updated 5/23/2008 11:17:55 AM ET 2008-05-23T15:17:55

Guest: Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Todd Harris, Steve McMahon, Roger Simon, Karen Tumulty, Perry Bacon, Chrystia Freeland, Jeanne Cummings

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  John McCain dumps Pastor Hagee and his endorsement.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews, in Philadelphia tonight.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Rejected.  NBC News has learned today, late today, that John McCain has rejected outright the endorsement of the evangelical leader and author John Hagee.  Hagee had been accused of slandering the Catholic church.  Now a new piece of sound has emerged in which Hagee said Adolf Hitler was a “hunter” sent by God to hasten the creation of the state of Israel.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REV. JOHN HAGEE:  And they, the hunters, shall hunt them—that will be the Jews—from every mountain and hill and from out of the holes of the rocks.  If that doesn‘t describe what Hitler did in the Holocaust, you can‘t see that.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ll have much more on that little ditty.  We also have a batch of new polls from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, and you may be surprised by who is looking very strong, very strong in those battleground states.

And a HARDBALL exclusive.  A leading group of Democratic superdelegates in Congress are now telling their fellow superdelegates to get on with it and pick a candidate by June 10, one week after the primaries are over, June 10 the new deadline being pushed at some of these delegates that haven‘t made up their mind yet.

Also, an Obama/McCain smackdown.  Barack Obama hit John McCain hard on the Senate floor today for voting against the new GI bill.  And McCain hit back, right back.  Strong words from both, perhaps a preview of what‘s to come in the general election.

And can Hillary Clinton force her way onto the Democratic ticket as the number two with her strong primary performances?  It may be possible for Obama—well, can he say no?  In the “Politics Fix,” we‘re going to look at some of the possible Obama running mates whose names do not end in Clinton.

And here‘s some advice.  If you‘re going to attend a political speech, try to stay awake, especially if cameras are on you.  Wait until we catch -or wait until you catch what you see in the HARDBALL “Sideshow” tonight.

But we begin with John McCain and the Reverend John Hagee.  Joining us are NBC‘s political director, Chuck Todd, NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell.

Chuck, it seems to me that what he‘s doing here is clearing the deck, just like he‘s been firing all those lobbyists from his operation.  John McCain doesn‘t want to play defense in the fall, it seems.  What do you think?

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Well, it does.  And then when you think about when—what was the final straw here for McCain and Hagee—I mean, Hagee‘s sort of been this, you know, cloud following McCain around.  Obama supporters, in particular, have been pushing it, pushing it hard, thinking that if Obama‘s going to get tarnished with Reverend Wright, then McCain should have to pay some sort of price for Reverend Hagee for some of the things that Hagee had said about Catholics.

What I think‘s interesting here is when he crossed the line when it came to Jews, and you think about the wedge that the McCain campaign believes is there with Jewish voters, particularly in some swing states like Florida, this seemed to be like—you know, it was, like, Uh-oh, got to dump him, got to get rid of him, got to be forceful about it, because this could erase gains he could make with Jewish voters.

MATTHEWS:  He could—you mean he could have—the thinking was already able to finesse his problem with Roman Catholic voters about the comments Hagee made about the “giant whore” of the Roman Catholic church.  Btu here he was saying something pretty deadly.  He was suggesting that Hitler was merely sort of the instrument of the Lord, if you will, in the creation of the state of Israel by the Holocaust...

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... an extraordinary sense of predestination on the part of any religious person.  It‘s not just biblical prophecy...

TODD:  It seems to violate...

MATTHEWS:  ... seems to be saying...

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... that Adolf Hitler was somehow an instrument.

TODD:  Well, it violated a lot of rules of politics.  And one is you just can‘t use Hitler in any...

MATTHEWS:  For anything.

TODD:  ... kind of attack.  Anything.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Yes.

TODD:  And the minute you do, that thing is just going to blow up in your face, and that‘s what happened with Hagee.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Let me ask—let me is ask Andrea the same question.  This is unusual, to dump a guy, not just his—well, he‘s dumping a guy who endorsed him.  He‘s dumping the endorsement and Hagee.  They‘re both out the window.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Indeed.  And what Hagee said was so toxic.  And the questions had been raised as to why he had not separated himself up until now.  What John McCain had said was, Well, I am not responsible for him.  He‘s not my pastor.  It‘s not analogous...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  ... to the close relationship that existed between Barack Obama and his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.  Now there was no ducking it.  He had to separate all connections to it.

And the irony is that it occurs on the same day, almost at the same hour as Barack Obama is in a synagogue in Florida, giving his strongest self-defense to people in the Jewish community who have doubts about his reliability regarding Israel because of his name and because of all the rumors, the incorrect rumors on the Internet, that try to make him into a Muslim and into somebody who would be too close to Hamas and not supportive enough of Israel.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  A very strong self-defense by Barack Obama today.

