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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Friday, May 23

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Guests: Bertha Coombs, Chris Matthews, Andrea Mitchell, Chuck Todd, Pat Buchanan, Kevin Spacey, E.J. Dionne, Michelle Bernard, Chris Cillizza, David Axelrod

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The Associated Press.  Senator Hillary Clinton referred Friday to the assassination of Robert Kennedy in the 1968 Democratic campaign as a reason she should continue to campaign despite increasingly long odds.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Today, Hillary Clinton defended her decision to stay in the race by raising the specter of Robert F. Kennedy‘s assassination during his presidential run in 1968.  Here she is.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right?  We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.  You know, I just—I don‘t understand it.


MATTHEWS:  Well, this comes a day after the governor of New York, David Paterson, said that Hillary Clinton was beginning to act desperate in this campaign.  Anyway, the Obama campaign responded with this statement.  Quote, “Senator Clinton‘s statement before the ‘Argus Leader‘ editorial board was unfortunate and has no place in this campaign.”  With disputed reports, by the way, of talks between the Obama and the Clinton campaigns over a possible Obama ticket with Clinton, does Senator Clinton‘s comment about Bobby Kennedy‘s assassination end any talk of a so-called “Dream ticket”?  In a moment, we‘re going to talk to Senator Barack Obama‘s chief campaign strategist, David Axelrod, to find out what‘s really going on, if anything, between the two campaigns right now.

And a clean bill of health for McCain?  We‘ll see.  Today the 71-year-old presumptive Republican nominee released his medical records, hundreds and hundreds of pages of it, and he appears to be in good health.  With polls showing his age is a concern to some voters, will McCain‘s age and health play a role, ultimately, in his bid for president?

Plus, Florida, Florida, Florida.  Why is Hillary Clinton fighting so hard to seat the Florida delegates?  Is it a push to become the VP?  Does she want to take this fight all the way to the convention in Denver and hurt the party?  And why is she acting like these votes are being taken away from her, a la the 2000 recount?  HARDBALL‘s David Shuster will have a report.

And then we talk to actor Kevin Spacey about HBO‘s new movie, and it‘s a doozy,  “Recount.”  It‘s on Sunday night.  And in our Friday “Politics Fix,” the panel looks at the winners and losers of this week.

But we begin with Senator Clinton‘s comments late today referring to Robert Kennedy‘s assassination.  David Axelrod is chief strategist for the Obama campaign.  He joins us from his headquarters in Chicago.

David, Hillary Clinton today, according to the Associated Press—and we‘ll show you the tape again—used her husband‘s campaign, which she said didn‘t end until after he won in California, and then she referred to, in speaking to this editorial board at “The Sioux Falls Argus Leader,” about the assassination of Robert Kennedy.  We will play what she says, the video.  Here it is.


CLINTON:  My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right?  We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.  You know, I just—I don‘t understand it.


MATTHEWS:  Well, the Associated Press puts this out as a fact tonight.  They said that the reason she did that was to make a case for continuing her campaign despite increasingly long odds.  What do you make of the Hillary Clinton case, that one reason she should continue her campaign is that something like that might happen, according to this AP report?  David?

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST:  Well, Chris, first of all, we said that we thought it was an unfortunate comment, and I honestly can‘t believe that that is what she meant.  I don‘t think she‘s hoping for some tragic, catastrophic...

MATTHEWS:  No, no.

AXELROD:  ... event to intervene.  And so, you know, I don‘t want to impute that to her.  And I don‘t know what the Associated Press bases that on, but I‘m certainly not going to do that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, she said it was—they said it was a reason—it was a reason she was giving for why you would continue to campaign into June, because something could happen that would alter the campaign.  Therefore, you stay in the race.  That‘s the way the AP story was played, the way I think an objective journalist would look at this.

But let‘s have a senator...

AXELROD:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s Senator Clinton clarifying, or trying to clarify, what she said late today.


CLINTON:  ... that moment of trauma for our entire nation, and particularly for the Kennedy family, was in any way offensive, I certainly had no intention of that whatsoever.  My view is that we have to look to the past and to our leaders who have inspired us and given us a lot to live up to.  And I‘m honored to hold Senator Kennedy‘s seat in the United States Senate from the state of New York and have the highest regard for the entire Kennedy family.


MATTHEWS:  What do you make, David, of Governor David Paterson‘s comment yesterday that Hillary Clinton is becoming desperate in the campaign, in other words, looking for reasons to stay in the race?

