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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Jan. 2, 5 p.m. ET

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Roger Simon, Joe Trippi Howard Wolfson, John Norris, Jim Talent, Tim Hutchinson, Linda Douglass

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Can a vote get any closer?  Tonight the incredible power rankings.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  And welcome to HARDBALL power rankings tonight.  It is just 24 hours now until the Iowa caucuses.  Tomorrow night, right about this time voters all across that state will pick a president.

Every few generations it seems to me America finds itself in a rut.  And decides to get out of that rut.  We did it in the Great Depression with FDR, in the midst of the Korean War with Ike.  And during an economic and hostage crisis with the Gipper.

I think it‘s safe to say we‘re in a rut right now.  “The Wall Street Journal‘s” Jerry Seid (ph) noted today in the paper that our NBC poll found that we‘re in the midst of the most prolonged period of public dissatisfaction in this country in 15 years.

Well, I the world hears tomorrow night that Barack Obama is the winner in Iowa, they‘ll be stunned.  And rightfully, see it as a vote for change.  If John McCain does better than expected after public disappointment and failure and then they‘ll see it as a vote for courage, and if McCain can win enough voters in Iowa it seems to me, he could win in New Hampshire.  And then perhaps go all the way.  He could be the wild card in this Super Bowl politically speaking.

Let‘s take a look at the latest polls out of Iowa.  On the Republican side, the latest polls show a split.  The Zogby poll has Huckabee leading by two points on the Republican side.  The Strategic Vision poll has Romney leading by two offsetting each other.  The “Des Moines Register” poll, however, has Huckabee up by an amazing six points, and CNN on the other hand, has Romney up by three.  The Real Clear Politics Web site by the way, which averages all the latest polls together, has it this way.  Incredibly look at these numbers.  Huckabee and this is averaging all the polls together -- 29, Romney 28, McCain‘s at 13 and moving up.  Thompson‘s at 12, Ron Paul is at eight.

And here‘s the most—closer one believe it or not it‘s even closer.  On the Democratic side, Zogby‘s poll, the latest poll has a tie between Obama and Clinton.  The Strategic Vision poll has Obama leading by just three points within the margin of error.  The “Des Moines Register” has Obama up by an astounding seven points.  The CNN poll has Clinton up by two.  The Insider Advantage poll has Clinton up by one.

So hear it is.  The Real Clear Politics average has this, believe it or not, Obama and Clinton tied exactly at 29 percent.  John Edwards is right behind it, 26 percent.  I‘ve never seen numbers like this.

NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell is in Iowa tonight and “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman is in Washington.  Andrea, this does remind me of the election.  You and I grew up with the Nixon-Kennedy race which was so close it never seemed to get more than a point or two apart.  What is happening in Iowa on the Democratic side?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  It is absolutely incredible.  You go out with these candidates, and you know, John Edwards was campaigning 36 hours, 1,000 miles, with his wife Elizabeth on their bus.  Hillary Clinton, taking a short break to tape a cameo on David Letterman‘s show.  Obama absolutely getting huge crowds.  What Obama is counting on is reaching out to Republicans and independents.  I went out with a canvasser today, Monica Green, she is a precinct captain for Barack Obama.  She is a lifelong Republican, voted twice for George W. Bush.  Why is she for Obama and why is she pulling people in from her precinct or trying to?

She said that she watched the president‘s State of the Union address, was really upset and disappointed.  Then watched an interview with Barack Obama, you know, a year and a half ago, and he said things that she really liked, but he didn‘t bash President Bush.  He was respectfully disagreeing.

She then saw that he was going to be in Ames a couple of months later, went out, liked what she heard, signed up.  She‘s now a precinct captain.

She is bringing in new voters.  And if he can bring in those new voters, this will be an historic election because this would mean the “Des Moines Register” poll is right.  If he doesn‘t deliver on those new voters, then it‘s going to be Hillary .

MATTHEWS:  Well, Andrea, let‘s watch .

MITCHELL:  Or an Edwards victory.

MATTHEWS:  Listen to what Barack Obama had to say to the voters on this eve of the Iowa caucuses.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The question you have to ask yourself, when you walk into that caucus tomorrow is this, who can take us in a fundamentally new direction?  I‘m running to finally solve problems we talk about year after year after year.  To end the division, the obscene influence of lobbyists and the politics that value scoring points over making progress.  We can‘t afford more of that.  Not this year.  Not now.


MATTHEWS:  Howard Fineman that seems like a call for change.

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  It sure does.  And from my travels around Iowa and New Hampshire and elsewhere, in recent days, it‘s clear to me that I think voters want to kind of hit the restart button on the computer, Chris.  They want to reboot.  Things are moving slowly.  They‘re not going in the direction they want and they really want change.  And that‘s Obama‘s message.  That‘s been his message from the beginning.

But they also want somebody, I think, who‘s hard to categorize.  They‘re tired of people who, and political leaders who put themselves in boxes.  In straightjackets, who operate on labels.  George Bush was the ultimate categorized candidate.  Obama‘s hard to categorize and that‘s what makes him appealing to Democrats, independents and Republicans.  As Andrea said, if he can get them out, get them signed up, if he can get them to become Democrats for that one night tomorrow night of the caucus, which is a trick, then I think he‘s going to win.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at Hillary Clinton in making her last case tonight.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The stories you‘ve shared will always stay with me.  Parents juggling jobs to pay for college for their kids.  Soldiers‘ families praying for a safe return.  All the men and women across this state who have whispered their health care problems to me.  Bills they can‘t pay.  Parents they can‘t afford to care for.  Insurance companies who refuse to help.  I know you‘ve waited a long time for a president who could hear you and see you.  And I would like to be that president.


