updated 5/13/2008 11:34:11 AM ET 2008-05-13T15:34:11

Guests: Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd, Tucker Carlson, Backus, Steve McMahon, Jeff Zeleny, Ryan Lizza, Linda Douglass, Michelle Bernard

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The mystery of Hillary Clinton.  What‘s she thinking?  What‘s she doing?  What‘s she planning?  What does she want?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL, tonight from NBC News headquarters in New York.  We‘re here on the plaza at 30 Rockefeller Center in the heart of Manhattan for the annual rollout of NBC‘s programs for the fall.  That‘s John Madden and Al Michaels from NBC “Sunday Night Football” signing autographs.  There‘s so much more here.  All that from NBC Universal, and we‘ll try to give you a look at some of it throughout the show.

Now on to politics.  What does Hillary Clinton do now?  The good news for her is that she‘s expected to win tomorrow night‘s West Virginia primary big-time.  But the bad news, and there‘s a lot of it, is that Barack Obama added four more superdelegates today and has for the first time passed Clinton in the NBC News superdelegate count, 279 to 276.5.

So what‘s next for Hillary?  Will she get out this week, at the end of the primaries in three weeks, or will she try to fight it all the way to the convention in Denver?  And what happens she does get out?  Will Senator Clinton want to be Obama‘s running mate?  Will she demand it?  Will he want her?  We‘ll break down all the possibilities.

Also: Are we seeing the beginnings of a Obama/McCain general election campaign already?  We‘ll take a look at that in the “Politics Fix.”

And do you think “Saturday Night Live” has been too pro-Hillary? 

Well, take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Tonight, I‘m here to tell you why I am that candidate.  First, I am a sore loser.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That and more on the HARDBALL “Sideshow” tonight.  And remember, tomorrow night, Keith Olbermann joins me for complete coverage of the West Virginia primary starting at 6:00 PM Eastern.  MSNBC will be live until 2:00 AM that night, that‘s tomorrow night, with all the results and with a look ahead—and this could be the most important—to next week‘s Kentucky and Oregon primaries.

But first, Hillary Clinton‘s end game.  Chuck Todd is political director for NBC News, and NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell has been covering the Clinton campaign.  I‘ve got to ask you the big question.  What is Hillary Clinton thinking tonight?

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  I think she hasn‘t decided what she‘s thinking, and that‘s why she keeps campaigning.  The easiest thing to do is to keep going, keep campaigning while you figure it out.  Does she want to be on the ticket?  I don‘t think she‘s answered that question yet.  And until she‘s figured that question out, answered that question in her head, you got to keep going as if you might be the heir to the party, as if you might for some reason accidentally fall into the nomination this time, or because she might want to be on the ticket.  And I think if she does, she‘s got to continue to run strong.  But I don‘t think she‘s made that decision...

MATTHEWS:  Has she absorbed the fact that she‘s probably going to lose?

TODD:  Well, I think Andrea can answer that question better.  She‘s done a bunch of reporting on that.  She certainly seems like somebody who realizes that she‘s going to come up short, so she‘s trying to find the soft landing.  What is that soft landing?  Is it winning big and becoming the candidate of blue-collar America?  That‘s not such a bad place to be in the Democratic Party.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go right to Andrea.  Andrea, you‘ve been covering the campaign.  This morning, you and I talked on—about 6:00 o‘clock this morning.  How does it look now?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  She believes that she can keep on going through the primaries, through June 3, Chris, because she thinks that she‘s going to win a couple of these big races, West Virginia, Kentucky, hope to do a little bit better than expected in Oregon, and pile up some more of the popular vote—clearly win in Puerto Rico.  So what they‘re saying is that—she has told everyone around her in the inner circle it‘s on to June 3 unless there is some extraordinary event that takes place that knocks her out of that game plan.

She just sent out a new fund-raising appeal, which I think you‘ve got there, which is asking people on line to contribute.  They acknowledge that they‘re at least $20 million in debt.  And she sees no down side in continuing.  It‘s only a couple of more weeks, and it might improve her position, her bargaining position, and increase her luster.  They feel that she looks better, she doesn‘t look like a sore loser, that she‘s now sort of a happy warrior, rather than someone with, you know—sort of has sour grapes about this whole campaign.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s listen up here.  Here‘s Senator Clinton in a message that she broadcast—I think she taped it yesterday—to her supporters.  This is on her Web site.  You can all watch now, Senator Clinton for herself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That‘s really all I want to say tonight is thank you.  Thank you for all you mean to me.  Thank you for what you believe in, which are the beliefs and values I share.  Thank you for caring so much about our country.  And now it‘s on to West Virginia and Kentucky and Oregon.  And we‘ll stay in touch, and I hope that you‘ll continue to let us know what‘s on your mind.  And to those of you who will be following us, you‘re more than welcome.  There‘s a lot of work to do.  Please come along, maybe be part of our phone campaign.  Be as involved as your time and busy lives permit.  Thanks again for everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Andrea, that‘s a very debonair, upbeat, caring—

Karen Carpenter, actually—voice that she puts on.  It‘s one of her most attractive presentations.  It is not, however, the battling politician anymore, I don‘t think.  What do you think?

