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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Tuesday, March 12, 2012

Read the transcript to the Tuesday show

Guests: Kelly Evans, Chuck Todd, Michael Steele, Trent Lott, John Breaux, Kellyanne Conway, John Brabender, Dan Balz, Jonathan Martin

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Rebels without a cause.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews up in Washington. Leading off
tonight: "Survivor," Alabama and Mississippi edition. Tonight someone
could get voted off the island.

Mitt Romney needs one win tonight to prove he can win in the South.
Just one win for him will do it. Rick Santorum needs one win to remain
Romney`s chief rival. Newt Gingrich needs one win to stay viable. And
they can`t all win one state, so something`s got to give tonight down

Polls close tonight in Mississippi and Alabama in just three hours
right now, at 8:00 o`clock Eastern time. And MSNBC will bring you complete
up-to-the-minute coverage as the votes come in. Then at 11:00 PM Eastern,
we`re going to have a full wrap-up of the day`s voting on a special edition
of "THE ED SHOW" -- "THE ED SHOW," and I`m going to be there, too.

Gingrich and Santorum each need to deliver a knockout blow to the
other, and tonight we`re going to talk to top strategists for both

Meanwhile, we now have a second poll suggesting that steep gas prices
-- they`re going way up -- may be taking a toll on President Obama`s
popularity. And that`s a big "may," but it`s still happening. Is there
anything a president can do to lower gas prices? Most people think there

And if possible, Mitt Romney has set a new standard for pandering.
Imagine that, a new standard for pandering, y`all. And that`s in the

Finally, "Let Me Finish" tonight with how close this election is
getting to look, and not just on the Republican side but also in the
general election.

We begin with the Alabama and Mississippi primaries were held today.
Chuck Todd`s NBC`s political director and chief White House correspondent
and Michael Steele was chairman of the Republican National Party -- well,
the Republican Party, we always call it that -- and an MSNBC political

Gentlemen, I think you might agree for a while here. Let`s see how
long you agree on what`s going on tonight. There are several possible
outcomes. Just think. There`s two states. How many outcomes can there be
from the votes tonight in Mississippi and Alabama?

First, let`s say Santorum wins both tonight. If that happens, that
would mean Newt gets blown out of the race, I think -- I think we all --
and Santorum secures the position of clearly number one challenger to Mitt

Let`s stop. Here`s another possibility. Gingrich could win both
tonight. He`s from that area. He`s from Georgia. That could hurt
Santorum, which helps Romney because it keeps him in the race and keeps
Santorum from wins.

Third, you could have a Gingrich/Santorum split tonight, each one
winning a state. If that happens, things probably continue as they are
with no big changes.

Finally, here`s the big one. Romney could take one of the states, say
Mississippi. That`s big for Romney because if he wins Mississippi and Newt
wins Alabama, that`s very bad for Santorum and very good for Romney.

That`s my view. Let`s go through your thinking.

look, I agree with that. I mean, I think that...

MATTHEWS: All that?

TODD: I agree that those are the basic four scenarios. And I guess I
agree with their likelihoods. You look at this by the numbers, and you
cannot figure out how Romney gets the 30 percent. I am stunned at the --
you know, you look at other states...


TODD: ... right, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee...

MATTHEWS: Let`s take a look at those numbers...

TODD: If you couldn`t get to 30 in Tennessee, how do you do it here?

MATTHEWS: OK, let`s look at those...

TODD: All right.


TODD: OK, 28, 28, 28, 26. Do you see a pattern, Chris?



TODD: Right. However, the Romney people are cautiously optimistic,
like they were in Tennessee.

MATTHEWS: They`re spending a load of money...

TODD: They are...


MATTHEWS: ... through Restore Our Future, most of it negative.

TODD: And number three, when you look at a Mississippi, its
Republican Party is actually still fairly young. It`s a conservative
state, but they`ve only had competitive primaries for a short period of
time. That used to be the old -- you know, there are a lot of them just
stayed Democratic and voted -- primaries -- and the establishment still has
a lot of control inside the Mississippi Republican Party, the Barbour
machine. Less so -- there`s less that way in Alabama. But it`s moreso...

MATTHEWS: Where`s Haley?

TODD: ... in Mississippi. So -- Haley`s not with anybody, but Henry,
who I had on my show, the nephew who -- and Henry Barbour basically is the
family`s -- does a lot of the Barbour family politics operationally -- he`s
with Romney.

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s go to right now -- let me go -- Michael, these
are white people, basically, down there, white Southerners, conservative,
evangelicals. We know their views, not particularly in love with Mormons
to put it lightly, recently accepted Catholics as sort of Christians like
them. I`m being brutal here.


MATTHEWS: Wait until you see these numbers. Most people down there
don`t believe in evolution. They got some real -- really conservative
views about our culture.

What do you think is the situation down there? Can Romney win down

STEELE: I think Romney can. I think Mississippi could be a good
playground for Romney, quite frankly. I think what Chuck just said will
lend itself to that. It`s a fairly new political environment for them in
terms of, you know, the way their primary is set up. So you still have
someone like a Romney particularly tied to the Barbour clan, has the
opportunity to really use that network to get that vote out.

But this is, you know, one of those situations where I think even if
Romney wins this tonight, wins Mississippi, and Newt or Santorum takes the
other, it doesn`t change, really, the dynamics in terms of that march
towards 1,144 votes.

The reality for Romney remains the fact that, give him all the eight
outstanding winner-take-all states, the rest are proportional. He`s not
going to pull 50 to 60 percent of that vote.

He`s not going to -- if he breaks 30 in Mississippi tonight, yes,
that`d be a big deal, but as Chuck has already pointed out, that`s not been
the trend line here. So I think we`re going to see a little bit more
status quo ante coming out of tonight than a lot of people anticipate.

