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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Jan. 17

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Allen Raymond, Mike Paul, Linda Douglass, Pat Buchanan, Nancy Giles, David Ignatius, John Harwood

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  New NBC poll numbers show it‘s a race to the finish in South Carolina.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Well, we‘re in a time of a lot of frustration in this country—Iraq, of course, the lack of health care for people who work every day, gas prices going up, the weakening economy that scares us every day.  And I come on here every night and try to wrestle with these frustrations, and also the changes in our country.

We might soon have the first woman president, the first African-American president, or a man older than we‘ve ever elected before.  And of course, we always treat things here with hope, our uniquely American hope that we can actually make things better, that we can make the greatest of countries not only survive, but as William Faulkner once said, prevail.

In the midst of talking about all this, almost always without a script and almost always on tricky subjects of gender and race and right and left and what‘s in our country‘s interest and who I think is telling the truth and who I think isn‘t, I know I‘m dealing with sensitive feelings.  I‘ve accepted all of this as part of the business I have chosen.

This program, I am proud to say is tough, fearless, and yes, blunt.  I want people to react when I say something.  I don‘t like saying things so carefully, so politically correctly that no one thinks I even said anything.  What I‘ve always counted on, in all the wild, speeded-up conversations on HARDBALL and elsewhere on television, is my good heart.  I‘ve always felt that no matter how tough I got, how direct, how provocative, how purposely provocative, people out there watching would know I was not out against them, that it was them I was rooting for, that while I was tough on individuals who sought to lead the country, I was not against the hopes we all have for a fair shake, in fact, a better deal for people who have been held back before we came along.

Some people I respect, politically concerned people like you who watch this show so faithfully every night, people like me who care about this country, think I‘ve been disrespectful to Hillary Clinton, not as a candidate but as a woman.  They point to something I said on MSNBC‘s “MORNING JOE” the morning after the New Hampshire primary, that her election to the U.S. Senate and all that‘s come since was a result of her toughness but also the sympathy for her because her husband embarrassed her by the conduct that led to his impeachment because he, in the words I used, “messed around.”

The truth, of course, is finer, smarter, larger than that.  Yes, Hillary Clinton won tremendous respect from the country for the way she handled those difficult months in 1998.  Her public approval numbers spiked from the mid-40s, up to the 70s in one poll I looked at.  Why?  Because she stuck to her duty.  She performed strongly as first lady.  She did such a wow of a job campaigning for Senate candidates, especially Chuck Schumer of New York, that she was urged to run for a Senate seat there herself.

She might have well gotten that far by another route and through different circumstances, but this is how it happened.  The rest is history, how Hillary went up to New York, listened to people‘s concerns and beat the odds, as well as the Republicans, to become a respected member of the U.S.  Senate.

So did I say it right?  Was it fair to say that Hillary Clinton, like any great politician, took advantage of a crisis to prove herself?  Was her conduct in 1998 a key to starting her independent electoral career the following year?  Yes.

Was it fair to imply that Hillary‘s whole career depended on being a

victim of an unfaithful husband?  No.  And that‘s what it sounded like I

was saying, and it hurt people I‘d like to think normally like what I say -

in fact, normally like me.

As I said, I rely on my heart to guide me in the heated, fast-paced talk we have here on HARDBALL, a heart that bears only good will toward people trying to make it out there, especially those who haven‘t before.  If my heart has not always controlled my words, on those occasions when I have not taken the time to say things right or have simply said the inappropriate thing, I‘ll try to be clearer, smarter, more obviously in support of the right of women, of all people, the full equality and respect for their ambitions.  So I get it.

On the particular point, if I‘d said that the only reason John McCain has come so far is that he got shot down over North Vietnam and captured by the enemy, I‘d be brutally ignoring the courage and guts he showed in bearing up under his captivity.  Saying that Senator Clinton got where she‘s got simply because her husband did what he did to her is just as callous, and I can see now it comes across just as nasty—worse yet, just as dismissive.

Finally, as if anyone doesn‘t know this, I love politics.  I love politicians.  I like and respect people with the guts to put their name, their very being out there for public approval so that they can lead our country.  And that goes for Hillary and Barack and John and all the rest who are willing to fight to take on the toughest job in the world.

So let‘s get on with the show.  Whoa!

Dirty tricks are being played against John McCain down in South Carolina with flyers out there attacking his war record and phone calls questioning his position on abortion, and the Romney camp says he‘s been also the target of push-pollers.

On the Democratic side, the Clinton camp has made a series of comments about Barack Obama‘s admitted youthful drug use.  Today, Robert Johnson, the founder of BET, apologized for a shot he took at Barack Obama at a Clinton rally.

In a moment, two masters of the dark art of dirty tricks.  But first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster join us from Columbia, South Carolina, ground zero for politics in America.  David, my pal, take over.

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, just two days before the Republican primary here in South Carolina, it was very clear that the dirty tactics, the nasty tricks have intensified in the Republican race.  The most aggressive, as you said, continues to be these attacks targeting John McCain.

A group based in Arizona has sent around a flyer that describes McCain as a traitor because of his actions in Vietnam when he was a POW and says that his efforts in the 1990s to improve relations with Vietnam prove that he‘s a communist.  The McCain campaign is pointing out that all of these charges are simply ridiculous.  And McCain supporter South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham is calling them garbage.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  The people up here standing behind John have known John for a long time.  His buddies who served with him in a North Vietnamese prison, they‘re all over this state, all over this country, saying he‘s one of the bravest men they‘ve ever known, and they suffered with him and they will vouch for him.  Ladies and gentlemen, South Carolina is going to reject this garbage and we‘re going to vote for the true facts about John McCain, an American hero.  An American hero!