MITCHELL:  Yes, I think that‘s absolutely true.  She‘s not attacking Obama on the stump.  She‘s not criticizing him.  She‘s aiming her firepower at John McCain.  Her point to her inner circles is she needs to bring her supporters along to the stage where she can then ask them to support Barack Obama, if that is the inevitable result.  And that this is way she‘s doing it.  It is, as you were describing it earlier, the long good-bye...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  ... the sort of Jimmy Durante good-bye from spotlight to spotlight, I think you said on “MORNING JOE” today.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you both this, starting with you, Chuck, the toughest question in the world, which is mind reading.  If she can‘t win, does Hillary Clinton want Barack Obama to be the next president and beat John McCain, or does she still want to have to shot at it herself in 2012?  What does she prefer at this point?

TODD:  Look, I think this idea that somehow she wants Obama to lose—

I think she knows she‘ll get blamed for—she will get blamed for that loss if Obama loses.

MATTHEWS:  By her people?

TODD:  Not by her people, but by a lot of Obama people, if it‘s all thought of that she didn‘t do everything she could and ever thought...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  ... any differently.  So I kind of think she‘s a rate cut (ph) out of her.  I really think the gut check here for her is, What does she want from Obama?  What does she want to make him do?  Does she want to be vice president?  I‘ve talked to people who say, No way, she doesn‘t want it.  But you know what?  I bet you—I just have this feeling President Clinton is going to tell her, Do you want to stand on the sidelines of history or do you want to be a part of it?  And maybe it‘s better to be on the inside...

MATTHEWS:  Well...

TODD:  ... and protect the Clinton legacy...

MATTHEWS:  Again, we have the tape...

TODD:  ... long-term.

MATTHEWS:  ... Chuck, and here‘s Senator—President—here‘s Senator Clinton in West Virginia today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  ... really telling you a lot about history to point out that it was West Virginia that made it possible for John Kennedy to become president.  Now, John Kennedy didn‘t have the number of delegates he needed when he went to the convention in 1960, but he had something equally as important.  He had West Virginia behind him because...

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

CLINTON:  ... it‘s a fact that Democrats don‘t get elected president unless West Virginia votes for you, and...

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s living off the land, isn‘t it.  That‘s making the best of things.  Andrea, your view about Hillary‘s thinking right now, based on your reporting.  Does she still want to be president this time and thinks she can still do it?  Does she still want to be president eventually, or is she willing to bow to the inevitability of Barack Obama and help him become president?

MITCHELL:  I think it‘s a combination of things because her experience, her whole life experience has been politically picking themselves up off the mat and getting back in the game—when they lost in 1980 and came back as governor, you know, came back two years later.  They‘ve managed to become the “comeback kids” in New Hampshire, each of them individually and together.  They managed to come back from impeachment.

So she‘s holding out the slim hope that something could change the game, that she could still have it this time around.  But if not, I do think—I agree with Chuck.  She doesn‘t want to be blamed for denying the Democrats what should have been their year.  And she privately tells people she doesn‘t think he can win.  She doesn‘t think he can put together the coalition to win.  But she doesn‘t want to be the person blamed for messing it up for the Democrats this year.  She really does believe, she tells people, that Obama would be a better president than McCain, that McCain would not be good for America.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but you both buy that?  You think that at the end—the day after the election in November, that she wouldn‘t be a little bit happier to know that the election left open the possibility of her running again the next time, rather than closing the door?

TODD:  I think (INAUDIBLE) you have to know—it would have to play out in such a way where it was obvious that it was Obama‘s fault, that he blew it, that it had nothing to do with any of this leftover crud (ph) from the primary campaign.

MATTHEWS:  OK, what‘s the purpose of the next three weeks from the Obama point of view, from the Hillary point of view, Andrea, from now until the first week in June?

MITCHELL:  From the Obama point of view, it‘s to ease her pain, make it easier for her to take this leap and to join him on the stage with Bill Clinton, perhaps, June 4 or June 5.  So it‘s to make it, you know, less embarrassing, not to cause anything that would stir the pot.

From her point of view, it‘s to go out, as I say, as a happy warrior, winning as bit as she can in West Virginia, in Kentucky, and in Puerto Rico, piling up that popular vote and making her seem more—you know, less of a loser, frankly.

TODD:  Look, we have never seen somebody lose a Democratic nomination or a Republican nomination as strongly in a position that Clinton will be in at the end of this primary season and they have never gone on to run one more time, you know, whether it was Ronald Reagan in ‘76, whether it was Gary Hart...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But there won‘t be another time if Barack wins the presidency.

TODD:  Well, who‘s to say that?  I mean, you don‘t know that for 100 percent.

MITCHELL:  You don‘t know.