AXELROD:  Well, you know, Governor Paterson is a supporter of Senator Clinton, and I‘ll let them work that out themselves.  I—we‘ve said repeatedly that Senator Clinton has every right to stay in this race.  She‘s fought a hard campaign.  She‘s a tenacious campaigner.  And you know, we have two weeks left.  We believe that this race will be over on June the 3rd, and we‘ll come together as a party.  And that‘s what we‘re working toward.  You know, I‘m not looking for any—you know, any side debates, and I‘m not going to involve myself in any intramural debates in the Clinton campaign.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK, let me ask you about—do you think there might be an effort by the Clinton campaign to get a hung jury before the rules committee and bylaws committee on the 31st, so that they can continue to fight through July, when they meet the credentials committee?

AXELROD:  I think the vast—I don‘t know what their intent is.  I think the vast majority of leaders of the party are eager to see Florida and Michigan seated within the context of the rules.  I think most members of the rules committee feel the same why.  We‘re very committed to seeing Michigan and Florida participating in this convention.  Senator Obama‘s been in Florida the last three days.  We‘ve had a great visit down there.  And he‘s told folks down there that we‘re completely committed to seeing them seated, and we‘re going to make sure that that happens.

MATTHEWS:  Do you have any indication from the Clinton campaign that Senator Clinton believes that the fight is lost?

AXELROD:  You know what?  I‘ve seen a lot of speculation in the last 24 hours about some back-channel talks between the campaigns and all kinds of wild speculation.  The truth is, we haven‘t had any, Chris.


AXELROD:  We‘re not talking right now.  We‘re both competing very hard, and you know, there‘ll come a time, I suppose, when we‘ll sit down and talk about moving forward from here.  But we have not had those discussions.  And I don‘t know what she or her campaign is thinking.  I assume that they‘re thinking that whey say, which is they want to compete until the very end and they think somehow they can win this thing.

MATTHEWS:  What about the report that Jim Johnson, who handled vetting for John Kerry last time around for VP, is doing the same thing for your campaign?

AXELROD:  Well, look, Jim‘s been a vice chair of our campaign from almost the very beginning, and he‘s a—he‘s got a lot of experience and a lot of skills.  And you know, when the time comes to begin that process, I‘m sure we‘ll seek his counsel.  But it‘s—we are now still trying to finish this...


AXELROD:  ... this process out.  That‘ll happen June 3, and then we‘ll turn our attention toward the question of a running mate.

MATTHEWS:  Will the business dealings of a spouse be relevant in your vetting process?

AXELROD:  You know, I don‘t know.  Do you—do you know something I don‘t know?  I don‘t—I don‘t know what you‘re referring to.

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m wondering—I‘m wondering whet her if—if, first of all, Hillary Clinton is on your list to be vetted, I‘m sure you‘d have to vet her, as well as all the other candidates.  Would you vet her husband‘s business dealings, speaking engagements, relationships with other world leaders, other countries?  Would that be part of the vetting process?

AXELROD:  You know, I‘ve been so cautious...

MATTHEWS:  Or would he be exempt from that as a former president?

AXELROD:  I think I‘ve been remarkably careful in my statements all through this.  And you think I‘m going to go for that one?


MATTHEWS:  Hey, it‘s Friday night, David!  I‘m looking for something here.  You‘re not going to give me anything.


MATTHEWS:  ... Hillary coming out of Bobby Kennedy.  I‘m looking for something here.


AXELROD:  I haven‘t gotten to happy hour yet.  I‘m not ready to answer a question like that.


MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you about the campaign because you‘ve got three more contests.  How relevant is Puerto Rico, given the fact that the commonwealth voters do not get to vote in our general elections for president?  How relevant would be a Hillary Clinton steamrollering of your campaign down there on the island?

AXELROD:  Look, we‘ve got three more contests, and they will be three of many that go toward the nomination.  Obviously, Puerto Rico is relevant.  Puerto Rico‘s going to be a participant in our convention.  They‘ve got a significant number of delegates.  We‘re going to get our share of delegates there, and we‘re going to do well in the other two states, as well.  And that I think is going to contribute to the winning margin that we‘ll have on June the 3rd.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at what Senator Feinstein had to say. 

Well, I was going to tell you what she had to say until they moved the—

“I am one who believes”—this is Senator Feinstein of California, the senator senator.  Well, they‘re both—they both came in at the same time.  I‘m not sure who the senior senator is.  “I am one that believes that if works out that Senator Obama is the nominee, the strongest ticket would be Senator Clinton as vice president, no question in my mind because the constituencies in the votes are different, the weight of the states he carried versus the states she carried.  It‘s different.  And therefore, if you combine them both, you‘ve got the best electoral path.”

Now, that‘s one theory, that they add to each other‘s strength.  The other theory is that the Hillary Clinton haters in the Republican Party will come out in droves to defeat her for vice president or president, and it would be subtractive to put her on the ticket.  What‘s your assessment?

AXELROD:  Well, look, I‘m not going to talk about vice presidential selections here, Chris.  We‘ve got some work to do before we get to that.  Senator Clinton is a formidable, capable person.  And obviously, her name is going to be discussed in any discussion like this, if we secure the nomination.  But I‘m not going to get into—everybody has a theory, and Senator Feinstein has hers.  I‘ve heard 100 others.  People are very generous right now with their theories, but...