MATTHEWS:  But Chuck, this gets to the heart of the very strange companionship between far-right Christian evangelicals and people who are very concerned about Israel, Jewish people, obviously, especially in this strange cohesion between the far right that believes that somehow, the extension and the survival of Israel—in fact, its completion through a larger Israel geographically, the biblical prophecy come true—is somehow important to the end of the world, the “rapture,” as it‘s called.  And then you have people who are very secular in Israel who want the country to survive, obviously, and the world to survive.

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And here this pastor is saying, obviously, what he believes, that the Holocaust and everything that led to the creation of modern Israel was somehow written and therefore somehow neutral in the eyes of God or something.  I don‘t know what he‘s saying.

TODD:  Well, look, and I think this goes to the heart of sort of McCain‘s problems with evangelicals in general.  They were so desperate at a time to get endorsements from evangelicals, that it was as if they didn‘t really vet this guy enough.  And I think it‘s—frankly, it‘s the inexperience with some inside the McCain campaign at wooing some of these leaders, really not knowing the nuance and knowing who some of these people are...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

TODD:  ... and some of the statements that they made.  And so I think the political miscalculation here simply—this just goes to the heart of McCain‘s problems in trying to woo evangelicals.  He was so excited almost to get one that they overlooked some things that they shouldn‘t have overlooked.

MITCHELL:  And Chris...

MATTHEWS:  In a related—go ahead.  I‘m sorry, Andrea.

MATTHEWS:  There is also a streak in the number of evangelicals who‘ve been very supportive of Israel and have been part of very conservative Republican politics who are supportive of Israel because of their belief, eventually, in the prophecy that Israel will return and the messiah will return and that Israel—that Jews will convert to Christianity.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  There‘s another side of this which is not as well known to some of their Israeli supporters and sponsors.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Politics makes strange bedfellows, doesn‘t it.

Anyway, Barack Obama spoke at a Florida synagogue on a related matter here late today, a very tricky matter for him, as well.  Here he is talking about his views on negotiating with rogue regimes like Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I want to just repeat this because I know there‘s lot of rumor mongering going around.  People have been getting e-mails non-stop.  I have said throughout this campaign that we should not negotiate with Hamas or Hezbollah.  And that‘s why I reject attempts by some of my opponents in this campaign to distort my position.  They are counting on fear because they know they haven‘t told the truth.

As president, I will do everything in my power to help Israel protect itself from these and other threats.  I will make sure that Israel can defend itself from any attack, whether it comes from as close as Gaza or far as Teheran.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there he is defending himself from that—obviously, what he considers an e-mail messaging that‘s been going around that has criticized him.  You‘ve heard—by the way, there‘s a lot of this stuff going on, saying he‘s a Muslim, all kinds of back traffic here on him.

But let‘s look at the impact of some of this trafficking and bad things about him.  Here‘s the new Quinnipiac poll.  The numbers are out just today in three battleground states.  Of course, Florida is key here.  Senator McCain leads Senator Obama in Florida 45 to 41.  However, Senator Clinton leads McCain down in Florida—I can‘t even read that -- 45 to 41.

In Ohio, just to complete this latest Quinnipiac polling, McCain leads Obama 44 to 40.  Clinton leads McCain 48, 41.  So in other words, those two states she‘s ahead and Barack is behind.  In Pennsylvania, they‘re both ahead, the Democrats.  Let‘s see, McCain—Obama leads McCain 46 to 40.  But look at Hillary.  She wallops McCain in Pennsylvania, 50 to 37.

Let me go back to that with Andrea.  This is obviously ethnic and religious and all that, this concern by Jewish voters about Barack.  Now, of course, there must be concern when people read the papers and watch our report about McCain and hanging out with this guy Hagee.  It‘s gotten to be very ethnic and very tricky, hasn‘t it.

MITCHELL:  It has gotten very tricky.  But Barack Obama knows that he‘s got a problem with many of the Jewish communities, who are more suspicious of him.  He tried to address it in that event down there in Florida that was going on this afternoon because one of the first questioners said to him, You know, if your name were Barry, I‘d be more comfortable with you, but not Barack.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  This was a gentleman who had come from Poland and had emigrated to the United States and that era, of that generation coming from the Holocaust generation.  And what he said was, you know, Look, let me address some of these questions because my name is Barack, but that‘s really—the root of it is the same as Baruch, which is a very common name...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  ... in Israel, a Hebrew name.  And he is trying to explain his mother was from Kansas, his father was from Kenya.  He has to explain himself more to these people.  They still are suspicious.  He still seems strange.  It‘s not unlike the people in West Virginia and Kentucky.  He‘s got to get out there more, and he‘s trying to.  He‘s also trying to collect people who will validate for him.  A key player down there who introduced him at that synagogue was Bob Wexler...

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

MITCHELL:  ... the congressman, who said, you know, I come from this congregation.  My, you know, grandchild had her naming ceremony there.  My daughter had her naming ceremony here.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  You know, This is where I pray.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think he‘s going to tell a lot of personal stories about growing up in a big city of Chicago and show himself as a more regular kind of politician who grew up in an ethnic environment, where he‘s used to—and gets along with all kinds of people, especially Jewish people in this case.

