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updated 2/18/2010 8:52:19 AM ET 2010-02-18T13:52:19

Guests: Colin Hanna, Joan Walsh, Jared Bernstein, Steven Pearlstein, Sam Stein, Alexander Burns, Chris Stirewalt.

Host:  Tea time, let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington.  Leading off tonight, tea and sympathy; can they build a political movement on a negative?  Can just saying no to everything you don‘t like about American life—debt, deficits, taxes, big government, the government period—add up to a yes that brings people together?  Could it help win a midterm election, but help lose a presidential election in 2012? 

This week, conservatives kick off their annual C-PAC convention here in DC.  Here‘s a sample of the seminar topics: quote, “saving liberty, one patriot at a time,” and “when all else fails, nullification,” and “state resistance to federal tyranny.” 

So can conservatives harness the energy of the Tea Partiers, and can they ride the tiger without getting eaten by it? 

And it‘s been one year since President Obama signed that 787 billion dollar stimulus package, and notable economists say it worked in bringing back the economy and saving us from what we were headed for, another 1930s-style Great Depression.  So why are Republicans able to get away with calling the big stimulus bill a failure? 

Next, we‘ll take a look at three hot political races in the country; the primary fight for Texas governor on the Republican side, J.D.  Hayworth‘s challenge to John McCain, also on the Republican side,  Senator Arlen Specter‘s fight to keep his Senate seat in a primary this Spring. 

And 63 percent of people think most members of Congress deserve to be voted out of politics.  What does this anti-incumbent fever mean for the Democrats?  More of that in the politics fix.

And finally, President Obama is headed to Las Vegas tomorrow.  So what‘s the mayor going to do?  Show up and greet him?  Or make some kind of statement by snubbing him?  What happens in Vegas stays in the Side Show tonight. 

Let‘s start with the relationship between the conservatives and the Tea Party movement.  Colin Hanna is president of the conservative group Let Freedom Ring.  Joan Walsh is Editor of Salon.com. 

Colin, this is your home turf, and you start and then Joan, get in here.  It seems to me we may be trying to square a circle.  Let‘s listen to something—it‘s the part during HARDBALL I like most, when people say something I thought they might say and then they deliver.  Here‘s a Tea Party supporter and hero, I must say, Richard Mack, Sheriff Mack on HARDBALL just last night.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD MACK, SHERIFF:  We‘re not after secession, although the states have the right to do that, because the states form the federal government, not the other way around. 

MATTHEWS:  The states have the right to secede? 

MACK:  The federal government is not our boss.  Let‘s just make that very clear.

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  The states—the Civil War—in other words, Lincoln was wrong? 

MACK:  The states are not subject to federal direction.  And that‘s what a part of all this is.  I would love to meet Sarah Palin and—

MATTHEWS:  You just said it‘s OK for the states to secede from the union? 

MACK:  Well, they have the power if they want. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  They have the power to secede from the union.  We had a war and you‘re a northerner.  I think northerners may have a different attitude about this than some southerners.  Some southerners.  Let me be careful here. 

We had a civil war that cost 600,00 dead people, because some states thought they had a right to secede, and the majority of states and the federal government said no, you don‘t, and Abraham Lincoln said, no, you don‘t; we had a Civil War.  Why are the Tea Partiers reopening that terrible question of whether a state can secede or not, and answering it yes? 

COLIN HANNA, LET FREEDOM RING:  They‘re not, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  He just did.  Sheriff Mack is a hero in this crowd. 

HANNA:  You will find a couple of people on the fringe—

MATTHEWS:  Is he a fringe?  Call him fringe.

HANNA:  Absolutely, on the edge of every movement.  The fact of the matter is that the Tea Partiers are fundamentally patriotic Americans who are reawakening and rediscovering the founding principles of the country.  They‘re deeply patriotic.  They are offended by what they see as not only overspending and overreaching, but also, Chris, the kind of arrogance I think you are particularly attuned to. 

MATTHEWS:  I am.  I hope I‘m not part of it.  Let me ask you this—

Here‘s the scary part.  Let me let Joan get in here.  It seems like that tent is so big it includes people who think you can secede from the union, like Rick Perry of Texas talking that up.  You‘ve got that other candidate, Debra Medina, down there talking about nullification.  I thought we got over that in the ‘60s. 

They‘ve got Birthers, Truther, secessionists, nullifiers, people that are gun nuts, who believe there should be no gun control at all, right up to having bazookas and automatic weapons and god knows what you should be allowed to have—my question—and Birchers, by the way.  My question is, if you follow these fundamentalists on the Constitution, like you are, you go all the way down to the back of we couldn‘t have the Civil Rights Bill in 1964, because that was a liberal interpretation of the Constitution, using the Interstate Commerce Clause.  These original intent characters would never have allowed the Civil Rights Bill to be passed. 

Your thoughts, Joan?

JOAN WALSH, SALON.COM:   Yes, Chris, I mean, one of the things I really resent—Mr. Hanna says it‘s an inclusive movement.  But it certainly doesn‘t include people like me, and that‘s their prerogative.  But more than that, it demonizes liberals.  It demonizes Democrats.  Thank you.  It‘s mutual here.

It demonizes liberals.  It demonizes Democrats as though we‘re hostile to the founders; we‘re hostile to the Constitution.  And I think those of us on the Democratic side really look back at a wonderful set of founders, a wonderful set of founding documents, but say, back in the day, women could not vote, African-Americans were mostly property, Asians and Latinos were mostly excluded; so we‘ve need some updating. 