TODD:  You don‘t know that maybe in eight years, she doesn‘t come back.  I mean, she would be—she‘d be about the same age as Ronald Reagan was, number one.  Number two, maybe they force their way on this ticket.  And maybe if you‘re Obama, you don‘t want Hillary Clinton in the Senate, you want her at the Naval Observatory.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s very complicated right now.  Thank you very much, Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell.

Coming up: Does Barack have to put Hillary Clinton on the ticket?  That‘s a great question.  And if not, who should he choose?  David Shuster has a report on all the options—there are about a half dozen of them he sees—for veep.

You‘re watching HARDBALL from Rockefeller Center in New York, only on

MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Now that Barack Obama has overtaken Hillary Clinton among superdelegates, it seems only a matter of time until Obama becomes the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.  But the trial balloons over a possible running mate are already flying high.  HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The intrigue began this weekend, when Hillary Clinton spoke in positive terms about Barack Obama as she kept her campaign going.

CLINTON:  We‘re going to finish this nominating contest, which we will do.  Then we will have a nominee and we will have a unified Democratic Party.  And we will stand together and we will defeat John McCain in November and go on to the White House!

SHUSTER:  It‘s not clear if Clinton would want to be Barack Obama‘s running mate or that Obama would want her.  Many Democrats say the pairing will never happen because of bad blood between the campaigns and because of concerns that Obama and Clinton would have to spend too much time explaining away comments like this.

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

SHUSTER:  But if Obama wants help with the gender gap, analysts say, the non-Clinton option could be two-term Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius.

GOV. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (D), KANSAS:  I have been so honored to be the governor of Kansas...

MATTHEWS:  Picking Sebelius would underscore Obama‘s message of change.  Plus, given her success in a traditionally Republican state, Sebelius could theoretically help Obama change the electoral map.  Most Democratic roadmaps in November include the state of Ohio, and that‘s where Governor Ted Strickland comes in.

GOV. TED STRICKLAND (D), OHIO:  I appreciate what you said about, you know, caring about other people.

SHUSTER:  Strickland was an active and high-profile supporter of Hillary Clinton, who is well-respected by the Obama campaign.  Obama‘s team also respects first-term Virginia senator Jim Webb.  Webb is a Vietnam veteran who is well versed on military issues and foreign policy.  Plus, Obama won Virginia in the primaries and is eager to make a run at it in the fall.

Another Virginian who could help Obama is Governor Tim Kaine.  Kaine is a former missionary who is comfortable talking about his faith and he could help Obama bridge the “God gap” that has emerged in presidential elections.  Obama may face a racial gap in the fall, and so speculation is building over possible Southern white running mates, including highly respected former Georgia senator Sam Nunn.

SAM NUNN (D-GA), FORMER SENATOR:  I will continue my involvement in and my love for public policy and public service.

SHUSTER:  If Obama wants to underscore the message of unity, he could ask a Republican join the ticket.  Under that scenario, there is outgoing Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran and an outspoken critic of the Iraq war.

For now, though, all eyes are on Hillary Clinton and whether Clinton and Barack Obama feel that running together would be beneficial.  And if not, the question then becomes, Who would Obama turn to?

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  Jenny Backus is a Democratic consultant who worked for the Kerry campaign in 2008 and the Democratic National Committee.  And Steve McMahon is a Democratic ad consultant who has done work for the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

First, Jenny, then Steve.  I want to run through the list on the names.  Hillary Clinton—will she be a reasonable prospect to be VP?

JENNY BACKUS, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT:  I actually don‘t think so.  I think Hillary Clinton has a very bright future, whatever she decides to do, should it turn out that Barack wins the nomination.  But I think that their messages are too diametrically opposed, and I think that Obama would be better served choosing someone who can help him with the outsider, outside of Washington message against John McCain, who‘s been a fixture of Washington politics for a long time.

MATTHEWS:  You know, Steve, that‘s what Ted Kennedy said the other day, before it was modified, that Barack needs someone who‘s equally inspirational more or less, an outsider.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT:  I think that‘s probably right, although, you know, if you look at the Democratic primary, it‘s strength and experience versus change dynamic, and change is beating experience by about 2 points.  So I think he might also be looking for somebody who, while not very well known on the national scene, is strong, has gotten military experience, maybe national security experience.  If he wants a woman, someone like Jane Harman, the former ranking member...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

MCMAHON:  ... of the Intelligence Committee...

MATTHEWS:  ... and what about Hillary Clinton?  Hillary Clinton?

MCMAHON:  I agree with Jenny.  I don‘t think Hillary‘s going to be a candidate.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s start with the next one.  It‘s the governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius, whose father, John Gilligan, was governor of Ohio.  Kathleen Sebelius, Jenny—is this—I‘ve seen this name at the top of at least one list.

BACKUS:  I think it‘s got to be at the top of their list.  I think she‘s a tremendously qualified candidate.  She comes from the heartland, a state that‘s a very important part of Barack Obama‘s biography, where his grandparents are from, where his grandfather, who he talked about today, is from.  She is a very tough leader.  She‘s had a very good record in Kansas, and she‘s very popular with Republicans.  I think this is a big winning choice for Barack Obama, and I think it would send a strong message across the party.