SHUSTER:  In addition to these flyers originating from Arizona, there are also some phone calls from a group in Virginia targeting John McCain‘s legislative record, as well as the legislative record of Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson.  The calls also mention Mike Huckabee, but they praise Huckabee.  The group, which endorsed Huckabee, told us today that they intend to make more than a million calls by the primary day on Saturday, and they say they are not coordinating directly or indirectly in any fashion with the Huckabee campaign.

Governor Huckabee as late as yesterday has condemned these tactics, saying that they‘re inappropriate and he doesn‘t want them part of the campaign.  And Huckabee‘s chief campaign strategist says that these efforts on Huckabee‘s behalf by this independent group are actually hurting the Huckabee campaign.

Now, we mentioned that Romney, Mitt Romney, has also been on the receiving end of some of these phone calls and flyers attacking him both for his flip-flops on abortion and also because of his Mormon beliefs.

Romney is incensed by the tactics, and he‘s also in a particularly nasty mood today because the weather canceled two of his events.  And all of this combined at a time—at a news conference today when Mitt Romney was trying to portray himself as a Washington outsider.  All of this erupted, Chris, when a reporter challenged a statement Romney made.  Romney then erupted.  Watch.


MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don‘t have lobbyists running my campaign.  I don‘t have lobbyists that are tied to my...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Not true, Governor.  That is not true.  Ron Kaufman (ph) is a lobbyist.  How can you say...

ROMNEY:  Did you hear what I said?  Did you hear what I said?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You said you don‘t have lobbyists running your campaign.

ROMNEY:  I said I don‘t have lobbyists running my campaign, and he‘s not running my campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He is one of your senior advisers!

ROMNEY:  He‘s an adviser, and the person who runs my campaign is Beth Myers (ph), and I have a whole staff of deputy campaign managers and...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Has Beth Myers been on the plane with you?

ROMNEY:  Beth Myers has been on the plane with me, and Beth Myers is running my campaign, absolutely.  Do I know...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So Kaufman‘s just there as window dressing.  He‘s a potted plant.

ROMNEY:  Ron is a wonderful friend, an adviser.  He‘s not paid.  He‘s an adviser like many others.  But I do not have lobbyists running my campaign.


SHUSTER:  But again, just to be clear, Ron Kaufman is a lobbyist and he‘s helping Mitt Romney running his campaign, although he‘s not the one running the campaign.

In any case, Chris, as you can see, incredible tensions in the Republican race and certainly a poisonous atmosphere because of all these negative attacks now just two days before the GOP primary—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

So who‘s behind this bare-knuckle campaign tactics down there?  Allen Raymond is a former Republican operative who served time for jamming Democratic phone lines up in New Hampshire in that Senate race.  His new book is called “How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative.”  Well, you‘re great to come on, Allen.  Mike Paul‘s a public relations expert.  He used to do opp research for Senator Alfonse D‘Amato.

Boy, we got some tough guys on this show tonight.  Let‘s go through and talk the dark arts of dirty tricks with you Allen, first of all.  Tell me how you rigged that election—the phones up there, just how you did that little trick.  And it got you in trouble.


Well, that was 2002 in the general election in New Hampshire, and we were hired, or my firm was hired by an agent of the RNC to essentially shut down all the phone lines coming—or the phone calls going in and out of Democratic phone banks on election day.  And obviously, everything you do on an election day is geared to get out the vote.  So what we were trying to do is disrupt lines of communication and shut down that effort.  As far as South Carolina...

MATTHEWS:  Did you do it?  Did you do it?

RAYMOND:  Of course I did it, and I...

MATTHEWS:  And did that cost Jeanne Shaheen the election?

RAYMOND:  No, I think it was—that election was close, but it wasn‘t that close.  But it doesn‘t matter because what it does is it tells your viewers that this stuff happens.  It‘s out there.  And in South Carolina, the one thing I would say to Senator McCain is, Welcome back, because this is not new tactics to him.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Mike, give me a confession that you‘ve done something you‘re not especially proud of.  Give us your bona fides as a master of the dark arts here.

MIKE PAUL, FMR. REPUBLICAN OPPOSITION RESEARCHER:  Well, quite frankly, everything that I was involved with I‘m quite proud of.

Chris, I want to start by saying that, you know, you said something in your opening statement that I think is very important here.  If you‘re looking for truth, and you‘re comfortable with the things that you find, then there‘s no problem.  You know, if you‘re going to be transparent and accountable and the day that you get involved with these issues that you say, You know what, I‘m going to do from the perspective as though it was on the air, then you‘re not going to have, quite frankly, some of the problems that Allen has.


PAUL:  One of the things that I was involved with in Senator D‘Amato‘s campaign was finding out that, for example, Bob Abrams (ph) at the time had paid his taxes late five times in a row.  That‘s not dirty tricks, that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  No, that‘s great stuff.

PAUL:  ... things that people needed to know.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s great opp research.  Let‘s talk about today right now.  Let‘s talk about Bob Johnson.  We have a full screen coming up here, of the great—well, he‘s a billionaire.  Maybe we think everybody who‘s a billionaire is great—is Bob Johnson, who‘s head of BET.  Here‘s something he said earlier this week, to start with.


BOB JOHNSON, BET FOUNDER:  As an African-American, I am, frankly, insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues, when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood that—I won‘t say what he was doing, but he said it in his book—when they have been involved.


MATTHEWS:  Did you see that woman behind him laughing at what he said?  It was pretty clear it was an inside reference to the drug use.  Here‘s what he said today, Mr. Johnson.  “I‘m writing to apologize to you and your family personally”—this is to Barack Obama—“for the uncalled-for comments I made at a recent Clinton event.  In my zeal to support Senator Clinton, I made some very inappropriate remarks for which I am truly sorry.  I hope that you will accept this apology.  Good luck on the campaign trail.”

Well, that was pretty grand.  What do we make of this?  Let me go back to Allen, first of all.  Did you think that Bob Johnson‘s comment, that allusion to he drug use, was what we call a dirty trick, or what would you call it?