We needed Social Security and Medicare because the life expectancy of people back then was about 35 or 40.  So we‘ve needed some updating.  We‘re proud of the updating we‘ve done.  But we still hue to the original values and original principles.  And so I never liked being told that we‘re not patriots or we‘re not respecting the Constitution.  I don‘t see that at all. 

MATTHEWS:  If the original document, the Constitution, was so perfect, why did we need ten amendments right up front, Colin?  Why did we need the Second Amendment for the gun guys right up front, if it was a perfect document?  We started amending pretty early, didn‘t we? 

HANNA:  Actually, we started the amendments, Chris, if you will, before the actual document. 

MATTHEWS:  Because the Republican party insisted on the amendments. 

HANNA:  No, no.  Many of those things that became the rights that are laid out in the amendments, the first ten, the Bill of Rights, were, in fact, derivations of other documents that actually predated the Constitution. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure, the colonial documents.  Not colonial, the state charters.  But look, here‘s the point: if you get into this first principle thing, we can‘t even have an Air Force.  There‘s no Air Force in the Constitution.  Is there?

HANNA:  Let‘s not confuse principles with policies.  The mistake that Joan was making was that she was talking about how some of the policies of the 18th century didn‘t follow the principle of liberty, for example.  That‘s entirely true.  There were all kinds of policy errors that we made, certainly the tolerance of slavery.  All of those things are things that can and should be corrected.  .  No one is arguing for them as any kind of standard of perfection.

But the fundamental principles of the founding, the principled of ordered liberty, of limited government, those are principles that today, when we look at them, they appear to be very conservative.  But in point of act, that was the center of the spectrum at that time, and that‘s what‘s being re-established right now, Chris, with this Mount Vernon statement that was signed today. 

MATTHEWS:  I guess I don‘t know what you mean in terms of principles right now.  Joan, your thoughts here.  The question you raised was updating.  We did decide as a country in the ‘30s that it was better for people who survived their earning years, into their 60s, 70s and 80s, that they have some safety net, that they had some basic income.  We decided that as a country.  Should we go back beyond that? 

HANNA:  No, because that—

WALSH:  No—

HANNA:  That‘s a policy. 

WALSH:  Actually he was talking to me, Colin.  And I want to give you credit and I want to thank you—

(CROSS TALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Joan, first, your thought.  Joan? 

WALSH:  Thanks, Chris.  It‘s very difficult.  I‘m glad to hear Colin say he‘s against slavery.  I believe most people are.  I really do believe that.  But there are other ways that they haven‘t been happy with our updates.

And also the Mount Vernon statement, there‘s really nothing objectionable in it, except the idea that those of us who disagree on the Democratic side really aren‘t patriots.  The excitement, it harks back to that Young Americans for Freedom statement in the 1960s that William F.  Buckley made very popular by publishing in the “National Review.”  That was from the Young Americans for Freedom.  It was an exciting movement. 

When I looked at the list of signers, with no disrespect—I‘m not a teenager myself—these are older people from another generation.  We‘ve got Ed Meese.  We‘ve got Brent Bozell.  There‘s not a lot of youth and new thinking there.  It‘s more of a restoration of the Reagan administration.  So I‘m not feeling it right now. 

HANNA:  Well, the Tea Party unit was represented by two of the national coordinators from Tea Party Patriots, Denny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler (ph).  That‘s the source of energy and excitement and youth in the conservative movement right now.  There were any number of younger people.  Kathleen Gene Lopez (ph) certainly represents that next generation of leadership and thinking and writing on the conservative side through “National Review.”  So it‘s not one-sided. 

But Joan, I want to come back to one comment you made a few moments ago where you said you felt excluded and somehow not included in a definition of patriotism.  There‘s nothing in the Mount Vernon statement to make you feel that way.  I‘m sorry that you feel that way, but it‘s not because of the statement.  It‘s because of whatever you feel is the appropriate reaction to that statement.  That‘s a very inclusive statement. 

WALSH:  It‘s a statement in context of needing this statement in the, quote, “age of Obama,” that something has happened—

HANNA:  There‘s nothing in the statement that talks about the age of Obama. 

WALSH:  It‘s coming in this context.  And, you know, we have suddenly got this movement for liberty and to restore values when we got our first African-American president.  I‘m not calling you racist at all Colin.  I don‘t mean to say that.  But there‘s a looking backwards that sometimes can carry racial connotations.  The Tea Party movement is not exclusive.  It‘s not mainly a movement of young people.  And it‘s most definitely a movement of white people. 

So I feel like a lot of these documents and a lot of these gatherings are rather hostile to the America we‘re becoming, which is multi-racial, which is younger, in which women have the right not merely to vote, but to be president, and it‘s turning back the clock. 

HANNA:  Ken Blackwell and Herman Kaine (ph) would have argued with you.

MATTHEWS:  I know they‘re conservatives.  I agree with that.  Here‘s a question—I want to jump in.  I think it‘s a good debate.  You‘re a good guest.  Joan is always a great guest, because she has raised some things I really like, Joan.  That updating—I love that word because it‘s so appropriate.  We didn‘t have the need for an air force in the 17th or 18th century.  We didn‘t have airplanes.  So you have it that way. 

We didn‘t have people living beyond their working years, to their 70s, 80s and 90s, with the regularity with which good medicine has—and being able to live, but not being able to provide for yourself in any reasonable way.  Therefore you need some sort of safety net.  That‘s—

Here‘s what I object to. Back in the beginnings of our country—you‘re a student, we all are, of our history.  There was a real honest debate between how strong a central government we have and how much it should be distributed among the small farmers, the Jeffersonians against the Hamiltonians.  But Jefferson didn‘t accuse Hamilton of being unpatriotic.  He didn‘t say you‘re not one of us.  He said you have a different view. 