Let‘s go to the HARDBALL exclusive we got tonight, and we‘re nailing this on the door.  This is new, a proposed deadline from the superdelegates.  It was a letter sent out by senior Pennsylvania Democrat Jack Murtha, also Robert Brady, who‘s chairman of the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee.  And I‘m up here in Philadelphia.  They represent a group of House Democrats, all of them uncommitted on this issue so far, who‘ve been meeting regularly to decide when and how to move this nominating process forward, when to get these superdelegates to start working.

Here‘s what they put out today.  They told the other superdelegates, 57 uncommitted congressional Democrats who are superdelegates, “It is our belief that now is the time for superdelegates to declare their commitment of support.  To this end, we call upon our fellow Democrats in the House, each a superdelegate in his or her own right, to make their declaration known within one week of the conclusion of the last contests on June 3.”

Chuck, let‘s get this straight.  I‘ve been waiting for this ice to crack.  Here‘s evidence that at least a chunk of these guys and women on the Hill really want their other ones to get moving here and don‘t wait around until August, but to make a move in early June.  What do you make of it?

TODD:  Well, I think that‘s exactly what‘s going to happen.  And I‘ve talked to some folks in leadership with House Democrats who are very aware of this letter.  This letter‘s already been making the rounds to the uncommitted House members.  There are approximately 50 of them now of the 212 superdelegates.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

TODD:  So they actually could be—you know, when you look at what the numbers that Obama wants, they could be the deciders.  Those 50 could move right now, and it‘s game over...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well...

TODD:  ... because it would take away enough delegates that Clinton could not get the nomination.  Obama wouldn‘t technically be over the top yet, but he‘d be very close and he would get there on June 3.

MITCHELL:  And Chris, it‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Well, I talked to Congressman Brady today—I‘m going to tell you something.  He‘s the chairman of the City Committee here in Philadelphia, the top Democrat here in Philadelphia.  It‘s a very important part of this whole state, obviously.  They really want these delegates to move—to move in June and not slow this thing down.  Andrea?

MITCHELL:  Yes, this is exactly what Howard Dean has been calling for, that as soon as the primaries are over, that the superdelegates do move and declare themselves, and with all of them waiting for May 31 for the Democratic National Committee‘s rules and credential rules and—committee to decide what to do about Michigan and Florida.  But if this House group moves as a group—and this could be why we haven‘t heard yet from Nancy Pelosi.  It could be that she would lead this group, and that that would put him over the top.

TODD:  Chris, I‘ve looked at this uncommitted list with a fine-toothed comb, and you look at these people, it‘s pretty clear which way they would move, barring anything—you know, any surprises or anything like that.  I mean, this is a group that‘s probably ready to put Obama over the top...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  ... but they‘re waiting and they‘re waiting...

MATTHEWS:  OK, well, it looks like this group...

TODD:  ... for something.  At this point, it‘s easier to wait.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the group from Philly and Pennsylvania don‘t seem to be waiting.  They‘re ready to move early next month.  Anyway, Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd, thank you.

When we return, a war of words between Barack Obama and John McCain.  Obama takes to the Senate floor to criticize McCain for not supporting a veterans bill, a GI bill, and McCain hits back especially hard.  We‘re going to talk about whether he hit back too hard. for his own political good.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Barack Obama and John McCain did battle today over the new GI bill.  It began went Obama went after McCain on the Senate floor for not supporting the bill.  Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I respect Senator John McCain‘s service to our country.  He is one of those heroes of which I speak.  But I can‘t understand why he would line up behind the president in his opposition to this GI bill.  I can‘t believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans.  I could not disagree with him and the president more on this issue.  There are many issues that lend themselves to partisan posturing, but giving our veterans the chance to go to college should not be one of them.  I‘m proud that so many Democrats and Republicans have come together to support this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, John McCain responded rather heatedly in this statement.  Quote, “I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did.  Perhaps if Senator Obama would take the time and trouble to understand the issue, he would learn to debate an honest disagreement respectfully.  But as he always does, he prefers impugning the motives of his opponent and exploiting a thoughtful difference of opinion to advance his own ambitions.  If that is how he would behave as president, the country would regret his election.”

Steve McMahon‘s a Democratic media consultant and Todd Harris is a former McCain spokesman.  Todd, I have—that is a pretty vitriolic response, I must say, going after his failure to serve in uniform, when in fact, Todd, how many people has John McCain defended over the years in this administration who not serve in the military who are hawks.  Again and again and again, he‘s defended hawks who didn‘t serve in military.  Now, all of a sudden, he changes tune and says, If you‘re not a military guy, you can‘t talk about military matters.

TODD HARRIS, FORMER MCCAIN SPOKESMAN:  It‘s actually Barack Obama who‘s changed his tune, Chris.  You know, let‘s remember, a year ago, in the midst of the Democratic primary, when he was trying to out-liberal all of his opponents, he actually voted against the $1.8 billion emergency medical funding.  This is $600 million for medical facilities, $25 million for prosthetics.