RAYMOND:  Oh, I think it speaks for itself.  But more importantly, what it points to is a gaffe or a mistake by the Clinton campaign.  And Senator Obama‘s campaign responded brilliantly because what they were able to do was they were able to make the case to Democratic primary black female voters in South Carolina that they need to choose between their gender and their race.  And then he was able to back off it fairly quickly because he doesn‘t want to be the candidate of race, he‘s the candidate of hope and change.

So I think that Mr. Johnson‘s comments were—they were clearly meant, it speaks for themselves.  But more importantly is the impact of that debate between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama over the last 10 days.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make—let me switch to what‘s happening right now this week in South Carolina, Allen—or Mike, rather, Mike Paul—which seems to be so much ground zero for tough, nasty campaigning starting back in 2000, when you saw how the Bush people were able to eradicate John McCain as a candidate back then with all kinds of actions, under the table some of them.  What do you make of this push by one of—this guy down there that John McCain sold out his country as a POW?

PAUL:  Well, Chris, if you don‘t mind, as an African-American, I first  quickly want on respond to what Allen just said on the Obama thing.


PAUL:  I think the big mistake there was mixing two issues, combining race with the support for Hillary and—and trying to tie those two together.  I think if he would have talked about race and drug use in a separate fashion, I think it would have been absolutely open game.  But the mixing of the two in that fashion was a mistake.  As far as...

MATTHEWS:  Mixing of what two things?  What did he mix?

PAUL:  Well, for example, I see—as he was trying to show, as he said, his zeal for Hillary, but then tying it almost as an aside by throwing in the drug use, I think it was...


PAUL:  ... was inappropriate.  If he would have said, Look, this is a gentleman who had talked about drug use in his book and only talked about drug use as his message, I think it would have been accepted in a very different way.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you think of that, Allen?  Do you think that‘s still—is that fair game, to use a guy‘s past drug use in a political campaign?  I guess it is.

RAYMOND:  Well, if it‘s public record.  Anything that‘s public record is fair game.  But it‘s not so much about is it fair as it was—is it smart.  And it wasn‘t smart at the time, in the context of what had happened.

MATTHEWS:  It backfired.

RAYMOND:  It backfired.

MATTHEWS:  It clearly boomeranged.  Let me ask you about this thing going after—why does John McCain‘s war record—you know, he makes me ashamed I didn‘t serve the country with more gallantry.  I was in the Peace Corps.  It makes me feel—God, this guy not only was flying jet planes, attacking the enemy in Vietnam, he spent five-and-a-half years beaten the hell—beaten up, in solitary for two years, all the horrible treatment.  You can see he can‘t even hold his arms right now.  He can‘t comb his hair.  And they still go after him.  What is the situation morally with people that keep doing this?

PAUL:  Well, I think it‘s interesting that this is happening, ironically, in the “Belt” states, from a Bible perspective, you know, instead of some of the other states where it might have been accepted very differently.  I think people are looking at it from a moral perspective and an ethical perspective.  Look, the bottom line...

MATTHEWS:  Where would it—Mike, where would it have been accepted to go after a guy‘s war record after all these years?

PAUL:  Well, I‘m just trying to talk about other states where it wouldn‘t be seen, you know, as such a moral issue.  Quite frankly, right here in New York, I think that there are some folks, and that‘s where he had trouble before, eight years ago, that would be more than happy to go after him from that perspective.  I think it‘s just as despicable...


PAUL:  And I‘m proud to say that—you know, look, you said in your opening statement, this man is an American hero.  And he absolutely is an American hero.  If I were working for his campaign, one of the things I would say is, we need to get the third-party endorsees who were there with him, those who know about this torture firsthand...


PAUL:  ... and also get his story back on the air, so that people can be reminded of everything he went through.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, maybe you‘re right.  Allen, your thoughts on this?  It just seems we keep going back into the problem area here, with people scratching at the old wound again, Let‘s go after John McCain as a POW.

RAYMOND:  Look, one thing is, you have to remember, you know, people are in the trenches, and this is not about morality.  Maybe it should be, but oftentimes, it‘s not, it‘s about winning.  And you know, this is what it comes down to in South Carolina.  It‘s a place where you better have a thick skin because, you know, they play rough down there.

PAUL:  Yes, but Allen, if it‘s only about winning, then why are we talking about these issues?  Everybody knows that we‘re not playing tiddlywinks or playing in a sandbox.  This obviously is politics.  But the way in which you do it matters today.  The way in which you talk about ethics and morality matters today in a campaign.  And that‘s why some of these lessons are going to be learned the hard way.

RAYMOND:  I totally agree.  I completely agree.  But the fact of the matter is, is when you‘re down in the trenches like that, sometimes you lose your way, and these things happen.  And that‘s not to excuse it.  That‘s not to say that it‘s right.  And we saw it happen in 2000 with Senator McCain.  But again, you know, I think there has to be a separation, when you‘re talking about these just as process, between—clearly, there‘s—there‘s right and there‘s wrong, and then there‘s what happens on the campaign trail.

MATTHEWS:  Allen, I applaud you for coming on after serving your time.  I‘m always very appreciative because I figure so many people get away with bad stuff, and you got caught and you paid for a lot of people‘s sins.  Thank you very much, Allen Raymond...

RAYMOND:  You‘re welcome.  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  ... and Mike Paul.

PAUL:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, brand-new poll numbers from South Carolina.  Which Republican is going to take control in this weekend‘s all-important primary down there?  It‘s Saturday again.  We have politics Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays this year.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Just two days now until the South Carolina Republican primary—that‘s going to be on a Saturday this week—and the Nevada caucuses, which are—they‘re the Democratic caucuses, mainly.  That‘s also this Saturday. 

