updated 12/29/2011 12:11:54 PM ET 2011-12-29T17:11:54

Guests: Mark Halperin, Tyler Mathisen, Jonathan Martin, Robert Traynham, Josh Marshall, Christina Mellantoni, Joan Walsh, Michelle Goldberg

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: The devil you know.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in New York. Leading off
tonight: Ire of Newt. Boy, is this guy ticked. A few weeks ago, he was
Mr. Big Stuff, surfing at the top of the polls. His timing couldn`t have
been better, it seemed. Well, late today, we saw the numbers, the reason
Newt Gingrich is fuming. In percent of vote in Iowa, he`s gone from the
30s down to the teens. That`s why Newt`s pouting and Mitt Romney`s
strutting. The latest from Iowa and those big January fights at the top of
the show.

Also, why have we seen a new Republican front-runner every week, with
Newt falling just as fast as he rose? Why can`t voters decide on a
candidate? Could it be because Republicans are looking for someone with
the anti-government simplicity of Ron Paul, the religious fundamentalism of
Rick Santorum, the war fever of Mitt and Newt? We`ll get into that one.

Plus, Ben Nelson`s retirement in Nebraska is a hard blow to the
Democrats` chance of holding the U.S. Senate. We`ll go over the map and
crunch the numbers.

Also, a look at the latest Republican play for religious conservatives
and whether that will affect the women`s vote come November.

And "Let Me Finish" tonight with a Democratic guide to the way
Republicans pick their presidential candidates. It`s different.

But we begin with the latest in Iowa and the new numbers that show
more reason for Gingrich to worry and an explanation for why the old Newt
is showing up these past few days. As I said, boy, is this guy angry.

Jonathan Martin is Politico`s senior political reporter. We begin
with the new "Time"/CNN poll numbers out just a short time ago. In Iowa,
Newt Gingrich has fallen dramatically late this afternoon out of first
place. He`s now in fourth, with just 14 percent of the vote. What a fall.
Romney and Paul have each jumped up 5 points to lead the pack. And look at
Rick Santorum. He`s tripled his support from just earlier in December.
He`s now running third.

And in New Hampshire, Romney has a commanding lead, with 44 percent of
Republicans choosing him as their nominee. Here again, Gingrich has
dropped substantially from just a few weeks ago, and he and Ron Paul are
now neck and neck for a distant second.

"Time`s" Mark Halperin is MSNBC political analyst. He`s also with us,
joining us. Thank you, gentlemen.

Let`s start with J-Mar, this whole question -- Newt is looking like
the old Newt, the one that people who covered him on the Hill, who worked
with him on the Hill really do recognize. He`s angry, he`s pouting, and
taking shots at Romney and all the others.

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO.COM: Well, the challenge that he`s had is
that he has pledged to not run a negative campaign and has made much of
that out of the high road pledge. But now that he`s taken a real tumble in
the polls, he`s trying to make up some ground by going after his rivals.

The problem, Chris, as you know, instead of us focusing on the
underlying charges that he`s making against his rivals, namely Romney and
Paul, we are talking about the fact that he`s going negative and not the
actual charges themselves.


MARTIN: So it`s the process focus that he`s created for himself by
holding himself up as this, you know, holier than thou candidate who
doesn`t practice negative politics.

MATTHEWS: Well, we`re going back to the storyline on Newt Gingrich,
which always has been Newt Gingrich personally. By the way, here`s
Gingrich lashing out on Romney just last night on CNN when he heard about
the great Lucille Ball joke that Romney had made on him. Let`s listen.


remember that scene.

a very simple message for Mitt Romney. I`ll meet him anywhere in Iowa for
90 minutes, just the two of us in a debate, with a timekeeper and no
moderator. I`d love to have him say that to my face. I`d like him to have
the courage to back up his negative ads. I`d like him to have -- back up
the things his staff have been putting out. He wants to prove he can
debate Barack Obama, he ought to have the courage to stand on the same
stage with me.


MATTHEWS: That`s kind of talking physical there, all of a sudden. He
wants to meet the guy almost outside in the parking lot. This morning,
Romney responded to Newt`s call to this sort of duel. Let`s watch.


scene. Those of us that have gotten a little behind can identify with poor
Lucy. I hope the speaker understands that was humor, and I`m happy to tell
my humorous anecdote to him face to face and I look forward to seeing him.
By the way, we`ve -- we`ve had, I don`t know, 10 or 12 debates where we`ve
debated each other, along with others. We have two more that are now
scheduled for January. If it comes down to just the two of us at some
point, we will debate person to person.


MATTHEWS: You know, Mark, I got to tell you, there`s nothing more
effective in politics than sticking it to the other guy, chuckling while
you do it, and having the rest of the voters and the media laughing with
you, and then see the other guy sort of pouting about it. This is wickedly
effective, I think. Your thoughts.

description of where these two candidates are. In the inside game,
Gingrich is dead. The insiders believe it`s over, that he`s caught up in
this bad process that Jonathan well described. He`s got -- he`s got to
have to hope that the voters of Iowa are not caught up in the inside game.


HALPERIN: If you look at our poll, the new "Time"/CNN poll, he`s not
that far off the pace. The expectations now for him are reduced from where
they were a few weeks ago. He`s going to have to find a way to being a
happy warrior, fight for a victory in Iowa, a moral victory at least.
That`s not where he is in his head right now, it`s pretty clear.

MATTHEWS: Well, with all the advertising going on out there -- you
first, Mark again, and then J-Mar. The whole advertising game seems to be
something he can`t even play. He doesn`t have money to play. He`s got
little stakes here in the game. And can`t get on television in a duel of
debating style where he could really triumph again.