MATTHEWS: OK, so where it was. Well, let me tell you what I`m
seeing. I`m watching Romney. You can`t see this, Michael, I don`t think.
Chuck and I can see it.

STEELE: Yes, I can see it.

MATTHEWS: Here`s Romney doing his local -- you know, shaking hands
and everything. He reminds me of Prince Charles in New Guinea.


MATTHEWS: You know, here you have the elite Brit going out to meet
the little people from a totally different culture. He`s doing all the
wiggles. He`s talking in their language. He`s using some of the slang.

TODD: Santorum`s not exactly...

MATTHEWS: It doesn`t seem like he`s connecting to these people.

TODD: Santorum`s not exactly...


TODD: Well, wait a minute! Santorum, and frankly, Newt Gingrich has
never been good at this, either. So as awkward as maybe a Romney might
look campaigning in the South, doing hand-to-hand campaigning, I haven`t
been all that impressed with Santorum doing this...

MATTHEWS: You`re saying none of them connect?

TODD: And neither is Newt Gingrich. Don`t forget, Newt Gingrich --
he`s the Southerner in the race? He was born and raised in Pennsylvania.

MATTHEWS: I know. I know. I know.

TODD: So this is not exactly...

MATTHEWS: Well, let`s stick with Romney.

TODD: None of them seem...

MATTHEWS: And despite your...

TODD: ... comfortable.

MATTHEWS: ... protestations, I think Romney is uniquely unqualified
to connect with regular folk. Here he is. He had trouble connecting with
Southern voters. Here are a few reasons why. Let`s watch him in action,
Prince Charles in New Guinea.


to say "y`all." And I like grits. And things are -- strange things are
happening to me!

Morning, y`all! Good to be with ya.

I got started right this morning with a biscuit and some cheesy grits,
I`ll tell ya!

I`ve been getting hugs from the Southern girls tonight! And I mean,
from 12 to -- well, a lot more than 12.

Last night, I was in Mississippi, by the way, and I had catfish for
the second time. It was delicious!

Get Jeff Foxworthy over here! Get him over here! (INAUDIBLE) comedy
show, blue-collar comedy...


MATTHEWS: (INAUDIBLE) actually say "blue-collar comedy," Chuck.

TODD: He did. He did.


TODD: It`s not...

MATTHEWS: Why don`t you just -- Hey, you blue-collar workers down

TODD: Look, it`s not -- it`s clearly not natural to him, but at the
same time, it`s not been natural to Santorum and it`s not -- and Newt`s
been -- you know, Newt is the worst of all of these guys. He sits behind a
podium at every event. He doesn`t -- he doesn`t even try. Romney, for all
of the flaws that he`s been -- he clearly is not a good ad lib campaigner.

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s the...

TODD: I don`t know...


TODD: He tries.

MATTHEWS: Here`s Steve Gordon (ph), Michael, a Republican strategist
now about whom we only hear from in these campaigns, took Romney to task
for those comments. He told "The Boston Herald," quote, "If you`re going
to pander, at least pander well," and this isn`t pandering well.

You know, pandering is what politicians do. Whatever ethnic -- if you
go to the Italian market in Philly, you go to...


MATTHEWS: In the old days, you ate blintzes in New York. You eat
cheesesteaks. I know how it`s played. This seems to be the most oafish
example I`ve ever seen of pandering.

STEELE: Well...

MATTHEWS: Maybe -- I don`t know what you make of it -- you.

STEELE: Well, I think that`s the point, and it`s almost becoming a
caricature of a candidate running for president. And that`s not what you

And you know, look, I`ll agree with Chuck. Yes, the other two aren`t
doing, you know, a bang-up job at it, either. But you`re not playing their
clips. Those clips aren`t -- you know, they aren`t so egregious that they
stand out.

The reality of it is, with Romney, it stands out because it`s obvious
he`s trying too hard. And he just needs to relax with it. You`re not
going to go -- I mean, you go into the South and you`re talking "y`all."
What happens when you`re in the general election and you`re up in Harlem?
What are you going to say then? I mean, you`re not going to start speaking
ebonics. You`re not going to start, you know, talking all hip-hop.

So this -- just be yourself. Relax about it. Show people you care
about the country. You have an agenda that`s going to -- that shows how
you care for them. And I think that will begin to lessen all this
conversation about whether or not he`s connecting with people.

TODD: Well, I think...

MATTHEWS: You know, Clinton could go -- Clinton could go North and
South very easily. He would change...


TODD: And Obama does the same thing. They drop their G`s. Bush used
to do it, too.


TODD: Bush, Obama, Clinton, they all...

MATTHEWS: OK, let me tell you...


TODD: When they go South of the Mason-Dixon line, they drop the G`s.

MATTHEWS: OK. Here`s the question that matters politically. Let`s
get serious here. The question is, does this guy care about people like me
and you? That`s the (INAUDIBLE) political question. Two questions we ask
in politics. Is this country going in the right direction or not? That`s
a question mark still. Second question is, does this guy, or woman, care
about people like you and me?

Let`s look at Romney falling into the old trap of consorting with the
richest possible people and saying so. We`re getting this -- we`re going
to get this thing -- he`s talking about the NFL owners. He isn`t just
talking sports, like he`s a guy watching ESPN in the middle of the night.
Here`s a guying like this -- here`s Romney, he`s talking about his rich

Remember he told racing fans he had some rich NASCAR owners. Here he
is yesterday being interviewed on a sports radio show, where he should be.
Asked about Peyton Manning and where he might end up, Romney talked about
his friends, as he put it, who happen to own football teams. Own them.
Let`s listen.


ROMNEY: I`m surprised to hear that Denver`s thinking about him. I
mean, it`s -- you know, I don`t want him in our -- in our neck of the
woods. Let`s put it that way.