With me now, NBC News political director Chuck Todd and “The National Journal”‘s Linda Douglass. 

You know, I said—after the New Hampshire primary, I said, this is the only business in which you have the playoffs first, then the season. 


MATTHEWS:  The only sport—we‘re in the season now.

Let‘s talk about the brand-new NBC polls—MSNBC poll out tonight.  In South Carolina, which is going to have its primary this Saturday, John McCain has the lead with 27 percent.  But what kind of a lead is this?  Mike Huckabee is at 25 point.  That‘s no lead.  Mitt‘s at 15 percent.  Fred Thompson, who I thought might win down there, is at 13 percent, Ron Paul 6 percent, and, of course, Giuliani, nothing, basically, a handful of votes there. 

Chuck, you first. 

That looks, again, like we have been thinking, that it could be a Huckabee win. 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  It could be, because, first of all, we always think that evangelicals are under-sampled in polling, that they don‘t always show up in as high of a number in a poll as they do on Election Day. 

The other thing, 62 percent of the electorate in this poll was evangelical, and he—and Huckabee was winning by double digits on that.  So, if you assume that there is sort of an under-reporting of evangelical support, because polls often do that, and it looks like Huckabee has some momentum here, and...


MATTHEWS:  So, he will be—his—his people, his crowd, if you will, will be like the women voters that didn‘t quite show up in the polling up in New Hampshire; they won‘t show until voting?


TODD:  Everybody in the field now wants McCain to lose.  They are afraid of him winning.  So, all of a sudden, you have got Thompson taking shots at McCain.  You have got—obviously, Huckabee is.  You have got Romney.  You have got...


MATTHEWS:  And the sleazeballs are doing it, too.  You have got guys people putting out this stuff about his war record, too.


TODD:  Because if McCain can flip South Carolina, then, suddenly, he can stake some claim to being the front-runner.  And that‘s what they want to prevent. 

LINDA DOUGLASS, “THE NATIONAL JOURNAL”:  But the alternative—I mean, the alternate view there is, if McCain loses in South Carolina, look at this.  I mean, he devoted most of his resources after his campaign essentially collapsed in the summertime to New Hampshire and South Carolina. 

So, if he‘s lost Michigan, and he loses South Carolina, it begins to look like he can‘t win when actual conservative Republicans vote.  And they are the people who vote most often in these primaries.  It begins to make him look like a candidate who really appeals to independent, but not Republicans. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, remember the old Polaroid cameras?

TODD:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, where you get a picture and you sit and look at it for a while, and it took about 10 minutes, and it would finally come into clarity, right? 

TODD:  Then they—by the way, they eventually fade again. 



TODD:  Don‘t forget that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s coming into clarity here on the Republican side?  Is anybody emerging as a true front-runner here?

TODD:  No.  But I think we think we know where it‘s back down to.  And I feel like we‘re on the deja vu all over again. 

Six months ago, we said this was going to be McCain vs. Romney.  And, all of a sudden, you feel like that we‘re back into McCain vs. Romney, where you see, if he does win South Carolina, McCain, then he‘s on a run, and he probably makes a pretty strong run in Florida. 

If he loses that, just like Linda said, all these questions about whether he can appeal to actual Republicans start coming into question.  And, then, all of a sudden, there‘s Mitt Romney just hanging around.  He will go and win these Nevada caucuses.  They‘re very—it‘s a heavily Mormon—there‘s a lot of...


MATTHEWS:  There are a lot of LDS out there. 

TODD:  And so, if he can win that, he will be the guy with the delegate lead, despite a Huckabee victory.  Huckabee might say he has won two, but..

MATTHEWS:  But delegates really start counting February 5.

TODD:  Delegates are counting.  Then Romney starts making the real play in a closed primary in Florida. 

DOUGLASS:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk—oh, go ahead, Linda.

DOUGLASS:  There‘s just one more thing that could happen in South Carolina.  We could actually see the end of Fred Thompson.  I just think it‘s probably worth throwing that out there, because this was going to be the state where he made his last stand.  And he‘s not doing very well.  He certainly could pull it off, but it doesn‘t look like—of course, we don‘t want to believe those polls.

MATTHEWS:  So, in the language of television, he won‘t be renewed. 


MATTHEWS:  So, we are going to get some winnowing of the minnowing here, a reduced number. 

It could—you think it looks—it‘s coming into...


TODD:  I think.


MATTHEWS:  I know you hate to take a pick.

TODD:  What‘s the incentive?

MATTHEWS:  But McCain and Romney begin to look like the national campaigners?

TODD:  They feel like the ones that have...

MATTHEWS:  Not Huckabee yet?

TODD:  Not Huckabee.  Huckabee has got to prove he can win something that is not evangelical-based.  I mean, so what if he wins South Carolina and Iowa?  Those are two places where...

MATTHEWS:  What percentage of the Republican Party nationally is sort of what you call evangelical, Bible Belt? 

TODD:  It‘s about one in four to one in five, depending...


MATTHEWS:  That‘s not enough.

TODD:  It‘s not enough. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk Democrat.

DOUGLASS:  In a place like California—let me just mention, California has about 30 percent of the Republican electorate is evangelical, self-professed evangelical.  It‘s a very conservative electorate.  He could hang on in some places that could surprise people. 

TODD:  He can get delegates.  That‘s not the issue.  But can he get the majority of the delegates?  I just don‘t buy it.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get back to this sensitive area.  This is the ethnic issue, the racial issue, if you will, although I prefer the word ethnic. 

The Democratic primary in South Carolina is next Saturday.  Half the voters on the Democratic side are African-American.  And we got a brand-new MSNBC poll down there in that very hot state, Senator Barack Obama at 40, substantial lead, one that looks like a real lead, beyond the margin of error over Senator Clinton, at 31, and Edwards still trailing in the state he was born in, at 13. 