HALPERIN: Well, look, he`s overwhelmed on paid media. He has been
for such a long time. People focus on the Romney super-PAC, but the Ron
Paul negative ads against Gingrich have been very intense. He doesn`t have
a debate opportunity. He has precious few days. He needs to create a
moment, like Hillary Clinton`s moment when she teared up in New Hampshire.
He needs a moment, whether it`s created or spontaneous, that gets the

In presidential politics, earned media, free media is still a bigger
deal than TV ads, if you have the right moment. He`s going to have to find
a way to have that, or I do think he`s in some trouble.

MATTHEWS: Jonathan, it looks like he`s trying to create a debate
moment along there with Wolf Blitzer, even, trying to create something so
good as a media bite that it`s something we all have to talk about as an
event itself, as Mark just said.

MARTIN: But it`s not fresh. I mean, he`s been trotting out that
debate challenge line to Romney for over a week now. And Chris, what was
so telling about that clip that you played from Gingrich in response to
Romney`s jab was there was nothing in there on policy.

And -- and you know, Mark talks about Newt needing a moment here. He
can`t, apparently, even drive a policy-oriented message against his chief
rival here. In that clip, Newt was talking all about process, talking
about a debate challenge, Tell it to my face. There was nothing in there
about Romney`s tax policy proposals are less bold than mine, and here they
are, A, B and C.

If Newt can`t drive that message, either in front of audiences here in
Iowa or in TV appearances, then it`s not clear to me how he`s going to be
able in five days to make up the ground that he`s lost.

MATTHEWS: Well, here he is driving a policy point with another
opponent, Ron Paul. Here he is going after Ron Paul, who is vulnerable on
this because he`s so out of the mainstream. Here he is saying he wouldn`t
even vote for Ron Paul should Paul somehow win the Republican presidential
nomination. This is a policy point, and a hard one. Let`s listen.


GINGRICH: You look at Ron Paul`s total record of systemic avoidance
of reality, and you look at his newsletters and then you look at his ads,
his ads are about as accurate as his newsletters.

BLITZER: Now, if he were to get the Republican nomination...

GINGRICH: He won`t.

BLITZER: Let`s say he were. Could you vote for him?


BLITZER: What would you do?

GINGRICH: I don`t see how...

BLITZER: Could you vote for President Obama?

GINGRICH: Somebody gets up and says, I don`t care if Israel is
destroyed, I don`t care if there`s -- I mean, I don`t care if the Iranians
get a nuclear weapon?


MATTHEWS: So where does that take him? He obviously is helping to
belt down Ron Paul`s numbers a bit there, perhaps, Mark, but is it
effective for him?

HALPERIN: Well, look, people have been going after Gingrich. They`ve
been going after Ron Paul. The game is on the line here. Mitt Romney is
potentially -- and our polls suggest -- on the precipice of winning Iowa,
winning New Hampshire and ending this thing.


HALPERIN: So I understand why people have gone after Gingrich. I
understand why Gingrich is now going after Ron Paul. But if they`re not
careful, everybody else in this field is going to look back and say, What`s
going on?

There`s not been one ad that I know of that shows Mitt Romney with Ted
Kennedy when they -- when he signed the health care law in Massachusetts
into law. There have been lots of ads showing Newt Gingrich with Nancy
Pelosi. Going after Paul is something that`s somewhat effective, but
again, I don`t quite get the point of it, given the circumstances he`s
dealing with right now.

MATTHEWS: Well, here he is talking to Chuck Todd of NBC, where he`s
trying to make the point, I think, what you were saying a moment ago, where
he`s playing down his hopes for next Tuesday and the Tuesday therefore,
saying, I`m going to make my stand in South Carolina as, you know, the lone
alternative perhaps at that point to Romney. Let`s take a look at where he
seems to be planning his final redoubt. Let`s listen.


GINGRICH: Everyone who`s won South Carolina has been the nominee.
Every single one.


GINGRICH: That`s right. So if you look at where we first put our
team -- our biggest team is in South Carolina.

TODD: How big?

GINGRICH: But -- but I`d like -- I mean, frankly, I -- I thought if
we gave -- originally...


GINGRICH: ... third or fourth, I`m rising. I`d like to come in
second in New Hampshire. I mean, it`s very hard to beat Romney in New
Hampshire, although it`ll be fun. It`ll be a much more exciting week than
he thinks.

TODD: You still have to get top three?

GINGRICH: I think so, top -- well, top three or four depends on --
whether they`re all...


GINGRICH: ... whether they`re all bunched. I mean, what if you have
four people tied? What if you have Ron Paul win? At that point, I think
you have -- people just sort of shake their head and go to the next topic.


MATTHEWS: You know, there`s almost the likable Newt Gingrich, I have
to tell you, Mark and J-Mar, because there`s the guy, the cornerman, the
guy talking like one of us, really, in the back room, trying to figure the
thing out, you know, being smart, not talking about his own ego, which is
refreshing for all of us to do. But I just thought that was a pretty
honest assessment, don`t you think, Mark, and then J-Mar, the same
question? Doesn`t he look like a smart tout right there?

HALPERIN: Honest, and I agree with you that side of him is more
appealing than a lot of what he`s been chewing (ph) lately. But look, the
reality is, if Romney finishes first or second, assuming Paul is first, if
Romney isn`t -- all the -- the conservatives in the race, the other
candidates, are going to say, You know, X percent of voters in Iowa didn`t
vote for Mitt Romney, and that shows this race goes on.

If he`s first or second and wins resoundingly in New Hampshire, it`s
going to be very hard, I think, to head him off in South Carolina and
Florida, even though right now, according to the last round of polls,
Gingrich was strong there.