ROMNEY: (INAUDIBLE) go to Miami or to the Jets or -- or -- but I got
a lot of good friends, the owner of the Miami Dolphins and the New York
Jets, both owners are friends of mine. But let`s keep him away from New
England, so that -- that Tom Brady has a better shot of -- of picking up a
championship for us.


MATTHEWS: Well, he`s throwing in a little Al Roker there, too, Chuck,
a little neck of the woods. There`s a patented phrase, if there ever was
one. But he is showing knowledge of the division. He doesn`t want him in
the same division as the Patriots. But then he talks about consorting with
the owners, same as -- is this helpful in identifying people?

TODD: It`s getting to that wrong narrative. But you know, you do
identify the...

MATTHEWS: I love the way you talk, "getting to that wrong narrative"!

TODD: No, the narrative that he has been tripping over himself.

MATTHEWS: I`m a rich guy.

TODD: ... which is this -- it`s more of the, I`m not -- do I
understand the problems of average Americans that live in the suburbs of
whether it`s Philadelphia, whether it`s Orlando, whether it`s Birmingham,
frankly. And that`s where he is -- he is -- he`s certainly struggling.
And he`s got to fix that.

You know, he`s not -- you`re right about the direction of the country.
And I think you`re right, this connection issue. And what Romney is doing
is giving Obama an opening with a set of voters that, actually, the Obama
folks thought they were going to be struggling with, which is this sort of
middle-income, white, working-class voter who I think is up for grabs.

MATTHEWS: You know, it`s going to be interesting, Michael. And you
and I are political students, as well as sometimes adversaries --
sometimes. It seems to me it`s going to be great to watch these guys on
television, should it come down to Romney and Obama, because here you have
this well-born, elite guy. You have this guy of a mixed background, you
know, by our terms in this country, African-American.

It`s just going to be so fascinating to see these two guys up against
each other for four-and-a-half hours of primetime television, both trying
to grab that connection that we`re talking about.

STEELE: Yes, it could be the tale of two Americas and how -- and how
these guys are struggling to sort of actually unite them and not really
necessarily represent one or the other, bringing all that, you know, middle
class energy you just described to the table, as well as those who have
become successful as examples of what we aspire to. And I think how Romney
communicates that is going to be key here.

I mean, Obama, we know, will talk the language and he`ll do the level
of pandering that a politician, a good politician needs to do effectively.
But I think for Romney, you know, when he gets a moment like that and he`s
talking sports and he`s talking that jockish stuff, don`t say, you know,
Two of my owners -- two of my friends are owners of the team. Say, I was
talking to, you know, a couple of the fellas, you know, and they were
talking about the division matchup.

I mean, in other words, bring it to a point where people, you know --
yes, you may have been talking about the owners, but you don`t need to tell
me that.


STEELE: And that`s -- I may assume that...


STEELE: Yes. Exactly. Just bring -- just bring it to a point where
you don`t have to tell me every relationship you have. Just let me know


STEELE: You know?

MATTHEWS: That`s right.

STEELE: Just let me know you`ve got something that`s closer to where
I am.

MATTHEWS: We`re going to have you there. I`m sure you`re going to be
ready (ph) at close range to help us do the play-by-play and the color.

Thank you very much, Michael Steele.

STEELE: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: And thank you, Chuck -- Chuck, who is my guru in these

TODD: (INAUDIBLE) couple (ph) hours (ph).

MATTHEWS: Chuck is my guru.

Anyway, polls will be closed at 8:00 o`clock Eastern in Alabama
tonight, and Mississippi. We`ll be all night long, all our regular shows,
regular scheduled shows, to give you the information. I`ll be on most of
the show tonight to try to help out.

Coming up, two sons of the South, former U.S. senators Trent Lott and
Johnny Breaux join us tonight to handicap tonight`s race. These (ph) are
the hometown boys.

You`re watching HARDBALL -- HARDBALL`s coverage of the Alabama and
Mississippi primaries from the SEC (ph), only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Well, the Republican race moves to Illinois next week.
What a big state that`s going to be. And then Louisiana next Saturday.
We`ve got a new poll from Louisiana.

Let`s check the HARDBALL "Scoreboard." Here it is, Rick Santorum, 4-
point lead over Mitt Romney in the new WWL poll, 25 to 21, with Newt a
close third. That`s in Louisiana.

And Louisiana is keeping up with the pattern we`ve seen elsewhere.
Romney`s doing well in the big-city suburbs around New Orleans, while
Santorum and to a lesser extent Gingrich are stronger in the rest of the
state. That makes sense.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. As we mentioned earlier, Alabama
and Mississippi might just whittle down the Republican field to an
effective two-man race. That`s if Newt gets blown out tonight. The polls
are all over the place, however, so it`s hard to predict what`s going to
happen tonight. It is fascinating.

But we`ve got two natives, if you will, Southern boys, experts on
Dixie politics, former Republican Senate leader Trent Lott of Mississippi
and Mitt Romney supporter and former Democratic senator -- well (ph),
always (ph) Democrat -- former Senator Johnny Breaux. That`s got an X in
it, for you people down there.


MATTHEWS: Actually, I love that X! You must have put that on there
for the French.



MATTHEWS: For the Cajuns. Let`s go to Mississippi and to Jackson,
Mississippi there, the old beautiful downtown with the beautiful old
governor`s mansion, very Dixie.

How`s it going to go tonight? Let`s talk about this. There`s a
pattern that`s emerged here tonight. We pointed it out earlier. Romney
can`t seem to break, whether it`s his LDS religion or his Northern money.
Look at these numbers. Show them again. Look at that! We got them in
green starting out there -- 28 percent, 26 percent, 28 percent, 20 -- he
can`t break high 20s in Dixie. Why not, Trent?

LOTT: Well, he might make it tonight. He might make it to 30. I
think he has been the underdog. A month ago, he was down probably 30
points, and now it`s nip and tuck. He could very well win it in
Mississippi. And I think people would be astounded to see him do that.

