly.  That‘s right. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

LETTERMAN:  Exactly. 

Number two. 

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON:  Is this the part where I say, “Live from New York, it‘s Saturday night”? 

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  Yes, it is. 

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN:  And the number-one reason Hillary Clinton loves America, here you go. 

CLINTON:  Apparently, anyone can get a talk show. 

LETTERMAN:  That‘s right. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN:  You got that right. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, by downing shots and beers and delivering jokes, Senator Clinton is working really hard to be really well-liked. 

In an interview with “People” magazine, by the way, John and Elizabeth Edwards put the guessing game to rest.  They‘re not endorsing Hillary or Barack, but they did weigh in what they don‘t like about both candidates.

Elizabeth Edwards says she doesn‘t like Hillary Clinton‘s lobbyist money or Obama‘s health care plan.  John Edwards says he doesn‘t like Hillary‘s old politics or what she calls Obama‘s—he calls Obama‘s lack of substance under the rhetoric. 

Well, punditry is rarely pretty, especially when practiced by politicians.

Anyway, John McCain para presidente?  Even though most Hispanic voters vote Democratic, Senator John McCain is trying hard to make serious inroads with that community.  Not only is he planning to speak to the group La Raza in July, he also just launched a Spanish-language version of his campaign Web site.  It wished voters a happy Cinco de Mayo and asked for contribuciones, contribuciones.

Anyway, Rush fire.  If you play with him, don‘t be surprised if you get burned.  I‘m talking about Rush Limbaugh.  After Hillary Clinton joked on Sunday that Rush Limbaugh had a crush on her, Rush Limbaugh had this to say, believe it or not. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW”) 

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Mrs. Clinton saying I have a crush on her, obviously, they think this the Clinton household.  So, this probably explains why Bill Clinton hit on my date at the Kobe Club in New York last year.  And he used the mayor of Los Angeles to distract me while he came along and started chatting up my date.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  How strategic.

Anyway, I don‘t even know what to do with all that.  I guess teasing Rush doesn‘t buy any goodwill with Rush. 

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

Today is clearly a very important day in the course of this presidential campaign, but what happens next?  Come tomorrow morning, there will be more undeclared superdelegates and disputed delegates in Michigan and Florida than delegates to be earned in upcoming primaries by voting. 

And when all the Democratic National Committee get to meet to figure it all out, what to do with Michigan and Florida delegates, that‘s going a to be on the 31st of May.  And that‘s our “Big Number,” 31.  The 31st of this month is when the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, gets together and decides how to count Florida and Michigan. 

Clinton is fighting hard, by the way, to redo those rules—tonight‘s “Big Number,” 31.  Watch it on your calendar.

Up next: our decision 2008 panel will be here with us with their predictions.  They‘re coming up here on tonight‘s doubleheader.

Plus, we will have the first exit polling from North Carolina and Indiana—some hints for the experts on where this thing is headed tonight. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELISSA LEE, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Melissa Lee with your CNBC “Market Wrap.” 

Stocks higher today, despite yet another surge in oil prices.  The Dow Jones industrial gained 51 points.  The S&P 500 was up 10.  And the Nasdaq picked up 19. 

Oil another record high, near $123 a barrel today, before retreating.  Crude settled at a new closing high of $121.84 a barrel.  That‘s up $1.87 for the day. 

After the markets closed, tech bellwether Cisco Systems reporting quarterly earnings that beat analyst estimates.  In after-hours trading, shares of the computer network equipment maker were up fractionally. 

And Dow component Disney also reporting quarterly earnings after the closing bell that topped analyst estimates.  After hours, Disney shares are up by just about 1 percent. 

And “The Wall Street Journal” reporting Sprint, Nextel and Clearwire are close to announcing a $12 billion joint venture.  They plan to roll out ultra-fast wireless Internet access for cell phones and laptops. 

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

HARDBALL.

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and our continuing coverage of the Indiana and North Carolina primaries today. 

David Shuster has been tracking events in the Hoosier State.  And he‘s here now with an update—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, Democratic officials in Indiana say they now have very strong indications of very heavy turnout in three crucial Indiana counties, Lake County, Marion, and Monroe. 

And I want to show them to you.  Lake County includes part of the state where Obama is familiar to voters because of the Chicago media market.  Marion County includes Indianapolis, the state‘s largest African-American population.  Monroe County is the home to Indiana University. 

