Guests: Charles Rangel
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: So, we‘re out here in Las Vegas. Who is going to roll sevens in ‘08?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews. Tonight from Las Vegas, at 9:00 tonight, the Democratic presidential candidates will debate, with NBC‘s Brian Williams moderating along with Tim Russert. This promises to be the hottest debate of the political season because only a few candidates will be up there on the stage. MSNBC is carrying it live. You don‘t want to miss this one. After the debate tonight, “COUNTDOWN‘S” Keith Olbermann will be joining me from New York, the co-anchor of our post debate coverage.
In a moment, we‘ll talk to U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel, big Clinton supporter. Plus tonight is a political double-decker, double-header, double feature. As voters in Michigan go to the polls today, this primary is critical to Republicans. We‘ll report the results as soon as they are in. We‘ll have some early look for all of you at the exit polls we‘ve been conducting in those polling places in Michigan. More on the race in Michigan when our politics roundtable gets together.
So we won‘t be leaving Vegas until all the political news is out. NBC has the 2008 presidential race covered, with our correspondents all over the country tonight covering the campaigns. In a moment, we‘ll talk to all of them for you.
Well, this promised to be a wild election year long before these primaries and caucuses. The reason is that most people in the country think this country is in a rut. We can‘t seems to get the car out of it. Very few of us, for example, want to be stuck with a full force of U.S. troops still in Iraq five years from now, at the end of the next presidential term, stuck with no health insurance for working people five years from now; no solution to the illegal immigration situation five years from now; and energy, dollar, and climate change situation even worse five years from now. So most people agree we need to find politicians who can cut the tough deals and cut through it to get us out of this rut we‘re in.
It‘s change people want. And never has there been a more diverse candidates offering to deliver it. A country ruled since 1778 by white, primarily Protestant, men in their 40s and 50s is now to choose, from others, a former first lady, now a Senator; the son of a Kenyan father who spent part of his youth in Indonesia; a former fighter pilot, now in his 70s, who has spent five years in a North Vietnamese prison camp; a pair of former governors unknown to voters until now. I can‘t recall a time so unpredictable, so new to so many and so touchy, where so many words are being taken as anti—then shouted back as if they were a larger, nastier assault against women, against blacks, against the dream of a country. We‘re all getting an even shot at what we all grew up to see as almost mythically as the highest of American ambitions.
So here we are again, trying to talk up the importance and excitement at a critical debate and an election night, this time being damn careful not to put the cart before the horse. We all saw what happened last week. I certainly saw it. All the polls forecast one result; the voters gave us something different.
So we begin tonight with a newsmaker himself, Congressman Charles Rangel of New York - welcome, Congressman.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL, D-NEW YORK: Hi, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s take a look at what - well, let‘s not take a look at what you said yesterday. Let‘s start with you tonight, sir.
RANGEL: That‘s good.
MATTHEWS: What does Hillary Clinton, the candidate—you were the branch Ricky (ph) of Hillary Clinton back in 1998. You saw this bit of political horse flesh, and you said, “This woman can be Senator from New York.” You brought her in, you told her the ways of New York. How does she win tonight in this big debate with Barack Obama and John Edwards?
RANGEL: Well, she‘s an exciting lady, and she certainly has proven herself in the Senate. And I can tell you something that Barack is one guy that makes us proud to be an American, much less and more importantly, an African American. I think that this is an exciting time, as you well stated, in our country—not only for the country, but for our party as well to have these dynamic candidates out there. It‘s historic, and I‘m certain that America will win as a result of it.
MATTHEWS: Do you feel a change in the air? I mean, I‘m trying to think, Mr. Rangel—you and I have known each other a long time—I‘m thinking back to ‘80, where it went the other way, the Republicans. I‘m thinking of ‘60 where it went to the Democrats. I‘m thinking of ‘52 where it went to the Republicans; ‘32, neither one of us remember that. One of those years where everybody wants something really different—you feel that now?
RANGEL: I really do. As you said, with the backdrop of a war that no one really understands, the loss of Americans and so much human life, it‘s one of the periods in American history that we‘re not proud of. See what‘s happening to the economy. I truly believe that more Americans now are going to participate. And the diversity of the candidates on the Republican side, the dynamic candidates we have on the Democratic side, I think Americans will have an opportunity not to stay at home, but to come out and express themselves. It‘s going to be an exciting election.
MATTHEWS: I know you‘re for Mrs. Clinton, for Senator Clinton, and you have been since the beginning of her sort of independent political career, back in 2000. But let me ask you about this question: Do you think the country has changed enough in your lifetime to be open hearted and open minded about the idea of an African American as our leader?
RANGEL: I don‘t want to give anything negative in what appears to be such a positive atmosphere, and which this campaign is going. History is not on our side for Americans to say that that they support blacks until they get inside the voting booth. We‘ve had some terrible political setbacks where we thought America was ready for African American mayors and senators. And I just hope, after all, Senator Obama is a different type of person. And in his race more than any other that I can remember, notwithstanding his color, color has not been an issue in the campaign. And so things have changed. And I only hope that America has changed with it. I think, if we look at Iowa—if I had to put money down, I would have lost tremendously. But I think that was one of the most exciting things that I‘ve seen in recent political history.