MATTHEWS: What about all this "y`all" crap of his? Is it going to

LOTT: Well...

MATTHEWS: Does it work if you go down there and pander?

LOTT: Well, you know, look, eating a little catfish and some grits,
whether you call them cheesy grits or whatever...


MATTHEWS: But it is cheese grits, not cheesy grits, right?

LOTT: Well, they may have had it on the menu "cheesy grits." It may
have had a little extra portion. I don`t know. But ordinarily, you say
cheese grits, yes.

MATTHEWS: What`s that place, Mama`s -- or what`s that place in New
Orleans we eat?

BREAUX: Mother`s.

MATTHEWS: Mother`s yes.

BREAUX: They don`t serve cheesy grits at Mother`s.

MATTHEWS: What is that standard (ph) -- and then there`s Po Boys (ph)
down there.

BREAUX: And they`re great.

LOTT: And you know, if he`d go in there and eat a Po Boy and eat it
at Mother`s, he`d be a better candidate.


BREAUX: I mean, I think the problem, Chris, in the South is that
people in the South may think that President Obama is a Muslim, but they
know that Governor Romney is a Mormon. And it makes them uncomfortable.
They feel like it`s sort of a cult. It`s not a real Christian religion.
And he can say "cheesy grits" and "y`all" all he wants, but that`s the
basic problem he has...


MATTHEWS: Why don`t they tell that to pollsters? Because they don`t
-- they -- the polling is showing these guys very even, you know, very --
let`s take a look -- you know who said this? The governor of Alabama.
Here he is yesterday on Fox TV. He said who -- he did not -- he didn`t
endorse anybody, but he voted for Santorum today. He responded to that
question about whether Mitt Romney`s Mormon faith might play a role in the
primary today. Let`s listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think Mitt Romney`s religion will be an
issue in your state, Governor?

GOV. ROBERT BENTLEY (R), ALABAMA: Well, I think that`s a very subtle
issue that probably may be a problem in many states, not just in Alabama.

But I do believe that Republicans are looking to see who can win the
presidency, and they are going to look at that more than anything else.


LOTT: And he was right about that, Chris.

I thought we put your faith aside back with Kennedy when we said,
look, we`re not going to determine how we vote for a man or woman based on
their religion. And Mississippi is going to show tonight that we have
risen above that. We want to know who is going to do something about the
economy and energy policy.

MATTHEWS: Let`s look at some numbers out of Mississippi and Alabama.
We got fresh numbers there, Senator. Let`s take a look at this one on

This is just cultural. And I can understand why people would answer
it the way they do, I think. Alabama, do you believe in evolution? Just
26 percent say yes -- 60 percent say no. In Mississippi, only 22 percent,
one in five, say yes -- 66 say no.

So, that`s cultural. It`s the Bible. It`s of course the
fundamentalist reading of the Bible, the literal interpretation of the
Bible that this planet is only 5,000 years old. Why do people answer that
when they know all about anthropology and they know about the bones, they
know about the elephants, they know about...


LOTT: No, we`re not going to get into a discussion here today about
evolution. We believe in the Bible. We believe in God in Mississippi.
But also we want to know who is going to be president.


LOTT: ... about governing...


LOTT: We`re not going to let this become a discussion about religion.


BREAUX: I think Gingrich will probably carry Alabama. And I think
Santorum has a good chance of carrying Mississippi tonight.

And I think in neither one of those two states is Romney going to get
over 30 percent of the vote. He hasn`t been able to put it together in any
state that has over 30 percent of the vote.

MATTHEWS: You said the South and the country is beyond religion.
Well, take a look at these polls. On Alabama, what`s the religion of the
president of the United States right now? Well, Christian, they give him
14 percent in Alabama. That`s one in seven.

Muslim, they give him 45 percent, although he`s denied it, because his
father was that religion, but he never was. Not sure, there`s a sweetheart
of an answer -- 41 percent say, I`m not sure. In other words, he might be
lying to me. In Mississippi, your state, one in eight say he`s a fellow
Christian -- 52 percent, a real majority, say he`s a Muslim. And 36
percent sweetly say we`re not sure.

So up to 88 percent of the people don`t buy the fact he`s a Christian.
Isn`t that a problem for the president where you say religion doesn`t
matter anymore? I`m just asking.


LOTT: Chris, you`re talking about polling numbers on something that
really doesn`t matter.

Look, when a man or woman tells you what their faith is, you accept
them at their word.

MATTHEWS: But they don`t in your state. The majority say he`s a

LOTT: But that`s not going to affect the vote...


MATTHEWS: You mean they might vote for a Muslim?


LOTT: They`re going to vote for somebody who can do something about
the economy.

MATTHEWS: This is getting hilarious. This is getting hilarious. You
say it doesn`t matter. You`re laughing at me. I`m telling you -- you say
it doesn`t matter what religion it is. Then they say of course I don`t
believe he is what he says.

Senator Breaux, for the witness for the prosecution of this president

BREAUX: Of course it matters.

People like to vote for someone they feel that they can associate with
both from a religious standpoint, from a cultural standpoint, from a
geographic standpoint. And that is part of Romney`s problems in the South.
He`s not from the South. He doesn`t sound like he`s from the South. He`s
not a Christian, according to many who think he`s a Mormon and that`s not a
Christian faith. All of that hurts.

LOTT: How do you explain then how he`s running strong in both
Mississippi and Alabama? And you have got a lot of people in the media..


MATTHEWS: In the polling.

LOTT: Well, you`re going to see after the results of the vote, too.

MATTHEWS: But these same polls have your people down there in
Mississippi only one in eight saying the president is what he says he is, a
Christian. But you don`t believe that poll.

You gave me trouble when I mentioned the evolution poll that shows you
people don`t really believe in science down there -- 66 percent don`t
believe in science. You say don`t listen to that poll.