MATTHEWS:  It‘s so different, Andrea.  Hillary Clinton‘s appealing to the various interests and interest groups of the Democratic Party.  Obama‘s appealing to this kind of idealistic overglow.

MITCHELL:  But it is a soft, out-of-focus appeal.  It is trying to be a much more appealing, much more accessible Hillary Clinton.  It is not a strident appeal at all.  It is exactly in contrast to the raw political appeal, the populist appeal of the third front-runner in this campaign and that‘s John Edwards.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at John Edwards and his appeal, Andrea and Howard.  Here‘s the third candidate.  They‘re all running so close.  Let‘s hear John Edwards.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I want a guy that‘s going to sit down and look a seven-year-old kid in the eye.  Tell him I‘m going to fight for your dad‘s job.  That‘s what I want.

I‘m going to do my best to make sure that my children aren‘t the first generation of Americans that I can‘t look them in the eye and say you‘re going to have a better life than I had.  And I think the person that‘s going to get that done is my friend and yours, Senator John Edwards.


MATTHEWS:  Ironically that wasn‘t John Edwards, it was the guy he put forward, John Bishop who is a local out in Iowa.  He has put him forward.  I have no idea, do you, Andrea, why he put someone else up to make his closing argument?

MITCHELL:  Because he thinks that this is the personification of a victim of corporate greed.  And that is his closing argument.  He is really ramping it up.  And he‘s talking everywhere he goes about what is at stake for middle-class and working-class people.  This is an absolute return to the kind of gut issues that have driven traditional Democratic politics, labor politics, in the big states and the rust belt, and he thinks that that is an economic appeal that will work this year.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I think Obama‘s going to win tomorrow.  Am I crazy, Andrea?

MITCHELL:  I think it‘s just so close, and so much depends on which of these people turn out and stand up that it‘s really hard to predict.  The other thing that these precinct captains have to do is demystify the process.  These new caucus-goers, they‘re saying to them, you don‘t have to give a speech.  Just come out and stand.  You don‘t have to .

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re right.  The intimidation factor.  That‘s important.  Howard, I think it‘s going to be Obama tomorrow.  Any reaction?

FINEMAN:  Geez, with the polls tied I really don‘t know Chris.  But let me say a couple things.  First of all, all the Democratic candidates basically agree on what the problems are.  It‘s a question of how, if you‘re a Democrat, if you want change, you go about achieving it.  Hillary‘s saying I‘ve got the experience.  And the polls show that the one area where she leads is in the notion that she would be the most effective president at least immediately.  That‘s her only pitch.  Otherwise, I think it‘s all about change, and it‘s between Edwards and Obama.

MATTHEWS:  As Roosevelt said don‘t throw a ten foot rope to a guy drowning 20 feet from shore.  Let‘s take a look at the Republicans starting with Mitt Romney.  Here‘s the latest from Romney.  It‘s an attack ad against Mike Huckabee.


MITT ROMNEY, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m Mitt Romney and I approve this message.

ANNOUNCER:  Two former governors, two good family men.  Both pro-life. 

Both support a constitutional amendment protecting traditional marriage.  The difference?  Mitt Romney stood up and vetoed in-state tuition for illegal aliens, opposed drivers‘ licenses for illegals.  Mike Huckabee supported in-state tuition benefits for illegal immigrants.  Huckabee even supported taxpayer funded scholarships for illegal aliens.  On immigration, the choice matters.


MATTHEWS:  Howard, is Huckabee ahead or behind here or what?  Why do you go on the attack if you‘re Mitt Romney unless you thought Huckabee was ahead?  What‘s going on?

FINEMAN:  Exactly.  I talked to the top people in both campaigns in the last couple of hours, Chris.  They both tried to sound confident.  I don‘t know, I can‘t possibly tell you except that Romney is at least right now, finishing in the right way.  He does with the attack ad, while at the same time personally staying positive.  Huckabee has had one mistake after another the last couple weeks.

And yet he is still tied in the polls.  That tells me that he‘s got the support if he can just run his campaign properly the last week or two.

OK.  Let me, Andrea, I think Romney‘s going to win tomorrow.  I think it‘s Obama and Romney tomorrow.  That would be my daily double pick.  Andrea, I know you can‘t pick, but since this is HARDBALL we‘ve got to show our stuff.  What do you think?

MITCHELL:  Well, I do think that Romney has an organization that Huckabee lacks.  And with all of these supporters that he has in the evangelical movement, it remains to be seen whether he could do what Pat Robertson frankly did and get them to turn out.  Whether that can replicate, can parallel the organization that Romney has spent millions and millions of dollars on.

FINEMAN:  Chris, here‘s the one other difference, Romney can reach into his own pocket to fund that terrific organization on caucus day and caucus night tomorrow.  He can stuff another million, two million dollars into the process just to get people to the polls tomorrow night.  That‘s why it‘s hard to bet against Romney in the end.  Especially considering that Huckabee has made one minor or major mistake day after day for the last week.

MATTHEWS:  So Mitt can give him so many dinners tomorrow night that they‘ll get all the food that Mike Huckabee hasn‘t been eating all these years.

FINEMAN:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you—let me ask you this about the John McCain, Andrea, you first.  John McCain looks like he might be in the position Gary Hart was in back in ‘84.  Get a high percentage of teen numbers, poll 18 tomorrow night and be the big hero tomorrow night?

MITCHELL:  He‘s come back here tonight, so McCain is back in state.  He could be a big surprise and that would change the dynamic of the race, giving him more of an impetus to New Hampshire.