MATTHEWS: Do you think there‘s still a question about how people are going to vote—white people, if you will, are going to vote—are they going to vote the way they say they are going to vote? Do you still have a question mark on that? I do because we haven‘t seen a poll analysis of what people are doing.
RANGEL: I just don‘t want to prejudge. After all, it‘s been hard for me to get excited about Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina. I take a look at the whole country, and I just don‘t believe that the whole country has proven itself in the past for us to have any preconceived ideas, as things have changed overnight. But you know, things do happen. And if it has to happen in terms of bringing out people, Obama has proved that he can. I think in a final analysis, whether you‘re white or black, you want to do what‘s best for the country, what makes you feel more secure in a time of war; what makes you feel more secure in terms of where the economy is going; and have some compassion for the people that have suffered for so long with this present administration. So I do believe, whether you‘re white or black, that you‘re going to come out and respond to those things. That‘s why I think this election, historically, is going to be so much different than anything I‘ve seen in recent history.
MATTHEWS: What‘s your biggest hope as a Democrat for the next president, if he or she is a Democrat, to get done in the next year? Next year now—we‘re in ‘08 now, so it‘s next year.
RANGEL: Well, I tell you this, I think the whole world would be asked to take a deep breath that America is coming back, that we‘re going to deal with sensitivity with people that we agree or disagree with. And the most important thing is to go to our allies in the Middle East and to say we‘ve got to get the hell out of there. We have to make certain that we secure the area; we plant every seed we can in order to have democracy; but to have some respect, some mutual respect, for people that we disagree with. I think this would restore some faith in the world, and certainly Americans have had in this government. And then we have to move swiftly to see what we can do with the economy and deal with those major problems of health and education. I think restoration of hope is subjective, but it‘s so American, because as poor as I‘ve been, as poor as you‘ve been, no one has ever snatched the hope away or the dream away that we could become somebody. That is one of the things that I feel that we have to restore. And so no matter who the president is, I want her to make certain that she restores the confidence in our great country.
MATTHEWS: You are so funny.
U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel. I‘m going to give you the title that Rostenkowski always had: chairman of the all powerful Ways and Means Committee. Thank you, Mr. Rangel.
RANGEL: Awesome and all powerful. Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: They love those adjectives.
Let‘s get the latest from the campaign. Starting, we‘re going around with all of our top correspondents. For the Democrats, we have correspondents covering all three of the top Democrats. We‘re going to be debating in Las Vegas here tonight. Andrea Mitchell is covering the Clinton campaign; Lee Cowan is covering Barack Obama. Both with me right now.
Hillary tonight, what does she have to do?
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: She has to really distinguish her record on the war from what Barack Obama claims. She has to lay out her points; she has to go after him on the record; but she has to do it in such a nice way that she‘s not perceived as, again, being - quote—racially motivated.
So, it‘s a very tough balancing act.
MATTHEWS: Lee Cowan, Barack Obama—look at the national numbers in “USA Today.” He‘s behind.
LEE COWAN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: He is behind. And I think what he wants to do tonight is show that, not only is he elect-able, but he wants to go after Hillary Clinton on some of these aspects—on the war, on his record on choice, things like that, can‘t wait.
MATTHEWS: Does he still want to drive that wedge between an absolute anti-war guy—which he still styles himself—and Hillary Clinton, who is much more nuanced about this. We have got to stick around in Iraq long enough to look out for people who look out for us, those careful concerns she has. And he‘s more of the guy proposing radical change.
COWAN: Yes, and I think he wants to stay with that. I don‘t think there is any sense that he‘s getting away from that.
MATTHEWS: How does she get around the part that is basically anti-war if she has got this nuanced position?
MITCHELL: It‘s really an impossible brief because she says she‘s for change, but she really isn‘t. She‘s for a different kind of change; she‘s for a gradual withdrawal, a responsible withdraw...
MATTHEWS: Not a complete withdrawal either.
MITCHELL: ... not a complete withdraw. I mean, she‘s had the experience of having worked on the Arms Services Committee. She really knows this stuff; she‘s respected by the military. And so it‘s very hard for her to go up against someone who is more absolutist, the way Barack Obama is.
MATTHEWS: I wonder if Barack Obama would be as strong a challenger to her had he not taken that more dramatic position.
COWAN: Probably not. Probably not. I mean...
MATTHEWS: Isn‘t that what caused his allegiance to be formed in the beginning?
COWAN: I think it‘s one of...
MATTHEWS: Anti-war—he‘s the anti-war guy.
COWAN: He is. It‘s what gave him his candidacy in a lot of ways, his argument, I think.
MATTHEWS: He‘s sort of the Howard Dean without racing stripes. I‘m trying to...
MITCHELL: Without the scream.
COWAN: Without the scream.
MATTHEWS: The soft-spoken Gary Cooper, rather than the Howard Dean.
MATTHEWS: Thank you both.
Let me see if we can go to Kevin Corke right now; he‘s with the John Edwards campaign.
Kevin, can you come in there - Kevin? I think he‘s right near me, but he‘s also on a different camera.