But when it comes to talking about your candidate, Mitt Romney,
believe every number.

LOTT: Now, look...

MATTHEWS: Well, which polls should we believe in here?


LOTT: Let`s think about what we`re talking here. We`re talking about
the president of the United States. And you`re talking about poll numbers
on evolution, instead of talking about the economy, the fact that we don`t
have an energy policy, what are we going to do about the price of gasoline.
That`s what we want to be talking about.


BREAUX: But that`s not what they`re talking about in the campaign.
That`s not what the campaign is talking about down there.

They are having to address those cultural issues right across the
board throughout the South. Now, having said that, those states are not
going to vote for the Democratic President Obama in the November election.
That`s a given. The question is who the nominee is going to be. I think
it`s going to go on for several more months. And I think the Republicans
made a big mistake in dragging it out as long as they have.

MATTHEWS: OK. What`s it going to be like in Tampa? My question. I
haven`t asked it in a couple months. So I will ask it again. It`s going
to be 100 degrees.

We`re going to get a real summer, because we`re getting springtime
here in winter, so we`re going to have a real summer this summer, 100-
degree humidity, 100-degree temperature down in Tampa this late August, a
bunch of Tea Party types, a bunch of people that don`t believe in
evolution, think the president is some kind of Muslim. They are all
getting together down there and they are going to pick this Yankee, this
guy from Massachusetts who was for health care just like the president, who
was pro-choice just like the president.

He`s probably for civil unions just like the president. And they are
going to make him their hero? How is that going to work?

LOTT: First of all, Chris, we are part of the country now.


MATTHEWS: Oh, now we`re getting regional here.

LOTT: We`re going to nominate Mitt Romney to be president of the
United States. We`re going to have a great convention.

MATTHEWS: But aren`t you outsourcing the thing?


LOTT: We`re going to all...


LOTT: ... together because we`re going to keep the goal that really
matters in mind, and that is, who is our best candidate to defeat Barack
Obama? And that is Mitt Romney.

MATTHEWS: So you don`t care if the guy that fixes your computer is
over in Bangladesh somewhere as long as he can fix the computer, right?

That`s your attitude towards fixing this -- in other words, you will
nominate anybody that can beat Obama?

LOTT: I prefer jobs in America. But we want to get...


MATTHEWS: The point I`m making is, you don`t care who your nominee
is, as long as he beats Obama?

LOTT: I care. And I think I -- I picked mine out of the one I think
would be the best candidate and the one I would like to see be president.
And that`s Mitt Romney.


MATTHEWS: But your voters will vote for Romney with a full heart?

LOTT: They will vote for Romney with a full heart.


MATTHEWS: They think he...

LOTT: But you`re talking about Obama. I`m talking about Mitt Romney.


LOTT: I`m talking about the guy I`m for.


BREAUX: I think you`re going to have Newt Gingrich at the convention.
I think you`re going to have Santorum at the convention. And you`re going
to have Sarah Palin at the convention.

And they are all going to be arguing that they are the most logical
choice for people who believe as they do, and not Romney. He has got a
real problem at the convention.

LOTT: At the convention, Newt and Rick will give speeches in support
of Romney.

MATTHEWS: Did you guys see the movie "Game Change"?

BREAUX: I saw it, yes.

MATTHEWS: Wasn`t it something?

BREAUX: It was fascinating.


LOTT: Mostly Democrats watched that.


BREAUX: It was fascinating.

MATTHEWS: You`re going to love it. McCain comes off like a patriot.

BREAUX: I think McCain comes off very well.

MATTHEWS: He comes off as the best man in the room, even though he
made a mistake picking Palin.

BREAUX: Except in the selection process.

MATTHEWS: Yes, and when it mattered.


MATTHEWS: OK. Who wins tonight in Mississippi?

LOTT: I think Romney has got a chance to win it. He`s still the
underdog, but he could pull it out.

BREAUX: I think Gingrich wins both.

MATTHEWS: Gingrich wins both.

Who wins Alabama?

LOTT: That one is going to be I think probably closer, with Newt
maybe having a little edge. After all, he is...


MATTHEWS: Would you like to see Newt Gingrich president, if it was
him and Obama?

LOTT: I picked my candidate.


MATTHEWS: No. If it was Newt vs. the president, who would you vote

LOTT: I would vote for Newt.

BREAUX: Not me.


MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you. It`s great to have the pros on.

Trent Lott, you`re not faking your accent either. I can tell.


MATTHEWS: Trent Lott.

Neither are you, Senator.

Senator John Breaux and Senator Trent Lott.

Up next: Mitt Romney hits a new low in pandering. The "Sideshow" is

You`re watching it, HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: And back to HARDBALL. And now for the "Sideshow."

First up, strategy session. Mitt Romney wasn`t kidding when he said
the Southern state primaries were an away game for him, but his efforts to
turn that around haven`t quite clicked.

Here`s Jon Stewart weighing in.


primaries tomorrow in Alabama and Mississippi, we are going to check in
with Mitt Romney`s Southern strategy and how it`s developing.

morning with a biscuit and some cheesy grits, I will tell you.



STEWART: Everything Romney knows about the South he learned from a
Jeff Foxworthy routine. If your kind of fireworks is firing people at


STEWART: Seriously, where is Romney getting this stuff?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jeff Foxworthy joins us next with the governor.


JEFF FOXWORTHY, COMEDIAN: Mitt is the right guy for the job.


STEWART: If you have a car on your front lawn because your garage
only holds five cars...


STEWART: ... if you think "Cloverfield` was a movie about your
butler, you might be a Romney.



MATTHEWS: You might just be a redneck.

Anyway, but did Jeff Foxworthy get hit with more than he bargained for
here? Let`s take a listen to one of the things Romney says he hopes to
learn from the new member of his team.