MATTHEWS:  I say McCain gets 18 points tomorrow.  Andrea Mitchell, Howard Fineman, thank you very much.  Coming up the Democratic race in Iowa could not be any closer.  We‘re going to talk to the top advisers from the three top candidates.  Clinton, Obama and Edwards.  I made my pick, it‘s going to be Obama.  It‘s going to be Romney and McCain.  Watch him, he‘s up about 18 points.

We‘ll see more coming back on HARDBALL.



OBAMA:  Look at this crowd.  I know it‘s cold outside, but I‘m fired up.  I am ready to go!


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  On the eve of the Iowa caucuses

and I mean eve, the night before—the Democratic presidential candidates are campaigning feverishly throughout the state of Iowa, and the latest “Des Moines Register” poll shows Obama in the lead at 32 percent, Hillary in second place at 25 percent, and Edwards in third at 24 percent.

Joe Trippi is the senior adviser to the Edwards campaign.  Howard Wolfson—there‘s only one of him—is the communications director for the Clinton campaign.  And John Norris is an Obama campaign adviser, who I‘ve never, ever met.

OK, let‘s start with Joe Trippi.  Edwards is in third place.  Does that bother you?

JOE TRIPPI, EDWARDS CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER:  Not at all.  We really feel like we‘re carrying the case of saving the middle class.  It‘s an epic battle that we‘re making right now.  He‘s doing a 36-hour march for the middle class across the state, and we feel very good about where we‘re at right now.

MATTHEWS:  But the last time around, when they took the polls, it looked to me like the candidates that weren‘t in the top two atrophied.  They shrunk in numbers, whereas the top two candidates, the voters seemed to go to the winners.  If you‘re guy‘s running third going into the race, aren‘t you afraid that those votes will evaporate and go to Obama or Hillary?

TRIPPI:  Not at all.  Look, we run a campaign where—the two other

campaigns have big money.  They‘ve used it all in this state.  We went out,

and what we have on our side is middle class people realize that corporate

greed‘s taken over Washington and has too much influence there and that

John Edwards is the one that‘s going to fight.  And they‘re going to strike

we feel they‘re going to strike a blow for the middle class, a victory for the middle class tomorrow here in Iowa that says, We are going to change Washington, and we‘re going to do it with somebody who‘s going to fight for people.

MATTHEWS:  John Norris, tell me about the Obama number -- 32.  That‘s a pretty dramatic lead of 7 points among likely caucus attendants.  What happened to you?  Why did you pop up on this poll the last couple days?  You weren‘t up this high before.

JOHN NORRIS, OBAMA CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  Well, Obama‘s been talking from day one about change.  I think it‘s starting to solidify.  We‘re getting a lot of the people who were soft on their support for other candidates or undecided.  And it‘s coming to fruition here at the end.  And really, beyond the polls, we‘ve just seen tremendous crowds and intensity these last 10 days.  That was very indicative of what we saw with John Kerry four years ago.  And so, you know, I think you‘re seeing people really saying, We want to change America, and they‘re coming to Obama.

MATTHEWS:  Will people who show up at rallies show up at caucuses?

NORRIS:  Absolutely.  I mean, folks that are going to give up their New Year‘s Eve to come out and spend three hours at a rally in Ames are certainly going to show up on Thursday night to go to the caucuses.  There‘s no lack of an intensity out there.  I think we see it across the board in Democrats, and frankly, Obama‘s appeal to independents and Republicans, who all want to see this country change its politics.  That‘s an intensity that‘s felt, I think, throughout Iowa and throughout the nation.  That‘s the kind of intensity you need for people to show up on caucus night.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at that poll again.  It shows “The Des Moines Register” poll that just came out the other night.  Look at it.  It‘s got Obama at 32, Hillary at 25, John Edwards at 24.  Howard Wolfson, how do you read that poll?

HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  Well, you know, there‘s some other polls that have come out in the last couple of days that show the race essentially a dead heat.  A couple have us ahead.  Look, I think this is going to be very close.  We feel like we have momentum on our side.  We‘ve got the wind at our backs, and not just because of the cold weather here.  We‘ve got enthusiastic crowds, and people are really responding to Hillary everywhere she goes.

MATTHEWS:  Is Hillary the change candidate or is Obama the change candidate?  I can‘t tell.  I‘m being sarcastic.

WOLFSON:  Well, look, everybody is talking—no, look, everybody is talking about change.  So the question becomes, how do you make change and what kind of change are you going to make?  Hillary Clinton has got 35 years of experience making change.  And if you want to know what kind of change she‘s going to make, look at the change she‘s already made in her life.  So yes, we‘re talking about change and we‘re talking about the experience to make change.  Some would suggest that experience and change are in opposition.  I don‘t think so.  I think people realize that you need experience to make change.

MATTHEWS:  How will her administration...


MATTHEWS:  I want to ask about change.  This is very important, if it‘s change.  How‘s Hillary going to be different than Bill?  What‘s the change going to be?

WOLFSON:  Well, look, the first thing we‘re going to do is get us out of Iraq.  And...

MATTHEWS:  No, how‘s she going to be different than Bill?  How‘s she going to be different than Bill?

WOLFSON:  I heard your question.  I‘m going to give you an answer.  We have a different set of challenges in 2008 than we did in 1992.  The first one is Iraq.  The second one is, we‘ve got instead of 37 million Americans without health care, we‘ve got 47 million Americans without health care.


WOLFSON:  We have the largest budget deficit in our history.  We have different problems in America today.

TRIPPI:  Chris, look, the real—look, the change candidate in this race is not somebody who takes money from the lobbyists, more money than any other campaign in this race, more than any Republican, more defense money than any Republican.   I mean, Iowans and Americans know, whether they‘re independents, Republicans or Democrats, they know the system in Washington‘s broken.  They know it needs to be changed.  And they know who the status quo candidate in this race is, and they know that‘s Hillary Clinton.