And this heavy turnout in these areas in particular is very significant, because Obama needs to do well in these counties in order to stay close.  Officials, Chris, are also pointing out that, in some Republican precincts in the central part of the state, we‘re talking precincts where you have 75 percent Republicans, 25 percent Democrats, they have already had more people vote in those Republican precincts than they had in the 2004 general election. 

That means that Republican participation, at least in some areas, is much higher in this Democratic primary than a lot of people had anticipated. 

Now, Barack Obama, earlier today, he began the day in Greenwood, Indiana, which is near Indianapolis.  He went to a diner called the Four Seasons, where he paid the tab for some of the people eating breakfast, including one group that has been meeting for breakfast in this place nearly every day for 20 years. 

Later, Obama went to a polling station and he tried to lower expectations for Indiana by praising the Clintons. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The best-established brand name in Democratic politics, maybe in politics overall.  And they have been on the scene 20 years.  So, they‘re not going to go down easy.  And we have just got to keep on delivering our message that, if we‘re going to change things like high gas prices, we can‘t do the same Washington-style, you know, patchwork solutions that we have been doing. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  As for Hillary Clinton, today, she went to the most famous landmark in the Hoosier State, the Indianapolis Raceway, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  She appeared with Sarah Fisher, who is competing in the Indianapolis 500 and who has endorsed Hillary Clinton.

Clinton was asked about analogies to racing.  And watch what happened when she was asked specifically about including Michigan and Florida in the nomination math. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  Senator, where‘s the finish line in this race, 2,025 for delegates or 2,209? 

CLINTON:  I think it‘s 2,209.  I think it is.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION:  Is that disingenuous?

CLINTON:  No, not at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Not disingenuous.

Well, Hillary Clinton underscored that she does intend to push for Michigan and Florida to be counted, even though she agreed last summer that those results would not count. 

Again, Hillary Clinton will be watching the results tonight, Chris, in Indianapolis.  Barack Obama is already in Raleigh, North Carolina.  But, again, Chris, the hour—the report at this hour from Indiana is that very, very heavy Republican participation, much higher than had been expected—this is significant.  Republicans were polling at least for Hillary Clinton before this Election Day.  Independents were polling for Barack Obama, but a significant number of independents and Republicans participating today in this open primary—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  And there‘s no way of how they‘re going to vote, whether they‘re going to vote the Rush Limbaugh-directed way, the dittohead way of voting to cause chaos, or voting because they may be a woman who is a feminist and wants to see a woman become president or whatever, or wants to vote for Barack Obama because they‘re inspired by him. 

We have no way of dissecting that Republican vote in the Democratic primary today, do we? 

SHUSTER:  No, there‘s no way except to go with this polling. 

But, again, it‘s the sort of thing that is making both campaigns and at least a lot of Democratic officials who are helping Obama and Clinton in Indiana, it‘s making a lot of them extremely nervous. 

MATTHEWS:  Who is nervous?  The Obama people.

SHUSTER:  Well, the Obama and the Clinton people, Chris.

We talked to a Democratic chair supporting Hillary Clinton who is unwilling to predict that Hillary Clinton is going to win tonight.  He keeps saying that this is going to be extremely close.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SHUSTER:  He used the word barn-burner, which is an Indiana term to suggest that it‘s going to be dramatic and it‘s going to be close. 

MATTHEWS:  I was thinking, with Evan Bayh the other day being very courteous and deferential to Barack Obama, as well as his candidate, Hillary Clinton; he seemed to be hedging his public support a bit, aware that the state of Indiana is very hard to predict tonight.  Thank you very much for a great report, David Shuster. 

Now to our round table of MSNBC political analysts Pat Buchanan, of course, Eugene Robinson, Rachel Maddow.  You are all quite the team here.  I feel like I‘m interrupting you all.  You battled late into the night with great fervor and intellect.  It seems to me, since I‘ve gotten no exit polling in my head to rattle around yet—so I‘m a virgin when it comes to knowing what‘s going on tonight—I still think it‘s a possible double header for Barack Obama.  Rachel?  

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  I think we‘re likely to see a spilt decision.  I think the big thing we‘re going to be talking about is your big number from the show tonight, Florida and Michigan and what happens on May 31st, and what counts as the finish line in terms of the number of delegates. 