MATTHEWS: OK (INAUDIBLE) gentlemen, here`s your final question.
Suppose the way it goes the way we`re looking at it, the way Mark`s lining
it up. Suppose Romney does pulls the win up there next Tuesday up in Iowa.
It`ll be cold, and he`ll win that thing. If he does, it`s going to be a
big deal. Then he goes to New Hampshire, surely wins then. So he`s now
won twice.

He goes to South Carolina, which is evangelical, and Newt comes out as
the only alternative to this guy, a moderate guy with LDS background,
Mormon religion, and he comes out and plays out there, I`m the only
alternative to this guy. He does nick him there or beats him substantially

Then he goes to Florida. Isn`t there a battle beyond Florida if he
wins South Carolina? Having won in South Carolina, can he expect to win
elsewhere in the deep South, the real South, not Florida?

MARTIN: Two important questions there. Do Santorum and Perry also go
forward after Iowa?


MARTIN: Are they in South Carolina? If they`re there, that could
take votes from Newt.


MARTIN: And then secondly, Chris, which South Carolina are we talking
about? Is this the South Carolina that has always ratified the
establishment choice over the course of the last 30 years, or is this the
South Carolina that last year elected a 38-year-old Indian-American female
as their governor that`s a much more populist sort of Tea Party-oriented
state party now?

I think you have to get those two answers first before you can figure
out what actually happens down there next month.

MATTHEWS: Well, what about the party that beat the heck out of John
McCain after he came out of New Hampshire in 2000? That`s the party I
still see, willing to do the dirty work on a front-runner. Your thoughts,
J? I mean, Jonathan -- Mark?

MARTIN: Well, I was going to say, if that`s still...

HALPERIN: Well, that`s the establishment...


MARTIN: ... Romney is going to be in good shape because they`re going
to want to pick a winner.

MATTHEWS: Your thoughts? Your thoughts, Mark, on that? Could they
come back and just pound what looks like a moderate?

HALPERIN: If you`re anybody but Romney today, the thing that should
scare you the most is the size of the crowds and the enthusiasm he`s
drawing in eastern Iowa today. That is establishment Republicans. They`re
an underrated part of the turnout here in Iowa.

And if the South Carolina establishment, as they always have in the
past, rallies with a Tea Party governor behind him, Romney, however many
candidates are in South Carolina, could win that, too, even though it`s not
been a strong state for him.


HALPERIN: The establishment -- the establishment has one choice in
Iowa, one choice nationally. President Bush 41 sees that. A lot of
members of Congress see it.


HALPERIN: And Gingrich is not doing anything to win them over. I`m
not saying Romney`s a lock, but somebody`s going to have to encroach on the
establishment vote both here and in South Carolina, or he`s going to be
very hard to stop early.

MATTHEWS: And then we will have had...

HALPERIN: He could be the nominee by the State of the Union.

MATTHEWS: This is so powerful, this reporting!

MARTIN: And if Santorum is in South Carolina after having a strong
showing in Iowa, then it`s going to be that much harder for Newt there to
consolidate the right.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, gentlemen, you`re both saying -- and you`re
both at the top of the game -- you`re telling me, basically, we had the
battle for the Republican nomination in the year 2011 and that this will be
the ratification process come January. Thank you so much. Powerful
development here, if it`s Romney right through. If he runs the table
through South Carolina, wow. Mark Halperin, thank you. Jonathan Martin,
thank you.

Coming up: Why are Republicans having such a hard time settling on a
candidate? Well, we`re hearing they may have already done that. But
there`s a new front-runner so far this year every week, and that`s because
the perfect candidate, the one who checks all the boxes on the conservative
wish list, might not exist. That`s ahead.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: HARDBALL`s going to Iowa. Starting tomorrow, we`ll be at
Java Joe`s in Des Moines talking to the candidates, the voters and
reporters and finding out what it smells like on the ground out there in
the Hawkeye state just days before the actual voting begins. And I`ll be
there through caucus night on Tuesday. And then starting Wednesday of next
week, it`s on to New Hampshire. This is fun. We`re following the parade.
In fact, we`re part of it.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. The ever-changing roller-coaster
Republican front-runners has shown us one thing for sure, the GOP is not
happy with their field so far. In Iowa, Republican caucus goers are
looking for four key ingredients and trying to determine if the candidates
stack up.

I put together a checklist to see where they stand. Look, let`s take
a look at the four candidates atop the field right now, Paul, Romney,
Santorum and Gingrich.

When it comes to being a truly solid small government conservative,
Paul and Santorum fit that bill nicely. Romney and Gingrich`s support of
health care and talking about climate change hurt them.

In terms of being part of the religious right, it`s only Rick
Santorum. He`s the only real true, blue religious right candidate running.

Republicans looking for a hawk see three potentials now, Romney,
Santorum and Gingrich. Ron Paul, you`ve got to say that about him, is
definitely not a hawk.

But if you want someone who could actually win the general election
against Barack Obama, the only one that fits that bill is clearly Mitt

Here with me to break this down are Robert Traynham, Washington bureau
chief for Comcast Network. He was formerly a spokesman for "The Hill" and
then Senator Rick Santorum in the old days. And with me here in New York
is TalkingPointsMemo editor Josh Marshall. Thank you, gentlemen, so much.

I want to start with Josh up here. So far, we don`t know where this
thing`s going next Tuesday or beyond. We had some great conjecture it
might be Romney all of a sudden as sort of the unanimous "OK, we`ll live
with him" candidate. But so far, I`m looking at -- the only really small
government conservative out there -- actually, there are two if you count
Santorum -- is Ron Paul.