ROMNEY: I`m looking forward to going down and hunting with you some
time and you can actually show me which end of the rifle to point.


MATTHEWS: Well, do you think Foxworthy is up for the challenge?
Maybe not. Foxworthy was asked about it later on in the day and had this
zinger for his guy Romney -- quote -- "That sounds even more dangerous than
Cheney, if you ask me. We might start with a BB gun and work our way up to
a rifle."

That`s about his candidate he`s making fun of. In case it slipped
your mind, by the way, former Vice President Dick Cheney -- that`s how you
pronounce it -- accidentally shot a friend on a hunting trip back in 2006.
We`re not going to forget it. Neither will the guy he shot.

Up next, the battle for Dixie. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum each
hope to deliver a knockout blow to other guy tonight. Each is hoping to
knock the other guy off. We have got two strategists, top ones from both
candidates joining us next.

You`re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


"Market Wrap."

The Dow jumped 218 points. The S&P gained 25 and the Nasdaq up 56 to
close above 3000 for the first time since December of 2000. A strong
finish on Wall Street today after J.P. Morgan said it`s raising its
dividends by 20 percent and buying back shares. The rally also followed a
better-than-expected report on retail sales showing the biggest gain in
five months.

And the Federal Reserve kept interest rates unchanged.

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


situation is, is that if this race continues on at its current pace, and --
it`s going to be very difficult for anyone to get to the number of
delegates that`s necessary to go in with a majority at the convention. I
think that`s what the math is pretty much showing.

two reasons. I don`t believe the other two candidates can beat Obama and I
believe this race is most important in our lifetime, and I will not leave
the field.



MATTHEWS: Well, welcome back to HARDBALL.

Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich both vow to stay in the Republican
race, but in order for one of them to prevail as the anti-Romney candidate,
the other has to get out eventually, the sooner the better.

What will tonight`s results in the heart of the conservative South
mean for the future of both Santorum and Gingrich? They both have to win
down there.

John Brabender is the chief strategist for Santorum. Kellyanne Conway
-- I have known her forever, ever since she was a child -- is a senior
adviser for the Gingrich campaign.

Thank you both.

This does get to be big casino today. Here, Rick Santorum told Glenn
Beck on his radio show that Newt Gingrich has nowhere else to go. By the
way, this is the argument. He wins in his region, Kellyanne. He doesn`t
win outside it in any substantial way, hasn`t really beaten third place
anywhere else. So what`s he doing if he can`t win down in Alabama at least
tonight? Listen to the logic and then you respond, Kellyanne.

Let`s watch.


SANTORUM: I think Gingrich has really shown no ability to be able to
get votes outside of in and around the state of Georgia. And that`s really
-- that`s really not -- those primaries are all over. All the states that
border Georgia are now, as of today, will have had their primaries.

Illinois is next. The polls there are showing Romney and I running in
a dead heat race, with Gingrich about 20 points behind the two of us. And
whether he does well or not, I don`t think it`s going to matter much. He`s
just not attracting votes anywhere else. And it would be great if he would
get out of the race, because, clearly, the vast majority of the votes that
he`s taking are coming from me.


MATTHEWS: Well, how do you handle that, Kellyanne, the fact that Newt
Gingrich, smart as hell -- everybody knows he has got the brains and he can
talk his way out of anything. How does he talk his way out of the Deep
South? He doesn`t seem to be able to win outside of the Panhandle of
Florida, South Carolina, his big win. And then Georgia, he had a majority
there, which is very impressive.

If he can`t win in Alabama tonight, can he win anywhere else? My

win in Alabama.


MATTHEWS: I ask you, if he can`t win tonight...


CONWAY: Chris, if he wins Alabama tonight, we actually won two of the
five largest states in terms of delegate count, Florida, Ohio, Tennessee,
Georgia, and Alabama. Those five states have awarded the highest number of
delegates to date.

Romney would have taken two, Gingrich two, and Rick Santorum two --
one -- excuse me.

MATTHEWS: Well, follow that logic.

CONWAY: So that does make him competitive. Wait a second.

There are other Southern states. The fact that you`re talking to a
Santorum strategist and a Gingrich strategist a whole week after Super
Tuesday is a nightmare for the Romney campaign. They rigged this schedule
to make sure Romney, the inevitable front-runner, had put it away long
before Super Tuesday.

Now he has got to go face other states that are less hospitable, many
of which are in the South. Texas is not until May 29, 155 delegates to be
awarded. We have got Governor Perry and many of his supporters with us.
You have got Arkansas coming up. You have got Kentucky, North Carolina.


CONWAY: And you see what happens. You have seen it with Newt. You
have seen it with Rick. You saw it with Herman Cain earlier.

When you start to win, you see a snowball effect. The money comes in.
Nothing speaks to your electability like winning.


CONWAY: And, so, if Newt does very well tonight....

MATTHEWS: Kellyanne...

CONWAY: ... which he`s expected to do, that will snowball.


So I guess the answer is -- well, she didn`t quite answer it.

Kellyanne didn`t quite -- you -- tell me if I`m wrong.

CONWAY: We`re going to win Alabama.

MATTHEWS: OK. They`re going to win Alabama. If they don`t, what

said earlier in the week they`ve got to win Alabama and Mississippi. Rick
Santorum is right. These are the states closest to Newt Gingrich. These
are the ones he has to blow everybody out of the water. If he can`t do
well ands win here, it becomes much less favorable. And that puts him in a
position where he`s just taking votes away from another conservative and
that helps Mitt Romney, and we all know that.

MATTHEWS: What happens if your candidate wins Mississippi tonight
and Gingrich wins Alabama?

BRABENDER: Well, I don`t know. We`ll have to see. It`s a bad night
for Romney if that happens.

But I will say this: Rick Santorum is the only one, so far, that`s
proven he can win in the Midwest, in places like Iowa. He`s won in
Colorado and North Dakota. Last week, he surprisingly won in Tennessee.