I think that Senator McCain‘s service and sacrifice to this country has earned him the right not to have his commitment to our troops questioned by the likes of Barack Obama.  Look, you can disagree on whether the one bill is better or the McCain bill is better.  But you shouldn‘t be impugning Senator McCain‘s motives.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  The only reason I bring this up—I‘ll go to Steve now—so many times, I brought up with John McCain my concern that a lot of people that talked us into the war in Iraq never bothered to serve in the military, and every time, he‘s rebuked me and said, Don‘t say that.  You have a perfect right to choose not to serve.  But here he is, whacking his opponent for not serving.

HARRIS:  No, I don‘t think—well—I‘ll let you speak.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  You‘re absolutely right, Chris.  And you know, Senator McCain is an authentic hero.  He did serve honorably, and Senator Obama acknowledged that.  Senator Obama‘s criticism was about two bills, one that was more generous, one that was less generous.  He wanted to know why.

In John McCain‘s belligerent, angry, over-the-top response, he didn‘t really explain why he stands with George Bush for a less generous bill.  He simply attacked Senator Obama. 

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  It was a typical overreaction. 

And, by the way, if this is the kind of anger that we‘re going to see from Senator McCain, I don‘t think it‘s going to wear very well over time with swing voters. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think, Todd, that Senator McCain ever saw this statement, or Mark Salter wrote it?  This—people think this has so much vitriol, it doesn‘t really seem like the words of John McCain.  Do you think it was? 

HARRIS:  I‘m assuming that it was, Chris. 

But, look, the vitriol here is when Barack Obama takes to the floor of the United States Senate and questions, impugns John McCain‘s commitment to Americans‘ -- America‘s fighting men and women.  That‘s where the old-school attack politics was today. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

HARRIS:  Senator Obama talks a lot of about change and hope, but then he stands on the floor and says, you know, John McCain does not have a commitment to support our troops the way that I do. 

(CROSSTALK)

HARRIS:  And it‘s outrageous.  He actually owes Senator McCain an apology. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s not going to get one. 

MCMAHON:  I don‘t like getting rough, but...

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you guys this.

HARRIS:  Probably not.

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t the real fight here about whether this administration wants troops to re-up and go back into combat and complete a rotation, and perhaps a more severe rotation, rather than going off to college, and that what is really at stake here is whether the administration can keep up its troop strength in the field?  Isn‘t that it?

(CROSSTALK)

MCMAHON:  That‘s exactly what it is.  It‘s that. 

And it‘s also, John McCain thinks that every time there‘s an exchange on foreign policy, on national security, on defense, he wins.  Senator Obama knows that he needs to cut into that lead a little bit, which is why he‘s engaging—engaging so aggressively here.

But I will say this.  He did not impugn the integrity of Senator McCain.  In fact, the clip proves it.  He, in fact, recognized and honored the service of John McCain. 

This bill, by the way, was supported by Jim Webb, another Vietnam veteran who has earned his stripes, and Senator John Warner, another Republican senator, who John McCain didn‘t attack today. 

MATTHEWS:  Well...

HARRIS:  You know, the problem, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Got to go.

HARRIS:  ... is that...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry.  I‘m being told to go. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Todd, you may be right, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Steve, you may be right.  I could always be wrong. 

I mean, I just think this is one where they don‘t—both don‘t look that good. 

Anyway, Steve McMahon, Todd Harris, thank you for joining us.

Up next:  Ellen DeGeneres asks John McCain to give her away at her wedding.  I love it.  Her response—well, his response next in the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

On the trail in Florida on Wednesday, Senator Hillary Clinton tried to wake up her peeps.  One guy needed more attention than most, as my friend Jay Leno noticed. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”:  I want to show you a tape of Hillary Clinton speaking in Boca Raton, Florida. 

Now, keep your eye on the man, the older gentleman to the right side of your screen.  Think this guy is bored?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Here‘s Hillary Clinton on Boca Raton, Florida. 

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  ...

determined to knock on every door and sign up every voter I could find. 

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON:  And while we may not have won that election, the outcome of our election should be determined by the will of the people, nothing more, nothing less. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON:  ... health care we can afford, deplorable violation.  It will ensure that every eligible voter can vote...

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON:  ... every vote...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON:  ... in our nominating process. 

(LAUGHTER)

LENO:  Now the big finish. 

(LAUGHTER)

LENO:  There you go.  Yes.  There you go. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Senator John McCain appeared on the “Ellen” show today, and he wasn‘t the only elephant in the room, after California‘s recent decision to allow gay marriage. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW”)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I just believe in the unique status of marriage between man and woman, and I know that we have a respectful disagreement on that issue. 

ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST, “THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW”:  I will speak for myself.  It feels when someone says, you can have a contract, and you will still have insurance and you will get all that, it sounds to me, like saying, well, you can sit there; you just can‘t sit there. 

MCCAIN:  We just have a disagreement.  And I, along with many, many others, wish you every happiness. 

DEGENERES:  Thank you.  So, you will walk me down the aisle?  Is that what you‘re saying?

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, speaking of weddings, a quick note of congratulation to the senior senator from Hawaii.  Eighty-three-year-old Daniel Inouye is getting married this Saturday to Irene Hirano, who runs the Japanese-American National Museum out in Los Angeles.  Senator Inouye was married to his late wife for 57 years. 