MATTHEWS: You got to be Romney, you got to be -- he was the moderate
governor of Massachusetts, and Gingrich was all over the place over the
years. So just in terms that category, it`s hard to find the true, blue

MARSHALL: It`s like a Venn diagram, you know, and there`s no overlap
point. You know, I think some of these -- you know, arguably, I guess,
Rick Santorum is a small government conservative by some measures. I mean,
you know, Ron Paul is like a no government conservative.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Right.

MARSHALL: You know, there was -- there was a thing out today saying
that he`s -- he`s touting an endorsement from a preacher, Ron Paul, who
thinks that gays should be executed. So he`s -- he`s the candidate who
thinks that gays should be executed and bin Laden shouldn`t be executed.
So that`s a tough sell in a Republican primary.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Let`s go over that same thing with Robert Traynham.
Robert, it looks to me like if you want the true, blue conservative,
meaning someone who really is like Barry Goldwater of the old days, someone
who -- really, an Ayn Rand conservative who really doesn`t (INAUDIBLE)
Leave me alone, I`ll do my own thing, kind of person -- nobody`s got a
really good record except the extremist, if you will, Ron Paul.


And the problem with Ron Paul is, is that the independent voter out
there in Pennsylvania in, Florida, in Michigan and Ohio will not even
obviously even entertain the thought of voting for someone like that.

I think the real conservative out there that obviously is not running
is Jeb Bush. If in fact he wasn`t a person by the name of Bush, he
probably would be the front-runner right now, because he has all of the
qualifications that you just mentioned a few moments ago, Chris.

But if I can go back to Rick Santorum for a moment, it would very
interesting. Let`s say hypothetically, Chris, he won his reelection in
2006. Let`s say hypothetically he didn`t say some of the unfortunate
comments that he said about gays. He probably would be the number-one
front-runner right about now, but obviously that`s not the case.

Rick Santorum for the very same reasons that I mentioned about Ron
Paul is not palatable to the independent voter out there. And it`s a shame
because when you take a look at Rick Santorum on the surface, he`s a pretty
good guy from a policy standpoint, at least for conservatives.

MATTHEWS: Yes, but he lost by 18 points in Pennsylvania, so doesn`t
that shatter your notion that he`s a strong general election candidate?

TRAYNHAM: You`re right. There`s no question about it.

Look, he lost Pennsylvania by 18 points for two reasons. Number one
is because he was too conservative for the state, but also number two
because he wrapped his arms around George W. Bush at a time that was very

MATTHEWS: He also got a ton of money from his county to pay for his
homeschooling, which people in Pennsylvania could not understand how a guy
could pull 30-some-thousand bucks from his county to pay for his
homeschooling. They got a little upset about that in Pennsylvania.

Anyway, here`s Ron Paul out with a new ad attacking both Mitt Romney
and Newt Gingrich. Take a look.


NARRATOR: The Washington machine is strangling our economy.
Politicians who supported bailouts and mandates, serial hypocrites and
flip-floppers who can`t clean up the mess.

One man stands alone. A real plan to cut $1 trillion year one,
balance the budget in three. Consistent, incorruptible, guided by faith
and principle.

Ron Paul, the one we have been looking for.



MATTHEWS: You know, it`s true. It`s the Republican conservative
dream and they know it won`t sell with the public.


MATTHEWS: It`s just unbelievable. They know their beliefs are

MARSHALL: The thing I come away from this with, is that, you know, it
really does feel like everything is moving towards Mitt Romney right now.
He really could win Iowa and then he will win New Hampshire.


MATTHEWS: You heard Mark Halperin and Jonathan Martin. They said he
can run the table right through South Carolina.

MARSHALL: Well, we haven`t seen a South Carolina poll since like the
19th. I`m dying to see one, because then, 10 days ago, Newt was still
ahead. So, you know, maybe the Newt -- the Newt team can hold out hope
that he`s still ahead there.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Robert Traynham on this and try this by you.
I have a theory that Republicans are more organized than Democrats. I`m
not the first one to say that. It was Will Rogers who said that about 100
years ago. They are very organized.

I figure if you go to the movies they are early. They`re sitting
there with the little candy bar. You come in with your popcorn and your
big coke. And you`re barely there in time. They have been there for 20
minutes waiting for this movie to start. They are organized people.

And the reason I say this, I grew up in a family like this.
Everything was done on time. They are at church early for everything.
They have thought this through, Robert. It seems like they have thought
through. They have a clown car out there, as somebody said the other day,
"The Boston Herald." They have got a clown car. They`re getting rid of
that clown car as fast as they can and running down the street with a guy
they know can win a general election and that`s Mitt Romney.

TRAYNHAM: You`re absolutely right.

The analogy that I use, Chris, go to the Republican Convention and go
to the Democratic Convention.

MATTHEWS: Ah, yes.


MATTHEWS: Where do you have more fun?

TRAYNHAM: Well, you have more fun at the Democratic Convention, but
if you want things to go on time, if you know exactly how things will run,
you go to the Republican Convention. But, look, Mitt Romney, he`s the --
he`s the tortoise in all of this. He`s the one that has been very
consistent. He`s the one that`s always been on message, and he`s the one
who has the most money.

I predict that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee, and the
reason why is because of all the reasons that I mentioned a few moments
ago. He`s consistent. And the problem with that is, again, a lot of
primary voters out there on the Republican side, they do their homework and
they say, wait a minute, what about this Mormon issue, wait a minute, what
about this abortion issue, wait a minute, what about your signature on the
gay marriage license in Massachusetts? You`re just not consistent for me.