MATTHEWS:  Steve, do you agree?

MCMAHON:  I think that she‘s not quite a strong of choice, simply because there might be too much change and too much inexperience on that ticket.  I think he needs somebody that has got some national security chops, like Sam Nunn or someone like that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go move quickly through Governor Strickland, then.

You both think—starting with you, Jenny—do you think Governor Strickland of Ohio is good enough to bring his state in to the Democratic column? 

BACKUS:  He certainly did a great job for Hillary Clinton during the

Ohio primary.  And he‘s actually done a very good job with his statewide

races.  He‘s a former minister.  I think he has to be seriously considered

by the Obama campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What do you say?  I don‘t think you‘re going to say yes to that, Steve. 

MCMAHON:  No.  Actually, I Governor Strickland, he‘s got some time in Washington.  He‘s got a little bit of seasoning that Kathleen Sebelius, for instance, doesn‘t have.  I think he might be a good choice. 

Ohio is a very important state.  And it could be the difference between winning and losing. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go to Virginia, to a state that has voted Democrat twice now, for Webb and also for the governor, Governor Kaine.

Do you think Jim Webb makes sense, Jenny? 

BACKUS:  I think, out of those two candidates, I would recommend Kaine over Webb.  I think Jim Webb is a great guy.  He gave an amazing State of the Union response.  But he is sort of seen as somewhat new on the scene.  I think Tim Kaine has a very good operation inside the state, very well respected, and can bring some folks the economic message that we need.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Kaine, yes, Webb, no. 

What do you say to both of them in Virginia? 

MCMAHON:  I would actually go the other way.  I would go with Senator Webb, only because I do think that, with Senator McCain‘s experience in the military, it‘s going to be important to try to match that, to some degree, or mitigate it.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s talk about Sam Nunn, a man who would be brought back from the past, a very respected conservative Democrat from Georgia, longtime Armed Services chair in the Senate.  What do you think, Jenny?

BACKUS:  I think he‘s very qualified.  He‘s someone that‘s important to look at.  I‘m not necessarily sure that Barack Obama needs to add age, though.  I think there‘s a very nice contrast that is put up between how old Barack Obama is and how old McCain is. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh.

BACKUS:  I don‘t think he needs to add to it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Play your strengths.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Go ahead.  What do you think? 

MCMAHON:  On the other hand, who‘s going to call him old?  John McCain certainly isn‘t.  I think he would be a great choice.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Let‘s go to the other—last one, which is the idea of picking a Republican.  Chuck Hagel, retiring from the U.S. Senate from Nebraska, Vietnam War vet, combat vet, opposed to the Iraq war, what do you say, Jenny?

BACKUS:  This is my dream candidate.  I have been so impressed with what—I‘m a very loyal Democrat.  I think Kathleen Sebelius and others are very strong candidates.

But Barack Obama has done an amazing thing this year.  He‘s bringing people into the Democratic Party.  And I think there are lots of disaffected Republicans and independents out there who really, really want to be come and be part of the Democratic ticket.  Chuck Hagel has shown that he‘s got problems with the Republican orthodoxy.  He‘s in the right place on the war.

And he‘s a Vietnam War veteran that has a very interesting contrast to where John McCain is, especially on Iraq.  He‘s a winner.  I would look at him. 

MATTHEWS:  Steve?

MCMAHON:  He‘s—I‘m from Nebraska, and I think Senator Hagel‘s remarkable.  He‘s pro-life, which is a problem for Democrats.  But it‘s about moving to the middle.

I think, if he did it, it‘s an outside-the-box choice.  It‘s a unity choice.  I think it would be a great one, and I think it would be a very, very hard ticket to stop. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I have got two agreements here.  Both of you agree on Hagel.  Both of you agree on Strickland.

What‘s the better candidate, Jenny? 

BACKUS:  On Hagel vs. Sebelius? 

MATTHEWS:  No, vs. Strickland, the one you agree on. 

(CROSSTALK)

BACKUS:  Vs. Strickland?  I think Hagel‘s a better choice.  I think it‘s exciting, I think.  And he‘s a stronger voice on the war.  And I think he‘s the kind of guy that can go into those small towns in Ohio with Barack Obama and bring them home to the ticket. 

MATTHEWS:  Steve, who‘s your better candidate, Strickland or Hagel? 

MCMAHON:  I‘m with Jenny, Hagel. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we have come to a conclusion.  Both of you experts say it comes down to the best Republican running mate and the best Democratic running mate.  Both combined is Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, leaving the Senate and joining the Democratic ticket.  We have learned something here tonight.

Thank you both, Jenny Backus, Steve McMahon.

(LAUGHTER)

BACKUS:  Thanks, Chris. 

MCMAHON:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Move over, Hillary.  You have got a Republican joining the ticket. 