Kevin, how does John Edwards get into this strum (ph) tonight, this two-way fight?
KEVIN CORKE, MNSNBC CORRESPONDENT: He has got to do two things tonight. One, he has to draw distinctions between his policies, say on nuclear power, and the economy, compared to his main competitors. He also has to continue to perform well. He‘s done well in these debates. He has got to keep that going. The most important thing he has to do tonight, is John Edwards has to play the elect-ability card. He is the only major competitor right now who can say, Look, I‘ve won in a red state. If you want to win in November, if you want to finally take the White House back, you need a guy who can compete in the South and win. He is going to have to try and do all of those things to try and not only perform well tonight, but also do well this weekend at the caucuses, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Yes, his guy told me late today that he wins in these national match-ups, whereby in the same match-ups Hillary and Obama don‘t win against the Republicans.
CORKE: That‘s right. Especially if you‘re looking at a potential John McCain circumstance. If it‘s McCain v. Clinton, McCain wins. If it‘s a McCain v. Obama, McCain wins. If it‘s McCain v. Edwards, it gets a little tighter, especially down South. They have got to have this. The Democrats do look - we‘ve already talked about it. Last couple of Democratic presidents that won - Clinton, Carter—both from the South, Chris.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much. I know, it seems to be the southern accent that win the Democratic nomination and win the presidency. Anyway, Andrea Mitchell, thank you. Thank you, Lee Cowan; thank you, Kevin Corke.
Now to the Republicans big fight tonight in Michigan, NBC‘s Ron Allen with the Romney campaign. He is in Southfield, Michigan, right now.
Well, Ron, Mitt—must-win Mitt Romney tonight, right?
RON ALLEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: You know, I don‘t want to be absolute about it, but certainly that‘s the conventional wisdom. And you would think that after being ahead in Iowa and losing, being ahead in New Hampshire and losing, coming home to one of his homes in Michigan, he really would like to win. He won Wyoming. The campaign always keeps saying you don‘t mention that. You don‘t mention that. Wyoming is a significant state to them; it‘s a win. But they don‘t want to leave here with another one of these silver medal speeches as they have given in after New Hampshire and Iowa. Romney has put a lot into this. He‘s got a lot of backing from a lot of people who remember and yearn for the old days when his dad was governor. But that was a long time ago. I‘m not quite sure how much that‘s going to give him much of a bounce. But they really want to win tonight and then go on to South Carolina. And even if they don‘t win, they are confident of a good second place, and they say they are going to go on.
MATTHEWS: Well, it looks like he‘s putting all his chips on Michigan. He‘s not leaving there tonight. We‘ll be back with you throughout the night—Ron Allen with the Mitt Romney campaign in Southfield, Michigan.
Anyway. NBC‘s Kelly O‘Donnell with the McCain campaign in South Carolina.
Kelly, you notice - I notice when I look at all the campaigns now, everybody is campaigning with their spouse. Is this sort of the warm and fuzzy campaign period? I mean, everybody. They don‘t get three feet from their spouses it seems, except one of the candidates.
KELLY O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: It has been the year of the political spouse. Certainly, Cindy McCain has been with Senator McCain at all of these events. She often makes a few remarks. It‘s a picture they want to present. Also, members of the family have been traveling. Part of it is just a really practical side of being together. That‘s what certainly Mrs. McCain is described, Mrs. Huckabee when I‘ve been following that candidacy as well. Part of it is just getting out there and doing this as a team.
MATTHEWS: I wonder if it makes John McCain seem younger...
O‘DONNELL: Well, let me tell you a little...
MATTHEWS: ... to have—I mean, I want to get into this, Kelly. I want to get into this. This is the anthropology of politics. Having Cindy McCain at his side, does that give him a more youthful appeal, like those crew neck sweaters he‘s always wearing?
O‘DONNELL: Well, you‘re taking me to the scary edge of danger here, knowing how you like to do this. Yes, Cindy McCain is - she‘s an attractive woman, she is well spoken. Certainly, she looks great on the stage. I think anybody would say that. If people view that as an asset to John McCain, certainly that‘s a plus. They have been married, I think, 28 years. They have four children together. It‘s a long marriage, as well. He never shies away from the age issue. He‘s a very active guy. We spent a lot of time with him today on his campaign bus. He seems quite pumped up.
There was one really weird thing you will appreciate today, Chris. Early in the day in Traverse City, Michigan, we stopped at a polling place, shook some hands. Across the street was this fantastic looking Victorian house, a local landmark in Traverse City. It also happens to now be used as a funeral home. But John and Cindy McCain went inside to see the beautiful craftsmanship of that home. I said to him a short time later, I said, “Sir, do you see the metaphor of going into a funeral home on primary day?” And in classic McCain style he said, “No, it‘s fine. I wanted to see a local landmark.” That was one of the more odd moments of this campaign.
MATTHEWS: I think that was a very appropriate question, Kelly O‘Donnell. Thank you very much for joining us with the campaign tonight. We‘ll be back with Kelly throughout the night—Kelly O‘Donnell.