AXELROD:  ... we‘re going to sit down and think about this—we‘re going to sit down and think about this at the appropriate time.

MATTHEWS:  Do you still look upon Hillary Clinton as a political rival?

AXELROD:  You know, we look at her as a competitor for this nomination.  But you know, Barack Obama has said from the beginning he didn‘t get into this race to tear Hillary Clinton or anybody else down.  He got in this race to lift the country up.  We view her as a rival for the nomination.  We also view her as someone who believes that this country needs change and understands how desperately it does.  And that‘s why we believe we‘re going be a unified party coming out of this process.  I strongly believe that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, congratulations to your campaign and to the candidate, Senator Barack Obama, for winning the most elected delegates in this big fight.  Many people like Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker, believe that that is definitive as to who should be the next nominee of the Democratic Party.  Thank you very much, David Axelrod, chief strategist for Senator Obama.

AXELROD:  All right.  Good to be with you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell and Pat Buchanan on Hillary Clinton‘s comments about Bobby Kennedy‘s assassination late today.  Well, we‘ll ask them all what they think.  I‘m just going by the Associated Press and the other reports where she used that as a reason for staying in the race that suggests that anything can happen.  Some people think that may not have been a right thing to say at this point.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Hillary Clinton said late today she regrets if her reference to the Robert Kennedy assassination as a reason why she should stay in the race offended anyone.  Here‘s her original comment.


CLINTON:  My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right?  We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.  You know, I just—I don‘t understand it.


MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s how Senator Clinton clarified it later today.


CLINTON:  ... that moment of trauma for our entire nation, and particularly for the Kennedy family, was in any way offensive, I certainly had no intention of that whatsoever.  My view is that we have to look to the past and to our leaders who have inspired us and given us a lot to live up to.  And I‘m honored to hold Senator Kennedy‘s seat in the United States Senate from the state of New York and have the highest regard for the entire Kennedy family.


MATTHEWS:  Chuck Todd is NBC News political director, Pat Buchanan is an MSNBC political analyst.  We also have joining us NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell.  She‘s been covering the campaigns for NBC News.

Let me start with you, Andrea.  First of all, what do you think Senator Clinton‘s been trying to say here?  This is apparently the third time she‘s made reference to the assassination of Robert Kennedy in June of 1968 in the context of explaining the endurance of her campaign effort.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I just talked to a top campaign official.  He says that the reason she came out to explain this tonight was that it was so inartfully articulated, but that what she really means to say is that both in 1992, in her husband‘s campaign, and in 1968, and at other times in history, the Democratic contest was not decided until after June, so, Stop trying to push me out of the race, stop trying to pressure me to get out this quickly.  It isn‘t that early in the game.

That said, obviously, it can be read in different ways.  And what she has to fight against is the interpretation that‘s been on the wires and other places that what she was saying was, Well, let me stay in because anything can happen, including something...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that‘s the interpretation.

MITCHELL:  ... as dreadful as this.  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, what do you think?  You know, I put this together with -- (INAUDIBLE) we‘re all tired.  Do you think it‘s—David Paterson, yesterday, the governor of New York, said that she‘s getting desperate, looking for reasons, looking for arguments in editorial board meetings, anything that will explain the fact that there is plenty of time to make this judgments, and she perhaps inartfully made that reference?

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Look, I—I thought it was...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, it was the third time.

TODD:  Well, but this was the most inartful way she‘s done it.  Why she doesn‘t reference 1984, which did go to June, why she doesn‘t reference other—why she uses this as a reference when you think about the only thing people think about the primary campaign in ‘68 is the assassination of Bobby Kennedy—that said, you watch her give this sort of apology, or whatever you want to call it, clarification, she looks pained.  She looks like—as if she got punched in the stomach.

I read that as somebody who realizes she said something that she—she didn‘t mean and she feels sick about it and she knows that this might have been—this might be one of those things that‘s the last straw for a lot of people and that she isn‘t going to get the benefit of the doubt from a lot of people and that she just may have just thrown away a lot of...


TODD:  ... -whatever good will she‘s slowly been trying to win back, that she may have just thrown away that good will.  She looked pained in that clarification today.

MATTHEWS:  Well, look, (INAUDIBLE) we‘re looking at her now.  We should look at it again in a minute.  Pat, your thoughts?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It was really unthinking.  It was unfortunate.  It‘s insensitive.  It is astonishing that a woman of her intelligence, and frankly, sensitivity in politics would raise up the most horrific event, just about, in the campaign—recent campaigns, the assassination of a senator.