Is this his burial ground? 

TODD:  It could be.  I mean, he‘s got to—this is a state he won.  He has not broken through at all.  He has really struggled in South Carolina. 

What‘s interesting, though, is that he could be the king-maker.  He could be the difference between Obama winning and losing in South Carolina.  And that‘s because, when you look at the racial breakdown of this poll, OK, Obama is winning, you know, 2-1, almost 3-1, when it comes among African-Americans.  He‘s third among whites.  John Edwards is second among whites, but he‘s only margin-of-error number.  He‘s got less than the actual margin of error of the poll among African-Americans. 

So, he‘s the difference between Hillary Clinton maybe making a serious run at Obama in this state. 

MATTHEWS:  This is really getting close to a two-person race, isn‘t it, Linda? 

DOUGLASS:  Oh, absolutely. 

I mean, and John Edwards may hang on just because, as long as he keeps that 15 percent viability number, where he can keep getting delegates, it makes even more of a king-maker.  I mean, I imagine he has a strategy—one hears this from people who support him—to get all the way to the convention with... 

TODD:  Oh, Joe Trippi has done this before.  He did this with Jerry Brown.  You just sort of hang around, hang around, hang around.  You acquire delegates because Democrats are very—they give everybody a delegate.


MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk tough Clinton politics. 

If you look at ‘92, they have a system, they‘re quite—I don‘t know if the word cynical is the right word.  They are tough about it.  They seem to know that politics isn‘t about being the most popular person in the country.  We don‘t have popularity contests.  It‘s about being the last person standing. 

They were able to knock out Tsongas because he didn‘t have the money in ‘92.  They were able to knock out Bob Kerrey because he wasn‘t serious, right?  That‘s a fair statement. 

TODD:  It is.

MATTHEWS:  And they ended up being the party candidate against a weak president, George Bush, the old George Bush. 

Linda, you start here. 

So, it isn‘t about being perfect.  It isn‘t about being beloved.  It‘s not about all the guys liking Hillary Clinton.  It‘s about getting the other guys out of the race. 

DOUGLASS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  She‘s now almost there.  She‘s gotten Edwards on the ropes.  Barack Obama, doesn‘t he have to almost keep winning to win?  In other words, the minute he loses two in a row, it seems to me she‘s there. 

DOUGLASS:  Which is why this little Nevada caucus, which shouldn‘t really matter...


DOUGLASS:  ... could really matter a lot. 


DOUGLASS:  Because the perception is that she just keeps winning, if she would, for example, win the Nevada caucus.

MATTHEWS:  New Hampshire and then that.

DOUGLASS:  Yes, because it‘s all about perceptions, although I think it‘s a little bit different than Tsongas and Kerrey with Barack Obama. 

I mean, there really is a constituency out there in the country that feels pretty passionately about him. 


DOUGLASS:  He has represented something that sort of looks like a movement. 

It‘s—it‘s—you know, if she savages him too much, there might be a price to pay for that somewhere down the road. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I tried to say this.  I think I said it pretty well on “The Tonight Show,” where you have more time to answer questions. 


MATTHEWS:  But two things I think most people don‘t know watching this show, and you guys both know, when you‘re with Hillary Clinton, she‘s great.  She‘s a sparkling personality.  She‘s not all studious, you know, A-student perfection. 

You have to be in a Barack Obama room to sort of get his campaign. 

That‘s his plus and that‘s his minus, right, Chuck? 

TODD:  That‘s a fascinating way of...


TODD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  I mean, if you can‘t get in the room and watch him with 2,000 people...

TODD:  Then you don‘t see the electricity.

MATTHEWS:  ... you don‘t get it. 

TODD:  You don‘t.


MATTHEWS:  He‘s just another politician, but—yes.

TODD:  I get this from family and friends who sit there, who haven‘t been in the room with Obama...


TODD:  ... at one of these events, and go, what is it?  I don‘t understand.  What is he for?  What is this change?  What is it? 

He‘s got to figure—he‘s got to—there‘s something missing.  And he may figure it out.  But it‘s this next thing.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s got get on the tube.


MATTHEWS:  This vehicle here is the best he‘s going to do. 


TODD:  That he‘s got to do.

DOUGLASS:  It‘s all about breaking through on television.

MATTHEWS:  Half-hour speeches, maybe.  Maybe he has got to give half-hour speeches on television, like they used to do, not five minutes. 


TODD:  Well, I mean, that‘s how he broke through the first time, giving a half-hour speech on television. 

MATTHEWS:  So, Todd, we‘re helping to build these campaigns right here. 

Meet Hillary Clinton personally. 


MATTHEWS:  There‘s like a booth where you meet her. 

Anyway, Linda Douglass, thank you. 

Why is Barack Obama comparing himself to Ronald Reagan?  Well, I would like to know that one. 

Anyway, can Rudy Giuliani really say he hasn‘t—he wasn‘t trying to win up in New Hampshire when he lost?  The “Big Number” proves otherwise tonight.  It‘s up next, the “Big Number.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is new out there in the world of politics? 

Well, it‘s not often you see a Democratic candidate running for the Democratic nomination courting the Democratic base, all the while praising Ronald Reagan. 

Here‘s Barack Obama talking to the “Reno Gazette-Journal” editorial board. 


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I don‘t want to present myself as some sort of singular figure.  I think part of what‘s different is—are the times. 

I do think that, for example, the 1980 election was different.  I mean I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.  He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.


MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think ‘80 was a change election. 

Anyway, Obama is saying he‘s more Reaganesque, in that sense, than Clintonesque, a surprising assertion for a Democrat. 

Anyway, now to some comedy.

Here‘s Hillary talking to her press corps, the ones traveling with her, from Vegas to Reno. 

Let‘s listen and look. 