However, I do believe Republican voters out there, especially the
hard-core Republican voters in South Carolina, New Hampshire and Iowa, they
want to win. They want to win come November, and I think they will hold
their noses and vote for Mitt Romney come this time next year.

MATTHEWS: Josh, remember -- I`m older than you -- I remember growing
up with Democratic Conventions where they used to do gavel-to-gavel on TV
and all you ever heard was somebody at the head -- usually the convention
secretary, usually a woman, would yell, will the delegates please clear the
aisles? And they never did. They never cleared the aisles. They ignored
it. They were all table hopping.


MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, are they that strategic in voting, that
even in South Carolina, starting this Tuesday, the person who goes into
that polling booth will not vote their gut or vote their heart, like a lot
of voters tend to do; they are going to say, no, this is about the
presidency, we`re going to pick a president? Is it going to be that cool
and calculating?

MARSHALL: John Heilemann had that quote from that unnamed Romney aide
saying kind of like, we can`t lose this now.

MATTHEWS: That was smart.

MARSHALL: That was cocky, but I see what he`s saying.

MATTHEWS: Do you think that helped him?

MARSHALL: No, no, no. I don`t think it helped him at all.

But I do think this. It is hard to figure that primary voters down in
South Carolina are really going to be thinking that way. And you do see
Romney -- Robert was just right. Romney through all of this, he`s cruising
along at 22 percent, 23 percent and like Newt is up and everybody is up and
down like this.

The question to me is -- for me is, you know, he`s sort of the
consensus, the unloved consensus candidate, but at some point something`s
got to happen.

MATTHEWS: He`s got to get from 25 to 50. When is that going to


MARSHALL: When is that going to happen?

MATTHEWS: Robert, when does he go from 25 to 50, this Mr. Right?

TRAYNHAM: I think probably perhaps maybe right after Super Tuesday.


TRAYNHAM: Chris, if I can go back, though, very quickly, this reminds
me a bit of 1988. George H.W. Bush, who was the moderate, he was the one
that a lot of social conservatives didn`t like. They didn`t trust him.
They clearly knew him as vice president for eight years.

And the whole Pat Robertson -- Jerry Falwell was running for
president. Republican primary voters at the end of the day said we`re
voting for president here. We`re voting for the leader of the free
country. Let`s go with George H.W. Bush.

MATTHEWS: By the way, anybody who doesn`t think that Barbara Bush was
pro-choice is out of their mind. When you look at that family, they look
pro-choice. Anyway, maybe it`s a class statement. But forget about it.

By the way, please clear the aisles.


MATTHEWS: Robert Traynham, thank you, sir.

Josh Marshall, thank you. Gentlemen.

Up next, who are the most admired men and women in America today and
which Republican presidential candidates make that list? That`s ahead in
the "Sideshow."

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. Now for the "Sideshow."

First up, hit the ground running. Rick Perry may have slid badly from
front-runner status in the GOP race this fall, but his campaign team says
it sees a possible comeback on the horizon. And it doesn`t have much to do
with politics.

What`s the secret? Well, according to a CNN piece -- quote -- "Rick
Perry`s best asset in the race for the White House these days might just be
a pair of Brooks running shoes. Perry`s frequent jogs along Iowa roadways
and in hotel fitness centers have become both an energy booster and a
welcome break from his marathon bus tour of 42 Iowa cities, a late push
that campaign advisers say they hope will vault him to a top three finish
in the January 3 caucuses."

Well, Perry is back in the game after hanging up the running shoes
early this year due to injury, although, looking at his poll numbers, I
would say he has more than miles to go before he sleeps.

Winning strategy aside, the Perry camp fell victim to another campaign
blunder this morning. At least it wasn`t the candidate himself standing at
the microphone. The culprit, Joe Arpaio, that Arizona sheriff best known
for his ongoing birther investigation. Anyway, Arpaio made it clear he
wasn`t quite up to date on all things Iowa when he took to the podium to
rally for Perry. Let`s listen to Mr. Arpaio.


know Iowa, the great state of Iowa. Was it the Buckeyes or...


ARPAIO: What are they called?


ARPAIO: Oh, Hawkeyes, Buckeyes, what`s the difference? It`s 3:00
Phoenix time.



MATTHEWS: What`s the difference? Looks more like a stand-up routine
that didn`t go too well. Not exactly the boost that Perry hoped he`d get
from this character.

And, finally, the tally of this year`s most admired American men and
most admired women was put out today by "USA Today" and Gallup. Which man
and woman top the list? President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton, each getting 17 percent of the votes in their categories. Obama
has held the male title since 2008, and this is Mrs. Clinton or Secretary
Clinton`s 16th time on the top of the women`s list.

Following the president on the male side are former Presidents George
W. Bush and Bill Clinton. And among females, second place goes to Oprah
Winfrey, followed by Michelle Obama in third.

The only active 2012 GOP candidates to make the top 10 are Newt
Gingrich, who is down in sixth place, and Michele Bachmann, who is in ninth
place. But what exactly does a sixth place slot in the men`s category
mean? Well, in the case of Newt, about 1 percent of the votes, it means.
And that means sharing your ranking with Donald Trump. They are both on
the same level.

Up next, Ben Nelson`s retirement, is it the end of Democratic hopes to
hold on to the United States Senate or not? Let`s check into that fight
for control of the United States Senate coming up right in a minute.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


TYLER MATHISEN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening. I`m Tyler Mathisen
with your CNBC "Market Wrap."

The Dow Jones finished near the day`s low, off 139 points, S&P down
almost 16, Nasdaq off by 35. Oil prices tumbled today amid a fresh war of
words between Iran and the U.S., Iran threatening to block a vital Mideast
oil route. The U.S. Navy warns that would not be tolerated.