MATTHEWS:  Is she part of the military industrial complex, Joe? 


MATTHEWS:  Joe, you‘re saying she takes military money. 


MATTHEWS:  Is she part of the military industrial complex? 

TRIPPI:  No, she takes—she takes more defense money than any Republican.  She takes more insurance money than any candidate in the race.  She takes more money from the pharmaceutical industry than any—any candidate in this case. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s your point?  Is she more—is she more pro-war because she takes defense money? 


MATTHEWS:  Joe, what‘s the point? 

TRIPPI:  No.  No, that‘s not my point.  My point is that you‘re not going to change Washington if you defend a system that‘s rigged and busted and broken. 


TRIPPI:  And there are no—there are—there‘s no American out there who doesn‘t understand what I‘m saying, doesn‘t understand that the...


TRIPPI:  ... Edwards campaign is speaking the truth about what needs to change... 


MATTHEWS:  Let me give Mr. Norris a chance. 


MATTHEWS:  Mr. Norris, your chance. 

WOLFSON:  Well, let me just...


MATTHEWS:  No, Mr. Norris hasn‘t had a chance. 

NORRIS:  Yes. 


NORRIS:  There‘s change happening across the board here.  There‘s change happening across the board here. 

But you have seen Senator—former Senator Edwards and Senator Clinton change who they are to try and appeal to Iowans.  But Barack Obama has been consistent all along.  It‘s about changing our politics and changing this country.  That‘s why we‘re getting a number of people coming all the way here at the end, because they understand who the change agent is about changing the politics of Washington and this country.  And that‘s why independents and Republicans are also coming...



Let me—John, you have raised a point there.  How has John Edwards cross-dressed?  How has he changed?  How has Hillary changed? 

NORRIS:  Well, John Edwards, four years ago, ran as the DLC candidate.  And then he started out this race as a liberal candidate.  Now he‘s the hot, angry candidate. 

We saw anger four years ago.  It just didn‘t work.  It‘s—if you want to change the politics in Washington, it‘s not about turning up the heat.  As Barack says, they need more light in Washington, not heat in Washington. 

TRIPPI:  Turning up the heat is...


NORRIS:  Senator Clinton has tried to come out as this candidate to—who is charge, and now she‘s trying to play the softer candidate. 

But it‘s not—it‘s who you are fundamentally, from the start...


NORRIS:  ... which is what Barack Obama has been.  He has been about fundamental change from the start. 

WOLFSON:  You know, Chris, you asked about polls.  And I think, you know, your viewers get this. 

One of the ways you can see where people think they are, which candidates are attacking other candidates and which candidates are focused on their own message? 


WOLFSON:  Joe Trippi is attacking Senator Clinton.  John Norris is attacking Senator Clinton. 

Senator Clinton is delivering her message to Iowans.  And we feel very good about it. 

TRIPPI:  We‘re not attacking Senator Clinton.  We‘re attacking the status quo.  And we want change. 

WOLFSON:  OK.  Yes.  It sounded like an attack to me, Joe.


MATTHEWS:  Let me—let me ask you, Howard, do you have a problem, a challenge?  Because Hillary Clinton has run on her experience as first lady and as a senator from New York.  And it‘s an extensive record, going back, of course, to when she was first lady in Little Rock. 

It‘s a long period of public service, going back a long time, going back to the ‘70s, practically. 

Can you say that that‘s a change agent? 

WOLFSON:  Oh, yes. 

I mean, look, she has made change in every step of her life.  Let‘s look at what she did right out of law school.  She helped work on legislation that protected abused kids from getting abused.  She worked on legislation that ensured that kids with handicaps and disabilities went—get to go to school. 

I mean, this is what she was doing in her 20s.  And then, when she was the first lady of Arkansas, she worked on reforming education in Arkansas.  She goes to the White House, she works on getting health care passed for six million kids. 


WOLFSON:  She goes to the Senate, she works on ensuring that our Guards and Reservists have health care.  That‘s change at every step of her life. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s wild.

TRIPPI:  Things have really changed a lot.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I have to tell you, I think this is fascinating.

TRIPPI:  Really changed a lot.

MATTHEWS:  Hillary Clinton, in that ad, I have to tell you—I was a little sarcastic there.

WOLFSON:  I didn‘t say she had solved all the world‘s problems.  I said she had made positive change.

MATTHEWS:  Howard, that ad was very indicative of the Hillary you meet in person.  Why is that so hard to translate in this campaign?  It has been hard for you guys. 

WOLFSON:  Well, I—I think one of the great things about—about this process in Iowa is that these caucus-goers get to come out.  They get to kick the tires.


WOLFSON:  They get to—to look under the hood.  They get to see who these candidates are.  They‘re coming out across Iowa time and time again. 

And I think Hillary is making her case, and people are getting it.  I mean, people are responding to her.  They are getting to know her here.  And that‘s been helpful to us.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, that kick-the-tires thing is an Obama line, by the way.  You stole that. 

WOLFSON:  I don‘t—I‘m not sure that—I‘m not sure that‘s really original to Senator Obama, Chris. 


MATTHEWS:  You stole that directly from Senator Obama.  You stole it directly.


MATTHEWS:  That is his software. 

WOLFSON:  Really?  Kick the tires was made by Senator Obama? 

MATTHEWS:  He made up the phrase. 

WOLFSON:  Really, Chris, you never heard that before? 

MATTHEWS:  In my life...

WOLFSON:  Oh, come on. 

MATTHEWS:  ... but not in this campaign until him. 

Hey, guys, get a new scriptwriter.  You got Obama already.


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you Joe Trippi.