The trouble with your crowd is, if you take a strong big government view, if you think we ought to have a little bit more socialism, like health care, which is a point of view, you guys say we‘re not American.  And I‘ve got say, wait a minute, you can have people on the left who are just as American as people on the right.  You‘ve got people on the right who want to secede from the union.  Don‘t tell me somebody wants to secede from the union is more patriotic than somebody who would like to see a national health care system, like Tony Weiner.  I‘m sorry, just because you disagree doesn‘t mean the other guy ain‘t one of us. 

HANNA:  You‘re putting words—

MATTHEWS:  I hear this word patriot and I don‘t like it.  I think it excludes people who aren‘t with you point of view.  That‘s all I‘m saying.  What does a patriot mean these days?  This isn‘t a re-enactment play.

HANNA:  I would fundamentally disagree with you. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you use the word patriot. 

HANNA:  You‘re using exclusively negative terms, and I don‘t think that this is a movement, either the conservative movement or the Tea Party movement, which is using the negative terms anything like the way you are.  They‘re using positive terms.  If you feel excluded by the positive terms, frankly, Chris, that‘s your problem. 

MATTHEWS:  It is my problem. 

HANNA:  It‘s not our problem because we‘re stating it positively. 

MATTHEWS:  Last word, Joan, because I feel that words are negative when you say I hate Washington, I hate big government, I hate government, I hate the IRS, I hate the Fed, I hate everybody who works in Washington. 

HANNA:  We hate arrogance in office. 

WALSH:  There‘s a lot of arrogance in office on both sides.  It‘s also very rich that this is all happening against the backdrop of finally really learning that the stimulus is working, the stimulus that go no Republican votes in the house, three in the Senate, that Republicans are now out having ribbon cuttings and about the pork that they‘ve brought to their districts.  And not even pork, the jobs that they brought to their districts. 

This is a fundamental disconnect, because even Republicans know that we need government to work.  But they‘re very busy obstructing the government and this president.  And it‘s new phenomenon in politics.  It really is. 

MATTHEWS:  I had all these fights in high school.  I think the federal government does have to tell states they can‘t have separate but equal schools.  The federal government does have to say you have to have safety rules at the work place.  The federal government has a big role to play.  I thought we settled all this stuff.  You can‘t discriminate in housing and in hotels and restaurants.  You can‘t say no blacks, even though the state wants to do that.  Do you believe states should make those decisions?

Those decisions? 

HANNA:  I think there are lots of decisions—

MATTHEWS:  No, those kinds of decisions?

HANNA:  No, I think that those are fundamental decisions about who we are as a decision. 

MATTHEWS:  So the federal government should make those decisions?

HANNA:  I have no problem with those decisions. 

MATTHEWS:  I think a lot of states rights that I‘m watching on television would like to go back to pre-‘64, where states like Alabama and Mississippi decide how they want to run their states.  And I keep hearing what Joan hears.  And I hear a racial tinge to it.

HANNA:  I have talked to thousands of Tea Party-goers and leaders. 

And I have never, ever heard anything like that. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s implicit.  It‘s implicit, states rights.  I hope I‘m wrong.

Colin Hanna, former County Commissioner of Chester County, Joan Walsh, thank you.  Coming up, it‘s been one year since President Obama did sign that 787 billion dollar stimulus package.  Virtually every major economist says it‘s worked.  So why are Republicans still fighting it and dumping on it?  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  But if we‘re honest, part of the controversy is also that, despite the extraordinary work that has been done through the Recovery Act, millions of Americans are still without jobs.  Millions more are struggling to make ends meet.  So it doesn‘t yet feel like much of a recovery.  And I understand that.  That‘s why we‘re going to continue to do everything in our power to turn this economy around. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was President Obama today, marking the one-year anniversary of his stimulus bill.  Jared Bernstein is chief economic adviser for Vice President Biden.

Jared, thank you so much for joining us on a cold day out there.  Let me ask you about the central question.  The Senate is voting on a 15 billion dollar jobs bill.  Is that really going to be worth many jobs? 

JARED BERNSTEIN, CHIEF ECONOMIC TO VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:  Look, that‘s a step in the process.  You have the House, the Senate out there.  This—

President Obama has stressed his priorities, in terms of some targeted jobs ideas to build over the successes of the Recovery Act, over its first year.  In every case, we‘re talking about pretty much the same things, some tax credits to help small businesses. 

You know, oftentimes it‘s the small businesses hiring that lead you out of a downturn like this in the job market, to build on some of the infrastructure projects that have helped put some people to work, and also further clean energy investments.  In each case, that‘s what the policy discussion is targeting around. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk numbers.  You and I know history.  I assume you

know the political history.  It‘s that if presidents can get the

unemployment rate down from where they started, especially if it went up to

10, 11 percent like it did with Reagan—he got it down to seven by

Morning in America time, when he could celebrate himself with TV ads to get

re-elected overwhelmingly.  I just saw a Fed report today that says we are

going to get to that terrain, in the six to seven percent range, by 2012. 

Is that the good news you embrace?  Are you skeptical?  Where are you on the possibility that we will be back into that safe area politically by the next election for president? 

BERNSTEIN:  Well, you know, I‘m really focused on getting that—

MATTHEWS:  Well, no, can you focus on my answer for a second, please.  Is it possible—are you sublime about that number?  Do you think we can get to six or seven by the time the president faces the voters again personally? 

BERNSTEIN:  We have a forecast on the unemployment rate in the economic report of the president that just came out.  The number for 2012 is I think around a point in that neighborhood, around where you were, maybe a little bit higher.  And the important point there is that you get the unemployment moving in the right direction.  It‘s very much what you started out with.