David Shuster is covering the Mike Huckabee campaign. He‘s moved on to South Carolina. It sounds to me like you can tell a guy where he expects to win where he is tonight. Is Huckabee looking for a win in South Carolina, better shot than up in Michigan?
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Chris, that‘s absolutely right. I mean, he is counting on a victory here in South Carolina. They have got the kind of organization here in the Palmetto State that they didn‘t have in Michigan. Huckabee‘s entire family has been down here. Chris, I was struck when you talked Huckabee, about the family members. The Huckabee campaign is on such a shoestring budget, one of the sons was actually loading some of the luggage off the of cargo plane, off of the press plane they were flying out here. All the family members are put to good work. Here, Chris, in South Carolina, a couple of messages they were stressing that they were not stressing in Michigan: The first is faith. Huckabee, last night at his final rally in Michigan, a speech largely intended for South Carolina, talked about amending the Constitution in order to sort of comply with God‘s desires. The second thing, Chris, is immigration. Today there was Mike Huckabee saying, perhaps, we should stop immigration from countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, countries where some of the 9/11 hijackers came from. It‘s a very sort of red meat conservative message here for South Carolina.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much—David Shuster in South Carolina.
What a night it‘s going to be here in Vegas, as well as up in Michigan. As I said, we‘ve got a double feature tonight. The big two-hour debate here on the Democrat side, then Republican big fight in Michigan. Tonight we‘re going to have it all for you throughout the night. We‘ll preview what the Democrats have to do in the next half hour; plus, get the first big numbers from the exit polling on what‘s actually happening in Michigan today.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, live from Vegas, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL from Las Vegas. We‘re live right now. The Democratic presidential candidates will debate at 9:00 Eastern. We‘re getting close to that, here on MSNBC. What with the big three, and they are the big three now - Clinton, Obama, and Edwards - try to do tonight. With us right now is CNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent John Edwards (ph), who knows his politics. I‘m looking at this thing...
JOHN HARDWOOD, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Harwood, not Edwards.
MATTHEWS: Oh, John Hardwood. I thought you were John Edwards. I‘m sorry -honestly, John.
Let me ask you about this thing tonight. If you look at whoever wins one week seems to be up one week and if they lose then they are down. It‘s so obvious, it is up or down. Last week, Hillary Clinton won, so I‘m assuming that Barack is in the challenger role tonight. He‘s going to take on the champ from last week. Does he have to be tougher tonight than she is? Does he have to carry the fight to her, as they say in boxing?
HARWOOD: Well, he definitely has to sort of get up. He slugged her pretty hard in Iowa. She came back strongly in New Hampshire. I do, I think you‘re right. I think the momentum shift means he‘s got to get up and do something. I think Hillary Clinton‘s job tonight is to get off of this race subject, which is not helping her. I talked to one of her advisors...
MATTHEWS: Not helping her with the African American community.
HARWOOD: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: But is it helping to raise the issue of race down the road, where the larger white community says enough of this black politics, we‘re going with the other guy?
HARWOOD: You know what? I don‘t think that‘s their goal. I don‘t think they were playing to the white vote with that stuff. I think that would be counter-productive for her if she got the nomination. But I think she...
MATTHEWS: If she got the nomination, I agree with you.
HARWOOD: That‘s right. One of her people told me today, we‘re pivoting hard for the economy; they are going for blue collar votes, union votes, trying to take away from Barack Obama the ability to grow his base among...
MATTHEWS: Does Hillary benefit every day we look at bad economic news?
HARWOOD: Yes, unless Barack Obama can get back in this argument. You know, he came out with a stimulus plan, a little bit bigger than hers, over the weekend. He has a different approach than she does. She‘s doing a lot of targeted spending. His first step is a big tax rebate out of the payroll tax. It‘s a risky step because you‘re talking about money that otherwise would go to Social Security. Right now it is a credit against the payroll tax. He‘s throwing a long ball there, trying to say, I‘ve got a program that will directly help people right now.
MATTHEWS: Is she going to say that jeopardizes the funds?
HARWOOD: That‘s certainly where that argue could go, which is why Republicans haven‘t gone to the payroll tax argument.
MATTHEWS: I‘m looking at numbers, and we will know more tonight as we get exit polls. But it seems to me that this country - I mean, everyday on this program, HARDBALL, I watch the stock reports, and every day it seems depressing. These are double to triple digit declines in the DOW every day, it seems. And every third of one day, it comes up a bit, then it goes down three more days. It seems to me that does reflect public confidence, a lack of it, a declining consumer confidence. It just looks like hell. Therefore, a bread-and-butter Democrat, looks to me, will exploit that situation.
HARWOOD: Especially a bread-and-butter Democrat who can point back to the 1990s and say, Hey, we‘ve done this; we did it successfully.
MATTHEWS: Yes, with Bill Clinton.
HARWOOD: Right. Exactly. Barack Obama has got more of a reform appeal, which tends to be better off in good times.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I got it. This is so predictable, the Democratic Party, because it is always that battle between the idealist and the bread-and-butter interest group guys. The bread-and-butters tend to win, but especially when you have an economic environment.
HARWOOD: But we‘ve never had a reform candidate with a claim on the African American vote the way Barack Obama has got it.