Eurozone banks dumped record amounts of cash at the ECB this week
after borrowing it only weeks ago. That money meant to ease tensions
overseas, but it appears banks haven`t yet figured out what to do with the
added flow. Good news out of Italy, where short-term debt costs were
halved at an auction today. European stocks got a quick short-lived bump
in response.

Morgan Stanley took a small dive after announcing plans to slash 580
jobs at four New York offices, part of a broader wave of layoffs. And
last-minute shoppers saved Christmas for retailers, according to new
ShopperTrak numbers. The week-before-Christmas sales up an estimated 15
percent over last year. I was one of them.

That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide -- now back to

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Do Republicans have a real chance of winning control of the U.S.
Senate next career? Many GOP leaders think the answer is yes, especially
after yesterday`s announcement by Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska
that he will not seek reelection in 2012.

Nelson was in a tight race in Nebraska, but now it seems all but
certain that that seat will go to Republicans, a Republican, whoever it is.
The Senate is currently split 53-47 for the Democrats, meaning Republicans
need to pick up four seats next year to retake or take control. There`s
some formidable Democratic contenders who could make that task a bit more
difficult, like Elizabeth Warren up in Massachusetts.

So what`s the outlook in 2012 for the Senate?

David Catanese is a national political reporter for Politico, and
Christina Bellantoni is associate politics editor for "Roll Call." We have
got two experts here who do it all the time.

Let`s take a look at this map with both of you, some key Senate races.
There are currently two states, Massachusetts and Nevada, where the
Democrats have a shot of picking up a seat, but look at the Republican
advantages. In Nebraska and North Dakota, the Republicans will probably
pick up both those seats currently held by Democrats. Six other states to
watch -- and these are the big ones -- according to NBC News, seats that
are currently held all by Democrats, are tossups right now.

Hawaii, Montana, Missouri, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Virginia all pose a
risk for Democrats next year.

Let me go to Christina on this outlook.

Let`s start with a candidate who has really impressed me. That`s
Elizabeth Warren up in Massachusetts. I have seen that "Herald" poll.
She`s up by seven over Scott Brown. Is that a pretty good bet right now,
or is it still close?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, "ROLL CALL": I think that she has a very good
chance to win. "Roll Call" still has this rated as a tossup.

Obviously, Scott Brown is a decent candidate. He has lots of money,
and the incumbent tends to have the advantage. But this is also a state
where it`s a strong Democratic state in a presidential year. You`re going
to have a lot of turnout. So I think this will be sort of one of those key
battlegrounds. The Democrats seem very confident that they can hold this

MATTHEWS: You mean win it.

BELLANTONI: And it is definitely part of the strategy -- exactly, to
win this seat.

MATTHEWS: What about the other -- another woman candidate, Shelley
Berkley out in Nevada? She`s on against the appointed senator. What do
you make of that one?

BELLANTONI: Yes, that`s up against Dean Heller.

And this is a very interesting race. This is where, if Barack Obama
wins reelection, it will be in part thanks to Nevada, and Shelley Berkley
will become the next senator if that happens. This is an issue where the
top of the ticket will really matter. There`s a big machine in Nevada that
Obama activated that Harry Reid used to hang on to his seat last fall. So
you will see a lot of that in action.

But it`s going to be one of those key races to watch on election night
to really see what`s happening with the presidential race and then what
happens for control of the Senate.

MATTHEWS: But, Shelley, the congresswoman, is not running against a
full-mooner, the way that Harry Reid was. She`s not lucky enough to run
against Sharron Angle.

BELLANTONI: Sure. And, you know, she`s certainly, you know, not
necessarily the strongest Senate candidate in the world. She`s going to
have plenty of money from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

And, certainly, you know, Reid has been out there to bat for her. He
cleared the field. She had a primary in front of her and that`s now gone.
So, I think -- she`s got a strong chance of winning, but it really is going
to come down to that national mood.

MATTHEWS: Let me -- let`s go now -- let me go to David.

Tell us about the two races which are probably going to lose seats
for the Democrats, North Dakota and Nebraska now?

DAVID CATANESE, POLITICO: Yes. You`ll get a lot of pushback from
Washington Democrats on North Dakota. They have recruited former attorney
general there, Heidi Heitkamp. They put out a poll saying that can be
competitive with Representative Rick Berg, saying he has some weaknesses.

I still think that`s a stretch, that North Dakota is going to be a
competitive race next fall. So, I would push North Dakota and Nebraska
into the Republican column. That`s a pickup of two seats.

But the next two seats, getting to four is a lot tougher. You have
Virginia, you have Montana. You have Missouri. Nevada, which we were just
talking about -- those are all coin-tosses right now. And to the
Democrats` credit, they have been raising a ton of money for their
incumbents, or even their challengers, and they`ve got pretty formidable
organizations around these candidates and have been drawing a lot of races
to a tie despite being battered by ads by Crossroads coming outside.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to one in Ohio. I`m a big Sherrod Brown fan,
maybe because I see him on this network. I want to go over to Christina on

Sherrod Brown looks to me like the perfect labor Democratic senator
from Ohio. If he can`t win and hold that seat when he does everything
right in terms of labor trade issues, tax issues, middle class issues, how
can he lose? He`s such the perfect Democrat for that state?



MATTHEWS: Christina, please. I`m sorry.

CATANESE: I`m sorry.

BELLANTONI: "Roll Call" has this rated that it is a seat that is
probably going to remain in Democratic hands. You know, for all the
reasons that you outline, he`s got a pretty strong organization. The
Republican likely nominee is Josh Mandel, he`s pretty strong.