As I told you last night, we‘re polling all of our guests now with one simple question:  What does Hillary Clinton want now? 

Here‘s tonight‘s updated tally.  We now have seven saying that she wants to be Obama‘s vice president.  The same number, seven, now say she still wants to be president, period, whether it‘s now, in 2012, or whenever.  One says attorney general.  One says New York governor.  And one says she wants to be on the Supreme Court.

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

This week, the Clinton campaign said they raised nearly $22 million in April.  That‘s last month, not a bad haul.  But where‘s that money going?  Well, the single biggest recipient of Clinton campaign dollars for the month of April was none other than—drumroll—Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, the political consulting firm run by former Clinton campaign chief strategist Mark Penn. 

Just how much did the Clinton campaign fork over to Mark Penn‘s firm in one month? -- $2,963,802.  About one dollar in six of what the Clinton campaign took in last month went to Mark Penn‘s firm -- $2,963,802, tonight‘s big HARDBALL number. 

Coming up:  Some say Hillary Clinton needs to be Obama‘s running mate because she can help him win working-class white voters.  Others say she would just fire up the Republicans and help McCain. 

What does Hillary Clinton really want?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks rising as oil falls—the Dow industrials gaining 24 points, the S&P 500 up a little more than three, the Nasdaq up 16 points. 

Oil retreating after hitting a record above $135 a barrel.  Crude closed at $131.81 a barrel. 

And with gas prices soaring, Ford is cutting production of SUVs and pickups.  It also says it no longer expects to return to profitability next year. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

As Hillary Clinton continues to battle Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination, the question remains.  In lieu of the presidency, what does Hillary want? 

Joining me, “The Politico”s Roger Simon, and “TIME” magazine‘s Karen Tumulty, both of whom have written on this topic just today.

Both you, here‘s Hillary Clinton speaking in Coral Gables, Florida, last night about why she‘s the strongest Democratic candidate for president. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Just look at what we have to do to win.  Look at the states I have won.  Look at the states I am leading in.  Look at the electoral map. 

It is clear I am the stronger candidate against John McCain. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Karen, doesn‘t that new poll out from Quinnipiac make her case?  She wins in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and Barack loses all three states to McCain. 

KAREN TUMULTY, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, “TIME”:  Well, that is certainly the case that she‘s trying to make right now. 

But don‘t forget, John McCain has been essentially running here unopposed while these two candidates have been duking it out over the last few months.  So, I think that—you know, I think that the polls that people are taking today are not necessarily a reflection of what the situation is going to look like midsummer or early fall. 

MATTHEWS:  Roger, is—her case is that she can win the big blockbuster states, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, that the other fellow can‘t; he just can‘t win those states; she can. 

ROGER SIMON, CHIEF POLITICAL COLUMNIST, THEPOLITICO.COM:  It is the only argument she has got. 

She knows she‘s not going to go into the convention with a majority of pledged delegates.  Barack Obama already has that.  She knows she‘s unlikely to go ahead even in uncommitted superdelegates.  It‘s a—sort of a fantasy that she‘s ahead in the popular vote.  What else is she going to say?  She has to say she‘s the strongest candidate against John McCain, and this is why superdelegates ought to overturn the pledged delegates and make her the nominee of the party. 

I mean, she has no arguments left at this point. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk about the V.P. or the P.  If she—if she wins this argument that she can win in the big states, and he can‘t, is that the argument to get her the V.P. job, or to still overturn Barack‘s advantage on the P. job, president? 

SIMON:  Oh, I think her argument on the V.P. job is that, one, she would make an excellent vice president, which I think she would, but, at this point, it‘s about unity.  And, even more than unity, it‘s about respect.

Usually, a dream ticket is about bringing the party together.  This time, her argument for a dream ticket is, look, the only way for Barack Obama to show proper respect to women voters in America, those who have formed the basis of my campaign, is to put me on the ticket. 

That‘s her argument.  That‘s her pitch.  It‘s not a bad pitch. 

MATTHEWS:  And you have heard this? 

SIMON:  Yes.  This is what they‘re making.  This is the calls that are going into the Barack Obama campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow. 

SIMON:  This is why...

MATTHEWS:  We just haven‘t heard her say it so—so—so clearly, that you need me to get my peeps.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We haven‘t heard that, have we, Karen, that direct claim, that you don‘t get my people without me? 

TUMULTY:  No.  And I don‘t think that this is a claim that is—you‘re going to hear from her lips, not soon, not—possibly not ever. 

But, certainly, it is a claim that her supporters are making.  A lot of women groups feel very, very strongly that—that she was really not treated well in this—in this primary campaign.  And one of the people who is making this argument, at least to his friends behind the scenes, is Bill Clinton.  He says she has deserved, she has earned a spot on the ticket. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, this is like—is like an Al Sharpton argument: 

These are my people, white women.  You don‘t get them without me.  No justice, no peace, Roger. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This is holding up the candidate of the—who wins the nomination for president, and saying, I‘m keeping my troops off the field unless you deliver me to your—to the vice presidency. 