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  In a few minutes, I‘m going too switch off the “fasten your seat belt” sign.  However, I have learned lately that things can get awfully bumpy when you least expect it.  So, you might want to keep those seat belts fastened.  And, in the event of an unexpected drop in poll numbers, this plane will be diverted to New Hampshire.

If you look out from the right, you will see an America saddled with tax cuts with the wealthiest and a war without end. 

Once again, thank you for joining us on Hill Force One.  We know you have choices when you fly, and so we are grateful that you chose the plane with the most experienced candidate. 

Thank you, all.  Have a great flight. 


MATTHEWS:  There‘s somebody‘s who has been on a lot of airplanes. 

Anyway, now to South Carolina, where a little guy continues to make a big stir.  Libertarian Ron Paul—a lot of young people like this guy—is getting noticed, not just for his opposition to the war in Iraq, but for this huge blimp making the rounds of the Palmetto State—that‘s South Carolina—where—there it is, emblazoned with “Ron Paul Revolution.” 

I wonder what that cause—costs to do? 

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

For weeks now, we have behind hearing that Rudy Giuliani plans to begin his winning streak in Florida at the end of this month, that he really never cared about Iowa and New Hampshire. 

Well, could Rudy end up winning in Florida?  Well, sure, but let‘s get straight on the facts here.  Rudy absolutely did care about New Hampshire.  And he tried hard to win up there.  The proof is in tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

How many events did Rudy Giuliani, the guy who said he never cared about New Hampshire, hold up there in New Hampshire before the primary?  According to ABC News, a whopping 126 events Giuliani sponsored up there.  That‘s John McCain—compared to John McCain‘s 104.  Only Mitt Romney held more. 

So, 126 Rudy events in New Hampshire, a state he said he never tried to win in, tonight‘s “Big Number.”  The “Big Number” tonight, Rudy Giuliani really did care about New Hampshire. 

Up next: three different states, three different winners for the Republicans.  Who will out-muscle the field to become the front-runner?  Who is going to be the Republican standard-bearer?  I wonder if they‘re even going to have one.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


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

Stocks nosedive, as Merrill Lynch reported a fourth-quarter loss of nearly $10 billion.  The Fed said manufacturing in the Philadelphia region dropped to a six-year low. 

The Dow industrials plunged nearly 307 points, closing at a 10-month low.  The S&P 500 fell almost 40 points, closing at a 15-month low.  And the Nasdaq dropped 47 points, closing at a 14-month low. 

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke‘s testimony before Congress failed to help stocks.  He repeated his remarks last week that the Fed is ready to take substantive additional action on interest rates to boost the economy.  He also came out in favor of an economic stimulus package. 

And it was announced that the New York Stock Exchange will buy its smaller rival, the American Stock Exchange, for $216 million in stocks and the proceeds from the sale of Amex‘S headquarters. 

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


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We‘re just two days away from the South Carolina Republican primary.  That‘s going to be on Saturday.  And after three contests, God, everybody wins one.  It‘s like rationing in your parties.  You got three people who have won.  It‘s—Iowa went to Huckabee, and New Hampshire went to McCain, and Michigan went to Romney. 

Is this going to keep up like this, Pat?  Maybe Huckabee or Thompson or somebody winning down in South Carolina?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think Thompson has to win or he‘s out.  I think if Huckabee wins, he‘s alive.  But I think if Huckabee doesn‘t win, I think McCain is really out in front.  Because McCain and Romney, in my judgment, Chris, are the two long-distance runners, both of whom can win the nomination.  McCain‘s much shorter on financial resources and he needs the constant fuel of victory. 

MATTHEWS:  Victory, yes. 

BUCHANAN:  And so I think—I think McCain would be able in very serious trouble if he loses South Carolina. 

MATTHEWS:  So to use my original theory when we used to make these—we still make the power rankings, but from day one, Tucker, I always based it on one theory, one standard, who can take losses, who can take a bunch of them; and Hillary Clinton was always somebody who can take some losses because of her tremendous capital in the Democratic party.  Can Romney—does he have the loot in his bag, can he draw a bank account, can he take the money out to pay for losses? 


MATTHEWS:  He can keep going?

CARLSON:  I believe can‘t keep going.  I think there is deep skepticism about Mitt Romney.  There also is, of course, about John McCain. 

But, in the end, I think a lot Republicans feel like McCain, for all his

flaws, is conservative enough.  He got Tom Coburn and Trent Lott to endorse

him.  He‘s not some screaming lefty.  And he‘s got the best shot in


In the end, look, the hero thing is the basis of John McCain‘s campaign and it‘s resonant even to this day.  You look at the candidates and say, who do I want my son to grow up—

MATTHEWS:  It‘s who he is. 

CARLSON:  It‘s who he is.   

MATTHEWS:  When you think about John McCain, it is impossible—I was thinking of this this morning.  It‘s impossible to think of this guy without thinking of the physical handicap he bears with him.  People say he can‘t comb his hair or reach his arm up.  He carries this torture around with him.  Pat, you don‘t like him, though, do you? 

BUCHANAN:  I‘m not a—

MATTHEWS:  You used to like him. 

BUCHANAN:  We used to be very good friends, and we‘re not anymore.  But I do think there is no doubt about it that McCain does have a crossover appeal.  It‘s undeniable.  When you get the independents in there, he does as well. 

MATTHEWS:  He certainly does.   

BUCHANAN:  Let me say this, as this thing moves toward the economy, Chris, ask yourself, and you get into a general election, who would you like to have running an economy which is—we saw the horrible numbers from today—running it?  A community organizer from Chicago or Mitt Romney?  If you‘re talking about running the economy?  I think that—that‘s what I‘m talking about.  As it moves to the economic issues -- 

MATTHEWS:  How about Hillary Clinton or McCain?  How about that one, a middle case? 

BUCHANAN:  I think you give it to Hillary on the grounds that—

MATTHEWS:  -- to centrist to some extent. 