MATTHEWS:  Why does that bore me so much?  What is it about everybody who brings up Michigan and Florida just bores me to death?  I don‘t think there‘s anything we can do about it here at this table, except bring up the phrase Florida and Michigan. 

MADDOW:  This is why it stopped boring me yesterday when I realized that if Florida and Michigan are going a be what the Clinton campaign pushes now, that virtually guarantees this gets decided at the convention.  Then, no matter what happens with pledged delegates or super delegates or any of the primaries -- 

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t the Democratic party simply call itself the disorganized Democratic party, because they said these states weren‘t going to count.  If they do, they admitted that they‘re feeble-minded. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  You can‘t have a Democratic convention with nobody sitting in the seats marked Florida and Michigan. 

MATTHEWS:  Give them the seats. 

ROBINSON:  There‘s going to put somebody in the seats.  That was always going to happen.  The hope was that somebody would run the table and get the nomination and then they could put anybody in the seat. 

MATTHEWS:  It didn‘t happen.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  This a big night, Chris, and everything‘s really depending, I think, on Indiana.  If she loses both of them, I think then you start arguing about the super delegates.  Then you‘ve got a real problem.  If she wins Indiana and comes close in North Carolina, I think this goes on.  Harold Ickes, why has he been absent from the game?  He‘s out there working these convention.  He knows how to do these things, get the Credentials Committee.  If the Credentials Committee is bad, you take it to the floor.  If the floor vote, they sit, does Michigan and Florida sit and vote on their own credentials? 

This is 1952 all over again.  It‘s a great show, Chris. 

MADDOW:  It doesn‘t matter what happens at the convention.  If the nominee is being decided at the convention, it doesn‘t matter if you elected Jesus or Mickey Mouse, it‘s going to be John McCain for president. 

BUCHANAN:  I disagree.

MADDOW:  When was the last time a nominee picked at the convention won the presidency. 

BUCHANAN:  I tell you, Dwight Eisenhower. 

MADDOW:  That was a long time before I was born. 

BUCHANAN:  That was the last time—

(CROSS TALK)

BUCHANAN:  Of course, Obama‘s good, but he didn‘t win Normandy. 

ROBINSON:  He didn‘t win Normandy, but the Democrats have some advantages in the fall, once they can get a nominee.  They‘ve got tons of advantages. 

MATTHEWS:  Can we talk May before we talk November?  I just want to do this one thing.  Tonight, when it‘s all over, Patrick J. Buchanan, will you be consistent?  If Barack wins both, you will say what? 

BUCHANAN:  I will say it‘s not only improbable, it‘s virtually impossible for her to get the nomination now, unless there is some implosion in the Barack Obama campaign or a war with Iran.  You don‘t think there‘s a possibility of that, Chris? 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about it, but that‘s your war with the neo-cons.  Let‘s go on to this thing here.  Rachel, your answer, if it is a double win for him? 

MADDOW:  If it is a double win for him, I do not expect Hillary Clinton to get out of the race.  I think the is going to make a civil rights issue out of taking it to the convention, no matter what happens. 

MATTHEWS:  Civil rights being what?

MADDOW:  Civil rights seating the Michigan and Florida delegations.  I think she is going to say this is a matter of principle. 

MATTHEWS:  Would it be a matter of principle if she didn‘t win down there in those two states?  Would it still be a matter of principle?

MADDOW:  I‘m saying what she‘s going to argue. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re so good at this. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  This is what this guy wants, chaos. 

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t want chaos.  I would like a great convention. 

MADDOW:  You would like to arm all of the candidates and see—

ROBINSON:  Here‘s what happens—

MATTHEWS:  Your favorite convention of all history was probably the Democrat‘s convention of 1968. 

BUCHANAN:  I was at it.  It was great. 

MATTHEWS:  I know you were in the truth squad, causing turmoil.  I think you were in the back pushing the cops.  

MADDOW:  Danger, danger, danger. 

ROBINSON:  Go get them there, Daily.