You know, this economy is not going to get back to full employment, you know, five percent unemployment, you know, anytime soon.  It took years to get into this mess, and, as you heard the president say, we‘re doing everything we can to arrest the free-fall.  And I think we‘ve accomplished that.  And to now get those trends moving in the right direction.  And that‘s the key moving forward. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to something.  You and I studied economics in grad school.  I didn‘t go for a PHD, but I was working on it, but certainly studied Keynesian economics, the idea that when consumption is down, business investment is down, the government has to compensate by spending more than it‘s taxing.  Has that basic philosophy of John Maynard Keynes, exemplified by the stimulus bill, proven itself to be true again this past year? 

BERNSTEIN:  Unquestionably so.  The economy was contracting at a six percent rate when we got here.  We were hemorrhaging jobs at a rate of 750,000 per month.  I‘ve been looking at these statistics for decades.  I never saw anything like that.  The most recent quarter, the economy expanded at about that rate and job loss is a fraction of what we saw.  It‘s not where we need it to be, by any stretch of the imagination. 

You and I just talked about the urgency of building on some of the successes of the Recovery Act, to get the unemployment rate moving down.  Once again, Keynesian economics, the temporary use of government stimulus to get you over that economic chasm when the private sector economy is on the melt, has proven to be effective.  What matters now is building for the future, making the investments not just in good jobs today but in the growth industries of tomorrow. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me give you an old dose—tell you how liberal I am. 

I‘m old school. 

BERNSTEIN:  OK. 

MATTHEWS:  I look at economic enterprise by the government as a wonderful contributor to economic progress.  I look at the city we‘re in now, the beautiful buildings around us in Washington, many of them built during the Great Depression.  They‘re beautiful buildings like the Jefferson Memorial, the federal—the Triangle.  All those buildings went up, I think, at time of relatively cheap labor and resources.  You could get the goods, the stone, the granite.  You could get the cement.  You could get the stuff put together in terms of labor and quality. 

We have a period of time right now where the construction companies and the construction crews and labor forces are out there ready to be put to work.  Why don‘t we build our transportation system in America right now.  Why don‘t we show some guts, make some capital investments in a state-of-the-art rail system like they have in Europe, like they‘re building in China.  Why do we have to have Amtrak and these old chug-a-lug old rail systems in this country?  Why do you and I fly to New York instead of taking a faster train?  Why can‘t we take a train to Chicago.  Why not build America again?  Why are we so squeamish? 

BERNSTEIN:  I‘m ready to kick it old school with you all the way on this point, because that‘s exactly where we are.  We have over 12,000 transportation projects in the field either right now or ramping up in year two of the act.  And the thinking behind that is very much as you said.  In fact, this is the largest investment in the National Highway System since the Eisenhower years.  High speed rail, eight billion of investment for high speed rail. 

Now, does that build high speed rail system throughout this country in the way that you‘re suggesting?  Of course not.  But—let me finish, let me finish.  But it does plant the seeds. 

MATTHEWS:  That is so small.  You‘re building that chug-a-lug from Tampa to Orlando.  Give me a break.  That‘s a nice little project but—

BERNSTEIN:  Here‘s where we may have a different view.  I don‘t believe—nor does this president or vice president, that the US government is going to build the national high speed rail, or build out the smart grid, or completely take the ball on clean energy.  What we can do, especially at a time like this, with credit constraints and private capital on the sideline, is seed those industries, create the conditions for private capital to come in, and leverage up those federal dollars to make long-term investments in these industries. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s see.  Let‘s see if it happens.  Thanks so much, Jared Bernstein, for joining us on the big news today, the first anniversary of the stimulus package. 

Let‘s go now to Steve Bernstein, the much respected business columnist for the “Washington Post.”  I loved your column today because it was about leadership, about the president knowing the tradeoff questions, but saying, here‘s where I stand: we need to regulate Wall Street; we need to spend money on jobs.  OK, there‘s a tradeoff in every case.  I‘m telling you where I stand.  You don‘t think he‘s doing that? 

STEVEN PEARLSTEIN, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I don‘t think he‘s—first of all, I don‘t think he‘s personally involved.  He‘s got to the point now where things have gummed up.  OK?  Nothing‘s moving.  He‘s got to take personal charge of this.  He‘s got to get in the room with the right group of people.  Not subcontracted out to the Congressional leaders, who, frankly, I think haven‘t always served him well, and make his own deals, and make his deals which he thinks the American public are willing to take. 

Whatever they are, he‘s got to push them through.  And he‘s got either say here‘s the plan, either you‘re going to buy it or you‘re not.  But if you don‘t, I‘m going out in the country, starting July 4th, and I‘m going to campaign against you the way Harry Truman did against the Do-Nothing Congress in 1948. 

MATTHEWS:  But, you know, Teddy Roosevelt didn‘t say, go do some construction jobs.  He said let‘s build a Panama Canal. 

PEARLSTEIN:  You were right about that with Jared.  To say we‘re going to, you know, do eight billion dollars and do a down payment, that doesn‘t resonate with people.  Leadership means getting people around do we want a high speed rail system?  If we do, god damn, we‘re going to do it.  You know, we‘re going to spend some serious money and we‘re going to spend it because it has a good payback.  If it doesn‘t have a good payback, we shouldn‘t spend it.  But if it does, like the highway system, we‘re going to do it.  We‘re going to do it now because now is the time to do.  We have, as you say, cheap labor, cheap materials.  Let‘s get going. 