MATTHEWS: A socio-metric overlay.
HARWOOD: Exactly. There you go.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much—John Harwood, CNBC‘s top political reporter.
Polls close in Michigan a little over 90 minutes from now. When we return, Norah O‘Donnell will have some numbers - not results, but our exit polling of what we have learned from the voters.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to Las Vegas, where in just 90 minutes, the Democrats will debate. It looks like the big three, involving Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards, at 9:00 Eastern. That is coming up here on MSNBC.
Polls are going to close also as part of our double feature politically. Michigan primary tonight. Big fight out there in Michigan for Republicans. MSNBC‘s Norah O‘Donnell is tracking our exit polling out of Michigan all night for us.
Here it is with the first edition of Norah, what people are thinking in Michigan - Norah.
NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Chris, this is so interesting, and we‘re really seeing some interesting results from Michigan tonight. Of course, it‘s very different from what we saw in New Hampshire and Iowa. First of all, the economy in Michigan: We know it‘s been in the tank. It was far and away the key issue for Republican voters today. Take a look at these figures: By an overwhelming margin, the economy is the top issue. Three times more than those who chose the war in Iraq and more than illegal immigration or terrorism.
When you look at how this compares to what we saw just two weeks ago in Iowa, look at this, this figure was double what it was from our exit polls in Iowa and the key concern to twice as many Republican voters. That‘s interesting. Another very interesting thing we‘re finding out tonight is just who decided to come out to vote in this Republican primary, which, as you know, is an open primary. You can see right away that we‘ve got fewer independents this year and more Republicans: 68 percent of those who voted call themselves Republicans.
There were barely any Democratic crossovers and there was a big drop in independents compared to those who voted in the GOP primary in 2000 when John McCain beat George W. Bush in 2000. So we‘re going to continue to see how those numbers play themselves out through the rest of the evening. And finally, of course, evangelicals, Chris, we know Mike Huckabee won in Iowa by courting them and was certainly working them again in Michigan. But tonight four out of 10 call themselves evangelicals in Michigan. That‘s a little more than New Hampshire but it is far less than in Iowa, I should say. And so that may play into these final results tonight and we‘ll see how that evangelical vote plays out. Chris.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR, HARDBALL: OK. Thank you very much, Norah O‘Donnell giving us the election results in terms of what the issues are, people are focusing. We‘ll get of course the results of how people voted later on tonight. Up next, will Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards shine in tonight‘s debate here? It looks like a big three-way tonight. Who is going to slip up? Who‘s going to make news the wrong way? We‘ll talk to top advisors from all three campaigns when we come right back in a minute. It‘s going to be hot. You‘re watching HARDBALL live from Las Vegas, the site of tonight‘s big Democratic presidential debates. What happens in Vegas will not stay here tonight because of MSNBC.
MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: I‘m Milissa Rehberger. Here is what‘s happening. A bomb hidden on a Beirut highway hit a U.S. embassy vehicle killing at least three Lebanese bystanders. This is the first attack in years targeting American diplomatic interests in Lebanon. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Baghdad where she met with Iraqi leaders. She praised them for progress toward national reconciliation but reportedly pressured them to do more to end the nation‘s sectarian rift. Rice has slipped away from President Bush‘s entourage in Saudi Arabia, the next to last stop on an eight-day Middle East tour. Today he urged OPEC nations to boost their output to reduce surging oil prices, but the Saudi oil ministers said today‘s production levels appear normal. After a stop in Egypt tomorrow, the president heads home.
Baseball Commission Bud Zelig and players‘ union leader Donald Fear testified at a congressional hearing on baseball‘s steroid scandal. Zelig accepted blame for that scandal and accused star pitcher Roger Clemens is among those scheduled to testify at another hearing on February 13th. Now back to HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re an hour and a half away right now in fact from tonight‘s big Democratic debate out here in Vegas. And joining me now is John Edwards campaign manager David Bonior, a former congressman from Michigan, Greg Craig, who‘s the senior advisor to the Obama campaign and Kiki McLean, who‘s of course the senior advisor to the Clinton campaign. I want you all to take a shot here and I don‘t mind how combustive it gets. I want to start with Greg Craig. Obama how does he fight his way to the top on this economic issue as it gets deeper and deeper. It seems like it‘s a bread and butter issue perfect for the Clintons.
GREG CRAIG, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SR. ADVISOR: You know, I think he‘s going to be as inspiring and as exciting in Nevada on the issue of economy as he was in Iowa and New Hampshire, Chris. Yesterday he introduced a $75 billion stimulus package that I think has won rave reviews from most of the economists, particularly the $250 across the board rebate. He understands the importance of the economy to most people and one of the interesting things about this debate I think is the economy is going to be front and center on the minds of the candidates.
MATTHEWS: David Bonior, economy, let‘s talk economy. We‘ve got all kinds of evidence it‘s the hottest issue out here right now. Look at the stock market every night.