WOLFSON:  OK.  All right. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Howard Wolfson.

It‘s going to be so close.

John Norris, nice to meet you, in the new crowd here.

Up next, which presidential candidate doesn‘t read the newspaper? 

Wait until you catch this character.  He‘s coming up next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You need to be listening to people, just like we are today in a town like this, because this is the way you—you stay in touch with the pulse of what is actually happening in America.



MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Anybody read the paper around here?  Remember how the president was out to lunch during Katrina, had to have some staffer design a DVD to show him all the horror he had missed in New Orleans while he home on the ranch in Crawford?

Well, a fellow named Mike Huckabee is trying to outdo our president.  He‘s putting out word that, yes, he didn‘t know about the national intelligence estimate that Iran wasn‘t building nuclear weapons, but, no, he isn‘t as bad as Bush.  That‘s what he says.  “I‘m not as bad as Bush.” 

When pressed Monday about that Iran NIE report he didn‘t know about, anything about, Huckabee replied—quote—and this is a direct quote from the guy running for president—“That was released at 10:00 in the morning.  At 5:30 in the afternoon, somebody says, have you read the report?  Maybe I should have said, ‘Have you read the report?‘  President Bush didn‘t read it for four years.  I don‘t know why I should read it in four hours.”

Well, is that supposed to cause a chuckle, claiming you‘re less curious about the news than the incumbent president, a fellow who‘s notoriously not curious? 

Anyway, fact check:  That NIE report was out there for 30 hours before Huckabee was asked about it.  You have got to wonder about a guy running for president who doesn‘t pay attention to what‘s happening with the country he and every other candidate, except for Joe Biden, is calling America‘s number-one worry.  That‘s Iran. 

Biden, by the way, who does pay attention to the newspaper, to the world, was probably right when he said our biggest worry in the world is Pakistan. 

Barack Obama is getting a nice little boost from one of the low-polling guys in the Democratic field, Dennis Kucinich.  Kucinich is urging his supporters to pick Obama as their number-two choice tomorrow night in Iowa, in case Kucinich doesn‘t meet the cutoff point for his votes to count tomorrow night. In a race this close, by the way, anything can matter. 

One vote Obama isn‘t getting is Susan Klopfer.  She was the volunteer

made famous when she switched from Clinton to Obama earlier in the

campaign.  The Obama campaign, you will recall, was quick to make a YouTube

video bragging about that switch.  We‘re watching her change lawn signs now

watching her change lawn signs right now.

Well, now Klopfer has switched again.  She now says she‘s really looking at Edwards and Richardson as her preferred candidates. 

With all the different lawn signs she‘s plunged into her front lawn, it must look like a gopher lives there. 

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

For years, George Bush and Dick Cheney have been playing the fear card, constantly reminding all of us of dangers lurking right around the corner.  Well, some of our presidential candidates do the same exact thing, bragging about torture, freaking us out about Islamofascism. 

Well, for all you politicians who would appeal to our darker side, I offer you tonight‘s “Big Number”: 92.  That‘s the percentage of Americans the Gallup poll tonight says are personally happy.  A majority of Americans even describe themselves as very happy.  Ninety-two percent.  Ronald Reagan knew it.  Bill Clinton knew it.  George Bush used to know it. 

Ninety-two, tonight‘s “Big Number,” the percentage of Americans who call themselves happy. 

Up next, it‘s getting rough on the Republican side, and Romney and Huckabee have a lot on the line in Iowa.  Up next, it‘s Romney‘s campaign vs. the Huckabee campaign, the two top fighters out there.  One of them‘s got to win and one of them‘s got to lose. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


MATT NESTO, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Matt Nesto with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Not a good way to start the year on Wall Street, stocks plunging on surprisingly weak manufacturing data and as oil briefly touched $100 a barrel, the Dow industrials tumbling 220 points, the S&P 500 down 21, the Nasdaq off 42, the worst first-day start in 25 years. 

Oil hit $100 a barrel for the first time ever, before closing in New York at $99.62, up $3.64 on the day.  And that fueled inflation fears.  Meantime, the key index showing manufacturing unexpectedly contracted in December, after 10 straight months of expansion.  The index fell to its lowest point in nearly five years, raising fears that the economy may be weakening faster than expected. 

Speaking of that, the minutes of the Federal Reserve‘s December meeting show that policy-makers worry the credit crunch could sharply break economic growth and require big interest rate cuts. 

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



MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I want to ask you to give me the next 30 hours of hard work and activity, ending tomorrow night at that caucus vote.  Nothing I would like better than to one day come back in this state as president of the United States. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, that guy has a lot riding on the Iowa caucuses, Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas. 

The latest “Des Moines Register” poll has Mike Huckabee with a six-point lead over Mitt Romney.  And what will the numbers look like tomorrow night?

Well, Tim Hutchinson is with the Huckabee campaign.  He‘s a former senator from Arkansas.  Jim Talent is a Romney spokesman here tonight.  He‘s a former Missouri senator. 

Senators, thank you very much. 

Let‘s take a look right now at what Mike Huckabee said at a presser about an ad he‘s not going to run. 


HUCKABEE:  We are now committed, from now through the rest of the caucuses, that we will run only the ads that talk about why I should be president, and not why Mitt Romney should not. 

I know that some of you are saying that, well, did you really have an ad?  I want to show you the ad.  You will get a chance to find out exactly what we‘re doing. 


HUCKABEE:  No, I want you to see it.  This is what we planned to do. 

And I think, once you see it, you will realize, this is why we‘re not going to run it, and it‘s why it‘s being pulled. 


MATTHEWS:  What do we make of that, Senator Hutchinson, a man who calls a press conference to announce a TV ad that he says he‘s not going to run, then shows the ad, puts it on YouTube, so it can be distributed on the web, even though he doesn‘t want that message out?  What do we make of that, Senator? 