But I do agree with Chuck.  Taking a look at her, she clearly expressed her regret for this.  The regret is written all over her face.  I think she realizes she‘s made a terribly insensitive statement and one that‘s going to be damaging and hurtful to her after an incredible run.

I think it‘s partly due to weariness.


BUCHANAN:  People go into—in campaigns, you start talking, Well, here‘s what happened in ‘68 and things.  And what she‘s saying is, Look, anything‘s possible in politics in four months.  And we all know it is.  But to bring up this horrendous example, I think, it is unfortunate and I do believe she profoundly regrets it.

MATTHEWS:  Do you—let me go back to what Andrea was saying.

Andrea, do you think that she‘s just feeling the constant—I mean, I think everybody figures now this race is going to go through mid-June.  The question is whether it goes beyond, whether, at the end of the primary season, on June 3, when Puerto Rico, and Montana, and South Dakota have all voted—that is sort of the time for the superdelegates to vote.

Is she implying that, even then, it‘s too soon?


MATTHEWS:  What is she arguing?

MITCHELL:  I don‘t think she‘s arguing that at all. 

I really think that she‘s been arguing, let it go to June.  Let everybody vote.  Let‘s decide Michigan and Florida, assuming there will be an agreement on May 31 or June 1, even if it goes to the Sunday of that Democratic National Committee Rules Committee weekend. 

I don‘t think she‘s talking about it going beyond that.  That said, she‘s clearly tired.  And it‘s another lesson.  She‘s sitting at an editorial board meeting in South Dakota.  And she‘s on camera.  And, once again, things happen.  And if you say something that is not quite clear, it‘s going to come out and bite you. 

BUCHANAN:  Chris, I have got a different view.

I do believe that she is staying in this race to amass, to win the popular vote and have a very powerful emotional argument...

MATTHEWS:  But we can‘t ever get a popular vote tally, because the caucuses didn‘t keep count.


BUCHANAN:  But, look, but you‘re arguing—well, here‘s the thing.


TODD:  ... a proper Florida count... 


BUCHANAN:  Here is what she‘s doing.

She takes that popular vote.  She says, he won the delegates.  She won the popular vote.  He‘s the nominee.  She walks to the convention.  She wants to be invited to be vice president.  And if she‘s not, the card she‘s got to play is that someone like Dianne Feinstein will get up on the floor of that thing and nominate her for vice president.  And I don‘t know who would beat her. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that would be an insurgency at the convention.

Thank you, Chuck Todd.

Thank you, Andrea Mitchell.

Thank you, Pat Buchanan. 

Up next: the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

If mama is not happy, nobody‘s happy.  First lady Laura Bush and her newlywed daughter, Jenna, appeared with Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” last night. 

Here‘s the first daughter talking about her mother at Jenna‘s recent wedding. 


JENNA BUSH, DAUGHTER OF PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:  We have named my mom—although she‘s not this—she may kill me afterwards—Mommy-Zilla. 


JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”:  Wow.  Is that right?  Are you—wow.

J. BUSH:  Well, just because I didn‘t really care.  And thank goodness she was Mommy-Zilla, because she did everything. 

Is that mean? 

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY:  Yes, I‘m insulted.  No.



MATTHEWS:  I‘m sure any mother loves being called Mommy-Zilla.  Who is her father?  Godzilla?

As you know, this week we have started rolling—polling all of our guests with one simple question.  What does Hillary Clinton really want right now? 

Well, here‘s tonight‘s updated tally.  We now have eight who say she just wants to be president, period, whether it‘s now, or 2012, or whenever.  Seven say she wants to be Obama‘s V.P.  Two say she wants to be on the Supreme Court.  Two say Senate majority leader.  One says U.S. attorney general.  And one says New York governor. 

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

Call it the bar exam.  Now that Bob Barr has announced he‘s running for president as a Libertarian, could he actually tip the election Nader-style?  The answer may be yes.  In order to get the party on the ballot in North Carolina, which is a critical swing state, you need 70,000 signatures.  How many did the Libertarian Party turn in?  Seventy-two thousand, nine-hundred and thirty-five.  The Libertarian Party will appear on the North Carolina ballot, thereby siphoning off conservative votes from McCain. 

It could make the difference if the state‘s close.  Let‘s check the other states as they arrive—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Hillary says the votes in Florida must be counted.  And she‘s using the memory in 2000 and the recount to make her case.  When we return, Hillary‘s argument. 

Plus, the star of the new HBO movie about the Florida recount, Kevin Spacey, the star of “Recount.” 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Bertha Coombs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Wall Street closes out its worst week in three months, the Dow tumbling 146 points day, down almost 4 percent for the week, the S&P 500 shedding 18 points, and the Nasdaq down almost 20 today.

Oil resuming its climbs after a one-day pause, crude up $1.38, closing at $132.19 a barrel.  And sales of existing homes fell in April for the eighth time in nine months. 