It‘s getting people around that.  What I was trying to make the point in today‘s column is that people get real fixated on polls.  It‘s really distracting, Chris.  People—it‘s not that people think this and people think that, and therefore the politicians have to give back to people what the polls say people are interested in.  So you had today—you had today Obama saying well, I care about jobs because the polls say people care about jobs, so he models it back to them, I care about jobs. 

That‘s not the way it works.  The way leadership works is you build trust with people.  They trust you because you‘re candid; you‘ve got guts; you‘re bold.  And once they like your character, they‘ll follow you anywhere.  It‘s not the issue, it‘s the character that comes first. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  Steve, I don‘t know whether you would go or not, but the president ought to invite you to dinner.  Thank you very much Steve Pearlstein of the “Washington Post,” a great mind.  I really appreciate what you wrote today. 

Up next, President Obama heads to Vegas, but Sin City‘s mayor says the president isn‘t welcome.  Catch this public relations game.  There he is.  This guy, Oscar Goodman, is a piece of work.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that music? 

Anyway, back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.”

First: a Sin City snub. 

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, the once big-time lawyer for some underworld figures in the old days, who played himself, by the way, in the movie “Casino,” said he won‘t accept an invitation to attend President Obama‘s town hall out in Vegas this Friday.  Why?  Because of an off-the-cuff comment earlier this month by the president. 

The president said Americans should—quote—shouldn‘t, by the way, “blow a bunch of cash on Vegas when they‘re trying to save money for college.”

Well, Mayor Goodman took that to heart, took offense at it. 

Give me a break.

Here he is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OSCAR GOODMAN (D), MAYOR OF LAS VEGAS:  I‘m just hoping that he‘s man enough to say, “Look, I made a mistake; I want to straighten everything out,” and do it in advance of his trip here.  Then, I would be happy to embrace him.

But, anything less than that, I‘m not interested. 

QUESTION:  So, let me clarify.  If you don‘t hear any further apology or any further statement from the White House, you will not be there? 

GOODMAN:  I have got other things to do, to be quite frank with you, for my constituents here in Las Vegas, who—who rely on me to do the right thing as the mayor. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Good work, Mayor. 

You have—you have embraced worse people than him, by the way. 

Anyway, brilliant boosterism by the old pro Oscar Goodman.  Good for him.  He‘s doing a good job of boosting Vegas. 

But, please, don‘t take all of this too seriously. 

Now it‘s time for the “Number.”

Last month, the Supreme Court struck down a 63-year-old law banning corporation from spending money, profits, on political campaigns.  In a new “Washington Post”/ABC poll, eight in 10 Americans disagree with that ruling.  In fact, they say they want Congress to reinstate those spending restrictions and outlaw that money again going from corporations to TV ads.

Seventy-two percent—and that number includes a Republicans, by the way—neither three-quarters of Americans, 72 percent, say Congress needs to rewrite campaign finance law—tonight‘s call-to-action “Big Number.” 

Up next: three big races in the country, political races, that matter, I think, to everybody, and to me especially, the red-hot primary on the Republican side for Texas governor, Republican primary between John McCain and J.D. Hayworth out Arizona, and the big race up in Pennsylvania, both in the primary and in the general. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LYNN BERRY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Lynn Berry, and here what is happening.

Canadian television is reporting on a security breach involving Vice President Joe Biden that allegedly took place during the Olympics‘ opening ceremony.

A mentally ill man reportedly got within a few yards of Biden using a forged security pass.  Canadian Mounties say the man was not carrying a weapon.  The U.S. Secret Service says it was not informed of the incident and has no way to confirm that report. 

In Afghanistan, allied troops are clearing the last pockets of resistance from the Taliban stronghold of Marjah.  Military officials say, after five days of fighting, most of the offensive goals have been achieved. 

A Haitian judge has freed eight of 10 American missionaries charged with child trafficking, after parents testified they handed over their kids voluntarily.  The group‘s leader and one other missionary will be held for more questioning. 

And the Transportation Department says it will open a formal investigation into new reports of steering problems with some 2010 Toyota Corolla. 

Those are your top stories on MSNBC—now back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Let‘s talk about some hot races that matter to me, because a lot of them are getting very interesting.

We have got The Huffington Post‘s Sam Stein with me and Politico‘s Alex Burns.

Gentlemen, thank you.  Start your engines. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  First: Texas Republican primary for governor.  The Republican side is where the action is, just 13 days from now, on March 2.  What do you make of this?

Let‘s look at the poll here.  Governor Perry, the incumbent going for a third term, look at his numbers here.  He needs to get a majority.  He‘s at 45 already in a three-way race.  It looks like he‘s getting close to a majority and avoiding a runoff, almost.  Except, look at that person down there, Debra Medina creeping up to 17 points. 

You first, Stan. 

Can she rob him of a chance to win a clean—a victory in the—in the primary? 

SAM STEIN, THEHUFFINGTONPOST.COM:  Up until recently, maybe.  But then she comes out and she says that there‘s legitimate questions about the government‘s involvement in 9/11.  And that‘s even...

MATTHEWS:  She‘s a truther.

STEIN:  And that‘s even—that‘s even too hot for Glenn Beck to handle.  He...

MATTHEWS:  He said so.

STEIN:  Yes.  He distanced himself.

MATTHEWS:  He called her a flake. 

STEIN:  And so that—her support is probably going to go to Hutchison, I would gather.  And we will see if... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, really?

STEIN:  I think so. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, really? 

STEIN:  We will see if Perry will actually... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is that how you see it, Alex, that she—even though she‘s a bit to the right of both of the other candidates, that her numbers may go to—drift over to Kay Bailey Hutchison, who, somewhere, as a centrist conservative, might be the odd person out so far? 