TIM HUTCHINSON, HUCKABEE CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER:  Well, I was never prouder of Mike Huckabee than when he made the decision that he wasn‘t going to counter Romney‘s attack ads with his own attack ads. 

The—the decision was made that morning when he went out for a run, and he had time to clear his head and a time of prayer.  And he came back in and decided that, whether—if that was the price to win the Iowa caucus, he wasn‘t going to do it.  I was very proud of that and very pleased that he made that decision.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why did he show it to the press?  Why did he release

but why did he—if he wanted to kill the ad, why didn‘t he kill it in his bed?  Why did he release it to the press, put it on YouTube, so everybody in the world can see it? 

HUTCHINSON:  He didn‘t—he didn‘t put it on YouTube, and he didn‘t release it.  And he didn‘t leave out any of the negative materials that had been assembled—or the—the truth.... 

MATTHEWS:  But he showed it to the press. 


HUTCHINSON:  ... information.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why did he show it? 

HUTCHINSON:  He did.  And had he not—because the press is a very cynical bunch.  And had he not shown it, they would have said there never was such an ad.  And that‘s why he did it. 


Let me go to Senator Talent. 


MATTHEWS:  Your view of this—this odd sort of—I don‘t know what kind of play you would call it.  It‘s something from football, and I will think of it in a middle—but—in a minute. 

TALENT:  Well...


MATTHEWS:  What is it?  What do you call this, when you call an ad...



MATTHEWS:  ... call a press conference to show an ad.  You show the ad, but you say you‘re not going to run it? 

TALENT:  Well, Chris, I agree with Tim that you all are a pretty cynical bunch.  But, other than that, I really don‘t agree with what he‘s saying. 

Yes, I think that was—well, let‘s just be charitable and say that was a confused effort. 

But, look, the broader issue is...


HUTCHINSON:  Well, thanks—thanks for the charity. 

TALENT:  ... which of the two candidates can unite the—the Republican coalition, go out and articulate our values to the center, win this election, and then transform Washington, from a conservative point of view? 

Now, what we have been pointing out, it is not an attack. 

HUTCHINSON:  It certainly is.

TALENT:  We have been pointing out...


HUTCHINSON:  What do you mean it‘s not an attack? 

TALENT:  Let me finish.  And then you—then you can be charitable with me. 


TALENT:  We have been pointing out Mike Huckabee‘s record in Arkansas, the official record.  It‘s what the Arkansas papers say.  It‘s what Cato says.  It‘s what the Club of Growth says, that Mike Huckabee raised taxes half-a-billion dollars, pardoned 12 murderers, one of whom came to Missouri and killed somebody. 

These are big issues.  And, if we don‘t raise them now, the Democrats are going to raise them in the fall.


MATTHEWS:  Senator Talent, why is Mike Huckabee challenging you when you‘re outspending him 20-1?  You‘re outspending him to 20-1 in Iowa, and, yet, you guys are neck and neck? 

TALENT:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  How can that be, unless he‘s more attractive as a candidate than Romney to the voters? 

TALENT:  We have said all along that this race is going to be very competitive, Chris.  Before Mike Huckabee...

MATTHEWS:  With Huckabee? 

TALENT:  ... it was Rudy Giuliani.

MATTHEWS:  Huckabee wasn‘t even on the...

TALENT:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... wasn‘t even on the radar a few weeks ago.  How can you say it was going to be competitive with Huckabee? 

TALENT:  Look, there‘s—there‘s aspects to Mike Huckabee‘s candidacy that—we agree.  He‘s strong on family values. 

But—but the Republican Party is about more than just that.  And, when you get to taxes, when you get to immigration, when you get to crime, as Rush Limbaugh was saying today, outside of the family issues, Mike Huckabee is more liberal than not.  And a person like that can‘t unite the Republican Party and can‘t win the election. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look...

HUTCHINSON:  Chris, if I might respond...

MATTHEWS:  You guys are hitting this guy with everything. 

Let me give Mr. Hutchinson a chance.

But let‘s hear what you‘re—I think you are hitting him on everything. 

Here‘s Governor Romney attacking Mike Huckabee for going on “The Tonight Show.” 

Let‘s watch. 


MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  My focus is—is on getting folks out to—to vote in the caucuses and connecting my—my message with the people of Iowa.  And I think that‘s the right course for my campaign. 

I‘m not going to run his campaign.  But I guess he‘s more focused on the caucus in L.A. than the caucus in Iowa. 


MATTHEWS:  What is wrong with doing—Jay Leno is a very nice guy. 

Why would you make fun, Senator Talent, of a guy doing the Jay Leno show? 

TALENT:  He is—he wasn‘t making fun of Huckabee.  He was having fun with the campaign.  Look we‘re in the last 48 hours here.  I think it‘s—he‘s on the campaign trail.  He‘s talking about his values, what he wants to do in Washington.  He was asked about this; he said we‘re going to run our campaign our way.  I think he was just having fun. 

HUTCHINSON:  Come on, Jim, it‘s been a non stop attack campaign for six weeks.  CNN has an analysis of the Romney attack ads right now, not only against Huckabee, but against John McCain and says it‘s a total misrepresentation.  I invite you to look at it.  Not me saying it, CNN does that analysis. 

I‘m not going to go through attack after attack and rebut them.  But it‘s a misrepresentation.  And the real consistent conservative, Jim, is Mike Huckabee, who doesn‘t change his position on important issues, depending upon what offices—

TALENT:  Liberal from start to finish.  He hasn‘t changed. 

HUTCHINSON:  Consistent conservatism. 