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


MATTHEWS:  Welcome become to HARDBALL. 

Today, the presidential campaign continued to focus on Florida.  It‘s the state the Supreme Court, of course, awarded to George W. Bush eight years ago, settling the 2000 presidential election, and stopping the Florida recount. 

The Sunshine State has haunted Democrats ever since.  And it‘s shaping up as another crucial swing state this fall. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  With a warm South Florida welcome, I would like to present to you, ladies and gentlemen, Senator Barack Obama. 


DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today in Miami, Democrat Barack Obama celebrated Cuban Independence Day by blasting Republican administration restrictions on the island. 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have said that I will immediately allow unlimited family travel and remittances to the island. 


OBAMA:  It‘s time to let Cuban Americans see their mothers and their fathers, their sisters, and their brothers. 

SHUSTER:  The Obama campaign sees Florida as crucial in the fall.  But, in addition to Cuban Americans, another key Florida constituency includes elderly Jewish residents. 

So, in the same county that was home eight years ago to the confusing butterfly ballot and thousands of Democratic votes by mistake for Pat Buchanan, this week, Obama started his effort to keep Jewish voters from intentionally going against him. 

OBAMA:  I will always support Israel‘s security.  We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terror, recognize Israel‘s right to exist, and abide by past agreements.  That‘s what I have said throughout this campaign. 


SHUSTER:  As Obama looks ahead to November, Hillary Clinton is talking about Florida as part of her uphill struggle for the Democratic nomination. 

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  And we believe the popular vote is the truest expression of your will.  We believe it today, just as we believed it back in 2000, when, right here in Florida, you learned the hard way what happens when your votes aren‘t counted and the candidate with fewer votes is declared the winner. 


SHUSTER:  The irony is that Hillary Clinton was relatively silent during the Florida recount eight years ago. 

And, last fall, her supporters on the Democratic National Committee voted unanimously that Florida and Michigan should be punished for moving up their primary dates.  Furthermore, when it comes to the popular vote, Clinton is only ahead if you count Florida and Michigan, where Obama wasn‘t even on the ballot, and then when you exclude caucus states of Iowa, Maine, Nevada, and Washington. 

Yet, the wildly stretched argument that she has won in total votes could help Clinton create leverage to be Obama‘s running mate, something the Clinton team is convinced she deserves. 

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  It would clearly suit her supporters to see her in this top position.  She would be breaking history once again by being the first female vice president. 

SHUSTER:  But it could undercut Obama‘s message of change and of moving away from the politics of the past. 

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  I don‘t think that is a ticket that‘s going to happen.  If it is the ticket that happens, it will be the winning ticket.  But I don‘t see it happening. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  For now, the party focus is not on a potential running mate for Obama, but rather on what to do with Florida and Michigan.  The Democratic National Committee will meet a week from now to decide. 

I‘m David Shuster, for HARDBALL, in Washington. 


MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Florida and the 2000 recount is the topic of HBO‘s new movie starring Oscar winner Kevin Spacey.

Here‘s a clip from “Recount.”


KEVIN SPACEY, ACTOR:  Yes, Ron Klain. 

DENIS LEARY, ACTOR:  Ron, I think the networks have the wrong numbers. 

This is going to sound insane.  Just off with Baldek (ph).  A machine in Volusia went crazy.  Get this.  It actually added 3,000 votes to Bush‘s total and subtracted thousands of votes from Gore.  It went backwards.  I mean, Gore‘s count right now is negative 16,000 in that county. 

SPACEY:  So, what are the real numbers? 

LEARY:  Well, when you recalculate the entire state, we‘re down by less than 15,000. 

SPACEY:  So, it‘s a machine recount? 


LEARY:  We‘re still alive. 


MATTHEWS:  Of course, that‘s Kevin Spacey playing Ron Klain.  And that was Denis Leary playing the great Michael Whouley, the field guy. 

Kevin is so great, the usual suspect to play this part. 

What a perfect guy you are.  What did you learn getting ready for this part about what really happened in Florida eight years ago?

SPACEY:  Well, I learned a great deal. 

You know, I always considered that I was relatively keyed in on political matters.  I have been active in Democratic politics for a long time.  But even I was stunned at how little I knew about what really had gone down in Florida. 

And I think what we tried to do in this film is to show that it wasn‘t just one thing, not even the Supreme Court‘s decision, but a whole lot of factors in a confluence of events and personalities that, in a way, maybe, at the end of it, we can take a look at our electoral process in this country, and make a decision about whether or not it‘s as fair and democratic as we are purported and certainly say we like it to be. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, in that case, Hillary Clinton said the other day that it was a case where the Democrat candidate, Democratic candidate, Al Gore, got more votes than the Republican candidate, George W. Bush.  Is that how you see it, that he was rooked, that Gore had more votes than Bush in Florida? 