But Brown is one of those interesting candidates who won in 2006, he
ousted Mike DeWine and he was really representative of, you know, of a
vulnerable Democrat right after the Republicans did so well in Ohio in 2010
and actually he`s doing OK. He polls better than Barack Obama in his home
state. You know, he`s been able to sort of keep his focus there and a lot
of people like him.

So, he might be OK and that`s going against the national mood in some

MATTHEWS: OK. Let me give you another winner for the Democrats, I
believe in, a close race. I think Tim Kaine, David, is going to knock off
George Allen. I think George Allen is yesterday. I think -- I`m not
saying the old problems are going to back to haunt him. He just seems like
a guy trying to come back.

Nobody wants the past back. They may not like Obama, who wants to go
back to W. I don`t anybody. And then -- and that`s -- I guess there are
some people.

But your thoughts about Virginia, because I think there are some real
hope here. I think Ohio looks good for the Ds. I think Virginia -- I`m
going to get on to Jon Tester in a minute. I think he`s a strong

Your thoughts about Tim Kaine, the governor?

CATANESE: I think this is a margin of error race. It`s going to be
like Thune/Daschle, which a lot of people will remember. But I think it`s
also very much tied to how President Obama does in Virginia.

I tell you, I traveled to Richmond. I saw Tim Kaine debate George
Allen. He is a very good debater. He is crisp and he put George |Allen on
the defense for a lot of fiscal --

MATTHEWS: I think he runs ahead of Obama, what do you think?

CATANESE: You know, I`m not sure. It`s going to be really
interesting to see. The Kaine people are happy because Obama`s popularity
has declined but Kaine hasn`t. He has stayed pretty even, as Obama`s
popularity has decline.

So, he could definitely -- it`s a possibility that he outruns Obama
in that state.



MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) the bets here. I think it`s Elizabeth Warren
so far, I`m not sure about Shelley Berkley because I think Nevada is very
hard to figure unless you have a wacko on the Republican side.

Let`s go to Jon Tester. Let`s talk about him. He is a very
attractive candidate. He is not some lefty from back East. He`s a farmer
from the state that he`s from, from Montana.

Your thoughts about it, Christina?

BELLANTONI: Well, don`t forget that Tester won by a very, very slim
margin. It was less than 1,000 votes in 2006. It was also one of those
races like Jim Webb`s in 2006 that helped decide the Senate for the

So, this was already going to be close. Denny Rehberg is a
congressman. He`s elected at large. So, he`s already won statewide there.


BELLANTONI: That gives him -- this is going to be a razor thin race.
And, you know, Dave is exactly right. With all the spending from outside
groups, particularly Crossroads, it`s cheap to advertise there. You know,
voters are going to be real tired of seeing ads on this guy.

And I think Tester is in some big trouble. But you never know. The
Obama people really recognize that this is a key state, so that might mean
they stay out of it for the presidential, but they will make sure
organizationally, there are people in place.

MATTHEWS: OK. Anybody with a crew cut is no lefty. Anyway, thank
you very much, David Catanese. And thank you, Christina Bellantoni. Happy
New Year.


CATANESE: Happy New Year.

MATTHEWS: Up next, as the Republicans running for president move
further to the right to attract the evangelical vote, do they run the risk
of alienating the average woman voter next November?

This is HARDBALL -- we`re going to talk abortion rights now -- only


MATTHEWS: The Pentagon is warning today that it won`t tolerate any
disruption of traffic through the Straits of Hormuz. Earlier today, Iran`s
navy chief said the Islamic republic was ready to shut the strait, a vital
oil route, of course, if the West imposes new economic sanctions over
Iran`s suspected nuclear program.

Well, the spokeswoman for the United States Navy`s Fifth Fleet says
any country that blocks the straits would be outside the community of
nations. That`s foreboding.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The Republican presidential field has moved even further to the right
following Rick Perry`s decision to support a ban on abortion even in the
case of rape and incest. That brings to four now, a majority of the
candidates, the number of Republican presidential candidates, who want
abortion banned in all cases, outlawed.

Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, going
further -- they have all signed a pledge now to support the personhood
movement, which defines a fertilized egg as a human being.

To give you an idea of how extreme this position is, a ballot
initiative in Mississippi supporting personhood was handily defeated in
that Republican red state. While this extreme position may clearly appeal
to the evangelicals in Iowa, is it pulling the party too far to the right
politically? And how would it affect the way women generally vote,
Republican women included in November?

Joan Walsh is editor at large at Salon.com. Michelle Goldberg
reports for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast."

Joan, it`s great to talk to you. Happy New Year and merry Christmas.
I haven`t talked to you in a while.

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM: You, too, Chris.

MATTHEWS: It seems to me like we`re getting into a territory here
which people need to start thinking about. If you define a fertilized
human egg as a person, perhaps even a citizen for all I know, at that
point, it becomes, technically in fact, really a murder -- a murder --
you`re killing a person if you -- in any way interfere with the attachment
of that fertilized egg to a uterine wall. In other words, an IUD is a
murdering instrument.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: I mean, it really gets completely far out here, and what
people are trying to put into statute. Do you think people know what
they`re doing here, even politically know what they`re doing?

WALSH: I think they do. I think they`re trying to get through this
primary. And some of them may well believe it. But, you know, Chris, you
made the point, when you`re too extreme, you`re too far right for the state
of Mississippi, of our reddest states, you know you`ve gone too far.

And, you know, you`re getting to a point in the Republican Party
where a female has more rights before she`s born than afterwards, because
this is just -- this is turning the clock back even on birth control. I
think we`ve seen signs of this. You know, the Tea Party came into the
House and they said they were all about jobs, but they spent more time
trying to defund Planned Parenthood, which is about birth control, as well
as female cancer screenings, than they did trying to do anything about our
jobs crisis.