ALEXANDER BURNS, POLITICO:  Right.  Chris, you know, I think what we‘re seeing with Debra Medina is what you‘ve seen with a lot of Tea Party-backed candidates, is the folks who are behind her are just disaffected generally. 

I think it would tough to predict where they‘re going to go or whether they will even come out to vote if her support really collapses.  And, you know...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But don‘t people vote out of anger?  Actually—don‘t—isn‘t anger one of the chief reasons people do get out and vote, usually?

BURNS:  Sure, but, sometimes, folks get so disgusted with the whole process, that they don‘t even bother. 

You know, there was a poll, another poll, in Texas recently that showed that, as disgusted as folks are with the state government down there, they dislike the government in Washington even more.  So, if those people who...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BURNS:  ... who were backing Debra Medina are just really turned...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

BURNS:  ... off by the whole thing, they could drift to Perry. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, I always wonder.  Norman Mailer once said that socialism would never make it in America—and he was their nominee—because...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... people don‘t like going to meetings. 

But, people, if they will go to a meeting, it seems, Alex, they will go to vote. 

BURNS:  You would think.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, let‘s take Pennsylvania. 

But it looks like right there Perry is ahead so far.  It looks like he will win that thing in the end. 

Let‘s go to Pennsylvania, my home state, where I come from. 

Arlen Specter—that‘s a...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... pretty good imitation—faces Joe Sestak.

STEIN:  That is not bad.  That is not bad. 

MATTHEWS:  ... Sestak in a primary this May 18.  And the winner faces Pat Toomey, who is the supply-sider.  I guess he‘s also a Club For Growth guy all the way.

STEIN:  Club For Growth guy.

MATTHEWS:  Toomey lost to Specter in a very tough race six years ago, I guess.

What do you make of that race?

You first, Sam?

STEIN:  I mean, it‘s going to be vicious.  You already see it right now.

MATTHEWS:  Vicious is right.

STEIN:  Yes.  I mean, you see it right now with just Specter, Sestak.  Him questioning whether Sestak was AWOL from the Navy is pretty vicious stuff, to begin with.

MATTHEWS:  He said he was AWOL from the Navy?

STEIN:  He questioned him—he questioned it.  He raised it as a question.

I mean, that‘s the stuff that...

MATTHEWS:  I thought he used that as a metaphor. 

STEIN:  As a metaphor?  I read it as a direct questioning of it.  But we will see. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look.  Here he is. 

Arlen Specter said that Sestak, who was an admiral in the Navy, of course, in a forum on February 5 of this month: “I‘m going to ask him to explain why he was the—has the worst voting record of anybody in the Pennsylvania delegation, the ninth worst of candidates in the Congress.  I‘m going to ask him if he was AWOL in the Navy, if he wouldn‘t have been court-martialed, instead of looking for a promotion.”

STEIN:  All right. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you caught the nuance, but you missed what he was really selling, maybe.

STEIN:  Fair enough.

MATTHEWS:  It was much darker than...

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN:  But the gloves—clearly, the gloves are coming off here.

And poor Specter.  He switches parties to get out of that tough primary battle he‘s going to have.  He gets into this, and now he‘s falling behind Toomey already in these polls.  He‘s going to have to really grapple to pick up ground there.  And the state is trending even more and more Republican, which is surprising somewhat. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, very few people come back from elections when they go up against Arlen Specter.  My experience tells me, Alex, you‘re so hurt by his aggressiveness, by his personal attacks on you, you wish you had never gotten in the case in many cases.  Your thoughts?

BURNS:  Well, sure. 

As you all know, he has a reputation for acting like that, Chris.  I think I would take, as a sort of precursor for this race, the New Jersey governor‘s race last year.  The incumbent was just someone who voters generally knew, generally didn‘t like.  And his only bet at getting reelected in November was just to completely wipe out his opponent. 

I think you‘re going to see Arlen Specter try to do exactly the same thing to Joe Sestak.  And they both have the money to make it as nasty as they want. 

MATTHEWS:  And he will do the same thing to Toomey, if he gets that far.

Let‘s take look at, up next, Arizona‘s Republican Senate primary. 

You said you find that fascinating. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Everybody in the media does, because we were once the base support of John McCain in the media. 

STEIN:  Yes.  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And he‘s disowned us.  We have disowned him.  Whatever has happened there...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... he‘s now out there on his own, without media support, although I was thinking, we should take a straight talk—what do you call it, straight talk bus out there...

STEIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... with all the media people you‘ve ever heard of... 

STEIN:  And do what?

MATTHEWS:  ... and ride around in Arizona supporting John McCain, as if he...

STEIN:  Oh, he will love that, right?

(LAUGHTER)

STEIN:  It‘s a fascinating race.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think?  He wouldn‘t love that?

STEIN:  Oh, God.  He would probably burn the bus down.  He would hate it.

(LAUGHTER)

STEIN:  You know, the—but it‘s a great race, right?  Because you have J.D. Hayworth, who is just killing John McCain for being the old John McCain, not the John McCain right now, the John McCain of eight years ago. 

McCain has really distanced himself from his past, even—whether it‘s on...

MATTHEWS:  So, he likes the old moderate, deal-making McCain?  He doesn‘t like...

(CROSSTALK)

STEIN:  Well, Hayworth likes the old moderate deal-making McCain, because it‘s a good scourge to push to against.  It‘s a good...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STEIN:  ... someone to vilify. 