SPACEY:  Well, you know, it isn‘t happy hour for me either, Chris. 

So, I‘m not going to go there for you.


MATTHEWS:  Well, I thought you had just said that, Kevin.

Let me ask you about something you can talk about.  I love the movie.  I hope everybody watches it, especially people who are junkies that love this show, because it‘s all about the different cultures of the two parties.  You can talk about that. 

What did the—what does the movie say about the culture of James A.  Baker III and the Republican Party and the way they looked at that recount fight, as opposed to the Democratic Party, represented by Warren Christopher? 

SPACEY:  Well, I think what the movie does illustrate—and it‘s based on the four books that we used as source material and a lot of people who were on the ground in Florida—that you really had two distinctive philosophies about how to go about this recount fight. 

On the one hand, I think the Bush team, which of course James Baker was leading, saw it as a real political street fight.  And I think that the Gore team—or some on the Gore team—wanted it to be a more diplomatic, a more negotiable process.  And I think you had those opposing ways in.

And, at the end of the day, I think this movie kind of does show that there was a difference in how to approach it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s some comic relief.  Here‘s the great Laura Dern playing Florida‘s secretary of state, the inimitable—I shouldn‘t say that, because she‘s imitable here—Katherine Harris.  Let‘s watch. 



LAURA DERN, ACTRESS:  Don‘t you worry, Mac.  It‘s going to take a lot more than David Letterman making fun of my hair and makeup to knock me down. 


BRUCE MCGILL, ACTOR:  That‘s exactly why I backed your campaign, when everyone else ran over to Mortham.  Because you‘re a woman of action. 

DERN:  A woman of action, like Queen Esther.

MCGILL:  Queen Esther? 

DERN:  I have been reading my Bible quite a bit here lately.  And I have been feeling this unusually strong kinship with Queen Esther.  You recall Queen Esther.  She was willing to sacrifice herself to save the lovely Jewish people.  And that‘s exactly what I‘m doing right now.  And if I parish, I parish. 


MATTHEWS:  That‘s Katherine Harris, who had a lot to do.  In fact, she was the key official in deciding who won that election down there. 

I think—speaking of the Jewish people, I think a Yiddishism comes to mind.  I think kitsch.


MATTHEWS:  I think—I don‘t know how you—how would you describe her portrayal of Katherine Harris, Laura Dern? 

SPACEY:  I think she underplays it. 


MATTHEWS:  Really? 


MATTHEWS:  You‘re kidding. 

Let me ask you about a culture.  What struck me, Kevin, is that people think like James A. Baker III, James Addison Baker III, is sort of an old-money guy, distinguished, plays by the—sort of the nice rules of etiquette, and the Democrats are the street fighters.  The Democrats are the street kids, the ruffians from the ethnic neighborhoods. 

And, yet, the movie shows the flip side, shows the flip in all that. 

SPACEY:  Well, I think Baker is portrayed certainly as a—he, from the very beginning, wanted to have a line to the U.S. Supreme Court.  He felt that—that they would lose in the Florida Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court was where this battle was going to be made.  And he felt that from the very beginning. 

I think, if you look at the—at Gore side, I think, perhaps, some on that team maybe underestimated the patience of the American people.  I think people would have waited as long as it took to get all those votes counted.  And when you do realize, at the end of the day, when the Supreme Court did make their decision, and George Bush was awarded those delegates, he only won that election by 513 votes. 


Let‘s take a look at another clip here, because it‘s a great movie, Sunday night, HBO.  Here is it, another clip.  This is about the infamous chads. 



LEARY:  Like a card board chad that get punched, but don‘t go all the holes.  They‘re hanging off the edge of the ballot. 

SPACEY:  Hanging chads. 

LEARY:  Chad.

SPACEY:  What?   

LEARY:  There‘s no S? 

SPACEY:  The plural of chad is chad. 

LEARY:  That‘s great democracy. 

SPACEY:  Jesus.

LEARY:  Yes.  So when you take these ballots, and you put them through a tabulating system, what happens is the hanging chad get pushed back into the hole.  The machines read it as if the holes were never actually punched.  Then these are discarded as under votes. 

But, wait, sometimes hanging chad don‘t even hang.  They‘re just dimples. 

SPACEY:  Dimples. 

LEARY:  Yes.  OK, which means the voter didn‘t align the ballot properly in the machine or just didn‘t push hard enough to get the chad to go through. 

SPACEY:  How hard is it to punch a paper ballot? 


MATTHEWS:  You know, Kevin, every time I watch the recount—we covered it here on MSNBC for five weeks, every day throughout the day.  I love that coverage.  I loved doing it.  I watched that guy that looks like Dennis France, the real life guy that was counting—Every time he looked at a ballot, he would say Gore, then this taller woman would say—maybe it was the other way around—would say Bush.  They were looking at the exact same ballot.  What did you make of that, that people could have such different interpretations of somebody‘s intention? 