SIMON:  If she has that kind of control over her troops. 

I mean, the question is not whether Hillary Clinton can provide white women to the ticket—provide women to the ticket.  It‘s whether she can provide women to the ticket who wouldn‘t vote for Barack Obama anyway against John McCain, who could...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SIMON:  ... appoint the next Supreme Court nominees and overturn Roe v. Wade. 

The question is not whether she can win over white working-class voters in Appalachia, but whether those voters would vote for Barack Obama in a million years.  I mean, this is the calculation that Barack Obama has to make, among other things, on whether it‘s worth putting Hillary Clinton on the ticket. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you both, if you can.

Is it your estimate, Karen, that Hillary would like to be on the ticket?

TUMULTY:  You know, I think that, if it were offered, everyone I have talked to around her says that she would certainly take it. 

I mean, it‘s just—it‘s just one of these things that, you know, people don‘t tend to turn down.  But, you know...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But he has to propose? 

TUMULTY:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  In other words—this is so interesting, how this choreography, this protocol—in other words, she would never stoop—will she, indirectly—to let him know the answer will be yes? 

How do you send a signal if you want—if the answer is going to be yes, why not send a signal?

TUMULTY:  Well, I think that—I think that the Barack Obama campaign is pretty clear that the answer would be yes. 

But, you know, at this point, you know, it‘s just you—you can‘t make these kinds of demands on—on somebody has just won the nomination. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TUMULTY:  But, again, if this is, as—as Roger said, you know, the unstated argument is going to be that this is the price of unity. 

MATTHEWS:  Roger, your view, the same question I put to Karen.  She said that Hillary Clinton would accept a vice presidential nomination, if offered.  What‘s your view?  What‘s your reporting?

SIMON:  Oh, yes, absolutely.  I think she would.  I think the campaign is making that unofficially known to the Barack Obama campaign. 

They have unofficially made it known to reports for several weeks now. 

Not many people turn the job down.  I mean, Gerald Ford turned it down. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

SIMON:  But he had already been president. 

You know, very few people turn it down.  And you have got to say, it‘s not that bad a job anymore, even though people make fun of it. 

MATTHEWS:  Ah.

SIMON:  In different ways, Dick Cheney and Al Gore both made the vice presidency a significant job. 

And I think Hillary Clinton, if she got the job, could—could turn it into a meaningful job.  I think she would love to have it.  And, as you have pointed out, 14 vice presidents have become presidents in United States history. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I think—well said.  I think Dick Cheney made the role of the vice president, the power of the vice president bigger than a lot of presidents have had in history.  Thank you very much, Roger Simon.  Not necessarily for the good of the republic either, by the way.  Karen, thank you very much for joining as well. 

Up next, sweepstakes, the VP stakes.  Obama is starting to search for a running mate.  We just heard two predictions that Hillary would accept if she were picked.  Ahead, we‘ll sort out the pros and cons of some of the top choices.  If it‘s not going to be Hillary, how about a Hillary surrogate?  I‘m beginning to think it might be Hillary.  If I look at these poll, I see maybe Hillary is the solution for the Democrats to win those old industrial states and, to have a shot, at least, in Florida.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Tonight‘s round table, Perry Bacon of the “Washington Post,” politico‘s Jeanne Cummings and Chrystia Freeland of “The Financial Times.” 

Big news out late this afternoon, Jim Johnson, who has played this role before for Democratic presidential nominees, has been assigned the job of vetting vice presidential potential running mates for Barack Obama.  I want you all, now, experienced reporters to give us your own vetting of the following match ups. 

Here we have the obvious one.  Barack Obama puts Hillary Clinton on the ticket.  What does she do for and against the ticket?  Perry? 

PERRY BACON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  For the ticket, she has a great appeal with women, and white working class voters.  Against the ticket, she goes against his message of change and anti-Washington, because she‘s been in Washington for a long time, was in the White House for a long time.  Also, from what I‘m told, he‘s not a big fan of her personally other. 

MATTHEWS:  Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton, what do you think of that ticket Jeanne Cummings?   

JEANNE CUMMINGS, POLITICO:  I think it may be a terrific ticket, one that would unify the party and increase the chances of the Democrat winning in November pretty exponentially.  The down side of it, it makes governing very, very hard for Barack Obama if he‘s going to try to live for four years with not just Hillary Clinton but also her husband looking over his shoulder. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow, go to Chrystia now. 

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, “THE FINANCIAL TIMES”:  I think the big advantage of that ticket is it allows them to end the race very quickly.  And in a way, I think the value of that ticket decreases the longer it takes to get there, so if you could get that ticket, do it this weekend, and end the contest, that would have a lot of value.  And I absolutely agree that the downside of the ticket comes after November.  It would make governing a heck of a lot harder. 

MATTHEWS:  I love this.  These guys are really good at this.  Let‘s go to Edwards, the other guy hot on the team last week.  John Edwards as a running mate.  What do we make of Barack Obama/John Edwards? 