TALENT:  If he gets the nomination we‘re going to have a Democrat running to the right of us on crime, the right of us on taxes and at least even with us on immigration. 

HUTCHINSON:  Not right, not true. 


HUTCHINSON:  Mike Huckabee has been consistently pro-life regardless of the office he was running for. 

TALENT:  That‘s why I love HARDBALL.

HUTCHINSON:  This is why I love Jim Talent. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator, do you believe that your candidate, Mitt Romney, has been consistent on the major issues over his career, has been consistent on the major issues? 

TALENT:  He has been remarkably—

MATTHEWS:  On the major issues he‘s been consistent, you would argue that? 

TALENT:  Yes, he has a remarkably consistent record in Massachusetts.  The one issue, he said, is he ran as pro-choice when he ran as governor of Massachusetts, and then he changed it.  He governed from a pro-life perspective.  That‘s why he got an award—

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of his claim back—


MATTHEWS:  I‘m familiar with Massachusetts politics.  He claimed he was more pro-gay than Ted Kennedy.  He wouldn‘t be saying that in Iowa because it‘s not a popular position.  Hasn‘t he changed on a number of issues? 

TALENT:  He‘s always had the same position with regards to the gay agenda.  He wants people to know he values gay people as people.  OK?  But he doesn‘t want the militant gays to be able to change the cultural institutions of the country.  He ran strongly in favor of traditional marriages in 2002 when he ran for governor. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think he has changed his tune?  He says, I‘m more pro-gay rights than Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts to get elected and then he goes out to Iowa and he‘s a gun hunter and he‘s pro-life.  He‘s changed on everything, hasn‘t he? 

TALENT:  Chris, at the same—No, at the same time as he was saying it, he was also strongly for traditional marriage, strongly opposed to same-sex marriage.  He‘s had the same position.  He changed on abortion.  He said that. 

MATTHEWS:  Was he running around with a rifle in his hand when he was running in Massachusetts?  Was he running around with a rifle in his hand in Massachusetts or only when he ran out west? 

TALENT:  He‘s had the same position on Second Amendment issues all along.  He‘s strongly for the right to bear arms.  He said, if the firearm has unusual lethality or power, he would consider some restrictions. 

MATTHEWS:  The problem is, senator, he‘s gone from pro-gay to pro-gun depending on his geography.  Anyway, thank you Tim Hutchinson.  Thank you Jim Talent. 

Up next, the politics fix, on the eve of the Iowa caucuses.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


ROMNEY:  You know that my job is to make sure we get the kind of turnout we need to win the caucus coming up in just about—what, 31 hours?  But who is counting? 




GIULIANI:  Kind of making sure that the lesson we learned in the Cold War isn‘t unlearned.  We won the Cold War for a lot of reasons under Ronald Reagan‘s leadership, but we won it in part because we outspent the Soviet Union.  It became impossible for the Soviets to keep up with our military spending, and the complexity of our military.


MATTHEWS:  That‘s Mayor Giuliani campaigning right up in New Hampshire right now, tonight.  We‘re now back with the politics fix.  Joe Scarborough is host of “MORNING JOE” on MSNBC.  Linda Douglass with the “National Journal,” of course.  And MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent, sitting with me here in New York, at 30 Rock.  Isn‘t this a great place to be working out of? 

Let‘s take a look at the latest polling, because we all live by polls, no matter what anybody says.  By the way, politicians believe in polls.  Local affiliates on this network believe in them.  That‘s why they hire them.  We all hire pollsters.  Take a look at this number; Obama popping up in the last couple days to 32, Hillary at 25, Edwards at 24.  Now the hard part about picking these things is you don‘t know who‘s actually going to show up.  But this is based upon the screening technique used in the past by the “Des Moines Register,” which has worked in the past. 

Let me go to Joe Scarborough.  Joe, this has proven to be a good poll in recent history.  What do you make of it this time? 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Maybe it is.  A lot of skepticism, though, in all of the camps, except maybe the Obama camp, that 60 percent of the caucus-goers are going to be first time caucus-goers.  I think when that poll first came out there were a lot of people around here who were shocked that John Edwards was a distant third.  If the numbers hold, if you have that type of turnout for new caucus goers and Barack Obama is the winner, then American politics is revolutionized. 

That will mean he has just a hell of a lot of crossover voters, and Republicans and independents voting for him.  And it will be very good news for the Democratic party. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s exciting news for me.  I‘d love to see a lot more people participate in these things.  The idea that the only people that go to these meetings are the usual go to meeting Democrats is pretty scary.  That‘s club house politics at its worst.  Norah, to me as an American, I love turnout.  I love the fact that regular people, independents, Republicans, show up at a caucus and participate.  Isn‘t that what we were trying to teach at gunpoint around the world?  Be Democrats? 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  And Senator Obama addressed what has been this concern about the poll and he said, let‘s prove the pundits wrong.  Let‘s make sure you first time caucus-goers get out there and vote, because there‘s been this concern raised about that 60 percent would be the first-time caucus-goers, according to this poll. 

I‘m actually doing the entrance polling tomorrow night.  So I look back to the 2004 results.  Guess how many were first-time Iowa caucus-goers in the 2004; 55 percent. 

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s been done before? 

O‘DONNELL:  So it may not be that that number is so outrageous or so hard to believe that we all thought about, when we look back at what was happening in 2004. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Linda Douglass.  I want to say to the young people out there; you know, when you turn 21 and you go to the bar for the first time legally?  Think about it that way.  You‘re not going to miss that night, are you?  Linda? 