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t ask questions.  Anyway, Pat, Eugene, Rachel, I will come back with this romper-room in just a second.  When we return, Norah O‘Donnell is going to come in with the first batch of numbers from the exit polling, hints about—for those out there who are really well informed, better than me.  You can figure out from what she tells you who‘s going to win tonight?  Indiana, North Carolina, the numbers coming in with Norah O‘Donnell when we come back.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and our coverage of the Indiana and North Carolina primaries.  For our first look at exit polls, we turn to MSNBC chief Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell.  Norah?

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Chris.  What we‘ve already been seeing is that early voting could be a very big deal in the North Carolina primary.  What our polls are showing is that voters made up their minds well before today‘s contest. 

Let‘s take a look at the key groups who decided to vote early or absentee in North Carolina.  As you can see in our exit poll, over a third were white women, 30 percent you see there were seniors, over a third were college graduates, and only seven percent were first-time voters or chosen to do by absentee were first-time voters. 

So far this season, we‘ve seen that Hillary Clinton has held an advantage among those voting early, but Barack Obama made a major effort in North Carolina to get his supporter to cast ballots early. 

Now turning to the time of decision for these voters; voters in the Tar Heal state made their decision early.  In fact, only 19 percent say they made their decision within the last week.  The overwhelming number, 81 percent, decided well before that.  Chris, remember, early voting in North Carolina started on April 17th.  That‘s actually 20 days before today‘s primary. 

So party officials predicted about 400,000 voted early, which means those votes were cast before the latest controversy with Obama‘s former pastor, Reverend Wright.  In about—just about half an hour from now, I‘m going to tell you from these exit polls about how important a factor Reverend Wright was in the voting today.  Chris?

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, Norah.  Let‘s go back to our round table.  It seems to me there‘s one clawing question in this whole process; how does the Democratic party, which has been founded on the African-American vote practically since the ‘60s, deny the nomination of the party to the candidate who gets the most elected votes?  Pat, how do they do it?  Tell me how it works this summer. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, I mean, I can talk the mechanics, but let me tell you the argument.  The argument will be—if the argument exists—Hillary Clinton got more popular votes than Obama did.  She won all the big states.  Some of the delegates were held out.  She‘s a winner in November, and it looks like he‘s going to get beat.  We‘ve got to put together a Hillary/Barack ticket to win this thing, and Barack is not breaking through here.  If we want to win this thing, it‘s a lay-up for us.  We‘ve got to put this ticket together. 

MATTHEWS:  How do they do that without him saying yes? 

BUCHANAN:  Look, he can walk out or do anything, but what I‘m saying is, to convince the super delegates and to—they‘ll have to seat Michigan and Florida. 

MATTHEWS:  Can they do it without his say-so?

BUCHANAN:  I think—well, he can destroy it if he wants, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  He could say, no, I refuse to endorse. 

ROBINSON:  It‘s more than his say so.  I mean, it would have to look as if—not look as if something is being stolen from him.  I mean, she would have to do really well tonight and in the subsequent primaries to really have this argument.  I‘ll tell you, the undecided super delegates that I‘ve spoken to are really, really nervous about this sort of prospect.  They don‘t want to do this for obvious reasons. 

BUCHANAN:  They‘re just going to have to face up to it, maybe.  That‘s what they‘re going to have to do.  They‘re frightened.  They ought to be frightened.  Their careers—a lot of them are office holders—they go home and take it away from Barack—

MATTHEWS:  Pat, you say all this, and the minute they do that, you will cook up some African-American conservative guy or woman to run in the general to siphon off the black vote from the Democrats. 

(CROSS TALK)

BUCHANAN:  Jesse Peterson is already ready. 

ROBINSON:  Alan Keyes already has a committee.

MATTHEWS:  Rachel, how do the Democrats deny the nomination to the candidate who gets the most elected delegates, if he‘s African-American? 

MADDOW:  I don‘t think that the Democrats have a solution that isn‘t going to make somebody furious.  There‘s no way either candidate is going to look like they flat out won it.  It‘s going to get decided through this arcane, obtuse part of the process that doesn‘t seem very fair, no matter who wins it. 

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  The guy gets the most elected delegates, that seems pretty simple. 

MADDOW:  If you get the most pledged delegates, but you don‘t get to 2,025 --

MATTHEWS:  They never get to the ultimate number.  The other side almost always—

ROBINSON:  If you get the most pledged delegates, you‘ve got the most vote, you‘ve got the most states; those are data points you can use to—

MATTHEWS:  What if the way you define the popular vote says—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know what I hear?  I hear clarity on this side, mush on that side.  One guy gets the most elected delegates, the other side has what going for them?  New score cards. 