BACON:  The downside is that John Edwards didn‘t seem to deliver a lot to John Kerry in ‘04.  Jim Johnson, who helped pick John Edwards, would know as well as anybody.  I guess the upside, is, again, Edwards—Obama‘s had a little problem with southern voters, rural voters too.  Edwards might help there.  Although, in the primaries that wasn‘t the case either. 

MATTHEWS:  Jeanne?

CUMMINGS:  I think Perry has hit on some good points.  I think John Edwards could help in states, new states that Barack Obama hopes to put on the map, Virginia being chief among them.  John Edwards is very popular there.  If he can‘t bring North Carolina, his home state, he might be able to help with a new one.  I do think his message to working voters is powerful too.

The downside is there‘s nothing fresh about him for the voters.  They know him.  They have seen him.  It didn‘t work the last time. 

MATTHEWS:  Chrystia, John Edwards on the ticket with Barack Obama?  

FREELAND:  I think the upside is if Barack Obama represents too much change for you, John Edwards is a classic white southern guy.  And that could be reassuring to a lot of people.  I think the big downside, though, is Barack Obama‘s two weaknesses are lack of foreign policy experience and lack of experience of actual governance, and Edwards doesn‘t really bring neither of these. 

MATTHEWS:  I have never had a sharper panel.  This is—I am not being patronizing.  This is—look.  Keep it going here.  Evan Bayh as a running mate?  He‘s a close supporter of Hillary Clinton.  He‘s from Indiana.  His father was a senator there.  He‘s been governor as well as senator.  Evan Bayh? 

BACON:  Evan Bayh has experience in governing.  As a former governor, he‘s got national security, from being a senator, and he‘s a Hillary Clinton supporter.  Those are things to his advantage.  The disadvantages are he‘s not known for being overly charismatic.   He‘s not in a swing state.  Barack‘s not going to win Indiana.  I‘m just not sure how much me brings in terms of, you know, voters to the ticket. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go to Jeanne on that.  Not charismatic, do you share that assessment, not charismatic? 

CUMMINGS:  I do share that assessment.  I think that‘s a downside if you go with Evan Bayh, because Indiana, as Perry said, is probably not in play.  If you‘re going to go into states and hope the vice president can bring voters to you, where do you?  I just don‘t see the strength that he brings.  Also, he ran his own presidential campaign and jumped out pretty early.  That was an indication, by his own assessment, that he was not going to do very well. 

MATTHEWS:  Chrystia?

FREELAND:  I think the advantages are a safe choice.  Again, he balances the ticket.  There‘s the racial issue.  There is the executive experience.  Also, which I think could be important to some presidents, not a real competitor for the lime light.  On the downside—

MATTHEWS:  That is so funny.  Two people say he‘s not charismatic. 

The third person, you, say he won‘t challenge him for the lime light. 

FREELAND:  Depends on what you choose. 

MATTHEWS:  I think I hear do no harm here from all three of you.  It sounds like he won‘t do any harm.  Let me go to Mike Bloomberg.  I think he‘s the most interesting possibility here.  Perry, is that ticket a balanced ticket, Barack Obama/Mike Bloomberg? 

BACON:  I don‘t really think it‘s a balanced ticket.  They have pretty liberal records.  They‘re both from pretty—Obama‘s going to win New York.  He‘s going to win Illinois.  I mean, I guess the key thing is if Bloomberg can bring more independents, because McCain‘s very independent minded.  Maybe Bloomberg helps there.  I don‘t see that being a balancing act for the ticket. 

MATTHEWS:  Jeanne?  Mike Bloomberg‘s gets so much echo out of New York.  I hear it all the time from New Yorkers. 

CUMMINGS:  It‘s absolutely true.  There‘s almost a draft Bloomberg for VP up there.  The upside is he brings strong economic credentials to the ticket, which could help Barack Obama.  But I think that the downside, when you look at Bloomberg as a partner, if Barack Obama has a problem with working class white voters, I don‘t think Bloomberg‘s the answer to that. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s too rich. 

I think he has a nice, common touch.  What do you think, Chrystia? 

FREELAND:  Well,  you‘re absolutely right, Chris, that we have to steer off against New York media bias.  And I will say, I was at a Wall Street luncheon today, and the Wall Street guys around the table said they would vote for whoever, McCain or Obama, whoever got Bloomberg to be their vice president.  I don‘t think there are a lot of voters in that particular universe.  I think what Bloomberg brings is the executive experience and the economic credibility, which could be increasingly important.  He doesn‘t bring foreign policy, and that could be Barack Obama‘s biggest weakness. 

MATTHEWS:  It looks to me like the strongest prospects of the four we have looked at Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Evan Bayh, Mike Bloomberg—the clear the front-runners, all by herself, Hillary Clinton.  Do you agree, Perry?

BACON:  Actually, I don‘t think Hillary Clinton‘s a front-runner, no. 

I would put someone like Kathleen Sebelius potentially, someone like that.  No to criticize you, but I don‘t think the four you picked are the best candidates.  I think someone like Kathleen Sebelius, someone in the Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, maybe not those people, maybe someone like Sam Nunn. 

MATTHEWS:  Being the hot shot of the moment, name the best probability here.  Give me your favorite who‘s probably going get the nod for VP for Barack Obama? 