SPACEY:  I think that was the basis of certainly David Boise‘s (ph)

argument to the Supreme Court, was that it has been the history in this

country, certainly the rule of law in Florida, that even if a voter doesn‘t

follow the instructions in the voting booth, if you can discern their

intent by looking at a ballot, which is why hand recounts were ultimately -

there was about a half day there where Florida was actually recounting by hand.  If it hadn‘t been stopped, they probably would have done it by midnight that night. 

I also think, look, the other night we were invited out to Houston, Texas by James Baker.  He threw a screening for those of us in the cast, and those on the production side with Jimmy Carter.  They‘re both on committees to try to get election reform and some laws changed that, frankly, were to his advantage in the year 2000.  I think that was an encouraging sign, that even James Baker, while he may think he‘s portrayed as Don Corleon in this particular film, he feels, and I think most people on both sides feel, that we got the story right.  And certainly Paula Weinstein, our producer, and Jay Roach, our director, and Danny Strong, who wrote a wonderful script, that‘s what we set out to do, was not to sort of make a boring, political drama, but to make a thriller.

MATTHEWS:  It was.  It‘s a great movie.  I hope everybody who likes HARDBALL watches it.  “Recount,” I‘m throwing my entire delegation to you, to your support here.  Kevin, it means a lot to me, because I don‘t ever do this.  If you love politics, if you love fighting about it, if you love caring about this country, watch “Recount.”  It‘s on Sunday night on HBO at 9:00. 

Up next, much more on Senator Clinton‘s comments referring to the assassination of Robert Kennedy, talk about a hot comment, as a reason she should stay in the race, according to the Associated Press.  She made that comment.

Plus, VP stakes, who are the best running mate picks for McCain or Obama?  The politics fix is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix.  Tonight, the round table, MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard, from the “Washington Post,” Chris Cillizza and E.J. Dionne. 

Let‘s listen to Senator Clinton‘s comment today ad an editorial board meeting in South Dakota about why she‘s staying in the race for president. 


CLINTON:  My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June.  Right?  We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.  You know, I just—I don‘t understand it. 


MATTHEWS:  And, now, here‘s Senator Clinton‘s clarification, if you will, a bit later in the day, very late in the day. 


CLINTON:  The campaign that both my husband and Senator Kennedy waged in California in June, in 1992 and 1968.  And I was referencing those to make the point that we have had nominations primary contests that go in to June.  That‘s historic fact. 

The Kennedys have been much on my mind the last day because of Senator Kennedy.  And I, you know, regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation and particularly for the Kennedy family was in any way offensive, I certainly had no intention of that whatsoever. 

My view is that we have to look to the past and to our leaders who have inspired us and give us a lot to live up to, and I‘m honored to hold Senator Kennedy‘s seat in the United States Senate from the state of New York.  And have the highest regard for the entire Kennedy family. 


MATTHEWS:  One reason why Senator Clinton was quick to repair that damage, if you will, was what the Associated Press reported right after her initial comment got out, quote, the Associated Press: “Senator Hillary Clinton referred Friday to the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968 in that Democratic campaign as a reason she should continue to campaign despite increasingly long odds.” 

E.J.?  What‘s a fair reading of her intent there?  Was it to say anything can happen, or was it simply to say these things tend to stretch on? 

E.J. DIONNE, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  You know, I tell you, the alternative is so bad that I really, really want to give her the benefit of the doubt on this.  She‘s tired.  She‘s not happy with the way the race is.  A lot of us are, in fact, thinking about the 40th anniversary of Senator Kennedy‘s assassination.  I still remember exactly where I was that night watching it. 

So I‘d like to think that was on her mind.  It was a terrible mistake.  It was a terrible thing to say.  She clearly seems to know that.  You saw her.  She seems shaken silting in that supermarket. 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  To add, regardless of the intention, the problem for Senator Clinton is she remains in this race largely out of the good will of party activists and super delegates.  If they wanted to, they could end this race tomorrow, and put Barack Obama over the number he needs. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean those people who have not taken a commitment.

CILLIZZA:  There are still a large number of people who are uncommitted, several hundred.  What I think the attitudes of these people has largely been is let‘s let her play out the string.  She deserves it.  The Clintons deserve it. 

MATTHEWS:  Chris, you‘re a reporter.  Will this affect that?

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Can I add something to that?  Chris, I mean, this is a colossal mistake for someone who is supposedly political astute as Senator Clinton is.  It‘s not just the super delegates here, but she‘s drawing an a very painful past in our history, and the insinuation that she should stay in the race because something bad could happen to Barack Obama, particularly coming on the heels of not only finding out about Senator Kennedy having brain cancer, but also one week to the day of Governor Huckabee making a ridiculous assassination joke at the NRA last week. 