Up next:  She stumbled through last week‘s primaries, lost the superdelegate lead.  Now “Saturday Night Live”—even “Saturday Night Live”—is taking a shot at Hillary Clinton. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)    

AMY POEHLER, ACTRESS:  So, there you have it: sore loser, racist supporters, no ethical standards, qualities Senator Obama simply cannot match. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That, plus a “Big Number” that Hillary Clinton will have a hard time digging out from under—next in the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s time for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

“Saturday Night Live” went after Hillary Clinton this past weekend.  Here‘s the show‘s open, which addressed how Hillary would run in the general election. 

Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)   

POEHLER:  In fact, once Senator Obama is out of the picture, I look forward to playing the race card myself.

(LAUGHTER)

POEHLER:  As in, anyone who doesn‘t vote for me is both a sexist and a racist. 

(LAUGHTER)

POEHLER:  Now, to those of you who say, she will never do that, it doesn‘t even make sense...

(LAUGHTER)

POEHLER:  ... I answer, if you believe that, then you don‘t know me. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  When you have lost “Saturday Night Live,” you have probably lost.  If you‘re Hillary and you have lost “SNL,” then you have lost big time. 

Moving on to MoveOn.org, that group that brought you that famous “General Betray Us” ad, it just announced the winner of its own make-your-own-ad contest, promoting Barack Obama.  The winner was big picked by celebrity judges like Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Oliver Stone.

Let‘s take a look at the winner. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MOVEON.ORG AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m a veteran.  I served under President Ronald Reagan and under the first President Bush.  I have been a Republican since before I could actually vote.  We need somebody in the White House that is strong.  We need somebody that is going to represent the left and the right, the Democrat and the Republican, everybody.  I‘m a lifelong Republican, and I‘m voting for Barack Obama. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  MoveOn.org is spending $200,000 to air that ad.  Of course, we just aired it for free. 

More bad news today for Republican Congressman Vito Fossella of New York, whose drunk driving arrest ended up exposing his double life with a woman other than his wife, including a child with that other woman.

Today‘s “New York Daily News” reports that Republican congressional officials are now looking into a—quote—“mysterious and pricey January 2003 trip to France.”  The paper says that he was the sole lawmaker authorized to go on that congressional trip, and his mistress is suspected of joining him on that trip.  In any case, none of this is looking good for the Republicans, who fear the loss of yet another seat in Congress.

Look our for Ron Paul come convention time this summer.  The Republican—the former Republican presidential candidate drew big support in the primaries for his free-market principles and his staunch opposition to the Iraq war. 

Now, according to “The L.A. Times,” his people are quietly plotting to cause a big public stir at the Republican Convention this summer.  Said stir will include platform fights and an effort to secure a prominent speaking slot for Ron Paul.  Imagine, a Republican fight over the war in Iraq. 

Speaking of unconventional candidates, beware of former Republican Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia.  Today, Congressman Barr announced that he‘s running for president as a Libertarian.  His platform?  Cutting government spending and putting an end to foreign wars.  That sounds a lot like Ron Paul‘s platform.  In a race where every vote could make the difference, Bob Barr might actually count this fall. 

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

Not only is Hillary Clinton falling further and further behind in a race that most believe to be over; she‘s also falling further and further into debt.  Oftentimes, the nominee will help bail out his former opponents.  But, if Clinton keeps on fighting, who knows? 

Just how bad is her campaign debt right now, Hillary Clinton‘s?  According to a senior adviser over the weekend, $20 million.  That‘s her debt.  That could be the bill she‘s going to hand Obama as a price for her withdrawal from the race -- $20 million in debt, Hillary Clinton—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Is Barack Obama a stronger candidate having gone through the tough primary fight with Hillary Clinton?  And will it help him in a matchup with John McCain? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks rallying, as oil prices tumbled, the Dow Jones industrial average gaining 130 points, the S&P 500 up 15, the Nasdaq up almost 43 points.  Oil dropped amid concerns high prices are eating into demand, particularly in China, and as the U.S. dollar continued to gain strength.  Crude fell $1.73 in New York, to $124.23 a barrel. 

Meantime, the Energy Department reports, the national average for regular unleaded gasoline soared almost 11 cents over the past week, to a new record high of $3.72 a gallon. 

Hewlett-Packard confirms it‘s in advanced discussions to acquire computer services campaign Electronic Data Systems, reportedly for about $13 billion.  Hewlett-Packard shares fell 5 percent today, while EDS shares soared almost 28 percent. 

And Research In Motion shares jumped almost 7 percent.  The company is launching a new high-end version of the BlackBerry. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL, at Rockefeller Plaza, for the annual rollout of NBC‘s programs for the fall. 

And right there, by the way, is the KITT car from “Knight Rider.” 

The punches and counterpunches thrown in this long nominating process for presidential could have two effects.  Will they make the candidate, the eventual candidate of the Democrats, stronger or weaker in the general election come November? 

I‘m joined right now by two New Yorkers, Ryan Lizza and “The New York Times”‘ -- he‘s of “The New Yorker” magazine—and Jeff Zeleny of “The New York Times.” 

Gentlemen, first question is the last question. 

You first, Ryan. 

Did this campaign of the last two or three months, from Hillary Clinton battering Barack Obama, make him a better candidate against John McCain? 