MATTHEWS: Let me give you a positive push here and then I`ll let
Kellyanne respond.

Kellyanne, listen to this argument.

If they can win something tonight, if he can win one of the two
states tonight, he can look forward to -- this is Santorum -- can look
forward to a pretty good situation where he`s running pretty close within
the margin of error with Romney in Illinois, which is pretty good. He`s
ahead of him in Louisiana, which is coming up in 24th. He`s ahead of
everybody by 16 in Wisconsin on April 3rd. And in Pennsylvania, his home
state, he`s way up by 18.

So if your guy can do something tonight to stay in this game, he can
win a whole bunch in the near future, right?

BRABENDER: There`s a ton coming up for Rick Santorum.

MATTHEWS: Well, if he can`t win tonight, what happens?

BRABENDER: Well, I think the fact he just won Kansas on Saturday by
getting more votes than all of the other candidates combined, and all the
states that he won in Super Tuesday, Newt Gingrich in the last seven weeks,
other than his home state, his best is next to last.

The problem is we`re letting the minorities of the party select our
nominee. The moderates are selecting Romney. And if we don`t unite and
get behind the single conservative, that`s going to be a real disaster for
this party.

MATTHEWS: Kellyanne, your thought on that. Don`t you have to unite
at some point to beat Romney?

CONWAY: Well, we will because the non-Romney vote is clearly over 50
percent, in some places, over 60 percent.

But, look, if you want to nominate a conservative, it has to be a
full spectrum conservative. And Rick Santorum is a wonderful, social
conservative. But people presume that if you`re social conservative, which
is the hard one to be, that you`re a fiscal conservative.

His record in the Senate is one of big spending. He voted to raise
the debt ceiling five times. He voted for No Child Left Behind, bridge to
nowhere, which is anathema to the Tea Party. They threw people like that

When he was in leadership for five years, they didn`t balance a
single budget. Newt had four consecutive balance budgets with Bill Clinton
when he was speaker of the House. They reformed welfare and created 11
million new jobs.

I think when people realize that social conservative doesn`t
necessarily make a fiscal conservative.

You know, Chris, I have been at polling for 24 years next month. I
have never heard a voter describe themselves as a social conservative, but
a fiscal moderate. Usually, it`s the other way around. People will say,
you know, I`m a fiscal conservative but a social moderate.

So people have gotten to know Mitt Romney and don`t believe he`s one
of them, don`t believe he`s a conservative. I think people --


CONWAY: -- they don`t know him well enough now to know his Senate
record. I think you got to let this play out a little bit and give these
people, these voters the dignity of seeing who they want as their nominee.

MATTHEWS: I think we have a senator from Pennsylvania that meets


Hey, Kellyanne, when you tested Newt Gingrich last, did you test his
support for the bailouts or the mandates or sitting on the coach with Nancy
Pelosi fighting for cap and trade? Because I`m not sure those test real
good with conservatives either sometimes.

CONWAY: I`m not sure that he supported -- actually, I sat next to
him and he said that the TARP plan looked like something that was written
by Putin and not Paulson. I was right there with Doug Schoen, Democratic
pollster, because we work for him. But at the same time, I mean, I think
the point here is that here we are very late in the process, pretty late in
the process, in the Romney.


CONWAY: I don`t think in Romney`s tabbed binder, there`s something
that says open convention. That would be a real prospect here, because
conservatives -- Chris, conservatives don`t want this to be 1996 and 2008
all over again, where you nominate the guy who lost the previous time and
who`s a moderate.

MATTHEWS: I agree with you. Look, by the way, I would like to see
an -- Kellyanne, you know I`d love to see an open convention. You know I`d
like to be sitting in the balcony and watching this thing.

Kellyanne, thanks so much for coming back on. I think you were
saying your guy is going to win tonight. And I will offer the contra-
positive, as we say in logic. And if he doesn`t, he doesn`t.

Thank you.


CONWAY: And if he does, we`ll be back on tomorrow to discuss.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

Up next, we`ve got another poll suggesting President Obama`s poll
numbers may be falling as a result of the price of gas going up. This is a
bad pattern for the last couple of days. Some challenge it. But there is
a bad pattern here breaking for the president, gas prices going up, his
numbers going down, especially among women.

And this is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: Well, one other race to watch tonight in Alabama is the
primary fight between powerful Republican Congressman Spencer Baucus, who
is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and his Tea Party
challenger Scott Beason. Beason is backed by the super PAC, well, the same
super PAC that helped defeat Ohio`s Jean Schmidt just last Tuesday.

Baucus has been under scrutiny over allegations that he engaged
insider trading during the 2008 financial crisis.

We`ll be right back.


MATTHEWS: We`re back.

For a second time this week, a well-respected poll has shown a
significant drop in President Obama`s approval rating. The latest "New
York Times"/CBS poll shows President Obama`s job approval down to 41
percent, down nine points from just a month ago, and an all-time low on
that poll. Interesting stuff.

The economy is improving, generally, so what could account for the
president`s sudden drop? Well, we all know -- gas prices could be.

According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of regular now is
$3.81, which is a lot more for super -- a 30-cent increase, by the way, in
just regular in a month.

Dan Balz is chief correspondent for the "Washington Post." And
Jonathan Martin is senior political reporter for "Politico".

I want to start with Dan about these numbers.

What`s your sense putting together your poll from yesterday in "The
Post" -- the ABC poll and "Washington Post" poll? And again this one,
people have been skeptical about it, but these two are ringing together the
same anthem here -- people are really reacting to these gas prices.

DAN BALZ, THE WASHINGTON POST: Chris, I think that`s right. I think
it`s -- I think there are a couple of things going on. One is we know that
people are somewhat hopeful about the direction of the economy. And I
think in the last couple of months or the last month or so, that has helped
President Obama.