DAVID BONIOR, EDWARDS CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Look at the results out of Michigan. I mean it‘s a hot issue, because people are - the wages are stagnant. They‘re not moving. We‘ve got a government that‘s not concerned about working people and the middle class, which John Edwards want to do. This has kind of been his issue all along. He wants to obviously raise the minimum wage by the year 2012 to $9.50 an hour. He‘s got a proposal to deal with this housing crisis that he‘ll talk about tonight. He also wants to deal with reforming unemployment compensation for more states. He wants to put a million people to work, Chris, in green color jobs so we move to a new energy economy away from what we have now.
MATTHEWS: Is this about beefing up the economy or redistributing the wealth?
BONIOR: It‘s both. It‘s both.
KIKI McLEAN, CLINTON CAMPAIGN SR. ADVISOR: You know what.
MATTHEWS: I interrupted you, Kiki. You were ready to go. Let‘s talk about bread and butter issues. Why is Mrs. Clinton, why is Senator Clinton at an advantage here on bread and butter?
McLEAN: Listen, we‘d all be at an advantage if we had an economy that was working but we don‘t. We have an economy that‘s at risk. Senator Clinton knows that. She‘s been listening to what people have to say about this. She‘s been giving them - boy, she put out a stimulus package before the others here. This is the person. It‘s her leadership and her effort for change that raised the foreclosure issue and put out a plan to deal with the home foreclosure issue. These are the kinds of things she‘s hearing from voters. This is really about the American people and not the different candidates, but it is about how you make change happen, about how you get solutions to the big challenges. And we have an economy that‘s really a big challenge. And that‘s why this is so important to what‘s going on from this day and every day forward in the debate. And you‘re going to hear Senator Clinton continue the dialogue even more so and in even more detail as she moves forward on the campaign about the economy.
MATTHEWS: Craig, you say you have a stronger stimulus package.
CRAIG: It‘s a good stimulus package. Bob Rice, who was President Clinton‘s labor secretary says ours is the best stimulus package. The real reason that we‘re talking about this is not so much because we‘re competing with each other. There‘s no question that any one of these Democratic candidates is going to handle the economy better than President Bush has or any of the Republican candidates. The significant question is how fast can we get a stimulus into the economy and deal with the unemployment figures. The political news is that with the economy going south, it increases the chances, I think, of the Democrats in November to prevail in the general election.
McLEAN: But an economy package—
MATTHEWS: what I understand Greg-and Greg, I want to - I‘m sorry - I want to ask a question of Greg on your stimulus package. It seems to me that one of the hallmarks of the economic program put forth by Senator Obama so a far before this stimulus package was, you‘ve got to raise the cap on how much we tax people for Social Security, the payroll tax, raise it up into the hundreds, hundreds of thousands are going to be taxed and now you‘re talking about giving people a rebate. Isn‘t that counter-productive to give a rebate if you‘re trying to raise more revenue for Social Security?
CRAIG: Chris, you‘re mixing two different issues completely. The problem with the Social Security situation was the 75 million new baby boomers were going—people like me and like you, with all respect, were going into the Social Security rolls. The real question was how were you going to finance that new problem. He came up with a very specific proposal, is that rather than just taxing people up to $93,000 of their income, that it should go higher than that and people like Warren Buffett should pay more and help finance the Social Security new enrollees. Right now it‘s an across the board, immediate, temporary $250 across the board rebate that will stimulate the economy across the board. This is a very courageous and a very strong, confident action that, for example, Bob Rice thinks is the right way to go.
McLEAN: Here is the challenge with all this, is when Greg talks about it being about what‘s going to help us politically in the south, this is really about what people need and you have to look at it comprehensively. This is about health care. This is about making sure that everyone is covered. That has a lot to do with our economy. This is about making sure you can make the change in the economy really happen. This is about the home foreclosure crisis and what that‘s doing to individual families, where they live, where they are trying to put a warm roof over their kids‘ head. And you have to address all of it to make that change happen, Chris.
BONIOR: Well the other point.
MATTHEWS: Congressman Bonior.
BONIOR: Those are interesting points with respect to doing things immediately and we‘re all pretty much in agreement on a lot of these points. But in the long term, we‘ve got to change this economy for working people. We‘re going to have to have universal health care. Edwards was the first to have that proposal before the American people. We‘re going to have a have a tax policy that gives the tax cuts to middle income people and starts reducing the egregious cuts that were given to the very top 1 percent and we‘re also going to have to have a trade policy Chris that really respects workers and doesn‘t ship our jobs overseas. John Edwards has been the toughest and the best on the issue of trade and that point I think he‘ll make tonight as well.
MATTHEWS: What kind of review does Congressman Edwards want tonight, does Senator Edwards want tonight. Does he want to be know as tough? Populist? What‘s his theme?
BONIOR: He wants people to hear his economic proposals. He wants them to understand that if we‘re going to change Washington, we have got to change those people who have kept us from having a progressive economy for the workers and that means we‘ve go to make sure that somebody takes on the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry.
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) What kind of a headline does Senator Clinton want out of this Kiki?
McLEAN: I think she wants people to know, those who don‘t have a voice, she‘s going to be their voice tonight in this debate because she‘s been listening to what they had to say and what they need from a leader.
MATTHEWS: OK. Greg Craig, what‘s the message coming out of Obama tonight? He‘s coming off of a loss last week, an unexpected loss, I must say. What does he need to get back up—come back head to head with the champ tonight?