RYAN LIZZA, “THE NEW YORKER”:  Yes, I think it has, actually. 

I think you can make a case that the long primary process has probably done Obama more good than harm so far.  It could always reach a tipping point where it‘s more harm than good.  But, so far, I think it‘s vetted him in a way that he wouldn‘t have been vetted if he had just steamrolled to the nomination by winning New Hampshire. 

It‘s also helped him organize Democrats in states that he wouldn‘t be organized in.  There‘s a reason that the Iowa Democratic primary is the most organized in the country.  It‘s because they have caucuses there every cycle.  In some of these states that are registering—they are registering Democrats in record numbers.  And that‘s good for the general election.

And, then, finally, I think this is—one underreported story is, it‘s also making him—it‘s answering the experience question.  The big question mark about Obama is experience.  And, the longer you‘re a candidate, the longer you‘re seen sort of battling it out primary after primary, the more that credential, it—that question about you gets—gets answered.  So, I think those are three reasons it‘s actually done some good for him. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go to Jeff Zeleny of “The New York Times.”

Jeff, do you concur in that belief, that the roughing-up has been a big—a good boot camp for Barack?

JEFF ZELENY, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  I think it absolutely has.  Ryan‘s right. 

I mean, look, it was only like six months ago when they were saying, you know, three years ago, he was an Illinois state senator.  That‘s true.  But, right now, it‘s almost like, as he goes into the general, should he become the nominee, it‘s almost like he‘s doing this for a second time. 

The primary contest is going to be much longer than the general.  So, I mean, I think if you were to them, maybe in February or March, some of those weeks when he was losing, it didn‘t look like it was necessarily a good thing at the time, but it definitely has been.  He‘s had to answer some of the questions about Reverend Wright, about, you know, whether he‘s patriotic or not.  Is he a Muslim or not?  He‘s had to answer these questions again and again and again. 

So, it‘s been a good, you know, proving ground.  But, at the same time, all this stuff is raised now.  And the gloves are off when John McCain is doing this him, because even though Senator Clinton was aggressive, she‘s still a Democrat, after all.  So, it‘s a whole new ball game, but he comes into it much more prepared than he was six months ago.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I wonder.  In fact, I probably disagree. 

Let me start with my disagree with you, Ryan.  It seems to me that no Republican would have had the nerve to say, “I can carry the white vote against Barack Obama.”  Hillary said that. 

LIZZA:  Well, I think you‘re right about that.  I think, if a Republican had said that, I think, if McCain had said that, the fallout would have been so much worse than it‘s been for when Hillary Clinton said that.  I think she‘s gotten off easy on that comment.  It was a sort of shocking thing to say. 

So, you‘re right.

And, look, arguments that a Democrat makes against Obama are more powerful in the general election than when a Republican makes them.  But, at the same time, we have seen tougher primaries than this.  We have seen attacks that were a lot worse than what Hillary has thrown at Obama. 

Now, granted, there‘s another month left.  She could feel like her back is against the wall, and she needs to go all out, and this campaign could get uglier still.  But I still—I don‘t think that it has done Obama any permanent harm. 

And the proof is in—look at his approval/disapproval numbers.  They haven‘t really—if I‘m not mistaken, his approval has gone up, and his disapproval—and his disapproval have gone up, but both by about the same amount, so it‘s a wash. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, Jeff, I wonder—second question to you; it‘s my same argument.  Once you get used to voting against Hillary Clinton for president, as people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and elsewhere did get used to in the last two months, isn‘t it easier for them to vote for McCain in the general? 

ZELENY:  I think it depends how their specific economic situation is, what their view is on the war and other things.  I think one thing that Senator McCain has been able to do, you know, certainly have his platform to himself.  But what Democrats right now are hoping to do is to define him.  I‘m not sure how much a barometer the primary vote is necessarily for the general. 

You talk to a lot of Democrats out there, even though they‘re voting for Senator Clinton, they say they‘d be fine with Senator Obama.  Certainly there are some who say they won‘t vote for Senator Obama.  They probably wouldn‘t have anyway.  I‘m not sure that we can necessarily read in how those Ohio or Pennsylvania voters will vote come November. 

MATTHEWS:  Gentlemen, neither of you agree with my premise that a lot of voters in Pennsylvania and other states were given what you might call a letter of transit by Senator Clinton‘s campaign to vote against someone they had doubts about?  She solidified those doubts and got them anti-Obama.  You don‘t buy that either, do you? 

LIZZA:  I think she‘s consolidated the vote, obviously, because she‘s the only alternative.  If you don‘t like Obama, she‘s the person you vote for.  It‘s complicated.  We don‘t know why these people are voting against Obama, and we don‘t know—presumably, most of them are Democrats, although in some open primaries they‘re non-Democrats. 

Look, the fundamentals of the race haven‘t changed, Chris.  The fundamentals are 70 percent disapproval of Bush, 80 percent wrong track.  So I think this should be a gimme me for whoever wins this race.  I don‘t think the day in, day out battles are going to have a whole lot to do in the final analysis—day in, day out battles of the primaries are going to have a lot to do once you have that Democratic nominee against McCain. 