LINDA DOUGLASS, “NATIONAL JOURNAL”:  That‘s absolutely right.  But even the more interesting number in this whole thing is the 40 percent who are calling themselves independents.  Remember, the Iowa caucuses is an intensely, intensely partisan process.  And if 40 percent of the people who participate in the Democratic caucus are independents, that‘s just amazing.  And the other thing—

MATTHEWS:  What is an independent?  I‘m an independent.  I bounce back and forth generally.  I have a pattern, but I bounce it around.  Is an independent somebody who mostly votes Democrat, but not always or what?  What is an independent? 

DOUGLASS:  Well, that certainly has been the case in Iowa.  The vaunted independents in Iowa really are Democratic leaning, Republican leaning.  They‘re going to vote party.  They just don‘t want to register by party.  They don‘t want to be pinned down.

But the thing you‘re saying, Chris, about these caucuses that is also really important to remember is look how many people are going to be completely excluded, people who have to work at night, as you saw in that “New York Times” report this morning, the people who simply can‘t get there, can‘t get a baby-sitter.  It‘s a very mysterious process and one that deserves some scrutiny I think. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Norah.  You‘ve done your homework on this. 

The fact is that there is a pattern of first-timers deciding these things. 

O‘DONNELL:  In 2004, there were a lot of new caucus-goers then.  And there may be some indication that they‘ve been able to turn out some new voters.  It‘s an interesting point about whether people—this is a good sample of people who can go to this.  What about mothers or single mothers or people who work long hours?  Do they really want to spend two hours on a caucus. 

Senator Clinton‘s—one of her advisers told me today they‘re offering free baby sitting.  So there‘s all these new techniques being used that we‘re going to look at, whether it really encourages people, sandwich parties, free food, all kinds of things.  But the crowd sizes—I mean, Joe‘s there.  But the crowd sizes at these events have been amazing, according to everything I‘ve heard. 

MATTHEWS:  Joe, you once warned me that any political figure who builds his career or her career on young people showing up for an election will die.  Are you still of that reverse Logan‘s Run attitude?  Anybody below 30 is worthless as a voter? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, I told you back in 2004, as you remember, that every single politician that‘s counted on young voters to elect them have been left standing at the altar.  I also made another point, though, and that was if history was going to be changed, it surely wasn‘t going to be changed by a guy like John Kerry.  I couldn‘t see him energizing voters. 

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t you just—

SCARBOROUGH:  Four years later, Barack Obama—

MATTHEWS:  Put this fork into Kerry.  I know you want to put it all the way in.  Why would he not inspire young voters? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, come on.  Do I have to even explain why Barack Obama would be more exciting to young voters than John Kerry, or other inside Washington type candidates?  Here‘s my point, Chris—and I know you‘ve been making it, too—young voters need to get out and make a difference.  If you can‘t get out as a young voter and get excited about a guy like Barack Obama, if you‘re a Democrat, then what are you waiting for? 

He is a transitional figure.  He can change American politics.  And I find it hard to believe that people could yawn and stay at home, and not at least be excited by the prospect of his candidacy. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re right.  He‘s nitroglycerin.  He would shake up the system.  We‘ll see if that happens.  We‘ll be right back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 




Tomorrow night, the future of the free world is riding on your shoulders. 

Don‘t feel any pressure. 


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table for the politics fix.  Let‘s take a look at the latest “Des Moines Register” poll for Republicans that will participate in that poll tomorrow night.  It‘s pretty dramatic for Huckabee.  It shows a dramatic lead for Mike Huckabee, who‘s come from nowhere, spending one dollar for every 20 dollars spent by Mitt Romney, the man who was front-runner for so many months.  What‘s going on out there, Norah? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, Huckabee has a six-point lead.  He has a lot of the fervor, I mean candidates who really believe in him.  But Mitt Romney has spent almost two years building an organization there, millions of dollars.  They‘re still confident that he‘ll be able to turn out the vote and win.  Although, Romney hedged a little bit when asked today.  He said, I‘ll do well, but I‘m confident I‘ll eventually be the nominee.  So there was a little bit of hedging. 

What he really did was he went off Huckabee for going on Leno tonight.  And then he went off McCain, because McCain‘s got these new ads running today, which essentially say that Mitt Romney doesn‘t have enough foreign policy experience.  And Romney just said, oh, I‘m not going to lose sleep over that. 

MATTHEWS:  Linda, I have a sense that the big fear on the Romney side and the other side, Huckabee, is that John McCain may escape from Iowa with a strong third place, meaning 15 points or so.  He will then slingshot himself into New Hampshire, where he‘ll probably win at that point.  These are interesting things the way the press counts these things.  I remember Gary Hart getting 17 points back in ‘84, compared to Walter Mondale‘s 49, and being declared the victor coming out of Iowa. 

DOUGLASS:  It‘s always that way.  It‘s always about expectations.  I think you‘re totally right about McCain.  The big story could be if McCain comes in a respectable third not having campaigned at all in Iowa, not having run a single ad, that will slingshot him potentially into New Hampshire, where he has spent money and time and they like him there.  And he‘s tied for first in the poll in New Hampshire. 

The other thing about McCain and Romney is that Romney seems to be trying to get under McCain‘s skin.  McCain has that famous short fuse.  You can make him mad.  Doesn‘t seem like he loves Romney.  So there‘s going to be a real fight there. 

MATTHEWS:  Thanks, Linda.  Thank you, Joe, who just left us.  Thank you, Norah.  Before we go, long time Congressman Tom Lantos of California, a friend of mine, announced today that he has cancer and will not be seeking reelection.  What a great man he is.  Lantos is the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the U.S. Congress.  In his own words, “it is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and a fighter in the anti-Nazi underground could have received an education, raised a family and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a member of Congress.  I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country.” 

And what a great man. 

“COUNTDOWN” starts right now.



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