CRAIG: What he will show tonight is what he‘s been showing throughout the country, that he is the one best prepared to achieve change. He is the one who is going to be able to reach across the aisle, work with independents and Republicans and in fact when they get to Washington break up the gridlock. He‘s the one that running a campaign premised on the theory that in fact the American people are not as divided as Washington is and Washington has got to be fixed. He‘s the one candidate who will be able to get things done in Washington because he‘s building the kind of coalition that will make it happen.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, Greg Craig, working and representing tonight Senator Obama, David Bonior representing Senator Edwards and Kiki McLean representing Senator Clinton. Just over an hour to go right now before the Democratic debate here in Vegas. When we return, the roundtable joins us for the politics fix. We‘re going to talk about the Democrats and that big Republican fight in Michigan tonight where they are having the primary. This is HARDBALL live from Las Vegas only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Now for the politics fix tonight. Let‘s go to the roundtable. Roger Simon, politico.com, Jon Ralston is from the LA - Las Vegas I should say, “Sun” and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan is back home. Pat, you start this off. I want to end up with a scrum (ph) back here. Let‘s talk fight talk tonight, the big tonight. It is a fight. Who is going to look good, who is not. Barack Obama, doesn‘t he have to carry the fight to the champ of last week, Hillary Clinton?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he does Chris and I wouldn‘t be surprised, you know that refrain he used in New Hampshire, yes we can. Yes we can. (INAUDIBLE) That‘s Hispanic. That‘s the cause of the illegal immigration movement and the amnesty movement. I wouldn‘t be surprised to see him going at that issue and to see the moderators however refocusing this issue on the hottest subject of the week, which is who raised the race issue and who benefits from it?
MATTHEWS: OK, let me go to Roger, Roger, yes we can sounds fine with me. It sounds generally available to all of us. We all can. Pat says it‘s a tribalist kind of a chant that should be avoided.
ROGER SIMON, POLITICO: I think it‘s just more of Obama‘s message of hope and unity. I don‘t think it‘s anything more than that. About tonight‘s debate, you have to keep in mind I think that Obama‘s strength has never been his debate performances. And he‘s always let John Edwards lead the attack on Hillary Clinton and then his...
MATTHEWS: Edwards played that because he played that thing last Saturday up in New Hampshire. We all watched it, where he went in and it looked like he was double-teaming Hillary. It aroused a whole lot of sympathy for her from women, older women. Is that a smart move?
SIMON: John Edwards has to be part of the conversation. He has to elbow his way back in here. He doesn‘t have any choice at all. But you have to remember, last time, Obama‘s big moment, you‘re likable enough Hillary, turns out to be a negative is the view of most pundits.
MATTHEWS: It seemed condescending.
SIMON: It didn‘t seem so at the time but I‘ve since been told by all the pundits that it was.
MATTHEWS: Revisionism is endemic here. Let me ask you, John, it seems to me out here—I got a rise out of Pat. This issue tonight, it is a fight game. We are in Vegas. This is a heavyweight championship or a light heavyweight, if you will. What is going to happen tonight?
JON RALSTON, LAS VEGAS SUN: Let me tell you about yes we can. First of all, if he starts saying that tonight, that‘s the chant of the culinary union workers here. That‘s why he‘s saying it so much. He‘s led these rallies here with the culinary chanting both in Spanish.
MATTHEWS: ... this chant, it‘s Latino. It‘s what, it‘s culinary.
What else is it?
SIMON: It was Jesse Jackson.
RALSTON: That‘s right, but now...
RALSTON: He has used that here several times to energize the culinary workers, which are the big union here that endorsed him.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Pat. You know how these things are scored out here in these debates. They come down to bicentennial moments we call them. One event, one back and forth becomes replayed and played for days and months or at least weeks. What‘s it going to be tonight? Will there be an uppercut, some sort of a shot at Hillary by one of the two other guys? Will it be some defense of Hillary? Will it be a Hillary brilliant counter-punch? What‘s it going to be?
BUCHANAN: I think Edwards has got to go on the offensive. He really does and my guess is he probably goes at both of them. I think that that‘s going to be a major moment for him. But I honestly think, Chris, because we‘ve all been talking about it and it is explosive, they are going to re-raise this issue of who raised the race issue, if you will, who did what. They will rerun that because that‘s the kind of stuff that gets in headlines and we all talk about. But on the economy they are all going to come down, I think, with good strong packages and stimulus packages. I don‘t see any sharp area of disagreement. But again this (INAUDIBLE) thing. It means one thing to the culinary workers, but I‘ll tell you, to Middle America we see all those Mexican flags and all those guys chanting it, it means something else entirely. I think Obama is going to work that vein because Hispanics are a surging part of the population of Las Vegas and Nevada and a growing part of the electorate and that‘s what he‘s got to have.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you guys, how does the Democratic Party survive if they play these ethnic wars because it seems to me the more they talk about ethnicity, the more they might get a bigger market share of one of these groups, whether it‘s Latino, as Democrats call Pat (ph), the Republicans call them Hispanics, Latinos, they get a bigger market share in the short run, but they raise the general election problem of being the minority party.