BACON:  I‘m going to go with Kathleen Sebelius, governor of Kansas right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Daughter of former governor of Ohio, John Gilligan.  She‘s born to the role.  What do you think?  Now that we‘re all doing the hot shot stuff, Jeanne, who do you think it‘s going to be, ignoring my feeble list? 

CUMMINGS:  My dream picks or fantasy picks are Tom Vilsack of Iowa, win the state, bring the governor in, white guy that can talk to the working class.  He‘s also a Clinton supporter, so that‘s another way to, you know, reach out to the other side of the party.  I‘d throw Ed Rendell into that same category. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I think Obama/Vilsack is a hell of a bumper sticker. 

It seems discordant to me.  What to you think, Chrystia, the same question? 

If not anyone on the list I put together, what do you put up front? 

FREELAND:  My personal choice would be Kathleen Sebelius.  I absolutely agree.  That would be a really brilliant way for Obama to neutralize a lot of the Hillary Clinton points.  Kathleen Sebelius was a very, very early backer of his, plus -- 

MATTHEWS:  Can she bring in Kansas?  A Republican rock rib state if there ever was one? 

FREELAND:  I think she might be able to.  He has those Kansas roots.  And my other choice would be Sam Nunn.  I think the foreign policy is really important.  And Ed Rendell, if what you‘re really worried about is those white blue collar workers. 

CUMMINGS:  On the Governor Sebelius question, I think there‘s a great risk there that you don‘t necessarily bring in Hillary Clinton supporters, but you antagonize them.  If he wants to go for a woman, why not her?  It could be a double of edged sword.  It‘s a tricky case. 

MATTHEWS:  In other words, if you‘re going to pick a women, not Hillary, it looks like you‘re sticking it to Hillary.  That‘s so interesting.  I‘ve heard Rendell‘s name pop up twice.  Sebelius‘s name has popped up twice.  

FREELAND:  Sam Nunn twice.  What, no Vilsack?  Come on. 

MATTHEWS:  You only get one spot there.  Anyway, we‘ll be right back. 

You know, I really think we learned something there.  I think a lot there.  The big thing we learned is I was wrong.  We‘re back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  Late today, NBC News learned that Senator John McCain has out right rejected the endorsement of evangelical leader and author, the Reverend John Hagee.  McCain denounced some of Hagee‘s past comments, until today he had not out right rejected the man‘s support.  Apparently, Hagee then withdrew his support after being told that John McCain dumped his support.  Perry, this looks like a tit for tat with the Jeremiah Wright, total divorces from these men of the cloth. 

BACON:  It is.  This is a very, very different instance, because Jeremiah Wright was Obama‘s pastor and used the title of his book came from one of Wright‘s sermons.  This is the not the same kind of level of controversy, I don‘t think.  It does suggests McCain was worried about this man‘s comments and wanted to get away from it and move past this issue. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me sweeten the pot there, a little bit, for you Perry and the others.  Apparently, this guy, Hagee, has referred to Hitler, not as one of the arch demons in the history of the human race, but as a man who is apparently just playing some sort of biblical role he was expected to play by destiny.  He was a hunter, not an evil man, apparently.  This is a strange commentary. 

Chrystia Freeland, are you familiar with this theology that would allow somebody to believe that Hitler was a neutral character in history? 

FREELAND:  I‘m afraid, Chris, I‘m not.  I do think it was smart for John McCain to act quickly and very absolutely on this, because Hagee was an excellent neutralizer for the Obama people.  Every time McCain potentially brought up Wright in the future, they would have been able to say, well, what about Hagee?  I think it was really smart on the part of McCain.  Also, I think we should remember it‘s not without cost.  In a way, the cost to McCain is greater than the cost to Obama of denouncing and disassociating himself with Wright, because McCain Needs a lot of the right wing evangelical Christian voters to back him.  So he has to be a little bit worried about alienating one of his core constituencies in doing this. 

MATTHEWS:  I think people this far right may not vote for Barack Obama, anyway.  What do you think? 

FREELAND:  But they may not come out at all. 

MATTHEWS:  Jeanne, what do you think about this?  It looks like to me like it‘s part of the clearing of the decks of this campaign, the self-vetting going on here. 

CUMMINGS:  The purging of the lobbyists, the distance from Hagee; yes, they‘re cleaning up.  But I tell you, I think this is a big break for Barack Obama, because it is going to be very, very difficult for the Republicans to go—to raise the Reverend Wright issue, because even though McCain has distanced himself, it‘s not gone, just the same way that Barack Obama distanced himself from Reverend Wright.  These kinds of issues are tit for tat.  They are neutralizing.  And I think that‘s a break for the Obama campaign. 

FREELAND:  I have to say, as far as democracy goes, it would be great if we didn‘t talk about either of these reverends in the future.  We have to talk about the economy. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a call.  Not everybody has the same focus as you do.  Chrystia Freeland, thank you, from the “Financial Times.”  Anyway, Perry Bacon, Jeanne Cummings. 

Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE with David Gregory.

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

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