MATTHEWS:  You know who doesn‘t agree with you?  Hillary Clinton.  She has been saying over and over again that Barack cannot win the general.  Hasn‘t she?  Hasn‘t that been the message of the Clinton campaign, that he can‘t win? 

LIZZA:  I don‘t know if she said that publicly.  That‘s certainly privately been the message from a lot of Clinton people, yes.  But that‘s what you say when you‘re trying to make the case to the super delegates. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  Thank you, gentlemen.  Jeff, thank you very much for joining us.  Ryan Lizza—Up next, with the Democratic campaign winding down, what‘s Hillary Clinton‘s best strategy now?  Should she hang tough or hang it up?  Hillary‘s end game next in the politics fix.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  With my recent victory in Indiana, and Senator Obama‘s in North Carolina, we remain exactly where we were four months ago:

hopelessly deadlocked.  Therefore, this nomination is going to be decided, as it should be, by the super delegates, based not on primary results or caucuses or delegate counts or popular vote. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Great stuff.  That was the sketch from “Saturday Night Live” this weekend.  It‘s time now for the politics fix.  Linda Douglass is with the “National Journal.”  Michelle Bernard is an MSNBC political analyst.  Tucker Carlson, of course, is MSNBC‘s senior campaign correspondent. 

Tucker, I want you to start, old colleague of mine; this simple question, Hillary Clinton‘s now behind in elected delegates, official popular vote, numbers of states won and now in super delegates, as of this weekend.  Should she quit? 

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC SENIOR CAMPAIGN CORRESPONDENT:  No.  I mean, the piece you just showed, the Jim Downey piece from “Saturday Night Live,” is basically the argument she‘s making, which is the system was set up in cases like this to have the outcome determined by super delegates.  That is fair.  It‘s valid.  It‘s what they‘re for.  They‘re supposed to be—that‘s the adult table here at this meal.  They‘re supposed to make adult decisions based on adult judgment, based on who can win. 

That‘s actually a valid case.  I don‘t think it will prevail in the end.  I don‘t think she‘ll be the nominee.  But it‘s a real argument.  So she‘s going to stay in and I think you can make the case that she ought to. 

MATTHEWS:  The day that Edmund Burke sets the tone for the Democratic party, you might be right.

CARLSON:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Linda Douglass.  Edmund Burke was the British parliamentarian who said he should speak his conscience, not his constituency when necessary.  Do you think the super delegates will prevail?  Right now, the super delegates are in Obama‘s favor. 

LINDA DOUGLASS, “NATIONAL JOURNAL”:  It continues to go that way.  Clearly, what Hillary Clinton is hoping for in the next two contests is some gigantic victory, which she may well get in West Virginia tomorrow, which will send a shiver up the spine of the conventional wisdom, because if she wins 65, 68, 70 percent, something like that, she‘s hoping that will give those very super delegates pause and stop the flood toward Obama. 

The other argument, as you‘ve been hearing Terry McAuliffe, her finance director make today, is they want to try to make a case, somehow, that she could still win the popular vote if you include, say, Puerto Rico, if she gets a huge vote there.  That‘s their path. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Michelle, the same question.  It seems to me that the situation is changing now that the most elected delegates within the next week, apparently, will be locked in by Barack.  He‘ll have the majority of elected delegates.  She can‘t catch him, even with Florida and Michigan.  What should happen now?

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  You know, whether or not Hillary Clinton stays in the race really depends on what kind of a race she has decided she‘s going to run between now and when the Democratic primary season is up in June.  I have said earlier that I really believe she‘s no longer running for 2008; I think she‘s running for 2012 and she‘s trying to knock Barack Obama out. 

He successfully dealt with the Reverend Wright issue and everything else.  He is far ahead.  By every single metric, it doesn‘t make sense for her to stay in the race, unless her goal is to knock him out, get John McCain elected and run again for president in 2012.  If she‘s going to stay in the race, and as Peggy Noonan has said, imitate grace and try to tone down the attacks on Senator Obama, them by all means maybe she should stay in the race.  It just depends on does she want a Democrat in the White House in 2008 or is she looking forward to 2012?

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s try out that Trojan Hillary strategy now.  Would you look a gift horse in the mouth?  Michelle, would you be mistrustful of her wanting to join your ticket if you were Barack Obama? 

BERNARD:  If I were Barack Obama, I would never put Senator Clinton on my ticket.  I think there‘s a lot of problems with that.  Number one, how do you get over in the general election a lot of the things that she has said about his inexperience on the ticket.  I think those are useful tidbits for John McCain and the rest of the Republican party would love to use against that ticket.  And also, it seems to me that both of them want the presidency so bad, and neither one of them seem like a number two type of guy or number two type of gal. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the same question I want to put toward Linda Douglass.  Would you look a gift horse in the mouth or would you accept the Trojan Hillary and say, great, glad to have you aboard? 