BUCHANAN:  No, they‘ve got—you would have to have super delegates and you would have to get people seated and there‘d have to be a real dispute over who really won this nomination.  If you get that, that‘s the only way.  If he wins two tonight, Chris, then you‘ll be happy.  You can relax.  He‘s moving forward. 

MADDOW:  There will be a real dispute over who won the nomination no matter what happens. 

MATTHEWS:  What will be Hillary‘s argument if he gets the most elected delegates? 

MADDOW:  Hillary‘s argument will be that it has go to the convention for Michigan and Florida, because Michigan and Florida make it possible to understand the popular vote and to make sure the Democrat‘s votes are really counted. 

MATTHEWS:  I always asked this issue, if Hillary Clinton cares so much about these two states, why doesn‘t she agree up front that she‘ll go by the total number of elected delegates and then they can have a re-vote in those states?  If she‘ll go along with it, having those votes revote, if those votes will count.  But there‘s no way in the world Barack will ever agree to have a revote in those states of any kind unless the candidates agree they‘re going to go by the most elected delegates. 

MADDOW:  She seems to be making decisions about Michigan and Florida and about every other procedural thing based on what gives her a chance to stay in the race. 

MATTHEWS:  Why should he ever go along with that?

BUCHANAN:  He seems to be resisting popular votes too.  He‘s resisting popular votes. 

MADDOW:  The popular vote is a ridiculous measure. 

BUCHANAN:  You say why should he, but you‘re talking about a small D Democratic party.  When she says why not have a revote in Michigan, why not have a revote in Florida, the normal guy says, hey, why not? 

MATTHEWS:  You ought to agree to go by elected delegates and revote those two states.  

MADDOW:  Why would any state not allow independents and—

MATTHEWS:  Do we agree that the Clintons will not agree to any role that prevents them from winning the presidency back. 

MADDOW:  That‘s what I think.

MATTHEWS:  I agree with that.  They will not agree to any rule to keep them from being president. 

BUCHANAN:  Chris, why are they afraid, Obama‘s people, of a popular vote in Florida and Michigan? 

MATTHEWS:  Because they‘re waiting to see whether they will abide by any rule after the vote is taken.  The Clintons have a tendency to ask for mulligans, for some new measure every time they deal with something. 

BUCHANAN:  You need a insurance policy before the people get to vote in Michigan and Florida? 

MATTHEWS:  You simply have to have a score card before you play a game. 

ROBINSON:  Here were the rules.  We played by the rules.  And I got the delegates. 

BUCHANAN:  You‘re afraid of a vote, Gene.  That‘s what people will say. 

ROBINSON:  You can say a phrase.  What I see are two campaigns each playing the position that gives that campaign the advantage.  

MATTHEWS:  Will this be decided in June or August?  June or August, when will this be decided, the Democratic nomination? 

BUCHANAN:  August. 

MADDOW:  August. 

ROBINSON:  August. 

MADDOW:  Chris? 

MATTHEWS:  Smells like August.  You guys are going to be here all night.  I don‘t want to wear you out all night.  As Hillary Clinton would say, it‘s a marathon, not a sprint.  Rachel, we all know that.  So let‘s get ready for tonight, another exciting night on MSNBC.  Stay with us throughout the night.  This is going to be fascinating.  Even if it‘s a split decision in this double header tonight, you are going to see a lot of talk tonight about the spreads and what it means. 

If Barack holds a big lead in North Carolina, he‘s had a good night, an OK night.  If Hillary Clinton wins a big win in Indiana, a big one, you‘ll hear a lot about that.  It‘s always fascinating.  Watch and see where they give their speeches tonight.  That will tell you what they think is the most important state.  If one ends up in North Carolina and one in Indiana that will tell you a lot about this split decision. 

Thank you, Pat Buchanan, Eugene Robinson, Rachel Maddow.  We‘ll see you all in a very short time, in fact a few seconds, with our live coverage of the Indiana and North Carolina primaries as we get underway tonight.  Keith Olbermann will join me after a very short break.  We‘ll be on all night with results and, of course, punditry.  This is MSNBC, the place for it, politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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