You kind of—you have to scratch your head and say, what could she have been thinking about?  I want to give her the benefit of the doubt.  But I‘ve got to tell you, Senator Clyburn gave an interview with the “New York Times” a few weeks ago, Representative Clyburn, and said the damage between the Clintons and African-Americans in this country might be irreparable.  Today, she might have dug her grave when it comes to her relationship with the African-Americans that are members of the Democratic party in this country.  It was a very, very horrific thing to be uttered, coming from Senator Clinton during this race. 

CILLIZZA:  The other thing I was thinking of, when you said will super delegates start jumping, was remember that after Indiana and North Carolina happened, most people said, the race is probably over.  It‘s OK if she stays in.  She came out and said, white people are voting for me.  A lot of people, including many in the Obama campaign, said well, if that‘s how she‘s going to play it, this may not end the way she want it to end. 

I think it‘s very likely this ends with Barack Obama as the nominee.  The issue is what happens between now and then.  This is a bad development for Senator Clinton for the reason Michelle outlined and for many others.  From now until June 3rd, or whenever she makes a decision about the race, it‘s about the Clinton legacy.  How will she and, as importantly, her husband be remembered from this race?  Neither of them are going to go away in politics.  This tarnishes, in some level, that legacy. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get into the instrumentality.  Could it be that a comment like this might be one sort of intangible effecting how those delegates vote in that committee that meets on rules and bylaws next weekend? 

DIONNE:  I think it pushes them in a direction they were already going.  In other words, if you look at the makeup of that committee, Clinton‘s got 13 votes, Obama has eight and there‘s seven loyal to Howard Dean or the Democratic party.  So there‘s already a majority for a compromise that doesn‘t give her all the delegates that she wants, that ends it.  And I think there are a number of Clinton delegates who don‘t want to push this Florida and Michigan fight to the end.  I didn‘t think they were going to give them what they wanted. 

MATTHEWS:  Three of them, they are moving.  These are people who have endorsed Hillary Clinton and will vote for her, but think it‘s time far a decision. 

DIONNE:  I think this will push it down the road.  What it may do is accelerate the process, whereby some of these folks, the committee comes out in advance and says, here is what we‘re going to do.  They don‘t wait until the end of the month. 

MATTHEWS:  What a difference a day made.  You never know how these things affect the election.  We‘ll be right back with the round table, talking about Senator Clinton‘s comments today about Robert Kennedy and the assassination of June of 1968.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  Let‘s listen one last time to Senator Clinton‘s comment today in an editorial meeting in South Dakota about why she‘s staying in the race. 


CLINTON:  My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June.  Right?  We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.  You know, I just don‘t understand it. 


MATTHEWS:  You know, maybe, I‘ll go with—we‘ll go with the nice one.  What do you think?  She was simply saying that these campaigns tend to stretch out into June, like the playoffs in some of our sports teams.  They tend to do it.  That was to refresh our memory, that we do stretch these campaigns.  It wasn‘t that she was saying, as the Associated Press reports, perhaps—the Associated Press reported right afterwards, Senator Hillary Clinton referred Friday to the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968 as a reason she should continue to campaign, despite increasingly long odds.  

DIONNE:  She was describing races that change.  I don‘t think the AP misinterpreted it.  I just don‘t want to believe the alternative.  It‘s—

MATTHEWS:  She was playing for a break. 

CILLIZZA:  We‘ve all known.  Take the Kennedy thing out of it, and I know that‘s a big thing to take out, but we‘ve long known that part of what Senator Clinton is doing here is waiting this out in hopes that something big happens to change it.  I would never suggest that this is what she is waiting for. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a coincidence of what we think about her and what she meant.  Your last thought here, Michelle, was it a coincidence in what people think she‘s doing, looking for a break, and a totally historic view of the time table? 

BERNARD:  I‘m giving her the benefit of the doubt.  I think she‘s definitely looking for something to happen, but not for Senator Obama to lose his life or for bodily injury to happen to him.  But when you‘re talking about someone‘s life, there‘s no room to make a mistake.  We have got to remember what happened to the Kennedys and what happened to Martin Luther King.  This is a very historic race and there‘s no room to make any kind of mistakes when it comes to talking about someone‘s life. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think—

BERNARD:  There‘s a lot of cuckoo‘s out there. 

MATTHEWS:  At my age, are clouded over with the idea that this is too much like ‘68 already.  There‘s too much of that.  Thank you Michelle Bernard.  Thank you Chris Cillizza.  Thank you E.J. Dionne.  I love your columns.  I love yours too.  Join us again Tuesday night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Tonight on COUNTDOWN, Keith will have, as you might have expected, a special on Hillary Clinton‘s remark about RFK‘s assassination as a reason to stay in the race.  Now, it‘s time for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE with David Gregory.


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