DOUGLASS:  Well, clearly the decision, if Obama is the nominee, and if this opportunity presents itself, is going to be up to him, not if she offers to come on the ticket.  Does he believe that she‘s really going to campaign for him, but does he think that she‘s going to help him on the ticket?  There‘s an argument, obviously, that she would, because there is, in fact, a very energized female vote out there that you can‘t ignore. 

MATTHEWS:  I know about it well.  I do know about it.  They‘re very militant, very angry about her losing the nomination and a lot of them will blame anyone else for the failure of her campaign, maybe rightfully so, maybe not.  I want to ask you that same question, Tucker; would you buy the Trojan Hillary or would you say, I‘m looking that gift horse in the mouth before I buy it? 

CARLSON:  Of course you take it.  Of course you take it.  Look, we‘re ignoring what is becoming very obvious, which is the Obama candidacy is weaker than it looks.  If he gets blown out tomorrow in West Virginia, you have to ask yourself, why?  They have cable in West Virginia.  They know that everybody considers Hillary dead.  Why are they still voting for her?  Think about that for a second.  They‘re voting not for her; they‘re voting against him.  That‘s a big problem.  I don‘t think he will pick her.  I think his supporters will have a fit if he does.  They‘re purists and they‘re caught up in their own principles.  Picking her will be a violation of those principles, but he should pick her, because he needs her. 

MATTHEWS:  I think the reason Hillary probably not win the nomination is she made a bad calculation in supporting the war resolution.  I think if she‘d been the war opponent like he was, she could be the change candidate.  As long as she supported the war, it was seen as supporting the war.  She couldn‘t be the change candidate.  Therefore, she couldn‘t win the nomination of the change party.  We‘ll be right back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  John McCain‘s been getting a free pass for the last two months.  He‘s been able to just go on various tours and make assertions that I think are questionable. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s Barack Obama this weekend in Oregon.  We‘re back with our round table for more of the politics fix.  Tucker, how does he yank that free pass out of his hand. 

CARLSON:  He‘s not trying to.  That‘s an attack on Hillary Clinton, not on John McCain.  What Obama is saying is because of Hillary Clinton‘s obstinance, her self-centered unwillingness to concede the obvious and get out of race, the Democratic party is being hurt.  That‘s the case he‘s making there, that there‘s a cost attached to her vanity campaign.  I think that‘s a pretty good argument.  That will move super delegates.  Not that they need to be moved; I think he‘s sown it up no matter what.  But that‘s the audience for that comment.  

MATTHEWS:  Given that, Michelle, how does he pivot and become the champion of the united Democratic party against McCain, because McCain can beat him in the fall if he doesn‘t do it right? 

BERNARD:  I think he‘s got to be very careful.  I think he has begun to do that.  And he‘ll start raising issues.  You know, one of the things he might, for example, is will the real Democrat step forward?  Senator McCain gave a speech today on global warming and cap and trade and sounded very much like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and that is a way that Senator Obama can sort of turn the issue around, turn to the general campaign and start actually going after John McCain‘s base. 

MATTHEWS:  So what do you think, Linda?  Same question to you.  You‘re a student of politics, a big one.  How does he unite the party and become its champion of both sides of party. 

DOUGLASS:  I actually don‘t think it‘s going a be that hard.  Maybe I‘m being naive here.  I think the Democrats have been spending all their time talking about these demographic groups of voters who are trying to choose between two Democrats.  Once you get into a race between the Democrat and John McCain, there are profound differences on the war in Iraq, on whether there should be tax cuts for certain groups of people, on whether there should be employer provided insurance. 

There had not been recently a Democrat and Republican campaign where the differences, and generational differences as well, have been so stark.  So, I think that when they start campaigning against each other ideologically, it‘s going to be a very different story. 

MATTHEWS:  Think about how Ronald Reagan was able to win two times in Pennsylvania and states like that.  George Herbert Walker Bush was able to win Pennsylvania.  Three time ins a row, they won against Democrats.  It can be done.  The Reagan Democrats are still out there, aren‘t they? 

DOUGLASS:  The Reagan Democrats are still out there.  Those are the very voters that Hillary Clinton is arguing that she is best at getting.  Those are the voters who may be union members.  They would be sympathetic to the Democratic party.  They are also gun owners, church goers, you know, people who are concerned that your values are shared and so forth.  But this may well be a campaign in which the kind of values issues that have been so important in the last two, same sex marriage, even abortion rights, are going to recede over issues of what are you going to do about the economy.  How are you going to provide me jobs?  Who gets tax cuts and what do you do about health insurance? 

MATTHEWS:  You know what I‘d do?  I‘d lash him to George Bush as tightly as I could, make him Bush‘s third term and say it over and over again until the last moment of this campaign.  Thank you Linda Douglass.  Thank you Michelle Bernard.  Thank you Tucker Carlson.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 for more HARDBALL.  Then at 6:00 Eastern, Keith Olbermann and I will have complete coverage of the West Virginia primary.  That‘s tomorrow night.  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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