But then Hayworth has baggage, too.  He‘s a birther.  I mean, the guy has...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, take a look at—here he is.  Here he is, J.D.  Hayworth, the talk show host, former congressman, on CNN this Monday night responding to whether he‘s a birther.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “CAMPBELL BROWN”)

J.D. HAYWORTH ®, ARIZONA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  All I said was this

and I‘m responding to what constituents write me about.  And they‘re looking prospectively at every office, from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to city council. 

For example, in Scottsdale, we had a situation where we had somebody running for the council under an assumed name who was a fugitive from justice.  All I‘m saying is, for every race across the country, especially with identity theft in the news, it would be great that people can confirm who they say they are. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, that‘s what‘s wrong with politics.  The people that are running as the—the Cotton Mathers, the Cromwells, who are going to clean it up, go back to fundamentals, are just as much dodgers and B.S.  artists as the ones they‘re after, you know, Alex?

Here‘s a guy given a simple—do you think you‘re with the birthers or not?  You try to figure out what he meant.

BURNS:  Oh, well, Chris... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is he with them or not?  They don‘t give you a straight answer.  Like, J.D. knows what the straight answer would be.  “I don‘t believe the birthers.  I believe that Barack Obama is a citizen of the United States, like everybody else.  It‘s a stupid question.”

No, he won‘t say that. 

BURNS:  Oh, well...

MATTHEWS:  He loves the fact he has got people behind him who—who have that questions in their hearts. 

BURNS:  Sure.  Well, first of all, I‘m surprised you don‘t—you don‘t share his deep concern about identity theft.

(LAUGHTER)

BURNS:  But the fact is that the—the difficulty for John McCain in this primary is that, as far as he may try to move to the right to head off Hayworth, Hayworth will always one-up him, and—and say something that‘s not just very conservative, but downright nuts, like that birth certificate claim.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You know, he‘s got—he‘s going to hug that right side of the track.

I agree with you.  It‘s very hard when you have got Debra Medina in the race in Texas and this guy out there. 

Let‘s go back to Arlen Specter.  We have got a primary coming up there.  Who do you pick, Sestak or Arlen? 

STEIN:  It looks right now like Specter is going to win this thing. 

MATTHEWS:  You think—you agree, Alex?  Specter wins the Democratic primary, the new—the new party he‘s joined? 

BURNS:  I would actually bet on Sestak right now.  I Specter has nowhere to go but down. 

STEIN:  Wow.

MATTHEWS:  You can make some money, sir. 

STEIN:  Wow.

MATTHEWS:  You could go to Intrade.com over in Dublin and make some money. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Place your bets, if you‘re with Sestak.  I think that race is interesting.  You‘re right.  If he starts his kick soon, he can win.  But he‘s got to start soon, I think, to pick up that 20 points. 

Anyway, Sam Stein, Alex Burns, it‘s good to have you on. 

Up next:  Will anti-incumbency fever dump the Democrats from power in Congress?  Could they lose the House and the Senate if this thing keeps going? 

“The Politics Fix” is next.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  On Thursday, President Obama will do something that Congress wouldn‘t.  He will establish that bipartisan debt commission by executive order.  Former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Senator Alan Simpson will co-chair the commission, which will look at ways to rein in the skyrocketing federal debt. 

Republicans in Congress got a lot of heat for voting against the commission, after sponsoring the bill that would have created it.

More HARDBALL after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.

Time for “The Politics Fix” with MSNBC political analyst and “Washington Post” columnist Eugene Robinson, and Chris Stirewalt, who is political editor for “The Washington Examiner.”

Gentlemen, thank you.

This anti-incumbency fever, I want to start with this new CNN poll that show that only 34 percent of Americans think members of Congress, per se, deserve to be reelected.  Sixty-three percent want them voted out.

Gene, I have, all my life, waited for the—waited for the clean-the-bums out election.  And, inevitably, it‘s always partisan.  It‘s always anti-Dem or anti-R.  You never get a clean throw them all out.  Everybody talks it, but it always ends up being ideological.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it ends up being ideological, and one other thing, too.

There‘s a difference between throw all the bums out and throw my congressman or congresswoman out. 

(CROSSTALK)  

ROBINSON:  Or, at least, historically, there has been. 

So, even at times when there‘s been this anti-incumbent fervor...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  ... people tend to look a bit more kindly, a lot more kindly, upon their own incumbent, who, you know, brought the—the—the new plant to the district or who earmarked funds for the local school. 

MATTHEWS:  Or is the same ethnic group as you are...

ROBINSON:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  ... you‘ve been electing him for years, and you feel a kinship with the guy or woman. 

ROBINSON:  Exactly. 

You know, the district has been tailor-made, gerrymandered for this...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  ... person. 

And, so—so, I—you—you take this seriously, but I don‘t think you read too much into it at this point. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  You don‘t read, you know...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And my same question to you, Chris.  Can you go into a voting booth and vote for somebody you never heard of?  And, inevitably, the challenger is somebody you have never heard of.  They have a different perhaps ethnic group than the one that you‘ve always been electing in that district.  You know, they come from somewhere else. 

They‘re a name that you haven‘t seen on posters for most of your life. 

It‘s very hard to vote for nothing, for a name you have never heard of. 

CHRIS STIREWALT, POLITICAL EDITOR, “THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER”:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  You vote for the familiar.

STIREWALT:  Incumbency rates are still in the low 90s.  They used to be higher.

But, you know, you‘re right.

MATTHEWS:  The low 90s.

STIREWALT:  Yes, long—long term, that‘s been the lesson. 

But I think, this year, to find an analogous moment, I think you have really got to go back to 1974, and you‘ve got to see—to get this level of anger.