So, this is a trend in the Republican Party. We`ve seen it for a
long time, but it`s gotten to an extreme.

MATTHEWS: And the question here of metaphysics, you`re talking about
declaring under law, not religion, but under law, a fertilized egg as a
person. In other words, a woman, as part of her natural reproductive
cycle, some of these -- a lot of it perhaps don`t attach to the wall. Are
they all people, too, for political purposes? What are we talking about

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, NEWSWEEK: If a fertilized egg is a human being,
then basically every woman`s uterus is kind of a slaughter house, because,
you know, fertilized eggs fail to attach in at least half of the cases --

MATTHEWS: That`s why people don`t get pregnant every time they have
sex, obviously.

GOLDBERG: Right, exactly. So, it`s -- you know, the reason that
this went down in Mississippi was because beyond just banning all abortion,
even when a woman`s life is at stake, even in cases of rape and incest, it
would have also banned the IUD. It would have interfered with IVF. I
mean, this is a huge --

MATTHEWS: Why are they going further than simply going -- first,
they never want to officially criminalize it, because then they have to
actually attach some kind of statutory sanction to a woman, like if you
have an abortion, you must pay $5 or go to jail for five years. They don`t
ever actually do that. But in this case, you will get to that point.

GOLDBERG: Well, part of it, that`s something they don`t want to talk
about. I mean, a lot of Americans are uncomfortable with abortion. And
because of Roe versus Wade, we`ve kind of been able to take for granted
living in a world without back-alley abortions, without women dying by the
hundreds in hospital emergency rooms.

So nobody wants to talk about the consequences of an abortion ban.
Nobody wants to talk about arresting women and putting women in jail.
That`s already starting to happen around the margins. There`s been a
number of cases where women in desperate circumstances have tried to end
their own pregnancies and have been persecuted, arrested and persecuted.

MATTHEWS: Oh, really?

GOLDBERG: That`s happening now because these restrictions are
finally starting to really take effect. But that`s not something that the
Republican Party wants to talk about. So, they talk about, like you said,
this kind of metaphysical issues of when life begins. But the end result
is going to be an unprecedented interference into women`s lives.

MATTHEWS: I personally think we should talk about metaphysical
issues, we just shouldn`t make it as a matter of law and politics.

Here`s a distinct gender gap by the way in party navigation, 53
percent of men and 43 percent of women self identify as Republican, but 45
percent of men and 53 percent of women self identify as Democrats. That`s
no surprise, Joan. And I don`t want to simplify anything about people`s
voting habits.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: Obviously, people vote out of a cluster of concerns,
including rights, human rights, women`s rights, but also education, health
care issues, war and peace, taxes.

WALSH: Right.

MATTHEWS: People vote on a lot of things. But this gender gap, what
do you think is joined, what this will do to perhaps to enlarge the gender
gap if the Republicans go too far here?

WALSH: I think it will enlarge the gender gap. You know, we really
didn`t see much of a gender gap, a difference between men and women voting,
Chris, until 1980 and Ronald Reagan. And even though women did ultimately
wind up supporting Ronald Reagan, they didn`t support him as wholeheartedly
as men did.

And people at the time said it was a cluster of things. It was the
role of the Christian right.

But also in polls, women tend to be much more supportive of the
social safety net. Women want programs for the poor. They want programs
for the elderly. They are the more economically vulnerable gender.

And so, sometimes, it`s a matter of these things coming home to them,
they`re the ones taking care of relatives usually.

MATTHEWS: Exactly.

WALSH: So, they`re also afraid of Reagan`s bellicosity. And so,
you`ve seen a gender gap widened basically since Ronald Reagan and really
up with Barack Obama and John McCain.

So, this is something that the Democrats have been able to count on,
they were worried that white women went back to the Republicans in 2010.
But the trends are looking good for them to come back to the Democrats in

MATTHEWS: OK. We`ll have more time to talk about this later.
Thanks for coming on.

Michelle Goldberg, thank you. Happy New Year.

Thank you, Joan, my good friend. It`s always great to see you out
there. Wish you were here.

WALSH: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: When we return, "Let Me Finish," with the slow methodical
way that Republicans pick their nominees for president, totally different,
by the way, from the way Democrats tend to do it. And this is a general
statement, but I`m going to live with it.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

Democrats have a hard time figuring out the way Republicans go about
picking their presidential candidates. The reason is it`s totally
different. Democrats tend to go with their heart and gut. They see a
candidate like Jack Kennedy or Bill Clinton or Barack Obama and they feel
something inside them that says, "Go with this guy." And that`s it.

It doesn`t always work out so well, of course. George McGovern got
blown away. Jimmy Carter didn`t turn out to have the political chops he
needed; the same with others. But it always seems a good idea at the time.

Well, Republicans are different. They pick their nominees more
methodically. They like to see the guy run around the track a few times
before they place their bets.

Nixon had run and lost, and then lost again -- well, he lost for
governor. Ronald Reagan had lost twice, in `68, again in `76. Bush lost
in `80. And Dole in `80 and then again in `88, before getting the nod in
`96. McCain got his face bashed in in 2000 before finally crossing the
finish line in `08.

So, as you watch the slow movement of Iowa caucus voters, the good
old Romney, you`re looking at the old love of the familiar, and voting for
the one whose turn has finally come. If they pick Romney this time, a guy
who`s run and been beaten before, it would be primordial as a school of
salmon heading upriver to spawn.

And that`s HARDALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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