SIMON: They don‘t want the race war to continue tonight. This is a black-brown debate but the context is what can you do for the minority community? We‘re going to hear a lot about that. I don‘t think even Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton want to relive the past moments of Martin Luther King and LBJ or the comments about past drug use. They want to tamp that down. They want to get away from that. It‘s going to be a huge—
MATTHEWS: If she wins, Jon. If Hillary Clinton wins this whole thing next summer at the convention in Denver, the number one hand she wants raised in the air is Barack‘s, not Bill.
RALSTON: You mentioned the other day Chris, you think that the only way to heal this is have them both on the ticket.
MATTHEWS: If it‘s gets any more severe.
RALSTON: If it gets any more severe, but I thought it interesting you mentioned John Edwards. David Bonior, who was just on here was tasked by the Edwards campaign to call major state reporters in Nevada yesterday and remind them about John Edwards stood up for African-Americans. He‘s the right guy for African-Americans, very interesting.
MATTHEWS: I was talking to him about that earlier. So it‘s going to be—look, here is the question. Pat Buchanan, I know you don‘t usually side with the Democratic Party, but just as a tactician, they‘ve got to put this fight over ethnicity behind them, don‘t they?
BUCHANAN: They do Chris. What I‘m saying is, neither of them is going to raise it but both of them are now prepared with defensive answers or how they are going to handle it. The people that are going to raise it are the moderators in my judgment. I think they virtually got to. On the so-called cocaine thing, I don‘t think they have to, but that thing is sitting out there and that is explosive. You‘re right. This is like - (INAUDIBLE) battle of first Manassas, both of them got bloodied and are pulling back to see where they are at this point. This thing is definitely going to come up tonight and so is this—the matter of whether illegal immigration, whether they get amnesty, that‘s a huge issue on both sides in Nevada, in California. I can‘t see how they could avoid it.
MATTHEWS: Pat, you‘ve got an amazing ability to come out with the red button words, cocaine and amnesty. We‘ll be right back with the roundtable. You‘re watching on MSNBC. Pat goes right to the secret word.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back in Las Vegas with the round table. Pat
Buchanan, tonight it seems to me it might be - I hate to keep saying this -
make or break for one of the candidates out there, McCain. Can he get a streak going, having won in New Hampshire now, in Michigan if he wins tonight. Mitt Romney, if he wins in one of his home towns, the one where he was grown up in—he grew up in, if he wins tonight, he‘s back on the list, right?
BUCHANAN: If Romney wins tonight, he‘s back in the game. He‘ll be saying two golds and two silvers. McCain is not out of it if he loses tonight. He goes to South Carolina. But there, it becomes a Huckabee/McCain fight. If McCain wins it down there, he‘s still in great shape going into Florida where he‘s ahead Chris. I think if you had to say anybody is a front-runner right now, it‘s McCain. But he‘ll take a blow if he‘s beaten by Romney tonight in Michigan.
MATTHEWS: Let me got to Roger and the others. There‘s also the outside possibility or maybe the inside possibility. We‘re going to have like a five card stud here if you will, five different races, five different winners, no front-runner. We go all the way to South Carolina and Florida, Rudy could win in Florida, Thompson could win in South Carolina. They could all have won.
SIMON: This is what the Rudy Giuliani campaign is premised on. He needs a scattered (INAUDIBLE) results (INAUDIBLE) and then he needs to win Florida which is not going to be as easy as he thinks because Florida Republicans that go to primaries are a little less moderate than I think he thinks they are. He has to...
MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) panhandle...
SIMON: Exactly and he has to win Florida, Rudy Giuliani.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about the fight out here this week, while we have you Jon, this fight out here Saturday, all these unions, culinary unions unite. Is that going to give it to Edwards it look like, not Edwards, Obama.
RALSTON: To Obama. Well, listen, you have the state‘s largest newspaper tomorrow is going to endorse Obama. Whether that helps Obama or not I don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the name of the paper?
RALSTON: It‘s called the “Laos Vegas Review Journal.” It‘s very conservative. I think you can make an argument that Democrats here hate the “Review Journal.” That could be a turn out (ph) driver for Hillary. But let me just make one point about the Republicans here on Saturday night. No one‘s paying attention. Pat certainly isn‘t. Republicans are all ignoring Nevada. If Romney wins in Michigan, he is the only one who has an organization here, so he‘s going to win in Nevada. Also, that will help him, I think.
MATTHEWS: That‘s three goals, that‘s Wyoming, Nevada and Michigan, much work.
BUCHANAN: He Chris (INAUDIBLE) that is Romney‘s fallback position for losing in South Carolina, Nevada, another goal.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, got to go. Roger Simon, Jon Ralston, Pat Buchanan. In one hour, the Democratic presidential candidates take the stage here in Las Vegas. For the big debate, three of them it looks like, Hillary, Barack and Edwards. I‘ll be back at 11:00 with Keith Olbermann for two hours of coverage of who won this thing. And also the results from Michigan, big double header tonight, Michigan and Nevada, Democrats and Republicans. Now it‘s COUNTDOWN right now.
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