I think at the same time, people are still very nervous about how
sustainability the recovery is and I think when you get a spike in gasoline
prices like we`ve seen, people get very nervous and they begin to register

So, I think that`s part of what`s going on. I think the second thing
is that we know that this is just a volatile electorate, particularly swing
voters who are moving back and forth. We`ve seen in the Republican
primaries how volatile people are about what their choices are. But I
think what we see in some of these overall national numbers is the
volatility that`s still out there, at least with a part of the electorate.

MATTHEWS: And I think it`s showing, in these numbers, men as well as
women, or women as well as men. Look at this, while the poll shows that
the president lost support among men by four points, he lost a whopping 12
points among women since just February.

Jonathan, now, this is what I want to get to. I want you to think
about a number of things. One is men and women both have to go to the gas
pump. The male and female, they both may have to go to work. But also if
they`re at home -- working at home, they have to drive the kids around,
they got to go on shopping trips, they`ve got to really move around. And
oftentimes, they got to put the gas in the car, especially they pick the
husband up, for example, in some old traditional relationships, they pick
them up at the train station and bus stop, they are putting the gas in the
car, they`re having to account for that emotionally and financially, that
money hurts -- you know, 50 to 70 bucks to fill the tank a couple times a

Look at this -- people under $50,000 a year, look at the drop: 16-
point drop among people that make between $30,000 and $50,000. In other
words, people who drive the longest for the least amount of income are
getting screwed the most by this gas price and they`re holding it against
the president and a lot of them are Democrats.

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO.COM: Yes, because, Chris, those are the
folks who are getting hit hardest by this, obviously. If you are making
less than 50k a year and you`re having to go fill up your car, your truck
for, you know, 4-plus bucks a gallon, obviously, you are going to notice
that once, probably twice a week. So, it is obviously creating some
difficult headwinds for the president.

The other thing I would just point out, is I think that Gingrich has
actually gotten some traction by really seizing on this issue. I was at a
candidate forum last night in Birmingham, and his whole pitch is now, I
want to drill more and this president wants to try to put algae in your gas
tank effectively.

MATTHEWS: Nobody is faster on the draw --

MARTIN: I mean, obviously, that`s bit of rhetoric there, but it
plays well a conservative crowd that the president is more interested in
green energy than he is in actually drilling and finding more oil and gas

MATTHEWS: Well, Dan, take a look at these new matchups now in the
"New York Times" poll. Obama, 47, Mitt Romney, 44. Obama, 48, Santorum,
44. A couple things come out of that one is the closeness of the two
matchups and secondly, the closest between the two Republicans in the

BALZ: Yes. I think that`s right, Chris. But again, I think it does
go back to the fact that we have been in a period when I think some
Democrats have gotten a little overconfident about the prospects of

MARTIN: Right.

MATTHEWS: I agree.

BALZ: But if you talk to the people who are running the president`s
campaign, other Democrats around the country, they anticipate that when all
of this Republican primary battle ends and they get focused on the general
election and people begin to look at the choice, it`s going to be a very
tight election. President Obama won 53 percent in 2008 under ideal
circumstances and nobody thinks that it is going to be like that in the

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Dan, and then over to Jonathan. Do you
think people vote on the incumbent, like a baseball manager looks at the
pitcher and decides how he`s doing out there or they really look at the
choice? Do they look at the competence, the success of the pitcher out
there, the guy who is president? Is that the primary factor or is it the
choice they look at watching debates or something like that?

BALZ: Well, I think in any re-election campaign, it tends to be much
more about the incumbent than it does about the challenger. Having said
that, the challenger obviously has to meet a certain threshold and
everything we are going to see over the next six months is that the
Democrats are going to do their best to try to discredit whoever ends up as
the Republican nominee.

MATTHEWS: And, Jonathan -- your thought, Jon, what is more
important, the incumbent or the chance -- the choice?

MARTIN: Oh, it`s the incumbent, Chris. And that`s why Republicans
privately will say, we want it to be Romney so the issue in the fall is the
president and it`s not our nominee.

That`s why they want Romney. It is because he is the Hippocratic
Oath candidate, first, do no harm. They see him as somebody --

MATTHEWS: So true. I can`t tell the number of people not afraid of
the guy. That`s the scary part. People do not fear Romney, because they
think he`s the moderate.

MARTIN: Whereas the fear with Santorum or Newt is that the fall
election would be as much, perhaps even more about them than about an
incumbent facing some serious challenges.

MATTHEWS: Well said.

Dan and Jonathan, great guests. You`re the best. Thanks so much for
coming on HARDBALL tonight. It`s great to see you, Dan, again.

When we return, "Let Me Finish" with how truly close this election is
getting -- and not just on the Republican side.

You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS: "Let Me Finish" tonight with this:

There`s a chance the competition for the Republican nomination could
break open, wide open tonight at last. Look at the closeness between
Santorum and Romney in the new matchup with us President Obama. Both, both
these guys are either within the margin of error with the president or just
slight underdogs.

This tell us with all the hard-right talk by Santorum, there`s been a
lot of it, he is still seen by voters as about the same as Romney, the man
who makes efforts not calling Obama socialist, not saying`s Tea Partier, to
keep himself in contentious with those in the political middle.

But the polls tell us something else, how much the Republican
nomination is worth, it`s apparently worth a lot. People, as I said, are
divided very closely on either sticking with the president right now or
going with one of his potential adversaries, either Romney or Santorum,
believe it or not.

Why? Because of gasoline prices are going up. Or going up because
of that or because of the slowness in the recovery, or because both of
these realities, the gas prices going up or slowness of the recovery are
finally catching on with people, encouraging them with the belief that
Obama doesn`t yet have things under control.

Well, the fact is, again, this is going to be a very hot race for
this November election and again, it`s going to be about the economy.

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

"POLITICS NATION" with Al Sharpton starts right now.


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