BUCHANAN:  I think you give it to Hillary on the grounds that McCain doesn‘t have any credentials there and the Republicans presided over the mess up. 

MATTHEWS:  And the Democrats can still claim that they had a hell of a ride economically, and everybody did in the ‘90s. 

CARLSON:  But I think the conservative case is, and has always been, anyway, that the president doesn‘t run the economy.  Nobody runs the economy.  It‘s too huge.  We can‘t even define what the economy is. 

MATTHEWS:  Politically, ever since the Great Depression, politically you run against Hoover, you run against Carter, you run against the guy that can‘t do it and you say I can, and hope you can.  That‘s how it works politically, right? 

CARLSON:  I think Pat‘s right.  It will be a much tougher case for McCain to make.  I think he was foolish to concede that he is not an economic wizard, as he did the other day.  But I still think, in the end, he—think of it this way, the Republicans are likely to lose no matter what they do.  It‘s just one of those years.  It‘s not their fault, maybe it is, but they are likely to lose.  Who is candidate who is going to be best for the party long term?  I think a lot of Republicans are thinking of it in those terms. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make, Pat, of these stimulus packages?  Everybody has got these little Chotchkies (ph).  I‘ve got this thing with six programs on it.  I‘ll cut taxes for certain groups.  Barack will cut the payroll tax and we‘re going to get out of a recession?  Has any of these things ever worked or is it the business cycle that gets us out? 

BUCHANAN:  Seventy five billion dollars is one half of one percent of the Gross National Product.  The economy—housing is going down like it is, that‘s peanuts.  Larry Summers is talking more, 150 billion dollars.   So I think that would be something.  But you‘re going to get a Christmas tree if you get one of these packages, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  All kinds of pork on it, yes. 

BUCHANAN:  And both parties will probably go for something like that.  But, again, I think, if you go to McCain and Romney, both of them, unlike Mike Huckabee, who is a good guy—it‘s hard for me to see Huckabee winning Ohio and Michigan.  I can see Romney winning those and I can see McCain winning those. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s imagine McCain squeaks it out in South Carolina this Saturday, what does it do for the shape of the field? 

CARLSON:  South Carolina has essentially chosen every nominee since 1980. 

MATTHEWS:  You said that last night. 

CARLSON:  And that‘s absolutely right.  It will be a fight from then on.  There are a lot of Republicans who hate the fact the press likes him.  They don‘t trust him.  But, in the end, from my point of view, he‘s the one you can see party can coalesce around.  If it‘s not him, the party has to rethink what it‘s about.  If it‘s Huckabee or Giuliani, you‘ve got to rethink what it is to be a Republican. 

MATTHEWS:  It may be the most conservative of Republican state on so many issues, South Carolina.  Is it the great mother of presidents for your party? 

BUCHANAN:  It is.  And McCain has benefited from the fact that the non-McCain, anti-McCain vote is divided four ways.  But if he wins South Carolina, Chris, I think he‘s a preemptive favorite to win Florida.  Then his national polls will be 35 percent when you have the national election. 

MATTHEWS:  Suppose Mike Huckabee wins down there, Tucker—

BUCHANAN:  I think—

CARLSON:  If Huckabee wins, you got to redefine what it means to be a Republican.  I‘m not arguing against Huckabee as a man—

MATTHEWS:  Are you still a Republican if that happens? 

CARLSON:  It‘s going to take something to bring me back.  I‘m more conservative than any Republican running.  So it‘s going to—

BUCHANAN:  How is your boy Ron Paul?  How is he going to do down there? 

CARLSON:  Ron Paul, unfortunately—not enough people believe in freedom, is the truth, Pat, as you know. 

MATTHEWS:  Where can Ron Paul win? 

CARLSON:  My house. 

MATTHEWS:  Great, thank you, Tucker Carlson.  Young people, real young people, really like him.  I hear it a lot.  Pat Buchanan, the old Goldwater appeal, keep it simple. 

Up next, the politics fix, everything you need to know about this weekend‘s Nevada caucus, that‘s the big for the Democrats.  Of course, the South Carolina primary, which is big for the Republicans.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Now for the politics fix and our round table tonight, the heavyweights again, David Ignatius of the “Washington Post,” cNBC‘s John Harwood, who is somewhere else in the headquarters here, and social commentator—I love you, Nancy, you are the best.  I‘m glad you could come back, because I want to talk about—did you grow up in the south or the north.  Where did you grow up? 

:  I grew up in Queens, New York. 

MATTHEWS:  Do we have any southerners here, anywhere here?  We‘re talking South Carolina.  Harwood is not from there—


JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC ANCHOR:  Born in Kentucky, went to school in North Carolina, dude. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, OK, dude.  Border state leading to the Tar Heel state.  Let me ask you then, you‘ve got the bona fides here.  South Carolina looks to be, like it was in the Civil War, the gunshot that is going to perhaps end this Civil War in the Republican party.  If McCain wins down there, do you accept the argument from Mr. Pat Buchanan, an erstwhile and occasional Republican, that that will do it for McCain, that will put him up front, and then he has to duke it out with the money man, Romney, for the whole shebang, to go on against Hillary or Barack or whoever?

HARWOOD:  I don‘t agree with Pat.  Look, I thought it was possible after New Hampshire that he was going to roll into Michigan, win there and really get something going.  The fact that he was not strong enough to win Michigan—and Mitt Romney did not exactly go in there as a ball of fire, because Mitt Romney had been disappointed in both Iowa and New Hampshire.  I think that tells you something about how tenuous John McCain‘s hold on the Republican electorate is. 