And you mentioned...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STIREWALT:  And you mentioned, correctly, that most people don‘t want to turn out their bum.  They want to turn out the rest of the bums, but their bum is OK, because they met him at a barbecue and they want to leave him on the team.

This year, if you look at—there are some very interesting numbers from Gallup.  If you at the reelect for your own member of Congress, that‘s lower than usual.  That‘s 10...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STIREWALT:  ... or 15 points lower than usual.

MATTHEWS:  But is it ideological?  Can you expect—isn‘t a Republican—let me be—we‘re all pros here—it seems, in watching this, if you look at an incumbent Republican member of Congress, man or woman, who has been reelected through these very difficult 2006 and 2008 elections, can you imagine them losing in 2010?  I can‘t. 

STIREWALT:  I certainly can.  I think that there are lot of...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  A Republican. 

STIREWALT:  A—oh, a Republican losing this year? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STIREWALT:  Joseph—Joseph Cao in Louisiana.  That‘s my...

MATTHEWS:  Who is that?

STIREWALT:  That‘s the—that‘s the guy who voted for the Pelosi health care plan, the one Republican.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, the guy that beat Jefferson.

(LAUGHTER)

STIREWALT:  He‘s going to lose.  He‘s out.

MATTHEWS:  Well, OK.  You know, he‘s like the guy that got Rostenkowski‘s seat out in—out in Illinois...

ROBINSON:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

STIREWALT:  Yes.  He‘s out.

MATTHEWS:  ... you know, short-term guy. 

ROBINSON:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... although he‘s voting with the team. 

You are smart to point.  But your exception proves my rule, right?

STIREWALT:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  This a bad year facing Democrats.

Let me look at some—I want you, gentlemen—you first on this one Chris.  A bunch of Democrats, a small group, but a hardy group, who have taken a very nervy position, Michael Bennet, Gillibrand in New York, Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Merkley—I guess he‘s from Oregon—Franken, Al Franken of Minnesota, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Pat Leahy from Vermont, and Sheldon Whitehouse out in Rhode Island have all decided to go whole hog to the left, meaning they want a public option.  They want to use reconciliation.

They are sailing against the wind.  What‘s the smarts there?  Is that a smart move, a desperate move?  How would you describe it?

STIREWALT:  Two—there are two groups there.

And the Merkley side or the Kerry or Sheldon Whitehouse side, that‘s what they believe, for sure.  That‘s where they‘re at.  And it‘s actually good base politics at home.  Most of those guys aren‘t up for election this year. 

Now, the interesting cases there are Gillibrand and Bennet, who both have trouble and both have primary challenges.  And, right now, you have got to say that Michael Bennet is one of the most endangered incumbent members. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

In other words, smart primary politics, Gene? 

ROBINSON:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Get to the left?

ROBINSON:  I agree, smart.  Gillibrand has potentially Harold Ford.  He‘s basically coming at her from the right.  So, this is a—this is a base move.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Smart move, grab the base.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We will be right back with Eugene Robinson and—by the way, Democrats doing the same thing as Republicans are doing in these primaries, going to their base. 

Chris and Gene will be back in a minute with more of “The Fix,” as we finish up HARDBALL tonight, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with “The Washington Post”‘s Eugene Robinson and Chris Stirewalt of “The Washington Examiner” for more of “The Fix.”

Let‘s take a look at this interesting development this week.  Later this week, after the retirement, basically, of Evan Bayh from Indiana this week, which surprised the Democrats, to an extent, one more well-known Democrat quitting the Senate, you have got this CPAC convention coming to Washington. 

Conservatives, they always get roused up by this.

Chris, when they get roused up by this, it raises my question.  Can the Republican Party benefit from the anger on the right, the Tea Party phenomenon, without getting bit in the rear by it at some point? 

STIREWALT:  Well, any time...

MATTHEWS:  Is it all a win for them? 

STIREWALT:  No, no, no.  Nothing is ever a complete win in politics.

But, obviously, if you have the choice between dangerous enthusiasm and—and blase, you‘re going to take dangerous enthusiasm.  And if you look at what happened on the left with the Iraq war, that was—that proved to be a helpful, but sometimes dangerous, enthusiasm that Democrats were able to get—turn into real votes and turn out a bunch of Republicans in—over two cycles. 

So, there‘s danger, absolutely.  And, as you see with Debra Medina in Texas, there‘s—there‘s a real learning curve for these folks. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

STIREWALT:  But, overall, it‘s got to be a positive. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this good for 2010 and bad for 2012?  Does the—does the craziness...

ROBINSON:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... of the fringe hurt more in a presidential than it does in congressional? 

ROBINSON:  Well, it—I think it does.  And—and—and 2012 is a

ways away.  I mean, the whole landscape will probably look different than -

the economic landscape, the political landscape, perhaps. 

My question for the Democrats in 2010 is, what‘s their motivating factor?  How do they get up some enthusiasm?  Because I think, really, one of the—the salient phenomena right now is this sort of anomie, this sort of...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  ... ennui among Democrats. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what would it be?  Would it be job production at the federal level?  Would it be health care?  Would it be—it can‘t be Afghanistan. 

ROBINSON:  No.

MATTHEWS:  It can‘t be Iraq.

ROBINSON:  No, it‘s not going to be Afghanistan. 

It could—it could potentially be, you know, a big win on one of the

one of Obama‘s big legislative agenda items.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you. 

STIREWALT:  Hating Republicans would be good.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I don‘t know if it will work this time. 

Thank you, Eugene Robinson.

Thank you, Chris Stirewalt—Stirewalt.

Join us again Thursday night at 5:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL -- 5:00 Eastern. 

“COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now. 

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