He got killed among Republicans.  He did well among independents but there weren‘t enough of them.  I think if he wins South Carolina, then he has a chance, once again, to try to get something going.  He would have to do that in Florida.  If he can put two together in those two states, in South Carolina and Florida, then I would go with Pat and say he has a clear upper hand, but not until he does both. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go right here with David.  McCain, I guess the big question is, are we going to see this field become clearer?  This has been several weeks now.  We thought the campaign would be fast.  The Republican party seems get more diffuse every week.  It doesn‘t winnow in, it winnows out. 

DAVID IGNATIUS, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  The spread in these first primaries has been striking.  I don‘t think a knockout punch is possible for McCain in South Carolina.  But I do think that national polls are beginning to show him as a stronger candidate again.  I do think every—

MATTHEWS:  But if he loses in South Carolina—sorry—will he lose the national? 

IGNATIUS:  I don‘t think there‘s a knockout punch that way either. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s bring in Nancy to take a look at this Republican fight before we finish here.  We‘ve got McCain two points ahead in the latest poll.  MSNBC has McCain at 27, Huckabee at 25.  Based upon our successes and lack thereof in New Hampshire, I‘m hesitant to say a two-point spread in the polls two days before an election means anything.  But there you have it, two guys fighting for the lead.  If Huckabee wins, it seems like he‘s back in business.  If McCain loses, he‘s back in a four or five-way fight. 

NANCY GILES, SOCIAL COMMENTATOR:  I would hope after what happened in New Hampshire that all of you guys would kind of calm down and not just base anybody‘s campaign on the latest win, because as was said earlier, it‘s just such a wide-open field for Republicans.  Huckabee, I interviewed him, and I talked to him years ago when he was living in a trailer, because they were redoing the governor‘s mansion.  He‘s very personable.  He‘s lovely to speak to.  But his whole idea of the Const-commandments, sort of refining the Constitution and the Ten Commandment, the godliness, is a little freaky, don‘t you think? 

I just can‘t see him making a real big play that‘s going to last that long.  And McCain, although he‘s got some very strong views and he‘s sort of kept steady with all the talk about Iraq, no offense, but he, to me, looks kind of long in the tooth and a little frail.  I don‘t know how else to say it. 

MATTHEWS:  You are so tough.  One guy is freaky and the other guy is long in the tooth.  Who do you think is a prospect?  Who is alive here? 

GILES:  I just—I don‘t know, I worry about McCain.  Every once in a while he gets out and he talks—maybe it‘s because he‘s not the best public speaker that I just think he‘s not really inspiring. 

HARWOOD:  Nancy, you admit that Mitt Romney looks pretty good, right? 

GILES:  He does, but I worry about him in deep ways. I almost think he‘s sociopath because he --  

MATTHEWS:  Freaky, sociopath, long in the tooth? 

GILES:  He flips with the wind.  The only thing steady about Mitt Romney, to me, has been his faith.  He believes in his faith.  But he switched up all of his positions so easily and staring people straight in the face.  I mean, today, he was questioned about whether his campaign consultant is actually a—oh, gosh, I‘m losing all my faculties for English. 

HARWOOD:  Lobbyist. 

GILES:  Thank you.  He said, no, he‘s just a consultant, he‘s not a lobbyist.  I didn‘t say that he worked with me.  The words—that guy, I can‘t trust him farther than I can throw him. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to deconstruct.  He did say that the guy was a consultant, an adviser, but not a paid adviser.  That was his defense.  He is a lobbyist. 

IGNATIUS:  And he beat up on a reporter in the process. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, he was really tough on that guy.  Let me go to John. 

Last thought there, John? 

HARWOOD:  Chris, just wanted to say, all these Republican candidates are just really weak.  Look at it, Mike Huckabee has done nothing outside of Iowa.  John McCain couldn‘t follow-up in Michigan.  Mitt Romney lost his two big targets.  Fred Thompson hasn‘t done much.  Rudy Giuliani‘s numbers are going down.  We‘ve got to wait until somebody proves something in this field. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be back with the round table to see if there is a Republican candidate this year.  The politics fix back in a minute on HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table for the politics fix. I want to start with Nancy Giles first.  Your sense, your sense of smell, maybe, on this Democratic side?  Is there going to be something develop this Saturday in Nevada if, for example, Hillary Clinton pulls an upset and defeats Barack Obama where he has the big union support? 

GILES:  Well, it‘s so interesting to me that there was the legal case that tried to prevent the casino workers from having the caucuses extended so that they could do them at work on Saturday.  I always think if someone‘s trying to keep someone else from voting, that‘s not a good sign.  So, it‘s really weird to see that—I don‘t want to just defame the Clinton camp, but it was the Democratic, you know, party that wanted to fight that lawsuit in defense of the teachers who don‘t work on Saturday.  I don‘t understand why that‘s an issue. 

I don‘t see Hillary pulling that one off.  I—you got me right.  I‘m definitely—you know, I‘ll expose myself and say that I‘m definitely supporting Barack Obama.  I think Hillary is really, really good at deflecting direct questions that she doesn‘t want to answer.  I watched her in the hands of someone like Tim Russert when he asked her direct questions about whether she knew about the pardons that Bill Clinton was going to make at the end of his term, she was like, no, no, no. 

And she‘s great with taking answers and shutting down what she doesn‘t want to talk about.  I think Barack with the union support and just with the feeling that you get, when you watch him, he inspires people. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, tell me, we‘ve been through that.  We‘ll be through that again, the differences.  Let me ask John, can Hillary pull an upset out there?  Are the numbers close enough? 

HARWOOD:  I think it‘s possible.  But it‘s very tough.  I ran into an Obama person out at the place where we had the debate in Las Vegas.  You and I were out there earlier this week. 


HARWOOD:  He said, look, we‘re in pretty good shape, but we have no clue how many people are going to show up, 60,000; 150,000, they really don‘t know.   

MATTHEWS:  Wide-open in Nevada.  Thank you very much David Ignatius, John Harwood, Nancy Giles.  Join us again tomorrow at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  See you then.



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